Compassionate Complementarianism: Or Who Should Take out the Trash?

Male female graphicAs Christians, we want to embrace biblical truth and make it “look right” in our homes, friendship and workplaces.  But what happens when gender roles become the focus rather than compassionate, humble love?

Over at Redeemer Church we’re starting a new blog series today that talks about stuff like this.  You can read my first post here.

Enjoy your day!


Thank You Letter to You, Mommy

Dear Mommy,

I’m thinking of you today because of what I wrote about yesterday. When I was surrounded by loving children praying for me, tears weren’t the only things streaming. If someone could have done a live stream of my thoughts during those moments, you would have been there right in the middle of them.

In those moments I was thanking God for you.

I know your days are long with little ones slobbering, tugging, spitting up and crawling on you. You can’t talk on the phone, eat, pee or check your email without someone asking you if bees have eyelids or tattling on a sibling. You count the minutes till nap time, but moments after you settle down exhausted for a catnap (because someone had nightmares or wet the bed or threw up last night) you get that weird feeling that you’re being watched and open your eyes to find a little face just inches from your own. And when Daddy finally comes home after you’ve been eager for adult company, one of you pushes a button in the other that sparks a conflict that makes tears pop into your own eyes, but you just can’t go there until stomachs are full and baths are over. By then you’re just too tired to get into it with your husband so you retreat to folding laundry that is now too wrinkled…so back in the dryer it goes because you certainly don’t have time to iron anything except those infrequent special-occasion clothes.

And if you’re a single mom there’s a whole bunch of unique challenges that those of us with husbands only experience when they’re out of town on business for a few days (how much does our whining bother you…really?).

But then the next day your little one wakes up with those sweet I-love-Mommy eyes and your heart melts like it does most mornings and you know you were made for this.

Yeah, right

Yeah, right

You were. You were made to wipe bottoms, address heart issues rather than the quicker option of wanting them to just obey!, and coverup nicks and crayon marks on your dining room table with tablecloths because you either can’t afford to replace it yet or can’t bear to refinish it. You were made to endure restless nights because a baby needs to be fed, a toddler fell out of bed again or God knows your sleep patterns need preparation for the teen years when they won’t start talking till 11 PM and you’re still awake praying after the conversation ends.

And you were made to get up most Sunday mornings to search for missing shoes and hope you won’t be late again and get ready to miss some of the worship at church because someone wet their pants or freaked out because you forgot the Cheerios.

Why? Because a hurting grandmother who raises her hand for prayer needs them.

But mostly she needs you.

She needs you to keep going when you wonder if your efforts are producing anything good. When you and your husband haven’t had a night out in weeks or months because, unlike that friend or two (that you’re jealous of, if you’re honest) you don’t have family nearby to help regularly with babysitting (and when did babysitters start charging more than they make working part time at the mall anyway???). When you feel your needs are going unmet because everyone else’s needs are more important.

Here’s my burden for you, young mother. You don’t know how much your church needs you. They need you to persevere — and ask for support and help when you can’t — because the simple act of getting there Sunday after Sunday unless God has plans otherwise means they’ll be there when it suddenly hits them: this isn’t just Mom or Dad’s church, this is my church. My church to help usher or greet newcomers. My church to serve in children’s ministry; help set up chairs; arrange cookies on a platter even though an adult could do it quicker; and, yes, notice an old lady raising her hands for prayer.

What you do day in and day out, week after week, year after year behind the closed doors of your home; while grocery shopping with cranky kids; during “family devotions” when no one is paying attention to the story because they want to play with your phone and you want to give up; and on Sundays when everything in you wants pull the covers over your head and pretend it’s not really morning already, is making an investment not just into the future but also into the present. When they see you stopping to pray for a passing ambulance or happen upon you reading the Bible during nap time because morning devotions just don’t get done much or remind them that you understand why it’s hard to be kind to their sibling because you aren’t kind sometimes, too — well, you’re doing your part to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4).

I know it doesn’t feel like that but it’s true. “Telling” your kids things isn’t just about the words that come out of your mouth but also the message your life speaks to them every day as you lay down your life for them again and again.

Keep it up. You and your church will enjoy the fruit someday, I promise.

And so might a teary grandmother whose life will be touched because day after day you do what’s hard — including finding that missing shoe on Sunday morning because it’s where you and they need to be.


