The Disappearing Post

Last night I spent some considerable time putting together a post for today.  It was about some stuff I learned yesterday while being pushed around Disney in a wheel chair.  (I have a longstanding foot injury that required me to do this.)

The post was about my older brother, Randy, who spent his last seven years in a wheel chair after a tragic swimming accident that resulted in a broken neck at age 21.

I wrote the post, added a couple of pictures and scheduled it to be published this morning.

But it’s gone and I can’t find it anywhere. I will have to rewrite it. My brother taught me too much not to share with you.

For now, enjoy this really short post (no comments from my kids, please!) and have a wonderful weekend.

Warmly,

Sheree

 

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When Friends Become Enemies

Rich and Seth were best friends growing up. They did all the normal stuff together: sports, youth group and girlfriend switching. No one was surprised when they decided to attend the same out-of-state college.

Nearly twenty years later, however, Seth and Rich rarely see each other.  They talk a few times a year by phone and send each other Christmas gifts with a family photo. As 40-somethings, they’re busy with kids and careers…and they have the perfunctory “we gotta do that hunting trip” exchange at least once a year. But they both know that trip is unlikely to happen….

What do you think of their relationship? Did they, like most childhood friends, just drift apart? Does it seem superficial and perhaps dutiful? Or would you define it as healthy and warm, especially for guys who haven’t lived near each other in years?

However you perceive this friendship, what you don’t know is that a few years back something painful happened between them. The details aren’t that important. Some would think their conflict wasn’t all that serious, while others might see the issues as irreparable. Those outside such situations are often quick to judge…until hurt feelings and tension come into our own lives. What is important is that for nearly two years Rich and Seth couldn’t have a amiable conversation so they gave up.

The tension and anger between these two men could have destroyed them. The advice of the few people who knew about their conflict varied widely: everything from “it’s not that big of a deal, move on” to “you’re crazy if you don’t walk away.” These guys and their wives strongly disagreed on some weighty and longstanding issues between them that produced their heated interactions. Yet they agreed on the most important thing; they didn’t want to walk away from a decades-long friendship.

The truth is Rich and Seth’s relationship is healthy. Why? Because they decided to do what Else and JJ did. They humbled themselves and asked forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. Rich was afraid he had disappointed his life long buddy far too deeply. Seth’s resentment tempted him to wonder if he even wanted to try to repair the relationship. One thing we do to each other that isn’t helpful is try to impose our personal preferences on what friendship or care or loyalty should look like rather than allowing the Bible to define that for us.

I am going through a season where I’m battling relational temptations, too. Today I was contacted by a facebook friend who asked me if I ever felt troubled because “Jesus just isn’t enough.” She expressed her discouragement that her emotions and the circumstances of life were crowding in on her, and her relationship with the Lord was being pushed out. I empathized and told her I would pray for her…if she would pray for me.

When circumstances press in, and especially when relational challenges threaten our joy, we have to remember something: Jesus is enough. He was enough for Rich and Seth. Because they value biblical principles more than they prize relief from conflict, they chose to forgive. Their contact isn’t as frequent as some would say is “biblical” and they still work through temptations to be anger and bitter. But they are not allowing others’ “you should be’s” rule. Rather, they understand that the difficulties that took years to develop will likely take years to fully resolve. Forgiveness is the first step to God-gloriying fruit. As author Jerry Bridges says, the process of Christian growth (sanctification) requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.” Rich and Seth are both learning how to patiently persevere through the Spirit-empowered, vigorous effort that change demands.

These men may never vacation together or invite each other into town for Christmas. The fact that they care about and aren’t bitter toward one another is cause for gratefulness. Being reconciled to someone when sin (yours, theirs or both) has caused a breach in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be “the same” as prior to when things went south.

What does need to remain is the awareness that God is in control even when hopelessness crowds out faith.

If you are either Rich or Seth, I invite you to join me in trusting in gospel-saturated hope that things will get better. “Better” may not mean the person or people with whom you are struggling will change. Believe me, if there was a way to reach in and change a person’s heart I would have figured that out by now! Not only can we not change another’s heart and perspective, we can’t even change our own.

But Someone can. Think about ways in which you are different than you were a year ago…two years ago…ten years ago. You and I aren’t different because we got older or decided to change. We’re different because God promised to complete the work He began at our conversion. He’s doing the changing of us!

I need fresh faith to focus on the needed changes and corresponding promise of grace in my own heart. Because God accepted the atoning death of Jesus Christ as payment for my sin and promises to change me (ever so slowly, it seems) I don’t have to worry about Him changing others. Like Rich and Seth, I can forgive and then let God define what change should look like in those with whom I’m struggling…and provide joy in the struggle.

