The Coddling Trap

I wanted to share a  little insight into the problems frequently cited in young people today — their sense of entitlement and their  emotional incontinence. A few years back I was reading a book called, The Christmas Mouse (published in 1973) by a British author who used the pen name, Miss Read. It isn’t a children’s book, it is  a charming story set in an English village with some female characters (along with some children.)

In the course of the plot, one of the female characters, recently widowed, is home alone on Christmas Eve and has a run away child break into her pantry that stormy night. The boy was a foster child from a good family she knew down the road. What struck me reading the book was the response of Mrs. Barry to the hungry, crying child eating her pies in the pantry. The boy being fostered at the farm down the road was upset, because he felt the kids of the foster family had a better set of gifts than he received, and he felt left out not having his own family, so he ran away.

Initially, I found myself thinking, Oh, poor child!  So alone and sad on Christmas Eve without his own family!  But the response of Mrs. Barry set me back very quickly. Rather than emotionally surrounding the shivering boy with a blanket of emotional comfort and understanding, she proceeded to address the core problems. The core issues were that he was A) ungrateful for the warm, safe family home where he was living B) ungrateful for the wonderful family that had taken him in and their buying him gifts he otherwise would not have had C) That he had worried this good family by running away D) That he felt he had the right to break in to her home and steal her food, because he was unhappy.

In short, she rebuked his sense of entitlement and brought him to see, eventually, his wrongheadedness on every front. She let him warm by the fire, met his needs and then called his foster family.

This is the set of values that made Britain and the US strong.  In the West, we  long ago departed from this way of handling children. We are prone to coddle kids when there are core character issues that need addressing. The results are all around us.  Didn’t get what I deserve!You have ‘privilege’ and I don’t!, You have better stuff and it’s not fair!,   I’m entitled to what you have cause I have nothing!

Christian teachings – as found in the Bible – emphasize humility, gratitude and respect for others. When a culture at large ceases to value that and it is no longer taught in homes, you get the atrocious state of things we are now witnessing. I DEMAND this !, I DESERVE WHAT YOU HAVE! , I’M A VICTIM AND YOU OWE ME!I’m UNHAPPY AND YOU NEED TO FIX IT!

No loving,  responsible parent is going to ignore the emotional needs of their children. But there is a difference between idolizing happiness, as though anything that threatens happiness is the problem – in essence, allowing for the tyranny of emotions in a child’s life –  and making sure a child is not carrying unnecessary emotional burdens  I tell this to our young daughter  when she is very unhappy and very unhappy that she is unhappy. “Your happiness is not the most important thing. Obeying and doing the right thing comes first.  Sometimes we are sad, angry, and unhappy. That’s just how life works. But how we ultimately pick ourselves up and respond to it  is what matters.” That’s what I try to get across to my children (and myself!)

Something to remember is that the ongoing mindset of victimhood wars against acknowledging the GRACE in our lives and squelches gratitude. It kills it.

The Christmas Mouse is a wonderful little book by Miss Read, but I found something deeper there worth recognizing, I think.

(There are still copies of this book in some libraries, and there are used versions of this little book available online with a simple search. Sometimes it is combined with two other Christmas stories by Miss Read, all of which are a joy to read.)

When History Makes Us Sick

Someone loaned me some books of fascinating old newspapers from my city that dated back to the 1940’s. I enjoy local history and seeing ow people used to live, what they paid for rent and such, and seeing the old fashions, etc. I posted some photos from these newspapers on a history page for our city with photos of real estate ads back in the 40’s. It was shocking to see how far above just inflation prices have gone.  Many were interested in what the photos revealed.

But the newspapers were crumbling around the edges. They also reeked of mildew. After a day or two, I couldn’t take it anymore and put the large books of newspapers back in my van to return to the owner.

I vacuumed up the crumbles of old newspaper  on my floor and coffee table at home and drove around for a few days with the newspapers in the back of my van, intending each day to return them. I procrastinated. But my daughter and I started sneezing in the van and the mildew smell got overpowering.

I finally made a point to return the disintegrating newspapers and to vacuum out my van. The thought hit me as I cleaned up the remnants of the past from my van. This is what we do in our lives at times. We get too wrapped up in the past. We carry around in our minds and hearts old, moldy things that no longer have any relevance to our lives. If we don’t get the past out and clean up the remnants, the past can make us sick. Literally.

The past can so enthrall us and interest us that we never look up into the present. We’re so busy looking in the rear view mirror, trying to understand that view, that the broad view of the windshield – the road in front of us –  totally misses us. If we did this while literally driving a car, we would end up in the ditch or worse.

