When Mother’s Day Just Isn’t Happy

Sunday is a special day for many women — a day full of warmth and joy.  But for other women it’s a reminder of loss, estrangement, disappointment or pain.

And it’s often hard to admit in the midst of all the flowers and cards.

Read more about my story and the story of man others here.

Blessings!

Sheree

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The Wisdom of Rules

Today’s post is provided by my son, Joey. He is married to Lauren and they have an adorable Disney-loving daughter, Amelia. Joey manages ProVisionIT, a technology solutions company started by his oldest brother, where his degree in Philosophy is completely irrelevant. But his love for truth comes in handy when he reads Mom’s blogs and offers to help nuance things for me. I’m grateful that my kids even read my posts, much less want to weigh in.

Yesterday my brother, Jake, tackled the issue of legalism, explaining how parental rule-making and standard enforcement is not necessarily legalism. Legalism is a heart motivation issue, not an issue or practice. He was writing given the understanding that those reading would have read Mom’s post regarding sexual temptation and sin in the home. I am going to do the same by following up Jake to argue that making rules and enforcing standards in regards to worldliness and sexuality is a very wise thing to do, on top of it not being legalistic.

Okay, the truth is I’m a new parent of one three-year-old who mostly needs to be protected from too many Disney movies. That’s why Mom is the one who does most of the writing here. But I was a kid living at home with my parents for over two decades, so I think that qualifies me as an expert at being the recipient of rules and standards, some I resented and a couple I rebelled against.  And while my parents worked hard to adjust their parenting methods as my siblings and I became young adults to give us opportunities to either learn through our mistakes or become our own gatekeepers, I didn’t see anything in scripture that permitted me to dis their wisdom under the guise of “independence.” So I’m writing as one who benefitted from the kind of gatekeeping parenting that I hope to practice with my own kids.

libertychurcharab.com

libertychurcharab.com

I am briefly going to mention some common objections to the gatekeeper method of parenting when it comes to worldliness, then suggest three reasons why those objections are insufficient and consistently applied rules and standards are wise, especially as it relates to our sex-saturated culture.

A brief definition of the gatekeeper parental mentality was given by Mom in her article. On a very basic level gatekeeping says a parent needs to do their best to guard the gates of the hearts of their children, endeavoring to minimize bad input and maximize good input. This idea receives a fair share of criticism, stemming from a few fundamental objections.

(1) It’s impossible – This objection points out that gatekeeping is impossible because (a) no matter how absurdly isolationist you are, you can’t keep everything bad out and, (b) children’s hearts are not blank slates that will remain clean if parents keep out the dirtiness of the world – after all, Calvin calls our hearts “idol factories” capable of all manner of sin, no matter how closely guarded. This objection is a good one for the most part, in that it’s based in truth. It’s an effective response to those who take the gatekeeping mentality too far, and it’s a good reminder to all parents that God changes hearts, not parents. Mom’s article did a good job explaining why relying on just a gatekeeping mentality is not effective and also naive.

(2) It’s legalistic – See Jake’s article yesterday. As one commenter said, “I’m not legalistic; I don’t have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I don’t” is just as wrong as “I’m not legalistic; I just have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I do.”

(3) It stunts growth and sets kids up for failure – This objection points out that parents aren’t going to be around forever, and then argues too much gatekeeping can train a child to rely too heavily on his parents. Then when he is on his own he doesn’t have the ability to protect his own heart. Kids need to learn to develop their own convictions, which is part of what growing up is all about, and gatekeeping delays that process. This is why you have so many kids who abandon the faith when they reach college. They simply aren’t prepared for the onslaught of the culture when they leave their [overly] protective parents, and don’t have the convictions they should have been developing for themselves at home so they would be prepared for the world. Now that their parents aren’t there to protect them, they easily capitulate to temptation and buy into worldly ways of thinking.

Those are the main categories that objections fall into when it comes to protective parenting. Here are the three reasons I think the objections, while all containing helpful guards against relying on gatekeeping alone, fail to see the wisdom of parental gatekeeping.

(1) The Bible teaches it. – “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6 is not about parenting. However, it’s pretty clear about what God thinks of people who see danger and fail to protect those around them through warnings. You see this same type of thought with the temple gatekeepers who were responsible for both making sure nothing unclean got into and nothing of value was taken out of the temple. God expects those responsible for protection to protect. Parents are entrusted by God to protect their children, not just physically but spiritually (Duet 4:9-10, 6:6-9). Almost every reference to parenting in Proverbs includes the idea of correction, which is taught as one of the ways you protect your child. In fact, failing in this regard is equated to being an accessory to their spiritual death (Proverbs 19:18). It is impossible to find any indication in Scripture that not actively protecting your children from worldly influence and temptation is a good idea.