Over time, friends can become enemies. Husbands and wives may drift apart. Siblings can lose contact. Parents and adult children will offend and hurt each other. Coworkers ask to be transferred to a different department. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it takes a shouting match or bitter tears to expose what’s been hiding in wounded or sinful hearts.

But the good news is there is hope. Even if the other person remains hard-hearted, we can choose grace. The baby in a manger grew up to die so you and I could be forgiven sinners. And then turn and forgive those who sin against us.

God and sinners reconciled. Sinners reconciled with each other. Glory to the newborn King that made this possible.

The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.

When Christmas Isn’t Merry or Bright

Mom’s snowflakes and a great-grandaughter who will have one for her tree someday.

I love the holidays. The little girl in me thinks the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet the big girl also knows the dark side of the holidays. Busyness. Stress. Greed. Sadness.

Yes, for many the most wonderful time of the year is hard.

Last week I was missing my parents. Mom and Dad loved Christmas. Even though money was always tight, they found ways to make it fun.  Josh, my oldest, fried our turkeys this year — and I watched through tears, remembering all the years Daddy perfectly carved our birds, insuring the light and dark meats didn’t touch on the platter. I was especially moved when my grandchildren started hanging the crocheted stars Mom tediously and lovingly made for our tree over twenty years ago when my kids were all little. One day I want each of My People to have one for their trees.

For years Christmas was hard on my sister because the man with whom she planned to spend the rest of her life left her with two young kids and she didn’t know how she would afford gifts. Christmas was sad for Benny as a teen because his 6-year-old sister died of leukemia the week before Christmas. An infertile friend dealt with the pain of not having a little one to share the holidays with year after year as she received yet more cute pictures of families in matching Christmas outfits. A friend in her 40’s recently admitted she has given up the hope that she’ll ever have a  husband with whom she can share the wonder and romance of Christmas. Another friend is worried that tension over the past year will result in not having happy holidays with her divided extended family. A grandmother I spoke with recently is sad because she won’t see her grandchildren for Christmas this year…again. And yet another close friend is facing the painful fact that this may be her last Christmas due to an ongoing battle with cancer.

Dad would have really enjoyed munching on this turkey as he carved it.

Are the holidays challenging for you? Does busyness, financial stress or sadness tempt you with anxious, sad thoughts about the coming weeks? Are you lonely? Isolated from those you would love to see during the holidays because you can’t afford to make the trip? Worried about how family times will go because people aren’t getting along? Wishing you had a special friend or little ones to shop for?

Honestly, I don’t have anything much to say except I understand and you’re not alone. A simple google search will let you see how prevalent holiday depression and sadness are. The coming of Jesus Christ was veiled in turmoil and perplexity then and we still live in a fallen world with broken people like you and me. This Christmas, like the very first one and every one since then, will be a mixture of joy and suffering for all who are willing to admit it.

My prayer is that even if this Christmas isn’t all merry and bright for you, it will be filled with an awareness of the love and nearness of God. He is Immanuel, God with us. God with you. In the midst of your worries or sadness or loneliness or stress He is near. He came then to live a sinless life to make a way for you to be forgiven. He’s here now, dwelling in you, to provide abiding assurance that your circumstances, though hard, are unmatched by His unwavering commitment to empower you to persevere. Because He came you can make it through this Christmas with joy in the midst of sadness or uncertainty.

Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord.

Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as men with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!

 

Raising My Kids to Hunger for God

This is the final post (for now) in the series on sibling relationships. Joey is pictured here with his wife, Lauren, and our number eleven, Amelia. I’ve been sensitive to the kids putting Benny and me in only a good light out of a desire to honor us. So i’ve edited their posts accordingly. But Joey told me I couldn’t edit his post. I admit it; it brought tears to my eyes. I’m grateful to God for His grace in the lives of two young people who started having kids in the 70’s and had no clue what we were doing…He’s been faithful. 

Family worship time in early ’88. I want my kids to grow up worshiping together, too.

When Mom asked us if we would want to contribute to her series on fostering sibling relationships, there were a few things that naturally sprang to mind. Homeschooling came first, then sports. Mom and Dad drove around most of Virginia, DC, and Maryland watching each of us play basketball; but they also put a court in our back yard to help make our house the place all our friends wanted to be. Then there was football, street hockey and 6 on 6 soccer with the neighborhood kids. 6 on 6 soccer in a yard about 15 yards long and 10 yards wide. Oh, and epic games of baseball, played with a tennis ball; the kind of game where if you got a couple men on base you had to go back to bat again, so there were “ghost” runners.

Jaime (far left) coached her sister (Janelle is in front of her) to a basketball championship. Now Jaime coaches her daughter, Kayla.