Been There

P.S. This post is especially dedicated to Jaime.  I love and respect you so much….and in a year or two Caroline will join your other four to pray for Granma.

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

30 Years Ago Yesterday


Not everyone likes a gushing mom so I know some of my readers will probably skip today’s post. But I just can’t help but introduce you to my son, Jesse.

Yesterday was his 30th birthday.

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

I won’t go into the details that only Mom, maybe a couple of patient sisters or a wife would actually care about. But I want you to know that whenever I’m discouraged and wondering if the future will be brighter than the present I often think of Jesse.

You see, Jesse came into our lives after two “easy” kids. We never said it out loud but Benny and I thought we were pretty good parents with Josh and Jaime. They were compliant, pleasant and did what they were asked without much fuss. Other than Josh giving his little sister a bath with toilet water (it was clean, thankfully), the two of them “cleaning” the living room furniture with baby powder and then “cleaning” the fireplace by making sure all the soot got onto themselves we had a pretty easy time parenting them.

Jesse's firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Jesse’s firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Then came Jesse. Before he turned two he was throwing violent temper tantrums that left us crying (literally!) out to God for wisdom to help him. God was good to give us this little guy who fell onto the floor screaming in public to deal with any vestiges of good-parent- thinking and left us full of compassion for parents whose kids acted out in public.

One day I was in tears on the side of the road, feeling desperate and alone as a mother. I had no more solutions. No more strength. No more hope. The tantrums had been continuing for nearly two years and I was exhausted. Plus, we already had another son and had just found out I was pregnant again. Five kids in 11 years was about to become the end of me.

But hope came. WIth tears streaming down my face in the van that day I sensed the still, small voice of God’s comfort in my head assuring me that He was at work in my son’s heart and that someday I would see the fruit of all He was doing.

And I have and do.

Issac (yes, it's spelled right) is Jesse's second and is Daddy's mini-me

Issac (yes, it’s spelled right) is Jesse’s second and is Daddy’s mini-me

By God’s grace, Jesse is a trophy of His faithfulness. He is a faithful husband and loving father to three adorable boys. Through family trials and wrestlings with the Lord, God grew him; protected him; gifted him; and saved him. He grew in self-control and learned to depend on God to change his heart from one of anger to gentleness. God gave him a heart to honor his parents after years of kicking, biting and resisting us. He has brought this mom joy by filling our home with music and embracing a call to preach. He works hard to support his family as an IT guy and I can depend on a warm hug whenever he sees me.

If you have children about whom you are concerned, pour out your heart to God. He hears. He answers. He is faithful. He takes the wandering heart and turns it toward Himself. He transforms anger and disrespect into tenderness and honor. He brings joy following sadness, replaces fear with faith and fulfills His promises even when it takes longer than we hoped.

Jesse's youngest, Josiah

Jesse’s youngest, Josiah

Happy Birthday, son. I loved you when you bit and fought me. When you’d come into our room at night and talk about your struggles and temptations and accomplishments. When you came home and played “My Cheeseburger” on the piano at midnight. When you hit that last second shot and made Cindy and I jump up and down for joy on the bleachers. When you told me you were in love and when we shared the dance at your wedding. When you cried at The Columbia when we told you about the PC and when God brought you back to Orlando to live closeby. I love you for giving me three grandsons and for working hard to train them in godliness.

But I mostly love you for teaching me that while good parenting is important, the One who is most responsible for growing a kids heart and character is God. You’ve taught me humility both when you threw a fit in the floor at Toys R Us as a toddler and when you shared your heart with me as a teen.

I love to watch you love your wife and sons. I learn from your preaching. I value your counsel. And I’m grateful that you’re not nearly as impressed with yourself as I thought you might be. Thirty years from now I will most likely be gone. But every year I get to watch you grow, admit your flaws and failures, love your family and serve God’s people will be a joy.

I’m glad God gave you to me, son. And I pray that your life will continue to be an example to me and others that the story is still being written. God completes what He begins…always.

My son and his sons

My son and his sons

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Nine


A Message That Could Change Your Marriage

Yesterday’s post (you can find it below) resulted in a more than typical response from my readers. One of the blessings of blogging is that you can always change your plans at the last minute. So today I want to share just one more post on the gossip verses honesty thread.