(2) It Works – Not perfectly, of course. Mom’s article is exactly right that rules, standards and strategies to limit your children’s exposure to our sex-saturated culture are only part of the parenting equation. But it is a helpful part — and a large part of the reason why is that kids are imitators. (So are adults for that matter. But it’s obvious in kids.)

As I mentioned, Amelia loves Disney and she went through a stretch of                         watching a lot of the Disney classics. Just about every one of them ends with a kiss. It wasn’t long before playing with her Disney prince and princess dolls meant, well, a lot of kissing and not much else. Lauren and I stopped showing Beauty and Beast and Cinderella and a few of the others, stuck with Disney Junior for a while, and now her dolls are having bad attitudes at each other for not opening the castle door quickly enough. Much better.

The point is, whether it’s a two-year-old watching a G rated movie or a 13-year-old starting to mimic the speech of his best friend, kids imitate. As Christians we are called to imitate Christ, and Deuteronomy/Proverbs indicate a wise parent trains their child in that regard from the very beginning. This necessarily means minimizing their exposure to worldly things to imitate, along with maximizing their exposure to godly things to imitate. By the way, in my opinion the most important way to do this with older kids is through monitoring their friendships.

(3) It’s Not Just for Kids – I think where the objection that gatekeeping sets kids up for failure when they get to the real world misses the mark is in its ignoring of the fact that it shouldn’t stop once they are outside the home. Guarding the heart, minimizing worldly input, setting up rules of accountability…none of these things should end at any point. As kids get older they should be taking responsibility for being the primary gatekeepers of their own hearts, but gatekeeping is still required, and for all the same reasons. Gatekeeping is a necessary and wise part of parenting because it is how kids learn to be the gatekeepers of their own heart. That’s the idea behind the oft misunderstood “train up a child in the way he should go” verse. Parenting is nothing other than teaching and demonstrating the Christian life to your children. If you are a gatekeeper of your own heart, if you have rules and standards in place in your own life as to the type of input the world has into your heart because you know your heart needs that type of vigilance, than it would be a grievous dereliction of your God-given responsibility as a parent not to teach your child to do the same.

Joey and his Disney girls

Joey and his Disney girls

Wednesday’s Child

She was five and we were sitting on the bed together. I was passively watching the evening news while editing one of her brother’s homeschool writing papers while she played with a couple of stuffed animals.

openadoptioninsight.org

openadoptioninsight.org

“Will you give me away?” she asked, jolting my attention away from correcting Joey’s common overuse of commas.

The news channel that was on did a weekly spot called Wednesday’s Child which showed children who needed foster families. I had noticed the children were always black or hispanic. That day, my little bi-racial daughter seemed to notice this for the first time. As I asked questions, I realized she was wondering why these children didn’t have parents and understood they had been “given away” by them.

That was our first “real” conversation about her adoption. I explained to her that God brought her to our family…forever. The children she saw on TV needed a family but she would never need a family. She had one and we would never let her go.

“Honey, no one will ever take you away and Daddy and Mommy will never give you away. No matter what happens, you’re ours.” A faint smile appeared on her adorable round face and I squeezed her tight. It was a holy moment for me that I hope to never forget; a moment where I asked the Lord to seal in her little heart that having a Mommy and Daddy who loved her was super important and could help her through whatever the future brought.

Over the years since then we’ve had other conversations. Each time the content deepens and each time she learns a little more about the circumstances surrounding her adoption.

In a recent conversation with a friend I was lamenting that I wished I had known years ago some of the things I understand about God and His ways now. I surmised that if I had been more attentive to His word or sought to know and understand Him more deeply I may have been able to avoid some trials along the way — like a few through which I am currently walking.

Her response resulted in me doing what my friend Ginny calls “processing.” She explained that because we are God’s children He can’t divulge all of who He is at once. As we mature He is able to disclose more of Himself to us. My daughter is able to grasp more about the complex issues of adoption now than when we had our first conversation fifteen years ago. Likewise, as we Christians grow spiritually,God is able to entrust us with more about who He is and how we have gotten to where we are today.

Honestly, I don’t always like what providence brings. Sometimes I wish for days gone by when simple answers like “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” satisfied me. Dealing with aging, living in a fallen world full of my and others sin, and too frequently battling anxiety about what the future holds for me and those I love forces me to run to God for help. Feeding on milk was way easier than the solid food required of me now.