A few other things came to mind, most of which have already been touched on. The more I thought about it, though, the more clear it became to me that there was actually one particular thing about the way that mom and dad parented us kids that contributed to our relationships to this day.

They parented with a mission and we always knew what the mission was. Mom and Dad trained us to be respectful, obey them and others in charge, write thank you notes for birthday presents and clean up after dinner. But their primary mission wasn’t obedient and polite kids. Their mission was to bring glory to God. Since the church is the means God chose to display His glory, we knew that glorifying God meant giving our lives to the church. This fostered a sense of teamwork and loyalty that goes beyond sharing the same name and simply growing up together.

Proximity and a shared mission are probably the two biggest ways people grow close relationally. Siblings most always have the former, at least initially, but they should also have the latter. We did, and it permeated everything about our lives…and I think that fact is the greatest reason why we grew and remain so close. Let me give some examples of what this looked like growing up.

One of many street hockey games on our street. That’s Josh in goal.

In 1992 Fairfax Covenant Church, now Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, was fund raising in an attempt to purchase property to build a facility. It was called Challenge ’92. Even though I was only 7 years old I can remember the feeling of camaraderie, not just with my siblings, but the entire church.  I remember going to the church-wide garage sale that took up an entire parking lot at a school. I remember doing lemonade stands, selling baseball and basketball cards to neighborhood kids, and finding whatever way I could to fill my huge, pink, plastic piggy bank. I remember getting progressively more nervous as the deadline approached for “Miracle Sunday.” I’ll remember that day until I die.

When dad walked onto the stage to announce the offering amount my heart was in my throat. When the room erupted I ran around in little circles yelling. It was awesome. I won’t go into the specifics here of the amount needed, and why it was such a miracle that the money was raised in time, but it was amazing.

Jesse and I played a lot of basketball together. When we moved to Florida we played for a private school and won some games together. Fun memories.

That experience helped grow my love for the church. It helped build a bond with my siblings because we were teaming up on something bigger than ourselves — something even more important than basketball. This is easy to see in an example that dramatic. But what Mom and Dad were so good at was teaching us that we were on the mission 24/7.

I’ve told the story to folks before of being at a birthday sleepover when I was 11 and didn’t stand up for a kid who we all thought had fallen asleep while guys mocked him. Turns out he did hear the mean comments and was understandably devastated. Mom and Dad heard learned about what happened. I was disciplined pretty good (yes, my parents spanked us) and grounded from a basketball game (the most horrifying punishment). Some might say their response to my cowardice was harsh. That it was not showing “grace.” But I knew otherwise.

I understood that discipline is a means of grace. I knew that what I had done was wrong, not just because it was an act of cowardice but because I had allowed another believer to be slandered and maligned, which creates discord and rivalry, which hinders the mission of the church bringing glory to God. And yes, my parents articulated that to me at 11 and I understood and agreed. I still agree to this day.

As we grew older, this sense of mission and a desire to serve the church has remained and informs our relationships. It’s why we all decided to participate with them in a new church plant in Lake Nona last January. Not that we couldn’t have participated in the mission while staying at our former church, or that we all have to be at the same church forever (Josh and Jesse both have been members of other churches at various times.) But this was something new; a way we hadn’t been able to serve together before. It was going to force us to work harder, give up more time, spend a lot more gas money, and serve in areas we never had before. Who would I rather do that with than the mom and dad who taught trained me to love God’s church, and siblings who I’ve been on a mission with for as long as I can remember?

Leading our church in worship is one of my favorite things to do with my siblings. Being at Redeemer Church now means I can also do this with my wife, Lauren (singing). That’s Jake leading on keys with me on bass.

My daughter is almost two, and we are hoping for 6 or 7 more (just kidding Baby Love…just 5.) I want Amelia to have a close relationship with any siblings she ends up with. I want her to have what I have. But mainly I want her to love God, know Christ, and love the things that He loves. As kids, we always knew Mom and Dad cared more about our spiritual state than anything. We knew they cared about us loving the same things they loved because they loved the same things God loves. We bought into the mission because we saw them living it. That mission is the reason we are close.

So with my daughter that’s where it starts, too. It doesn’t start with teaching her that family comes first or that blood is thicker than water. It isn’t about raising a daughter that loves her parents and siblings.

It’s about raising a kid who hungers for God.

Hey, mom and dad you should…oh wait.

All Play and No Work

It was the winter of 1986 when Benny and I got into the van after a sonogram. Back then they were only done when a problem was suspected. The problem had been found. My doctor told me the only thing I could do to prevent what he thought was a pending miscarriage was complete red rest. If I didn’t lose the baby in a week he would see me again.