I’m hoping to embark on a fresh campaign of downsizing and removing a lot of things saved from our home. It’s a physical way of driving home this truth. The past has it’s place, but it isn’t supposed to be carried around with us, making us sick.  The past has its place. We can acknowledge it, good or bad, but then we need to  look up to what God has for us in this day. We cannot afford to waste our lives so caught up in the lives of those who already made their choices and lived and died. These are our lives, given us by God.  The question I am asking afresh each day  is this: What do I do with my life today, Lord?

 

It’s Here Again!

It’s fall officially at our house when the wreath on the door changes, and the acorn people emerge from the cabinet where they patiently wait all year. Emily fished out the pumpkin spice candles for the end tables, so we are all set.

We had a nice period of cool, crisp weather here in SE Wisconsin, but the warmth is returning. Tomorrow, and we are supposed to be in the 80’s again. But the leaves in our neck of the woods are turning early. The route to Emily’s school was startling today with the leaves turning gold much earlier this year.

I’ll save pumpkin buying for porch decorations another week or two. I have to save something for later! Like a lot of people, this is my favorite time of year in our part of the country. It isn’t spring or summer that provide renewed vigor. It’s always this time of year that can’t be surpassed.

Each autumn, (this is my seventh year doing so!)  I post the recipe for my favorite spice cake.  It will make your home redolent with delicious aromas. It makes a really delicious, moist cake if you don’t over bake it!  Happy autumn, everyone!

He Still Gives This Gift

In His great mercy and kindness, God led us to a church where we have been welcomed warmly and where Emily’s educational needs have been met for school.  I marvel at how God works, and often in the 11th hour!

In the physical body, long term stress can cause something called Adrenal Fatigue.   A human body, long over-taxed, simply can’t keep up with the demands  placed on it. The same, I believe, is true spiritually. You can grow ill from the demands of circumstances that dismay, disillusion, and exhaust–circumstances that never seem to end in a good outcome.

Thankfully, the Great Physician is aware of this. In His time and way, He ministers to his ill sheep. I have personally experienced this, and I want to point those who are hurting to the goodness of the LORD.

When you have been ill a long time, eating food of any kind can be a difficult thing. Doctors will have you start with the mildest and easiest of foods until you can build up your strength for more.

When spiritually ill and suffering, the same thing happens. In recent years, the heavy books that are on my shelf, the deeper devotionals, the books on theology and such went untouched. I developed almost an aversion to them, like a physically unwell person would look at a plate of steak and vegetables. This is not a time to bash yourself for your lack of spirituality or appetite for these things. Realize you have been under tremendous strain that has real consequences. Then, have faith in the One who can restore you to health.

Physically, as recovery begins, a slight appetite emerges.  Strength slowly returns. Simple food is once again attractive. The same is true in our spiritual lives.

The good news is that spiritually, as with our human bodies, the basics are still essential building blocks. We need them. God uses them to rebuild and strengthen us.

Our daughter Emily is the blessed recipient of much good basic doctrinal teaching. Sunday school at our church is not a Chuck E. Cheese-style, high octane, fun for the kiddies experience.  It ‘s purpose is to inculcate sound Scriptural knowledge. The stories from the Bible are fascinating and ever new. Each one instructs us of basic truths about God and His attributes, and also His enduring love for us.

I was moved to tears this last week as the Sunday School at our church began anew for the school year.  I picked up the paper that Emily brought home that  summed up the lesson they had been taught. She talked about the story of Solomon’s wisdom in the case of the two mothers arguing over the surviving baby,  a story that showcases the amazing wisdom of King Solomon.

The paper she brought home was so rich in teaching, I wanted to share some of the pages with you. I was making coffee this morning, and the thought hit me again forcefully. Solomon asked for wisdom and received it. God is STILL granting wisdom. His Word that doesn’t change promises that He will if we ask. (See the book of James, Chapter 1 vs. 5, Proverbs 1:6, Col. 2:3)

Whatever your perplexity or concern, we are told very clearly—If ANYONE lacks wisdom, let them ask of God, who gives to all without reproach. What a marvelous thing that is! We can have wisdom and make wise choices, because God has promised his children that gift.

I praise and thank the LORD for this truth and for His wisdom which stands in stark relief against the foolishness and despair of our times. I also praise and thank God for His provision for our needs spiritually and educationally. What a joyful thing to realize He cares for the sheep of His flock.