But when I run for help I still don’t typically get what I want. You see, what I too often want is either for someone or something to change when God’s agenda is a change in me. Will I trust Him when I’m completely out of control of my circumstances? Can His plan actually be better than mine? Is He powerful enough to sustain and strengthen me when I want to give up? Are the difficulties through which I’m walking building rather than tearing down my confidence that He is in control and everything He does is good (thanks, Mom)?

Yes, growing up in Christ means having to wrestle with aspects of who I am and who He is in a different way than I could handle when I was younger. Living in a broken, fallen world is just plain hard way more often than I anticipated. Somehow I got the idea that growing in godliness and knowing Christ better would mean an “abundant life” that meant less hard stuff.

But when it’s time for Him to go a little deeper in His communication with me I find something amazing every time: I find that I am His. Forever. Even when nothing changes but my perspective, there is comfort simply in having a loving Father.

The truth is I was Wednesday’s Child before He adopted me. Knowing that He will never give me away helps me to navigate the complex issues Christian maturity requires. After all, knowing I’m loved is super important and can help me through whatever the future brings.

Did I Really Just Say That?

Yesterday I talked about the common challenge of being sometimes lost as a mother. The pressure to feel we have to always know what to do and then do it right plaques many mothers, including me. After all, if we get directions and plan things well, all should go smoothly, right?

sharonctdailyphoto.blogspot.com

sharonctdailyphoto.blogspot.com

But what about those moments for which you can’t prepare? Even if we could do it all right in the normal tasks of caring for, feeding, cleaning up after, training and teaching our kids, at points along the way things are going to take us off guard and we’ll be lost for how to respond. We (hopefully) aren’t surprised when our babies throw food out of the highchair, toddlers hit other kids or teens lie about getting homework done. But do we somehow expect that if we do all the “right” things along the way and make every imaginable sacrifice for our kids that they won’t make really bad decisions that leave us awake at night crying?  If we teach them not to throw food or hit others — and lovingly talk to them about our own temptations to lie so they won’t feel we don’t understand, while stressing the importance of honesty — are we thus protecting ourselves from the really hard things?

My oldest is about to turn 35. (I won’t bore you with the “how in the heck did that happen” comments.) But I encountered something recently I hadn’t experienced in all those years….

My husband is a pastor. Gratefully, while some of my kids went through tough spiritual seasons and made bad choices, they always willingly attended church on Sunday mornings with us. I’m sure there were times when they may have rather slept in. But unless they were sick or out of town we were together worshiping on Sundays.

A few months back I went to wake up one of our remaining at-home kids to hear they were too tired to go. Honestly, I didn’t know what was “right” to say. Some of my friends whose kids are uninvolved in a church have taken the road of not wanting to force their kids to go. Others take the “as long as you’re in this house you’ll go to church” posture and fight with their kids to comply because that’s what they think is best.

That morning I was stumped. How do I respond? I was surprised at the words that came out of my mouth.

“Hmm…well, honey, that might actually work out good. We still have a lot of packing to get done [we were moving soon] so let’s see…I’ll give you another 30 minutes and then you can get up and help me get started.”

“Huh? What? Mom, you’re not staying home.”

“Actually, yes I am.  If you stay home then I’ll stay home, too, and we’ll get a lot done together. See ya in a few minutes.”

I left the room wondering what in the world I had just done! A pastor’s wife (of a brand new and small church where everyone knows who is/isn’t there, mind you) just told her teenaged child we would both skip church to pack boxes? Was I letting my child manipulate me? While I hadn’t anticipated facing this specific parenting issue, if I had I certainly wouldn’t have come up with that response!

While back in by bedroom grabbing grubby clothes to change into I experienced the peace of God. I realized in that moment that my child knowing I wouldn’t react angrily or selfishly to them not wanting to go to church was important to me. And that prizing my relationship with them over forcing “church” (even their father’s church) down their throat was a genuine priority.

In that moment — a moment I hadn’t planned for — what needed to be said was “there.” Maybe it’s not what you would have said. And perhaps I’ll realize years from now that it really wasn’t the right thing to say.

But as I started to change my clothes I heard my kid’s shower start up….

As we drove away they told me I wouldn’t have really stayed home.

“Yes, I would. And I will stay home next week and the week after and the week after that if that’s what you decide.  I love you, and showing you that what we do we do together is more important than forcing you to get up and go to church.”

We’ve been going every Sunday since.