I closed the van door and cried. How in the world was I going to stay in bed for the next week?!? I had four children ranging from 18 months to not quite eight years. My mother and sister lived nearby but had full time jobs. I knew Benny would be helpful but he had to work. All I knew was I needed to do my part to protect my unborn baby — but I was scared.

Who would occupy Joey who was getting into everything? Oh, and potty training with Jesse would have to be delayed…again! Our home schooling schedule would certainly have to change since the only time a bed-trapped teacher could work with her first and third graders was when little brothers were napping. And what about all the other household work of a large family? I realized pretty quickly that a week of Benny trying to keep up with towels and underwear wasn’t so bad.

When we got home we sat Josh and Jaime down to talk.  At nearly 8 and 6 1/2 we knew they would want to chip in. They were excited about mommy having another baby and a week really wasn’t that long. Gratefully, I had been working with them to learn the discipline of daily and weekly chores for a couple of years. But this was a tall order for my young kids.

The hoped-for week of bed rest turned into five long weeks. Friends brought meals twice a week and Benny rolled up his sleeves to help each evening. But the majority of the work fell onto Josh and Jaime to prevent Benny from having to do it all. They decided Jesse really didn’t need to wait until he was three to be potty trained and Jaime was a second mommy to Joey anyway. They made pbnj’s and boxed mac and cheese and carted all their homeschool books to my bedroom each afternoon after they put their brothers down for a nap. They vacuumed; made beds; brought laundry to my bed to be folded; straightened bathrooms; took phone messages (no cell phones back then and the phone was tied to the kitchen wall with a cord!); rejoiced over little-brother-potty successes; loaded and unloaded the dishwasher using a chair to climb up on counters to reach cabinets; and made sure Mommy had food and drinks throughout the day.

The day I finally came home with a sono picture of their baby brother or sister alive and well was a special one for Benny and me. Not only had God spared our baby’s life, but we were also able to thank Josh and Jaime for their hard work and sacrifice. That fall Janelle Marie was born to a very excited older brother and sister.

And Jesse was indeed potty trained.

Teaching kids to work in the home has many benefits. You may never need your school age kids to take care of you because you’re bed ridden. And it may take years before you see the fruit of your training. The honest fact is this: teaching kids to serve and work in the home is hard work for Mom! It’s much easier to make beds and clean bathrooms yourself. And dealing with their attitudes when they don’t want to help makes doing it yourself easier. Moms who train their children to serve around the house double the work for awhile. We do our work — and oversee theirs.

But believe me, the longterm fruit is worth it. All but one of my kids went through the messy teen years when I wondered if they forgot everything they were taught about neatness and I often elected to just keep their doors closed. At times I had to also remove junk from the passenger side of their vehicle to make enough room to ride with them. But I watched them endure from work being fun because they got to spray windex on the sliding glass door to work being rewarding because neighbors noticed them mowing our yard and asked to pay them to mow theirs. They worked through conflicts and bitterness when it their Saturday morning chore list was longer than their siblings. They sang Disney songs while they cleaned up after dinner — and sometimes still do. They celebrated when their older brother’s business became profitable enough to fulfill his dream of hiring family members (and others). And now they’re working together side by side at Redeemer Church to take the gospel to a new area in Central Florida. (More on that from Joey tomorrow…and yes, it’s hard work.)

Moms, teach your children to work. To pick up their toys rather than developing an entitlement attitude that expects others to clean up after them. To help set the table, knowing the silverware will be cockeyed. To make their bed even though you’ll be tempted to go back and straighten it later. And to rake leaves and pull weeds and mow grass and “wash” windows — and then congratulate them for a job well done despite the imperfections.

Last night my dining room table had several people sitting around it, including four in our family. It started with taking their plates to the kitchen when they were too short to reach the sink. Now they’re brainstorming about company finances and praying through how to grow ProVisionIT to provide provision for more families in the future.

Jesse was right; all play and no work isn’t a good road to the future for your kids.

And the future will be here before you know it.

Boys Mowing Lawns Now Men Supporting Families: Together

Photo credit: Mary Powell

Today’s guest contributor is my son, Jesse, pictured here with Rebekah, Sam, Issac and Josiah. 

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” Proverbs 14:23.
Mom has been doing a series on sibling relationships and offered for us kids to contribute. My desire is to share how teaching kids to work together is a key way to build healthy sibling relationships.

The obvious meaning of the verse above is if you sit around and do nothing you’ll end up poor. If you work hard, you won’t be poor. Of course, it is a wisdom saying that alludes to a general principle that can’t be strictly interpreted to conclude the inverse (anyone poor became poor by not working hard). But the general principal is true: work produces benefit. I think this is true for sibling relationships as well. Working together as siblings produces benefits.