Several years ago I was meeting with a group of wives of small group leaders at our former church. The topic that morning was on fulfilling our helper design as wives. When God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone He was talking about mankind in general, not just men. But any married woman or mother of sons can certainly see why it’s definitely not good for MEN to be alone!

As our conversation continued that morning, I mentioned that one of the way a godly wife is a “suitable helper” to her husband is by lovingly confronting his sin and involving others if he is unresponsive. It was one of the more vibrant meetings we had together. I was somewhat surprised by how intrigued most of the wives were by my comments. Two of them playfully asked if Benny planned to talk with their husbands about this topic at their next men’s meeting.

“If I go home and tell my husband that Sheree said I need to start confronting his sin…well…I just think it would be better for him to hear that from Benny!” (It wasn’t about what I was saying but about God’s instructions to believers to speak the truth — both positive and negative — in love to one another.)

“Seriously? Do you mean Benny invites and values your correction? Doesn’t he think you’re being disrespectful? And how do you do that without being critical and snooty?” (Benny doesn’t always eagerly welcome my correction or solicit my thoughts. But even when he doesn’t, am I off the hook from loving him enough to share them?)

The questions continued long past the ending time of our meeting — and spilled out into the parking lot afterwards.

The Bible commands the godly wife to respect and submit to her husband, as the church does to Christ. But when did “respect” equal leaving it to guy friends, co-workers or bosses to point out our husband’s flaws, sins or weaknesses? Who knows our husbands better than we do? And who loves them most?

Wifely respect and submission isn’t in competition with honesty. We all need people in our lives who know and love us enough to courageously call us out when we mess up. Sadly, too many marriages lack the depth, grace and mutual trust to do so.

But that can change, with God’s help!

What does loving rebuke or correction look look like in a Christian marriage? When do we overlook sin in our husband’s life; leave the discussion just between the two of us; or bring it up to a wise and trusted friend or pastor? How does the godly wife provide respectful biblical correction to her husband? What can happen when we wrongly interpret God’s word and either refuse to correct our husbands…or do so with self-righteous disrespect?

Author and speaker Carolyn Mahaney provides wise counsel and practical application for us in her excellent message Watch Your Man. This message may change your life and your marriage. You can download it for free here.

When I mentioned to Benny after that meeting that the wives hoped he would discuss this topic with the small group leaders, he actually encouraged the guys to listen to this, too. In fact, it may have been the first time my husband sent a message by a pastor’s wife out to other men as a listening assignment!

Please listen all the way through the message to the personal testimonies at the end. You won’t want to miss the humility, candor and practical insights you will hear from two godly wives who share their weaknesses in watching their men.

I promise we’ll move on to the Desperate Motherhood series.  Thanks for your patience!  And please consider reading the comments on yesterday’s post — and make your own! I honestly value your feedback either here on the blog or on the Faith Rising facebook page.

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.

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”; “US News and World Report Health”, July 31, 2009; “Positive Indicators of Sibling Relationship Quality”, University of Michigan, June 2003).

So What is Family “Closeness”?

As the sibling relationship series continues, I want to offer some heartfelt thoughts…and cautions. Any time family relationships comes up it stirs emotion.

One of my readers asked the excellent question, “What do you mean by close”?

What if your closest relationships are with those outside your family and everyone is fine with that? Is family closeness something for which we reach and seek to build, or something we trust God to do if He chooses? Does the Bible require biological families to be best friends? Is He more pleased with siblings who would rather vacation with each other than with anyone else?

Family “closeness” varies. There is no biblical definition of what family relationships should look like — except that the Bible is clear about how Christians should treat one another. We are called to love. Serve. Encourage. Rebuke. Be patient. Forgive. Be humble. Confess faults and sins. Be affectionate. Believe the best. Not be critical. God’s righteous demands are required of all of us in every relationship, including with our family members.

Whew. Hard stuff. Living this way is only possible because of the help provided by the indwelling Spirit of God! But because He died and sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, we have the power to obey Him. And to be forgiven when we don’t.

This series is for parents. It’s not designed to address the many aspects of adult sibling relationships. Nor is it meant to define what sibling closeness should look like in every family. We can only be certain on what something should “look like” when the Bible is clear.