Maybe you wish your “I didn’t prepare for this moment” was a child not wanting to get out of bed for church. Perhaps your moment was finding a journal entry that talked about suicide or discovering internet porn on your teen’s computer or leaving a doctor’s visit reeling from bad news.

I’ve had similar moments, too. But I’ve found that trusting God to help me in the non-crisis moments prepares me for the big ones.

Desperate mothers, which is what this series is about, are desperate enough to believe that still, small voice that guides us. Sometimes what’s best for our kid isn’t what’s best for someone else’s. Often the wisdom we need is found in biblical principles rather than being spelled out in the black and white pages of the Bible.

And sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

P.S.  I’m participating in 30 days of blogging…this is day three.

UBC-banner3

When Basketball Isn’t God’s Will

Right from my personal notebook.

Right from my personal notebook.

I’m continuing a series I started on Monday called When Obedience is Costly. Yesterday I mentioned I would elaborate on how saying yes to something means saying no to other things. Obedience to God is costly because sometimes saying ‘yes’ just isn’t the right thing to do, even if the choice is one we greatly desire.

Our kids all played basketball. This biased mom thinks they were each pretty good. As would be expected, though, the son who topped out at 6’5″ was a particularly welcome addition to his teams. His high school coach had connections at a local university and offered to arrange a walk-on tryout for Jesse. While he had no guarantees of making the team, Benny wisely advised our son to walk through the decision-making process prior to the tryout. After all, being offered a spot on a team could too easily color his decision after the fact. (Benny and I have learned the hard way that most decisions should be anticipated before rather than during emotionally charged situations.)

We went to dinner one night to talk things through. Benny explained the principle above and encouraged Jesse to make a list of the things he would be saying ‘no’ to if he said ‘yes’ to playing for the University of Central Florida. Jesse was understandably intrigued by the possibility of playing college ball. What athlete wouldn’t be? And, honestly, our family would have been his biggest fans if that was God’s plan.

Jesse left that evening knowing he had a formidable assignment from Dad. He had to prayerfully and practically consider all the situations and relationships that would be affected by the rigors of collegiate sports. When we got back together several days later to talk, Jesse soberly told us he thought he should tell his coach not to schedule the tryout. A part of him desperately wanted to know if he could make the team. When he saw on paper the lengthy list of what he would say no to, however, saying yes to the opportunity to play college ball just didn’t weigh enough.

Only God knew that what was just around the corner for our son was a relationship with the woman who is now his wife and the mom of his three sons, plus an opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a pastor (something that he put on hold for now while he provides for his family as an IT guy).

Obeying God is sometimes crystal clear and other times clear as mud. 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” http://www.psychcentral.com; “US News and World Report Health”, July 31, 2009; “Positive Indicators of Sibling Relationship Quality”, University of Michigan, June 2003).

Siblings. Samuel L Jackson. And the Importance of Forgiveness.

Inviting my kids to contribute to this series was risky. Smile. You’re about to read why. Let the mocking begin — Sheree.

This post is written by Jake, a first-year law student at the University of Florida and number six of my seven J’s. His smile has brightened our lives for 23 years.

When Mom asked my siblings and me if we wanted to contribute to her blog series, my initial thought was “Of course.”  What young parent wouldn’t want to learn from my experience and wisdom?  As I thought about it, however, I was at a loss.  Like many families, we are very close and love each other.  I also recognize that the desire to have children who love each other is common, and the potential that they won’t have close relationships growing up is real.  So what did my parents do when we were young to foster good relationships? The problem is, most of what they did was for the purpose of fostering good relationships among their kids; and when everything you do is at least partly motivated by a single goal it’s hard to point out specific, tangible things.  What I settled on, though, was the importance of forgiveness and repentance.

Let me explain why.  My theory is that brothers and sisters, all things being equal, will naturally be close.  A quick survey of pop culture, history and society shows that even non-Christians agree that siblings should have close relationships.  (See movies like Brothers, Lawless or Boondock Saints, or songs like Murder in the City by The Avett Brothers.) Not that they always will; but if they don’t, it’s usually because something went wrong.  In other words, how often, either among people you know, real situations among people you don’t know, or in movies, do you hear the attitude, “Oh yeah, my siblings are alright I guess.  I like them well enough, just not enough to really ever want to take time to see them or talk to them or care about their lives.  They’re cool though.”  Usually, either they’re close or something particular happened that broke the relationship.