Enough about scriptural principals, let’s talk about me:

When we were young our oldest brother, Josh, hired Joey and me to work for a lawn care and snow removal company he managed. As young teens (or was Joey like ten or eleven?) we were operating commercial mowers and sometimes working through the night when snowstorms rolled into northern Virginia. If you know Joey ask him about the time one of the mowers got away from him; or let Josh tell you the story of the night he shoveled show until he was nearly delirious with hypothermia. Fun times.

Working for Josh under the supervision of some guys from Mexico who moved to Virginia each summer to work taught Joey and me (and later, Jake) how to work hard. The last thing we wanted the Mexican guys to call us was “too much lazy.” Joey and I decided to start J&J Lawn Services. Being the marketing guru that I am, I changed the name to J&J Lawns. That had a much better ring.

When we moved to Florida when Joey and I were in our mid teens we started LaMerritt Lawns. Josh was our investor and Dad gave up his garage for us. We even filed a corporation and had an accountant. We were big shot executives, greedy capitalists, and sweaty grass-covered landscape technicians all rolled into one.

Joey and I operated LaMerritt Lawns long enough to get me through college. We bought a truck and trailer, and 36” and 61” hydraulic powered SCAG mowers. We mowed soccer fields and other small commercial properties to pay for gas, food and whatever else the Bright Futures academic scholarship didn’t cover. We continued to use our Toyota truck even after I did a 360 on a rain drenched ramp near our house shortly before a neighbor’s tree bent the bed during Hurricane Charley in 2004. (That tree made a beeline for our truck that day.)

I didn’t realize it then, but the experience of working with siblings and family was only just the beginning.

After college I worked with my dad at our church. When the church encountered some financial challenges I volunteered to get employment elsewhere. Once again Josh came through and offered me a job working for an IT company he started six years ago. The brother who taught me how to mow lawns (perfectly!) taught me that “IT is as much about fixing people as fixing computers.” Josh recently turned down a job he was offered by his biggest client and recommended me for the position. The board decided to settle for me. But since Josh’s offices are on the same property as my new employer I still get to partner with my brothers. (Did I mention Joey is now the Pres of Josh’s company; Jake worked there until he left last summer for law school; and Mom does account management from home?)

I’ve worked for and with family my entire life. Even when I tried to escape, the one place I interviewed with was Florida Hospital, where—you guessed it—my father-in-law is an executive. And ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs’  (Pr. 2:4).

All joking aside, I can’t overstate the value of working together as families and as siblings specifically. Character is formed and camaraderie built by getting a job done and then getting paid for it. Of course, we didn’t get paid for making our beds and helping Dad with yard work when we were kids. Mom always said, “Being family has privileges and responsibilities” so serving around the house wasn’t something we were paid to do. It was a lot of fun when others started paying us, though.

Learning to depend on and cover for each other helped build trust and encourage unselfishness. Saying “he did it!” might work when your mom asks what went wrong. However, blame shifting doesn’t work when it’s a client asking why his backyard wasn’t mowed. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is; you both don’t get paid.

Of course, it hasn’t always been fun and games. Any time you work with someone day after day you get upset with each other. And not many of us would invite our boss over for Thanksgiving. But hey, it comes with the territory of a family business. There’s something about it that helps reflects a biblical view of vocation by merging the worlds of work and family.

Working together as siblings helps increase respect for each other and gives plenty of opportunities to forgive. Remember the previous posts on forgiveness? Well, that doesn’t end when you’re adults. Josh and I have both had to forgive each other for sins we committed against each other while at work.

The part of the overbearing boss is played by Josh. The part of the griping subversive employee played by Jesse. Action!

Families were not meant to live disconnected lives and go separate directions during the day, returning to the house at night. Neither were sibling relationships meant to end after kids move out of the house.

We were meant to work together, labor together and partner with each other in this thing called life. That’s our calling and our vocation, whether we have a family business or not. Sometimes adult siblings can’t work side by side because they live states apart. But working together involves far more than fixing computers or mowing lawns together; it involves linking hearts to be there for each other in whatever ways brothers and sisters desire and should. As a dad of three young boys, I believe this starts with teaching my sons to labor together in the stuff of daily life.

As I look back over my experience of working for and with my siblings, both as a child and now as an adult, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m not sure I would have the work ethic I have had it not been for the example of my siblings. Our experiences working together, making many fun memories and challenging each other to excel helped me to be who I am today. I know my relationships with my siblings would not be as strong as they are had childhood been all play and no work.

The other day I walked out into the yard and saw Issac pulling weeds with Rebekah. While I don’t think he got all the roots up, I couldn’t help but think about the years he and Sam may spend plotting their next big business venture together, and then working with each other to achieve their dreams of becoming rich enough to buy their own ice cream.

Need Real Help Teaching Your Kids to Get Along? Look no further!