As parents, we usually want everything about our kid’s lives to be better than ours. We want to help the avoid youthful sin; have more money; get a better education; struggle less; make fewer mistakes; suffer less; and be close to their siblings when they grow up so we can all have Norman Rockwell Christmases together. Whatever we do now doesn’t guarantee results later. Adult children make their own decisions and sometimes choose to forsake parental instruction to go their own way. And sometimes God uses the very trials we want them to avoid to be the conduit through which grace and change come. The simple fact is your five and seven-year-olds might agree now to be besties when they grow up, then end up living on opposite sides of the country and rarely communicate on a deeper than superficial level.

The question I am attempting to provide a response to is, “How can I do my part to see my kids love each other, now and in the future?”

Dear friends, Bob and Julie, and their expanding family. Such precious memories of our years together in northern Virginia. Our oldest daughters remain dear friends to this day.

Please don’t read my words — or the words of my kids who are contributing to this series– and think we are trying to paint a picture to hang on the walls of your home. Honestly, just doing this series has reminded us all of the “dangers, toils and snares” through which our family has walked: things that could have divided us rather than held us together. And as Jake said on Friday, we know many families who have strong and close relationships (like a family we dearly love pictured here) and don’t see our family as unique or special.

So, no, every family doesn’t have to share our definition or practice of closeness. But every parent who professes Christ as Lord has a responsibility to not only uphold biblical principles in how we treat and love others (help, Lord!) but to also teach our kids to do the same. What better place to begin and practice than in our own home?

Believe me, our family doesn’t take our relationships for granted. In fact, we’ve been tested enough that we sometimes marvel at God’s faithfulness.

I was raised by a mother who showed me what a family legacy can look like when people decide to love each other through sin; disappointment; grief; gossip; critical judgement; distance; and all manner of offenses. Then He gave Benny and me seven kids who we dared believe could emerge from a childhood fraught with common sibling meanness, bickering, jealousy and selfishness with friendships purified by forgiveness and loyal love.

My hope in doing this series is to cast “a” vision — not “the” vision — for doing the hard work day in and day out to train children to obey Biblical commands for how to treat their brothers and sisters. Our parental role can’t be results driven, but obedience-to-God driven. I know godly parents who worked hard to build a culture of love between their kids, only to see them walk away from the family altogether. The comfort these parents have is they did their best to teach the Bible’s one anothers to their children. Through disappointment they are learning to understand the story is not over for them or their children.

Our oldest daughter, Jaime, has four children. She learned a lot about how to manage a home and family by being Mom’s helper when she was growing up. She also learned that having daughters who bite and pull each other’s hair is nothing to worry about as long as they are “forced” to love each other.

You’ll read her story tomorrow.

In-Law Name Calling

Corrie and Todd were getting married in three months. Corrie was an only child while Todd had three siblings, two of whom were married. One night Todd asked Corrie when she planned to start calling his parents Mom and Dad. (He didn’t share that this had come up in a conversation with his Mom earlier that week.)

Corrie was stunned.  “Todd, I can’t call your parents the same thing I call my parents!” It was then that Corrie remembered that in Todd’s family the kids-in-law all call his parents Dad and Mom. This was the first time she had seriously thought about this — but, no — she just couldn’t do it! She had a good relationship with them, but they would always be Mr. and Mrs. Campbell to her. It would be so awkward to call them anything else — and besides, how weird would that be for her parents? Well, maybe she could start calling them Bob and June but that’s as far as she could go.

What to call the parents is a common and sometimes tense issue for young couples. In families like Todd’s there’s an expectation that kids-in-law will demonstrate their affection for becoming a part of the family by calling their new in-laws Dad and Mom. Anything else would be offensive and communicate that Corrie really didn’t want to be a part of the family or preferred a standoffish relationship with the new in-laws. Todd’s Mom already had some concerns about Corrie’s aloofness at family gatherings. Todd was sure that starting to call her Mom would convince her and the family that Corrie loved them.

“Todd, you know I don’t mind spending time with your family. Wait a minute,” she thought. “Did your mom bring this up? Ugh. I hate it when she talks to you about stuff about me. Couldn’t you have just told her that this was between you and me? This is what happened on your birthday, too. She couldn’t just let you and I spend the day together; you had to do the family thing. Well, I just can’t do it. And you need to be the one to explain to her that Mom is reserved for my mother. I’m sorry….Wait. But now that we’re on the subject, what are you gonna call my parents?”