This, I think, is supported by the fact that the Bible has relatively little to say specifically about the fostering of sibling relationships, yet the Bible also says “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”  It seems, then, that despite having relatively little to say about the subject, there is an assumption that brothers (and, I would think, siblings generally) will be very close.  After all, that statement only means something if brothers are close.  It doesn’t mean very much if that verse simply meant “there is a friend that will pass a very average bar and will be moderately important to you.”  If I tell you “there is a person in the world that is cooler than Josh Phillips”, that doesn’t mean much.  You’d probably say “Yeah, no kidding, Sherlock.” But if I say, “there is a person in the world that is cooler than Sam Jackson” that actually means something.  You’d probably find that very hard to believe.  If “closer than a brother” is analogous to the coolness of Josh Phillips that verse means nothing.  In that scenario there are probably LOTS of friends closer than a brother.  But if it’s analogous to the coolness of Samuel L. Jackson, a.k.a. the coolest human ever, then that verse means something.  It would be incredible for a friend to be closer than a brother.

It seems as if the assumption that siblings will be close is a biblical assumption.  Therefore, for siblings to not be close, in most situations, means something has to go wrong.  Unfortunately, we live in a world wrecked by sin, which means that something will often go wrong.  Siblings will sin against each other, eventually become disillusioned, bitter or cold, and relationships will either quickly or gradually become unimportant or farcical.

How do we avoid this? Since this is my shot, this post isn’t even half done. I hope your patience will be rewarded….

I’m sure there are many ways to keep kids close.  But I believe the main way our parents helped my siblings and me avoid drifting apart is by stressing forgiveness and repentance above all else.  See, we can’t stop something wrong from happening in our relationships; we can, however, make sure that those “wrong” things don’t negatively influence our relationships.

My siblings and I have sinned against each other more times than I care to remember.  When I was 7, Joey would get SO angry at me just because I would crush him at Madden ’95.  When I was 8, Janelle would lie and say “her knee hurt” every time we played basketball, just so she could go inside and read Anne of Green Gables.  When I was 17, Josh would get angrier at me than at any of my teammates when he was my coach.  See what I mean? See what I had to go through growing up? If Mom and Dad hadn’t shown me the importance of forgiveness, I probably wouldn’t even talk to them anymore.

In all seriousness, we did and do sin against each other…often.  That’s the “something went wrong” I was talking about earlier — the types of things that inhibit what would otherwise be a naturally close relationship.  Since our earliest years Mom and Dad, as well as Nanny, Bobi, (Mom’s older sister) and many others both articulated and exemplified the importance of forgiveness.  When we were younger it was as simple making us apologize to each other every time they heard angry words or selfish attitude, even over simple things that didn’t seem like that big a deal.  Even though our apology was sometimes forced (and I’m sure they knew that), the important thing was us getting into the habit of recognizing the importance of repenting and then receiving forgiveness.  As we got older, it became less about the routine of repentance and forgiveness and more about learning how a lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness, anger, disillusionment and a whole manner of ugly things that affect you more negatively than it does any of the siblings that you are angry at or bitter towards.  Of course, it’s important to realize that it hurts them, too.  But it’s more important to realize that it’s destroying your own soul.

There is more that could be said about the importance of forgiveness.  Perhaps it can be expounded upon by one of my siblings who basically sit around all day doing nothing (Jaime), or maybe one of my siblings who basically do nothing but take vacations all the time (Josh), or sit on their recliners getting more Gramps-like by the day (Joey), or have nothing better to do besides watching Walking Dead or some creepy make-up show (Julia), or listening to Glenn Beck (Jesse), or laughing really loudly and annoyingly (Janelle.)  Any of them would probably do a better job than me.

All joking aside, I can make fun of my siblings (instead of actually holding those things or actual serious things) against them because forgiveness has been fostered in our relationships from a young age.  My siblings have shown me forgiveness my whole life and, by God’s grace, I’ve been able to forgive them or overlook their sins against me.  My love for and loyalty to my siblings is possible predominantly because of God’s undeserved grace, of course, but also because it’s not colored or inhibited by a ledger of sins I’ve kept against them.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant or superior.  I love my siblings and would do anything for them; I know this is only possible because of a spirit of forgiveness.  I don’t think it’s arrogant or superior because I don’t think that I’m necessarily unique; lots and lots of people have extremely close relationships with their family because that spirit of forgiveness is only possible because we serve a forgiving God.