Having six kids in eleven years (then adopting our last five years later) explains a big reason why I responded to reader requests for a series on sibling relationships!

The most helpful, practical and biblical resource I found to help my children understand conflict was The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande. Her husband, Ken, had written The Peacemaker for adults. Corlette took the life altering principles and practical tools I learned from her husband — ones that had a profound affect on my marriage, family relationships and friendships — and made them kid-friendly! I was beyond excited.

Nearly twenty years ago I worked through her book (and the accompany parent’s manual) with Jesse, Joey, Janelle and Jake. (Sadly, it wasn’t available when Josh and Jaime were young.) I genuinely believe this book provided a foundation on which my children are building to this day. It’s designed for ages 8-12 but can be easily adapted for younger and older children.

Just ask one of my kids what the slippery slope is and they’ll remember….

The curriculum comes with an Activity Book for kids.  The comic-book style is engaging and I would sometimes find one of the kids reading it just for fun.

The thing I most loved about this was the stories. Using real-life situations, the author made the principles applicable not just to my kids but also to me!

You can find this excellent material in various places, but if you use Amazon you can find it here.  This set includes the teacher’s manual and a CD with reproducible student activity sheets for all twelve lessons.

Have a wonderful weekend…and we’ll be back next week to close out this series.

Experts Agree: Teach Your Kids to Get Along

This series on sibling relationships has been intentionally personal. We have enjoyed sharing our struggles and trials — and making some fun of each other along the way. A couple of my kids will be finishing up the series early next week, but today I want to deviate from family illustrations and stories to collaborated research about sibling relationships.

The reality is that siblings usually have the longest-lasting relationships in a person’s life. For example, my father died when I was 22 and my mother when I was 46. I have been married for 39 years and became a mother 34 years ago. However, I have been a sibling all of my 58 years.

Preparing for and writing this series (along with my kids) prompted me to do some secular research on this topic. Honestly, I didn’t know what I would find. But my research turned up some interesting stuff that has been confirmed in my own family:

  • The influence of parents is certainly weighty; but sibling influence is more significant than researchers anticipated.  Interestingly, also high on the influence list in the life of a young child are the friends of their older siblings. One researcher explained the possible reason for this: siblings and their friends are “closer to the social environments” of kids. Younger siblings, therefore, view older siblings and their buddies as cooler; therefore, they frequently imitate their actions and embrace their values over those of uncool or out of touch parents.
  • Undesirable behaviors are statistically learned more from siblings than from parents or other older adults. Things like smoking, alcohol consumption, criminal acts and sex outside marriage make a greater impression on kids when performed by siblings than by parents. For example, children may react to the negative consequences of parents who smoke or cheat by making a firm decision to avoid this behavior. However, when siblings engage in these things, younger brothers are sisters are far more likely to follow their negative example.
  • Children who grow up with siblings, especially those close in age, “may not need to [spend as much time with peers] because they are already having significant social experiences within the family unit.” This can help dispel the pressure parents feel to socialize their children (especially at young ages) with peers on a weekly or daily basis to be properly socialized.
  • I love this one (especially since two of my kids who have written posts emphasized having to reconcile and ask forgiveness growing up). Research indicates that siblings bicker or “squabble” between 6 and 10 times an hour (see, your family isn’t unusual!). This, experts say, “can help kids make developmental strides in a ‘safe relationship’ and provide good training for interacting with peers….”  In short, sibling arguments and conflicts — when handled properly — can actually be a good thing! This reminds me of Ken Sande’s excellent book, The Peacemaker, which teaches that conflict is inevitable and can actually glorify God. (More on that tomorrow with a resource recommendation we used with our kids.)
  • Children who have close sibling relationships are likely to have healthy adult peer relationships (including with their spouse).
  • Parent-mediated conflict resolution between siblings can help children develop a pattern of appropriate disagreement later in life. There is agreement from a wide range of secular researchers that leaving kids to themselves to resolve conflicts is unwise because kids aren’t good self-teachers. What kid is going to instruct him or her self to say, “Wow. I shouldn’t have smacked you when you wouldn’t give me the toy. Please forgive me. Let’s try that again and I will ask you nicely.” Patient mediation involves instruction and leadership, leading to a proper resolution. Researchers discourage parents from jumping in and manipulating kids to resolve things quickly and robotically, using similar attitudes and behavior (anger, harshness, etc) that mimics the child’s wrong doing.

Even those who don’t have a Christian worldview and who don’t adhere to biblical principles for relationship management agree: sibling relationships are really important.

Warmth and closeness between kids — along with wisely mediated conflict resolution by parents — can not only create a gospel-saturated culture in our own homes but can also prepare our children for the harsh realities of navigating life in a sin-saturated world.