P.S. As a bonus, this week Emily’s school has, as hymn of the week, Take My Life and Let it Be, by Frances Ridley Havergal. Emily’s middle name, Frances, is in honor of that long ago hymn writer and poet who gave us so many hymns and devotional writings! She plans on telling the teacher this little  fact  today!  You can read about the hymn and its author here. 

 

 

Influence on Wheels

I have written before about the importance of conversations with children.  Moms or dads who do the school run each day have prime time with their kids if they recognize it.

I have been the primary school driver, and there are many great memories (and some not so great) of conversations that have taken place in my van through the years. I mention the not-so-great ones, as conversations with kids are not always all sweetness and light. The teen years come to mind. In any event, if you’re listening, you can hear what’s going on in the minds of your kids.

Emily, our youngest, begins talking before she’s even fully in the door of the car at pick up.  She is full of information about her day. She opens her lunch box to retrieve whatever leftovers she can find to assuage her after-school hunger and she then begins to update me on the state of the Third Grade.

Who played with whom at recess, what books she chose on library day, the song they are singing in music class (would you like to hear it, Mom?), those are just a few of the items she shares while munching a half eaten cookie or carrot from lunch.

But if I listen well to what she is saying, I can pick up on some important things. This morning Em shared with me that the teacher has a poster on the wall of the classroom. “It says ‘Do All Things in Love.’ And then, Mom, it listed things you can do to show love.” The teacher who placed that poster up on the bulletin board may not realize it, but  her classroom decoration had an influence on our daughter. It gave us fodder for conversation as we drove down the road on the way to school this morning.

“There was a girl that nobody was playing with,” Em announced the other day. “I went to talk to her.”  Another conversation started that reinforced the right thing that Emily did. “Someday, that might be you without anyone to play with,” I added. Em nodded. She gets it.

Our culture is tremendously noisy.  Media of all kinds can pervade our lives. I have  antipathy for radio noise running in the background in the car or at home. My mom never had radios or TV’s blaring night and day. In fact, it was rarely on at all.  I feel the same way about it. Not only does it clutter up your mind and thinking (I’m not good at shutting it out), but it robs you of conversation time with your children, particularly as you travel.

Each moment with kids is precious, because it is fleeting. I have two kids in their 30’s now, and one nearly 30! Two are already 21. Childhood is a terribly brief time. Children’s character is formed through everyday conversation where values are inculcated, and hopefully, reinforced by what they see at home. Someone is influencing your child’s character and view of the world. Is it you?

Children are hard-wired to sort out what they learn about the world from their parents. We can help them through the increasingly ugly culture they are growing up in by seizing each opportunity we are given  to underscore truth, in love, in their minds. These truths serve as an anchor for their thinking–bedrock upon which to build their lives. Two apt metaphors.

This is also a reason to seek wisdom from God – the source of ALL wisdom and truth–as we attempt to guide our children. These times are perplexing and treacherous. Lives can be so easily shipwrecked with the lying siren song of the world playing in our children’s ears, forever drawing them to the dangerous rocks.

It’s our job as Christian parents to continually point to the beacon of light that will guide our children through this life. God’s Word is the piercing beam of light that will warn of the jagged rocks that endanger them. It cuts through the fog and darkness like a laser.  “Danger here! Watch out! Go this way instead!”

With a new school year upon us, I intend to make the most of our travel chats. Whether listening or speaking, it’s a daily opportunity not to be missed!

 

 

It Wouldn’t Sell Today

I came across this prayer book my husband Tom’s parents gave him at Confirmation many years ago. Tom had underlined several of the lines in the prayers in key places. These are the old ways, the simple, non-flashy truths of Christianity. These kinds of prayer books wouldn’t sell well today.  Publishers know  the evangelical  public isn’t looking for this kind of thing. But the state of churches and what passes for Christianity in general is a sad reflection of that.

Real Ministry – A Second Look

I have written much in the last few years about our skewed sense of what comprises “ministry” in the evangelical and fundamentalist world.  The results of this warped view of ministry are all around us.

People praise the “sacrifice” of ministry leaders, many of which are in leadership for their own purposes. Raw ambition resulting in workaholism and often cloaked in robes of “serving the Lord” has done much damage to families and to faith. In many cases, real “sacrifice” for these “full time ministry” people would mean turning the lights off and going home to their families and neighbors, not acquiring bigger and better tools to “serve the Lord.”

Also, people praise and follow “discernment” and “worldview” leaders “serving the Lord” in “full time ministry” (yes, a lot of quote marks and for good reason.) Many of these same individuals live  dysfunctional and unhealthy lives behind the scenes of their “full time service.” One of my online colleagues committed suicide in the midst of his obsession with  “warning about deception.” The idea that he should shut down his writing online and deal with his personal demons was a bridge too far. In the end, he chose to take his own life instead, leaving confusion and despair in his wake. So much for the power of Christ he had been promoting.  This had a big impact on me.