The only things I want to stress is that a) I genuinely believe your children will have close relationships unless something goes wrong, and b) the best way you can help them is to stress the importance of forgiveness.  (It is not the scope of this post to talk about trusting God and all that jazz, even though that’s obviously exceedingly more important.)  Your children will sin against each other, sometimes in ugly, heartbreaking ways.  And although I’m sure this is discouraging for you as parents, remember that your children have the perfect example of how to extend forgiveness.  When their siblings sin against them, point them toward that example.  Dealing with the sin itself is important, but much, much, much more important is helping both the sibling doing the sinning and the sibling being sinned against recognize they have a Savior that provided the opportunity for all their sins to be forgiven; then He offered a way for them to maintain a close and beautiful relationship in the midst of a sin-wrecked world and their sin-wrecked hearts.

And, with any luck, you may even find them to be cooler than Sam Jackson.

God is His Own Interpreter

Today I’m thinking of all of you moms who are weary and wondering if your efforts are going to produce the fruit for which you long.

Are questions like these swirling in your heart?

  • Will my sacrifices ever be noticed and appreciated?
  • If God is sovereign and in control of everything, why pray or keep working so hard to invest my life into them?
  • When will they understand that my correction of them is deeply rooted in love?
  • On what roads might they be willing to walk before Christ becomes their all in all?

Please remind yourself today that your efforts do matter. Your sacrifices will not be in vain. Even when you are unappreciated or misunderstood by the people you love most in the world, you are not alone and your hard work is noticed. Valued. Applauded.

By the only One that truly matters.

Last night I heard a message by Ligon Duncan for pastors and their wives battling discouragement in the ministry.  Using the lives of three men in scripture, including Paul, he exhorted us to resist the temptation to feel alone. From some of Paul’s final inspired words recorded in scripture we learn that everyone deserted him in his final days — “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).

The Lord is with you. The Lord is strengthening you. Even when it seems like your investment isn’t yielding the fruit for which you have prayed and longed, God is faithful. God is near. God will give you strength to keep honoring Him with your life.

And whatever you are walking through as a parent, there is One who has experienced every heartache; every perplexity; every sorrow; every awareness of being rejected by those you love.

You are being like Him. And He is praying for and helping you even though you feel weak and tired. He knows just what you are walking through and is seated at the right hand of God seeing all the good that will come from your faith-inspired, God-empowered efforts.

I pray these words from William Cowper will encourage your soul today.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Oh, God, we trust in You.

Josh’s Surprise Pumpkins

The phone rang and she instinctively checked the caller ID. Margaret again. She had a way of regularly calling at the wrong time. Diane wondered what people did before you could know who’s calling before you pick up the phone.

When Diane and Vic married she had some concerns about Margaret. Vic’s dad died about a year before the wedding and Margaret became a little clingy with her only son. Diane understood that Vic’s wedding following so closely to Margaret losing her husband was going to make it hard. At first, she was calling almost daily just to say hello and check in. The calls aren’t nearly as frequent now but Diane can’t help it that Margaret seems to call just as she is leaving to run errands or Vic is just walking in from work.

Besides, Margaret will probably call back later in the week. As she walks away from the phone, Diane’s eyebrows press into a slightly quizzical look. For some reason she just realized that she never remembered Dad getting regular calls from her Nana. Hmm…guess they weren’t that close. Maybe that’s why she only saw Nana once a year or so.

The posts on this in-law series have recently focused on the parents-in-law. For the next few days I’d like to share some thoughts that may be helpful to children-in-law. Diane didn’t realize that her in-law views had been shaped by her upbringing. Because her father didn’t get regular calls from his mother, Diane unconsciously wondered why her own mother-in-law called so much. Sometimes she didn’t even mention to Vic that his mom called…

I’m reminded of Josh coming to me when he was about eight to tell me he planted a couple of pumpkin seeds on the hill in our back yard. “Nannie said if I planted the seeds where they could get lots of sun and grow downhill we’ll have pumpkins pretty soon! She said even you probably can’t kill pumpkins, Mom!”

The sparkle in his eyes prevented me from squelching his enthusiasm. Clearly my reputation for killing most everything I planted was well established. But even I knew that digging a little hole, throwing some pumpkins seeds in it and dousing it with a glass half full of water was not going to result in fresh pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving.

Well, until the vine grew all the way down the hill and cute little pumpkins started growing.

The first thing I want to share specifically with children-in-law is this: remember that you are sowing seeds will may reap in the future. I find myself regularly repeating a phrase Benny picked up somewhere years ago, “More is caught than taught.” Because Diane grew up in a home where there was little one-on-one contact between her Dad and his mother she found the amount of contact between her husband and his mother to be excessive at worst and mildly irritating at best.