When your child bonks his brother on the head and says, “If you don’t gimme that I’ll never play with you again!” or your teen reacts to her sister with eye-rolling arrogance and slams the door in her face, we parents can react in several different ways. If you’re like me, the first impulse probably isn’t the best one. Reacting in anger, frustration, exasperation or resorting to lecturing isn’t going to help. After all, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires” (James 1:20).

I love how my daughter, Jaime, responded to my granddaughters recently when biting and hair pulling happened between them. In describing her own relationship with her sister, Janelle, Jaime told Annie and Danae, “When I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.” Rather than fuss or lecture (which Jaime would be the first to admit is sometimes her response) she decided to demonstrate the gospel to her girls. (You can read the full story here.)

The gospel says we are more like our kids than we are different than them. We sin. We get angry, frustrated, irritable and selfish. We bite with words instead of teeth. And when we were young we did all kinds of mean things to our siblings — in our hearts and probably through our behavior. Empathizing with our children’s temptations and struggles opens the door to grace. If Jaime had launched in to a self-righteous lecture, Annie and Danae would have politely listened and maybe even mechanically apologized to each other to end Mom’s tirade about them needing to be nice to each other. But learning that Mommy, too, wanted to bite and pull her sister’s hair “qualified” Jaime to patiently instruct and correct them.

So let’s rewind the tape of Annie and Danae’s angry interaction. Jaime walks into the room to hear what happened and explains that she, too, wanted to do the same things to Nellie. The rest of the conversation might go something like this:

“Girls, Mommy knows how hard it is to love your sister. Nellie and Mommy were mean to each other. We argued and said mean things. Nellie messed up my stuff and Mommy made Nellie believe I didn’t love her. But now we are best friends because Jesus helped us. You can only really love one another and not bite and pull each other’s hair with His help. Jesus died on the cross so He could forgive you of what you did to each other just now, and so He could help you to forgive your sister.”

I don’t know what Jaime did after she talked to Annie and Danae. Perhaps she took them aside, corrected them and then brought them back to the very place where the biting and hair pulling happened. Maybe she “recreated” the scene and walked them through a better way to respond when your sister won’t give you what you want — patiently asking for it then coming to ask Mommy for help if things don’t go well. Kids don’t just need to be corrected for wrong doing; they need to be shown how to do things right. (It’s that put off/put on principle in scripture.) And then encouraged every time they choose to respond patiently rather than react angrily.

But whatever she did was humble. Empathetic. Gospel-driven. Why? Because the gospel says we and our children are sinful, flawed, weak creatures in need of a Savior to help us treat each other the way He treats us. But we and they are also loved, cherished and empowered to do this because He died to make it possible.

(I’ve done too much research to cite everything here and I purposefully chose well-documented, secular studies of which these are a few: “Early Sibling Relationships Influence Adult Behavior” http://www.psychcentral.com; “US News and World Report Health”, July 31, 2009; “Positive Indicators of Sibling Relationship Quality”, University of Michigan, June 2003).

Those Who Stayed With Me

You can barely see Jaime in this pic…how could she not love a cute little girl like this? 🙂

Today’s post is from Janelle, our fifth, who is married to Eric and is an orthopedic nurse.

So far, you have heard from my younger brother, Jake, on the importance of forgiveness and repentance in sibling relationships.  Even though he dissed me and said my laugh is loud and annoying (ok… maybe it is) I wholeheartedly agree with him.  You also heard from my older sister, Jaime. I felt good when I read her post because I don’t ever remember us biting or pulling each other’s hair like her girls do – so there is definitely hope for Annie and Danae.

This post has less about what you can do to foster close sibling relationships in your own kids and more about how God uses bad circumstances to do good things between siblings. The pictures on this page are a testimony to God’s faithfulness…more on that later.

Let’s face it, when we are going through a great season where everything is going our way, everyone is being nice to us, the Lord is blessing, and our kids are being kind to each other (or in my case, my husband is being kind to me) it’s easy to cruise along and be happy.

But when I think back to the seasons of my life I felt closest to my siblings I remember the aftermath of difficulties and trials.  As a kid I was less aware of this than I am now.  However, after reaching adulthood, some of my sweetest memories with my siblings were during times of intense heartache.  Two of these memories stand out more than any others.

Oldest brother Josh. The tears started with him.

I was eleven when my eighteen-year-old sister Jaime got married. I didn’t think much about it. All I knew was that PJ was nice to me and that I liked him, and that Jaime and I weren’t close because she didn’t like me.  (Of course, it had nothing to do with me be an annoying little sister!) As time when on, however, I began to better understand what happened. You see, Jaime and PJ were keeping their relationship secret from our family because they knew Dad and Mom wouldn’t approve. This was the hardest thing our family had walked through. The months that followed were difficult as my parents, sister and new brother-in-law carefully walked through the repercussions of this decision. I remember Mom crying a lot and Dad being unusually quiet. I was fearful and anxious about the future. Our normally happy, loud house was sad and quiet.