In the years I spent growing up in evangelicalism, there was a distinctly superior view of those in “full time Christian service”, as opposed to those who worked a secular job and came home to their families.  Missionaries who dragged their children through years of deputation (raising enough money to go to a far flung place) were viewed as higher level Christians than those going to their job of selling insurance or cars or what have you and raising their children at home. The tragedies (sexual abuse making big headlines in recent years)  in the lives of some missionary children left in MK boarding schools while Mom and Dad won the naives to Jesus is a prime illustration of wrong priorities. If you make a family, it’s your job to take care of those children, people. Really, it is.  If you don’t want to, stay single.  Families come with responsibility.

I am not opposed to those who work full time in some form of Christian service. But I believe  we are long, long overdue for a return to the doctrine of vocation. Luther and the Reformation presented a far different view than the medieval Roman church that emphasized the clergy/laity distinction. The  life of the full time “religious” was viewed as far superior to those just raising a family. Just raising a family. Think about that.

The view that true ministry is most often found in day to day life is something I have come to resoundingly support. I have personally seen the fallout from  a distorted view of ministry, particularly when families are neglected or misused in the process of purportedly serving God.

We need a return to this understanding that the unseen, quiet service to others is perhaps even more a form of ministry than standing on corners with bullhorns  or hosting your own religious  talk show, or holding conferences, endlessly talking about deception and false teachers.  There is a place for sincere concern, but even recent harm of other Christians online and on the airwaves serves as a stark reminder of how we need a return to humble service of others as our primary service to God—service in our homes to our own families, to our neighbors,  and anyone God brings on our path in the course of a day.

This excellent words by T. Austin-Sparks (one of my favorites lately) points this out. It was written a long time ago (Sparks died in 1971) , but his writing has the sweetness of truth in it.

I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee…(Revelation 2:19-20)

Oh, that we should get some better idea of what the service of the Lord is than that it is platforms and pulpits and open-air meetings. Beloved, service for the Lord is just as important when it is rendering some kindly act of helpful service to some rather depressed child of God in the ordinary domestic things of daily life; just as valuable as getting on the platform and giving a message. You see it is strengthening the hands of the Lord’s children, it is coming in to check the crushing overweight of the adversary, coming alongside to lift up the testimony in some life or home where the enemy is trying to crush the testimony out – and the testimony is something maintained in domestic relationships, in family life, private life. There are too many who want to give up their domestic service and go to Bible College, failing to recognize that that service there may be just as valuable to the Lord as their going out to the mission field. It is spiritual, not technical, not organized, and you may be as much a priest of the Lord in going round to some home tomorrow where the enemy is pressing in, and giving a practical hand in helping with the washing, as you may be a priest in standing on the platform….

There are many priests of God whose voices have never been heard in public, who have never been seen in a public way, who are unknown, hidden very often in the assembly and yet in secret history fulfilling a most valuable ministry. Get adjusted over this thing. We have to come to the point where we deliberately decide as to whether the Lord is worthy of this, and abandon ourselves to it because of our appreciation of Him, the Master. You see, this servant abandons himself freely, voluntarily, for all time to the service of his master because he has come to love his master.

By T. Austin-Sparks from: The Servant and Service of the Lord

 

 

Two in the Shadows

The summer is waning. The light is different now on sunny days here in Southeastern Wisconsin Wisconsin. It has the feel of September, even if it’s still August.  The air has been cool and crisp. Absolutely lovely.

After dinner,, Tom and I  have gotten in the pattern this summer of taking walks. Our youngest, Emily, rides ahead on her scooter or bike, and we talk a bit while we stroll the neighborhood. The walks aren’t always long.   We have a short route and a longer route we take when so inclined.

I see us in our lengthening shadows, the two of us. I like holding Tom’s hand.  It’s a feeling of being safe and loved.  I tell Tom what’s going on in my world, and he tells me what’s on his mind. I save up small tidbits from the day to tell him about when he gets home. Nothing usually big, but something I know he’ll appreciate.  We don’t usually talk about anything political. Things are so vile in our country that it pollutes our time together to even discuss it.

Our home has a small porch.   We’ve made good use of it since moving here. It’s big enough for a couple of chairs, and we sit and watch the world go by after our walks.  The scene is peaceful. We don’t always need to chat. Companionable silence is a beautiful thing where we can hear the wind chimes in the Magnolia tree and watch the birds.