This tension may sound familiar to some of you. Corrie’s discomfort with calling the Campbells Dad and Mom bumped up against Todd’s willingness to make the change with her parents. Corrie was torn. She admitted she liked the idea of hearing Todd call her parents familial names but she didn’t want that to draw attention to the fact that she just couldn’t reciprocate. How, though, could Todd explain to his parents that they would remain Mr. and Mrs. Campbell — or maybe switch to her calling them by their first names — when their other two children-in-law called them Dad and Mom? Wouldn’t that tempt them to believe Corrie didn’t really like them?

What to call the in-laws isn’t an issue when everyone is on the same page. But when they aren’t, it can cause conflicts and misunderstandings that are often connected to other common in-law issues. Corrie had already struggled with differences between her family and the Campbells, especially when it came to holidays. She liked her family traditions and wanted to retain them for her children. Besides, she was an only child and Todd’s parents had three other kids around for special days. Certainly all the Campbells would understand that she couldn’t leave her parents alone on holidays for hours on end. She could still see the sadness in Mom’s eyes when they left Thanksgiving lunch last year to head over to eat another big meal with all the Campbells.

Competition between in-law families is real and common. Yet it’s something that is rarely acknowledged or discussed. “What to call them” is the frequent door through which couples and their parents can walk to discuss other both heart-related and practical issues.

One blogger put it this way: “I just couldn’t muster the courage to call her mom or mother. I had feelings of disloyalty to my own mother and even betrayal sharing that title with her.  I honored her but I never gave her a name! I would just appear in her presence or on a phone call and start with pleasantries.”

Here are some considerations we have talked through and passed on to young couples during pre-marriage counseling. (Once again, they’re just our thoughts, not the next on a list of in-law “rules”.)

  • What to call the in-laws is a personal decision to be made by the younger couple. Parents who make this an issue or become hurt by what their children–in-law call them may be inching shut the door that we’ll be called anything! Some of our New Kids call us Dad and Mom while others call us Benny and Sheree. What they call us isn’t nearly as important as it being clear that this, along with numerous other decisions, are theirs not ours. Parents who make this an issue or allow seeds of resentment to be planted in their hearts are starting off on the wrong foot.
  • Sensitive parents-in-law understand that feelings of betrayal or disloyalty can make it hard for children-in-law to call them anything other than what they called them prior to marriage. Making it any issue (either outwardly or quietly in a seething heart) can damage your relationship with the child-in-law and create potential conflict in your child’s marriage. (Which you may secretly enjoy on some level, but which tempts your child to take sides between you and their spouse which rarely results in longterm benefits to anyone.)
  • In-law relationships vary and shouldn’t be held to an unspoken and extra-biblical standard. What you call someone doesn’t have to reveal heart issues, good or bad. And what your friend’s in-law children call them isn’t the issue. My husband always called my mother by her first name but there was deepening affection between them over several decades. He cared for, served, joked with and cherished her. In fact, he was closer to her than to his mother. A friend of ours who called his mother-in-law Mom (because that was what she and his wife expected) rarely interacted with her. His willingness to avoid hurt feelings by calling her Mom didn’t create a warm relationship between them because relationship comes from the heart and may not be at all connected to what you call a person.
  • Name calling can change. One of my New Guys routinely calls me Sheree but sometimes calls me Mom. The point is he is around to call me something! One friend has a son-in-law that called her by her first name for years, but then switched to Mom. When asked about the switch he said, “Oh yeah. I switched. Not sure why.”

As a parent-in-law it is my responsibility to guard my heart from resentment or unhelpful expectations of our New Kids. Shortly before the weddings I make sure there’s time for a conversation with each New Kid. One of the things I do in that conversation is release them to call me whatever they choose. I want them to know that what is important to me is that they feel warmly welcomed into our family, not what they call me. I don’t have to change their name when they marry my child and I don’t want them to feel like they have to change mine.