In-law relationships are rule-less. There is no reputable handbook or list of laws that must be heeded about relating to your parents-in-law! And what is preferred by and works for other families may not be right for yours. That’s where the comparison trap can wreak havoc. Perhaps you have friends who rarely see or talk to their in-laws and it works fine for them, while others you know go to their in-laws every Sunday for food and football. Look long enough and you’ll find someone who has the kind of in-law relationship you prefer — whether it’s less contact or more. 

The Bible talks about the principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). What is put into the ground is what comes out of the ground. I can’t plant tomatoes and then be disappointed that I didn’t get cucumbers! While this verse is certainly not referring to in-law relationships, the principle is applicable. What was “planted” in Diane’s young heart was that husbands and their moms don’t have much contact and see each other only occasionally. This made Margaret’s regular calls to her married son seem a little strange to Diane. She wondered what in the world would happen when they had kids for her to dote on?

If you are the parent of small children I would suggest that you consider the seeds you are planting. After Benny and I got married it became more noticeable to me how infrequently he and his parents (who lived nearby) interacted. After we had children, and especially after his parents divorced, I found myself suggesting to Benny that he call his mom to say hello, invite her to the kids basketball games or see if she would like to join us for church events.

Some years later I realized what I was doing. I wanted our children to grow up seeing their dad reach out to his mom. There was something in my heart that hoped our sons would “catch” their Dad’s care for and initiative toward his mother. As her daughter-in-law, I not only wanted Jewel to be the recipient of her son’s love (especially because of Benny’s warm relationship with my mother) but I also hoped those seeds would be reaped in my life when my four little boys became men.

I’m not suggesting that how you treat your in-laws will automatically affect how your adult children will treat you. Perhaps Diane’s grandmother was perfectly content with the amount of interaction she had with her adult son and didn’t notice that he didn’t reach out except to make arrangements for holiday visits. But maybe she would have loved to hear from him more — if she wasn’t concerned about being perceived as a meddling mother-in-law or a nuisance.

Take a minute soon to look at your little ones. Those chubby arms and legs will grown lean and long. Before you know it your little boy’s voice will deepen and you’ll start seeing facial hair pop up on a face that is starting to look like it belongs to a man. The little girl who is turning in “pretty circles” to Disney music will be asking when she can start wearing makeup. Your children will become adults who will leave home and get married.

What will your relationship with them be like then? Who will be there to show them how to warmly love their parents ? Will they think to call sometimes just to say a quick hello? Will their eyes roll unseen on the other end of the phone or computer when asked to come over to Mom’s for dinner or drive into town for a holiday? Will they get so busy with their new marriage and life that they forget how excited you are when you hear their voice on the phone or as they walk into the front door?

Let me tell you a secret. You are teaching them — now. Let them hear you call your parents and parents-in-law or overhear you gently remind your spouse to do so. Show them how to treat you later by how you treat your parents and in-laws now.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much turbulent water under the in-law bridge that you’re afraid it’s too late, remember the gospel. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross says it’s never too late to hope for change. Maybe your in-laws are mean and want little to do with you. Perhaps they are perfectly happy with living their lives apart from you for any number of justified or unjustified reasons. And maybe, if you’re honest, you prefer the way things are and don’t want more relationship or contact with them.

Again, just fast-foward a couple of years and ask yourself if the way you think about and treat your in-laws is the way you hope things will be with your adult kids and their spouses. Making any changes you think are needed now with your in-laws won’t guarantee good things later.

But you never know. After all, we had fresh pumpkin pies that Thanksgiving because a little boy was willing to throw seeds into some dirt and hoped they would grow.

Vacationing With the In-laws? Ummm…..

A couple of times during this series on in-law relationships I’ve mentioned the dangers of comparisons. Consider these real-life situations (with changed names):

  • Jennifer and John admitted to friends recently that the majority of their conflicts are over in-law relationships. Specifically, Jen hears regular comments from her mother about much more time the grandchildren spent with John’s parents than with her.
  • Martin’s parents live closeby while Anna’s are out-of-state. Anna’s parents feel that because of their close proximity to the kids, Martin’s parents should be willing to sacrifice Thanksgiving and Christmas in exchange for living nearby and sharing so much time together throughout the year.
  • Melanie learned from Greg that his parents planned their first extended family reunion in several years during the week of her younger sister’s high school graduation.  When Greg called to explain this to his Dad and Mom they responded by saying that while they were sorry about the conflict, they expected that their annual participation in Melanie’s family vacation would certainly warrant her making Greg’s family reunion a priority this year.