Soon the leaves will be turning colors, and the air will have a nip in it. I will miss our times on the porch. We recently replaced our love seat at home with a new one. It is exceedingly comfortable. When evenings “draw in” as they used to say, we will sit there for our chats with a log on the fire. The weather changes, but the need to reconnect  at the end of the day does not.

I can’t stand TV or even DVD movies. Tom and I have never been able to connect over that. My hearing troubles long ago shut down that kind of thing, even with good hearing aids.  Articulation gets lost. One thing this does is give us time to just talk and be together without the intrusion of media.  No distraction.

I know that marriage counselors have various strategies for couples  who have relationship troubles.   Many lose that feeling of connectedness with the various pressures exerted on families today, and they don’t even realize it is happening. Tom and I have raised (almost) six children together, and have been through many a difficult season in our lives Some years, it  has felt like it was raining crises. But one thing I highly recommend is just sitting and talking. Listening and being listened to in kindness.  Our loved ones all face battles, external and internal. Every one of us does. A lot of therapists would be put out of business if couples could learn the value of talking and listening, without judgment or impatience. It has a healing effect like  no other.

The country and world increasingly look like a violent insane asylum. Whatever comes, I know that those evening walks with Tom will always be embedded in my heart. Feeling his warm hand holding mine, seeing our shadows together, watching our little girl, her legs growing longer all the time, riding ahead on her scooter.

These times can’t be recovered. We pass this way, we spend each day only once. Every hour is precious.  Every walk.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Walk Away

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  ~ Jeremiah 2:31

Just walk away
Just say goodbye
Don’t turn around now you may see me cry
I mustn’t fall apart
Or show my broken heart…

~ Just Walk Away, Celine Dion

Sheep – Christians – are being scattered everywhere in our times. It doesn’t matter the stripe or label of church calling itself by the name “Christian.”  The steps and front walk of many of these places are covered with the invisible footprints  and tears of those departing, never to come back.

It doesn’t matter whether the “pastor” or “shepherd” of the flock wears cargo shorts and a Sponge Bob t-shirt or elaborate vestments with gold thread. The effect is the same. It doesn’t matter whether the musicians perform rap, funk and groove, Getty songs or  sacred works by Bach and Palestrina.  Too many are heading for the exits.

The sheep are being scattered any number of ways. Whether it’s  a superfluity of gaggatory self-help sermons (what is the point?), political rants of one kind or another, blatant apostasy, legalism of one brand or another, pride-filled intellectualism or doctrinal strip-tease (Hey, get a load of this, baby, look how much of so and so I can quote from memory!), or, underlying all of the above, a total absence of Christian love and concern. In any event,  the sheep are getting scattered to the four winds.

No church could possibly be perfect. That would end the moment we walk in. But, I suppose it isn’t too much to ask that people actually care about one another, not too unreasonable to think that a stranger in the midst should be embraced rather than shunned for any meaningful interaction. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone staunch the bleeding on a fellow sheep when it’s been made apparent. Normally, shepherds would be concerned at the sight of an injury, or at least would assign an assistant to cleanse the wound and patch it up. Normally.

The exodus.  Scattered, sad sheep headed down the drive without an earthly shepherd to visit a hospital bed, to stop by a home where there is clearly suffering or spiritual crisis. Traveling to a symposium or conference? Not a problem for these faux shepherds.  Traveling anywhere that asks for their vast knowledge?  Not too much. Traveling to a troubled household where there is pain? No. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve lived it.  Scatterers. They don’t care.

These days, the comfort comes to the scattered sheep where they can huddle together for warmth and encouragement The Scatterer Shepherds make themselves irrelevant. Needs get met in other ways.  They have to be. Broken sheep to broken sheep. That’s where most of it takes place.  Most Scatterers don’t even notice the departing. They are on to their next project. Doubling down in their spiritual malpractice–complacent, prideful and wicked, every one of them.

Woe is a strong word. In the original language, it was meant to be a curse. Woe to those who scatter the sheep of my flock, says the Lord. That’s how seriously God takes the scatterers.

This post is to remember the scattered sheep. The ones who once were hopeful that they had found a real shepherd, only to be disappointed. Again. The ones who limp away in the night, and nobody cares or even notices they are gone.

 At the end of the drive
Don’t look back.
There was nothing there to keep you,
No love to call you back.
Not a single person, not a single sad heart
will notice you are gone.
Don’t even bother to cry.
They are not worth a single tear.
Walk away. Just walk away.