What is more important to the in-law relationship, what we call one another or how we relate to one another? The memories I have of Benny mowing Mom’s lawn; gobbling up the homemake biscuits she made just because he was coming over; investing funds into adding a small apartment onto our Virginia home for her; tenderly kissing her forehead and telling her he loved her the night we left to move to Orlando; and sharing a beautiful tribute to her at her funeral mean far more to me than what he called her.

I also call his mom by her first name. After Mom died I hoped to transfer that name to her just so I could call someone Mom. But I didn’t. And I probably won’t. Soon she will be moving in with us. I will make her food, share my days with her, drive her to appointments and possibly do lots more for her as she is unable to care for herself. I have never been very close to her but I do love her; mostly I love her son. I’m about to be given the opportunity to demonstrate my affection for both of them in tangible ways, having never called her Mom.

What to call the in-laws is an issue that invites people on both sides of the relationship to take a look at their hearts.

More on that tomorrow.

P.S.  As a reminder, the posts so far have been nuanced in the direction of the parents-in-law. A couple of readers have asked when thoughts for children-in-law are coming. Smile. They will.

What To Do When Greet By Hugging Marries Wave From Across the Room?

Today and tomorrow I’m going to share some personal lessons I’ve learned in my fifteen years as a mother-in-law and early next week I’ll communicate some thoughts for children-in-law, but before I do, some opening comments….

I’ve learned from your comments and messages that some of you are in painful relationships with your in-laws. Please know my intent in blogging about this issue is not to address the unique concerns of every reader. Few things stab at a mother or father’s heart than awkward or adversarial challenges involving our children.  My heart goes out to those of you whose in-law relationships are plagued by suspicion, accusation or tension. Others of you have healthy and warm in-law relationships. I pray these posts have made you freshly grateful! Still others have little relationship with your in-laws. You have rare or no contact with them. Perhaps you would like to — or maybe you’re glad they are a non-factor in your life.

The things I share are simply ideas and lessons from my own life and experience to be considered or tossed as irrelevant or unhelpful. While I certainly pray they are helpful, I also know that your best source of counsel is the scriptures and those who know you best. But for what it’s worth, I want to share six lessons I am learning that have helped my relationships with my New Kids. Some of these lessons have been learned the hard way through mistakes on my part while others have been gleaned from others, including my mother and mother-in-law.

One more thing: please understand that I am speaking to a generally Christian audience of people who are encountering normal and common issues. If you are experiencing serious issues of any kind and are not already receiving counseling from a qualified source, I urge you to do so. I am not a professional counselor; I’m simply a wife, mother, friend and homemaker just like many of you.

The first lesson I’d like to share is please remind yourself that your child’s relationship with their spouse must be valued as the most important one in his/her life. Marriage was the first human relationship God created. This was for good reason. He chose this union to demonstrate the covenant love and devotion between Christ and His bride, the church. Even before the first couple had children, God taught mankind that once God brings a man and woman together in marriage they must “leave” their father and mother and “cleave to” (“hold fast” or “be glued to”) one another (Gen 2:24).

After our children are married, we cannot and should not do or say anything to separate or jeopardize this prized relationship. While all of us are instructed by God to “honor [our] father and mother” we must allow the Bible to interpret itself in what this should look like. We may feel that honoring us means our married children should continue to seek our counsel about decisions; tightly protect our family’s holiday traditions and continue to faithfully attend family gatherings; realize how much we miss them and call us regularly to see how we’re doing; and elevate our preferences as the “elders” of the family.

Do I wish the Bible defined honor as requiring my adult children to live nearby and spend Christmas morning with Benny and me every single year until we die? Absolutely! But it doesn’t and couldn’t, unless our child’s in-laws also live nearby and we shared Christmas morning together so our child-in-law can “honor” his/her parents, too! As parents, we can certainly make honest, reasonable requests. But when our children marry they are beginning a new family that is separate from our own. This doesn’t mean they are given a pass to be selfish, insensitive and uncaring. However, just as our own relationship with our parents changed when we married and left home, so does our children’s relationship with us.

I have come to see the wisdom of God in doing everything I can to prize my married children’s relationship with their spouse over their relationship with me. This hasn’t been easy. At times I have wrestled, cried, battled self-pity and fought resentment. Then I remember that God called them to leave me and cleave to each other. The best thing I can do for my married son or daughter is release and encourage them to cherish their mate. This is especially important in the early years of the new marriage when in-law children understandably wonder how their new parent(s)-in-law are dealing with the changes.