Soon after the marriage Jaime wanted to take me to the mall.  I was surprised since she had never done this before. We laughed and hung out. I had the time of my life with a sister I secretly adored but had never been close to.  As we were walking she suddenly stopped, looked at me intently and said, “Missy, you have to promise me something.”  I had no idea what to expect.  “You have to promise that when you like a boy, even just a little bit, you will tell Mom and Dad and trust them.”  She was so serious and passionate I had no choice but to agree.

Tall brother Jesse. He always makes me smile.

I never forgot that promise to my sister.  I can point back to that moment as the moment we became friends.   In fact, she helped Mom plan my wedding and in May 2010 she was my matron of honor. Few were as supportive and happy as Jaime to see me marry the love of my life. Because she made me promise to trust my parents, Eric was the first serious relationship I had….and Mom and Dad were the first to hear that I had my eye on him.

The other memory finds me at my grandmother’s gravesite.  Nanny’s funeral had been both somber and joyous as we celebrated the fact that she was now in heaven with her Savior, her husband and her son — free from the cancer that had been diagnosed only weeks before. The previous months had been draining on our whole family.  Just two weeks earlier, and within days of Nanny’s diagnosis, we had moved to Orlando from the only home we had known; a home we shared with Nanny. Now one of my favorite people in the world was suddenly gone. After watching her coffin laid to rest, I wanted to escape all of it.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I moved away from everyone and broke down crying.  I had been crying all day but these were different tears; tears of despair and anger.  I didn’t notice him walking up but then felt Joey’s arm go around me.  He wasn’t one to show affection easily, especially to me, but he saw me crying and wanted to comfort me.  He didn’t say a word.

Sweet brother Joey. (With Jaime looking on.) I’ll remain forever grateful for his hugs.

What Joey didn’t know was that memory would stick with me through the extremely difficult time of going back to Orlando to no friends and the grief of losing Nanny. Mom and Dad were still trying to process and deal with her death, as well as the circumstances that led to our move in the first place. God used my providential loneliness to force me to the Scriptures for solace and comfort.  I don’t know what would have happened if Joey hadn’t silently comforted me.  Maybe I would have trusted God with my grief, but perhaps I would have turned into a bitter teenager who thought that God was cruel and unloving.  What I do know, however, is that moment brought me closer to a brother who put aside his personality to comfort his little sister.

These memories are only two out of probably hundreds.  Now that we’re all adults, my siblings and I continue to walk through trials and hardships.  I know without a doubt that we all have each other’s backs.  I know they sincerely want what is best for me.  And I know that the prayers of my parents are being answered through the good times, but mostly through trials.

My nearest brother Jake. We fought. We bickered. We became friends. And here we cried.

So please take heart.  God can forge a bond between your own children. He will use your prayers that will tested and tried through the flames of hardship, loss and grief. One my wedding day I experienced the love of my siblings in a profound way. My sisters were my attendants and my brothers surprised me with a reception dance where they each cut in to dance with me one by one. I will never forget their expression of love for me that day.

In Luke 22 we find Jesus reclining at the Last Supper with his disciples.  After breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus tells them one of them will betray him.  What did they do? Say things like, “Oh Jesus, thank you for being willing to die for us!” or “How hard this must be for you, to suffer and die!”  Yeah, no.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”

My newest brother PJ. He always liked me.

It reminds me of when all of my family is together at a birthday party and Mom initiates our normal tradition of honoring me – the birthday kid. But somehow the conversations turns to my brothers arguing about whose basketball career was the most impressive.  They all claim personal rights;  Joey because of his last second three pointer in the playoffs; Josh because he scored 1,000 points by his junior year; Jake because he….just because he’s the best at everything; and Jesse because he dominated the paint.  Okay, not a perfect analogy.

In His moment of greatest need Jesus could have said, “Guys!  I am about do DIE!  I am the greatest, you nimrods! How can you be thinking of yourselves at a time like this?!?”  Rather, He gently reminds them that the greatest would also be the one who serves.  But the most surprising thing to me that he says is right after.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials.”

That echoes in my heart.

Mom and Dad, you are those who have exemplified what it means to pray for your children through trials.

Josh, Jaime, Jesse, Joey, Jake, Julia…you are those who have stayed with me in my trials.

P.S. The rest of the story: Jaime and PJ will celebrate their 15th anniversary in March, and Dad and Mom love him. Well…mostly because he helped give them Kayla, Wyatt, Annie and Danae.