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The picture at left hangs on our kitchen wall. It is an inexpensive print we found at a discount store, but it’s a cheery country scene, and I like it. It provides things to talk about with Emmy, and when she gets older, I’ll make up stories about the little characters therein.
While we’ve made our share of mistakes as parents over the years, one thing I think we’ve done right can be summed up in two words: family dinner.
Several studies have revealed the importance of this simple family ritual in the lives of young people. I read about one study in 2005 and more recently, one released this summer that underscored how important family meals are, not only for the physical heath of young people, but emotional health as well.
For some families, work schedules don’t always make this possible every night. But it is worth it when you can. It is a rare evening when we don’t all sit down, even if it’s just fish sticks and tater tots on the table. It isn’t the food involved as much as it is the conversation, the emotional connection and the sharing of our lives for that window of time. (Although good food certainly helps.)
Family meals are also a training ground for good manners (we’re still working on that one with a certain teenager.) No, don’t make a boarding house reach for the ketchup, no, don’t talk with your mouth full, use your napkin, etc. Dinner time together is the primary place to teach gratefulness for our daily bread. Emmy is learning her first prayers. She folds her hands and says, “Thank you, God for EVERYTHING. Amen.” The older children learned this prayer:
The eyes of all look to You, 0 Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen
Best of all is the conversation. William has a challenging physics class this year, and he filled up the conversation last night holding forth on some physics concepts that went right over my head, something about why rocket engines work in a vacuum, and something to do with “point of reference.” I didn’t catch it all in between helping Emily with her pasta, but it was very interesting and went down well with our chicken parmesan and garlic bread.
Some of the biggest laughs have taken place at the table. Some of it, admittedly, has gone overboard. I’ll never forget one memorable dinner when all five children were arrayed around the table. One of the toddlers took a sudden, violent dislike to the bean and ham soup, some chaos ensued, and good-natured Tom had to restore order amid lots of humor. The scene was hardly out of Miss Manners, but a rollicking good time was had by all. I hope my children remember some of these times, I sure will!
More than anything, family meals are about nurture and relationships. Even if it’s only a frozen pizza (I’m letting all my culinary shortcomings be known here, sigh) the familiar faces around the table, together again after a day, either a good one or a bad one, are a great comfort in this ever changing world. Here’s a recipe everyone should have. You can serve this one up anytime at a family meal!
A pound of patience, you must find
Mixed well with loving words, so kind
Drop in 2 pounds of helpful deeds
And thoughts of other people’s needs.
A pack of smiles, to make the crust,
Then stir and bake it well you must.
And now, I ask that you may try,
The recipe of Sunshine Pie.
God bless my little kitchen
I love its every nook
And bless me as I do my work
Wash pots and pans and cook.
And may the meals that I prepare
Be seasoned from above
With Thy great blessing and Thy grace
But most of all Thy love.
As we partake our earthly food
The table before us spread
We’ll not forget to thank Thee, Lord
Who gives us daily bread.
So bless my little kitchen, Lord
And those who enter in
May they find naught but joy and peace
And happiness therein.
As promised, this is the third and final post on Dealing with Toxic People. It has taken me a while to get this done. Why? Because I personally am dealing with some toxic individuals, and at times of discouragement, I sometimes feel I don’t have any counsel for anybody. But I know that as believers in Christ, we do have general guidelines in Scripture for these situations.
Additionally, listening to godly people who are living in and dealing with people like this on a daily basis is a great help. I talked with one of my friends who daily lives the struggle with a toxic husband. As an older Christian woman, her counsel is balanced and always worth listening to. Unlike some who promote a kind of slavish acceptance and submission to lies and venom as they come out of the mouth of a toxic individual, my friend understands that there are times to take a stand and refuse the lies being spoken. This is a summary of what she said to me. It sums up very succinctly what needs to be said:
We are to regard all men because they are created in the image of God, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend time with abusive or rude people.
. There is a time to pray and a time NOT to pray. See Jeremiah 6 and 1 John 5.
. We are not here to please all the people. . .we are to please the LORD in all that we do and say.
. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit went into great detail to give us a few verses about the habits, characteristics and lifestyle of the righteous and the wicked. If we stay in the Word, we will recognize by the behavior where people are coming from. Titus 1:16 is a very important verse of Scripture. Many profess, few possess the LORD.
. It’s okay to say “STOP!” when someone is spewing hatred and vile things all over the place. Then walk away and LET GO OF IT. God will take care of what concerns us.
. We can’t change anyone and we can’t force people to do “the right thing.” We don’t have a right to expect right behavior from those who will not do what is right. They are making a choice and to “their own master, they will stand.”
. Look up 1 Thess. 5:15 and follow the biblical pattern of what we are to do in trials and tribulations and all the time.
. Christians behave. . .The only way you can hold to this standard is to truly be a Christian and practice self-control in every situation. Pray, pray, pray. Stand, stand, stand in what you know to be the truth.
. When you are blamed and accused in every manner of evil, you don’t have to answer back. You can just be quiet, no matter what the situation. God hears, God sees. God knows. Leave it all with Him.
. “Let your forebearing spirit be made known to all men.”
. Pick your battles. Sometimes you do have to speak up, sometimes not.
. Learn to show mercy to those who are weak. Also to the ignorant. Choose to walk in mercy for His sake and yours whenever possible.
. The full armour of God is to be used–take up the shield of faith and don’t take to heart everything somebody says personally. Most likely, you are not the problem. If you are the problem, be quick to ask for forgiveness from God and the offending person, whether they forgive you or not, you still need to deal with whatever has happened to disturb your peace. If after a first and second warning, shake the dust from your feet and move on.
. Be at peace with everyone as much as is possible. Example: “I’m sorry you are having a bad day. Is there anything I can do to help you?” “What can I do to make things better for you?”
. The righteous consider how to speak before they speak. Fools don’t!
. If you can’t fix it, leave it with the LORD. Train yourself to do this. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.
If God forgives me for my sins, how can I NOT forgive those who trespass against me?
. The bondservant of the LORD is not quarrelsome. Look up the verse.
. Anger does not achieve the righteousness of God. So don’t stay angry if you become angry.
. Keep on keeping no matter what. . .do the best you can in every situation. Persevering faith gets the prize!
Some situations are untenable with toxic individuals. Emotional, physical and sexual abuse, particularly when there are children involved, requires prayerful action. You may decide that you will tolerate someone’s abuse, but you have no right to subject your innocent children to it. The legacy of abusers is more abuse. Children act out what they see and hear in their homes. Sons of abusers tend to become abusive and daughters of abusers tend to marry them. It is the sick and sinful legacy of toxic husbands and fathers. If this is the case, you need to do what you can to protect yourself and your children.
Knowing how and when to do that is where discernment, prayer and good counsel is necessary, because every situation is different. I say “good counsel” because not all counsel is good. There is a mindset in Christian fundamentalism that places blame on the victims and defends the perpetrator. I have seen this again and again. That Christianity could be used as the pretext for the harm of innocent people is evil that needs to be exposed for what it is.
When toxic people refuse to repent of their damaging conduct and they do nothing but continue to spew bile, cutting off contact is sometimes the only solution. I have had to do that in several situations where women attempted to use me to fill emotional voids in their lives. Because I was open and friendly, they moved in for the type of relationship that they needed, paying no attention to my own limitations and needs. When I had to pull back and could not take the intensity of their demands, they then turned on me, blasting me with emails or in some cases telephone calls with the most incredible nastiness. This happens, no doubt, to anyone who is even slightly in the public eye in the Christian community. Another talk show host friend of mine confided that she had the same problem. Reconciliation attempts from these kinds of people are usually non-existent. It is hurtful and sad, but it is the nature of these kinds of individuals that they cannot see when they have been unfair. They can only see themselves.
May God keep us from being toxic. Healing and forgiveness is there for all of us in damaged relationships when we stay humble and willing to admit when we’re wrong. The best definition of a toxic person is someone who rejects healing and forgiveness in favor of their own pet sins. Only God’s mercy can remove the scales from such eyes so that the sin is addressed and forgiven. God help all of us who deal with these people in our lives.