One of the most endearing things that happens in my relationship with my sons-in-law, PJ and Eric, is when they send their wives to Mom for counsel. This is so meaningful because it demonstrates their trust that I (hopefully!) won’t say anything to my daughter that will put a wedge between her and her husband. This hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when I have been tempted to take up an offense for my girls; after all, I’m their mom! But in cases of martial strife or difficulty, the best thing any friend or advisor can do is compassionately point the person to the One who has all the help that is needed for whatever is happening rather than quickly share our mom-tainted advice. When our children marry we want their spouses to come to trust that we will not do anything to sentimentally draw their spouse — our child — away from them and toward us.

Second, resist any temptation to make critical or unkind comments to your child about his/her spouse. Again, as Christians the scriptures should be our guide in every relationship. Sinful speech in the form of gossip, fault-finding, sarcastic or critical words are not forbidden in the Bible except when in-laws are involved. As parents, we will certainly observe and perhaps hear struggles our children are having with their spouses. Our children are imperfect sinners who married imperfect sinners! But then something usually happens: they kiss and make up. In the aftermath of a conflict or when our children are hurt or hopeless, they may actually want us to agree with them that their spouse is a louse! But later they and we are left with the sarcastic, judgmental or accusing words that were spoken in the heat of the turmoil. As parents, it is our responsibility to wisely choose our words when talking to our child about his or her spouse, especially when they and/or we are upset or concerned.

I have heard in-laws on both sides of the relationship who have had to take a hard stand. Married kids have had to say, “Please don’t criticize my spouse anymore. If you have any concerns or criticisms to share, you will need to speak with them and not me.” Parents-in-law who speak negatively about their child’s spouse may let off some steam now but will likely pay later. Additionally, when married kids develop a pattern of sinfully bashing their spouse to Mom and Dad they, too, blow off steam that tempts parents to resent a child-in-law. In both of these cases, the damage can be serious.

Third, and last for today, recognize you are building a lifelong relationship. There have been things about each of my in-law children that have bothered me — and certainly things about me that have bothered them! All relationships are flawed. Even the best of friendships are tested through conflict, misunderstanding and hurt feelings. It’s no surprise that people-in-law confuse, disappoint and sin against one another. And on top of that, there is a common weirdness to in-law relationships because two families are being united to some degree. Even in-laws who have little interaction are affected by the upbringing, traditions, values and family “culture” of the person to whom their child is married.

Loud marries boistrous. Tidy marries sloppy. Tradition marries “whatever we’d like to do this holiday.” Resolve it now marries this can wait. Greet by hugging marries wave from across the room. Make sure you see Mom on her birthday marries give her a call that day-ish.

Throw some sin in the mix and of course there will be challenges! Now that I’ve had married kids for nearly fifteen years I am learning that I need to be as patient with my New Kids as God is with me. God doesn’t point out all my faults and areas of needed growth at once. Wow. If He did I would be completely overwhelmed. I’ve tried to imagine how hard it is on a new husband or wife to wonder if the in-laws approve of them. Who wants to live under that kind of pressure and concern, even if it’s unspoken? Being married is hard enough without the added pressure of wondering if a parent-in-law is pleased with who you are.

Most of what has bothered me about my New Kids centers on personal preference. Yes, they sin just like I do. But most of the weirdness has been lessened by the realization that I’m tempted to elevate my preferences over our relationship. That’s why I decided to give my relationship with our New Kids two years before I bring up any uninvited concerns. (If they’re reading this post they probably learned this for the first time.) Certainly if there was something serious that needed immediate attention, Benny and I would speak up. But most of the things that worried me were no longer a concern in two years. Any weighty issues that became a pattern were more easily discussed when they were secure in our love and commitment to not meddle.

The fact is this: if you’re a parent of married children like me, our children made a choice. We may or may not agree with the person or timing of their choice. But once the choice is made we are wise to build a culture of love and trust. Alienating our children and their spouse is no way to build a bridge over which the joys and challenges to come can be carried.

P.S. I know this post is long. But if you made it to the end you now know that I’ll post the other three lessons I’m learning tomorrow. I would love to hear any helpful lessons you are learning. Please share them in the comment section for my and others benefit!