Please try to remember that comparisons are frequently rooted in jealousy or rivalry and can produce ongoing tension. As an in-law I have dealt with disappointments over decisions my married children have made. But I’ve found that often the tables turn and next time the decision may go in my favor. Allowing resentment or jealousy to fester is not only sinful but also damaging to my family. Humble and honest dialogue with our married children and their spouses, and perhaps with our in-laws, can be helpful and redemptive. However, time and again over several decades of being intimately involved in the lives of numerous families, Benny and I have watched in-law relationships go from bad to worse when married children are put in the middle of parental rivalries. On the other hand, we have also watched in-laws partner to protect their married children and their grandchildren from jealous tension by making requests rather than demands — then resisting the temptation to react sinfully when disappointed.

Two more thoughts for you to consider:

Anticipate challenges and expect grace. One friend commented to me that this series has tempted her to want all of her children to be single so she won’t have to share them! Letting our kids go is fraught with challenges. Additionally, having married children requires blending an adult raised in a different family culture into your own. Add unspoken expectations, selfish demands or suspicious attitudes to the mix and…look out!…where there is smoke there will be fire.

In-law relationships are often challenging but God’s grace is available to all. Some years back I whined to the Lord that it would have been helpful if there was at least one little chapter in the Bible devoted to this relationship. When should I express my concerns to my married children and when should I be silent? And surely God knew that most adults would love to have Him lay out fair rules for the holidays! The thought that quickly came made me feel pretty foolish….

Much of the Bible speaks of relationships; I just needed to cry out to Him for help to apply the clear teachings throughout scripture that apply to every relationship in my life. Flawed people seeking to apply biblical truths will not inoculate families from conflict. It certainly hasn’t ours! And loving our children’s spouse and his/her parents doesn’t necessitate becoming close friends or sharing holidays and vacations. But it does require governing our hearts with a healthy sense of self-suspicion about what is motivating us when desires become demands and competition sets in.

Last, don’t resent sharing. From the time our kids are little we teach them to share everything. Then when they become young adults we are the ones who have to share…them.

A note to parents of sons: sometimes sharing isn’t equitable. This is commonly true with sons. The old adage, “A son is a son till he takes a wife, but a daughter’s a daughter all of her life” can play out in heart-testing ways in many families. Generally, married daughters are more committed to staying connected to their parents than married sons. When a daughter wants to hang out with family she typically drops by her mom’s house, not his. Because she talks to her mom more often, her mother-in-law doesn’t know to offer to babysit for that upcoming event so, of course, she’s happy to take Mom up on the offer. If we parents-in-law don’t carefully guard our hearts against temptations to feeling overlooked or slighted, we can become bitter toward the person with whom our child fell in love and/or her parents.

Some time ago one of my New Girls communicated some guilty feelings over  her and the kids spending more time with her mom than with me. She acknowledged that she rarely calls or drops by and wondered if I was resentful over the inequity. I told her that while I love any opportunity to see her and the kids, I understood why she was more comfortable hanging with the women in her family than with me. Wasn’t it the same with me? While I have loved Benny’s mom for decades and she has been a model mother-in-law in many ways, the simple fact was that if given the choice I would usually choose putting my feet on the furniture at Mom’s.  How could I expect my daughter-in-law to feel any differently?

The truth is I love her dearly and I know she loves me. She proves this every day by caring for my son and grandchildren; being patient with things about my son that could have used more parenting help prior to their marriage; sharing holidays with our loud and large family without complaint; and even thinking to ask me how I felt about her heading to Mom’s first.

Maybe the in-law situations you are facing are far more weighty than having to figure out how to handle Thanksgiving. Perhaps hostility and manipulation characterize your relationships and you have no hope for change. Or maybe some of my thoughts seem simplistic and insensitive. Please know that’s not my intent. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my comments aren’t meant to speak to every situation.

But here’s the good news: the gospel does speak to every situation. There was absolutely no way a totally holy God and utterly sinful people were ever going to get along. Yet God made a way. Perhaps He hasn’t called you to “be close” to your in-laws. That’s not the standard that everyone must reach. In-laws can be warm or politely superficial and still honor God. Some in-laws talk about personal things happening in their lives while others don’t. I know in-laws who go on trips together and others who would rather stay home than do so, and not because they don’t like each other. And even those who have several married children have differing relationships with each.

Whatever the case, the gospel is applicable. Jesus Christ made a way for sinners and God to have a relationship, so He has the power to help people with lesser differences obey biblical commands to love, forgive when needed and be kind to one another — even if they never share a vacation.