Table Talk: A Little Parenting Advice

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We saw A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room with our kids last weekend. In short, the off-broadway play speaks to the dying culture of the upper-middle class WASP in the United States.

Numerous scenes unfold around the same dining room table, portraying different families who owned the house throughout the years. Their issues overlap and intertwine while touching on realities many wish were not true even today — controlling mothers, manipulation, comparison and choices made to keep up with others, strained conversations in which family members don’t feel safe, infidelity.

Sadly, the dining room is a place of irony. Boasting of potential dialogue and possible connection, it sometimes serves as just a hope for too many families to mention.

What culture have you created around your table?

In one scene, a woman and a craftsman are under the table, looking at how it’s constructed, surmising exactly what needs to be repaired.

Dare we look and examine, really examine, what needs to be repaired around our table?

What would my kids say if I asked them?

That scene uncovered a memory for me. It uncovered a question, too. My godfather, a hobby carpenter, built me a hope chest when I was a teen. If you open the lid to the tangible dreams, you’ll find Proverbs 3:5-6 carved into the corner:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Not bad advice for a girl on the edge of adulthood.

But the table? I wonder… did he etch something under there, too?!


As a wedding gift, “Uncle” Al promised to craft us whatever I desired. It was an easy decision. I ripped a page from a Pottery Barn catalogue and mailed it to his Ohio home.

Post-honeymoon, we drove from the east coast to Indiana, stopping to pick up our treasure. We marveled at the work of my godfather’s hands. Only in my dreams could I have owned a Pottery Barn table, but he made reality better with love and intention carved and sanded and polished throughout.


So did he? Did he etch something under the table, too? Had I missed it for the past twenty years?!

Late last Friday night, we arrived home from the play, and I crawled right under that table.

Sure enough… My goodness… How had I missed this?

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Phil 4, Uncle Alan Gratz, July 13 1996

Philippians 4? All 23 verses?! He must have known a lifetime of marriage and family-ness would require an entire chapter of truth. Would demand heaps of direction. I understand that now.

I grabbed my Bible, wondering what wisdom I should have been heeding all these years. But it was perfect timing. Our timeless God gave Uncle Al a message for me twenty years ago, knowing I’d need it at this season of life… at this stage of parenting.

5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. Philippians 4:5-9


To every mom and dad out there —

5 Clothe yourself with gentleness, for you’re reflecting the Maker to your children… even on weekday mornings before school.

Get real about your anxiety regarding your children’s path. Talk about it and surrender your fear to your Rescuer. Admit you need to be rescued and accept that your kids will need to be rescued, too. 

Don’t resent how God has created them. Don’t apologize for this to others, either. Be grateful your sons and daughters are already fulfilling God’s purposes for their lives (even though they might not know it yet).

It’s hard to believe, but you can actually experience peace in your thought-life and in your emotions. Jesus Himself is standing guard over your minds and hearts.

Pursue beauty and truth. Walk away from the comparison game and don’t lean into lies. Choose to fill your mind (and eyes and ears) with what is right and true and good… even when posts that breed insecurity pop up in your social media feed.

Live your story — not someone else’s.


Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your internal drama doesn’t happen around the dining room table but in trendy eateries with friends. Whether you’ve chosen your community, or it was chosen for you, there’s more than enough grace.

There’s grace for yourself, too.

 

Choosing Substance: Identity (Day 4)

Advent 4b identity

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 39 niv

A person of substance recognizes the all-too-often pull toward an identity crisis. She sees her insecurities deep and is truthful about them. Those who choose substance — especially at Christmastime — are not defined by what they own.

She was made in God’s image, so she unashamedly craves beauty. But tangible blessings and temporary pleasures don’t give her meaningShe’s brave enough to hold her physical pleasures with open hands, for they were not hers to begin with.

As simple as this all sounds, it’s easier sometimes to have an eternal perspective or sit in our sadness than to keep our head in the game when others admire our physical blessings — our homes, our cars, our fashion sense, you fill in the blank.

We have this broken way of seeing others’ worth based on what they can accumulate in this world. We have this broken way of seeing ourselves. We mask it by an admiration of hard work or an artistic eye, but do you ever live to impress those you’ll never talk to? Or crave approval from value systems shallow? Does honesty uncover a striving to impress those you’ve never even met?

A person of substance — she finds her identity in what Christ did for her on the cross. 

We rank ourselves high, and we rank ourselves low, but might we carry that insecurity back to Christ this season and throw our feelings of unworthiness in the shadow of the Cross?

Absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of Christ — our shallow longings, our tendency to forget, our lack of perspective, our materialism — nothing will separate us from the love of Christ and the identity His work on the Cross gives us.

And a radical miracle unfolds as I understand, again and again, who I am in Christ. As I recognize my brokenness vast and see an even bigger cross, restoration occurs even within my human relationships. Only through the lens of my own brokenness can I view others with grace. Only as I cling to the cross can I respect people simply because they, too, were made in God’s image… simply because His sacrifice saves them, too. Period.

Just a few decades after Christ, Paul wrote to the people of Colossae: Since you have been raised with the Anointed One, the Liberating King, set your mind on heaven above. The Anointed is there, seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Colossians 3:1-3

We stand in a desperate mess. Go deep this Christmas in your relationships. There’s a heart underneath every amazing outfit. There’s a story of brokenness hungering for redemption in every home.

On the fourth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me discernment to navigate the culture of today… the grace to love others well… the discipline to stop comparing.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.


Choosing Substance

  • What shallow longings are nagging you this advent season?
  • Reflect on your patterns. What triggers you into material insecurity? Who are you influenced by?
  • Read Colossians 3:1-3 and verses 12-15, too.
  • Who do you need to see through the eyes of Christ this Christmas?

photo source | Prodigal Pottery

Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise.

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Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Psalm 23:6

I opened my laptop and found two post-it notes on the keyboard, scribbled in handwriting I know so well. I’d wept in front of my daughter about something beyond my control. And later that day, her spirit met me in the solitude of my kitchen.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4. God will comfort you. And will walk through this with you.”

She’s eleven, and I’m supposed to be reminding her about God’s forever presence. About the One who doesn’t fear the valley full of shadows. About the Rescuer who doesn’t stop rescuing. But there are moments that turn into seasons when you’re so in touch with your weakness, with your realness, you’ll drink grace from a child without shame.

Have you walked the valley shadowed by the inescapable? Are you plagued by crevices of unanswered questions?

Mystery without hope shackles you to valleys deep. Are you convinced you’ll never make it to the mountain? I’ve been there, too. We know death is unavoidable, but headlines and conversations with friends and faces we love the most all point toward the unraveling whether we’re ready to see it or not. The winter branch, a fading flower — we can’t escape the reminders that death is on its way.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

Look over your shoulder. Can you see the mercy? Surely, the Author says. Surely, goodness and mercy are right there following you. Can you feel goodness pursuing? Can you see mercy running after you, chasing you down?

Whether you’re stumbling in the valley or you’re running away, surely grace and truth, forgiveness and relief are on the forever pursuit.

Are you crawling because fear won’t let you take another step? Stumbling because you’re reliving all those regrets? Slipping because your heart is so tired that Exhaustion has become your identity? Running away because it’s easier than risking…easier than reading your story and finding hope unfulfilled?

If I don’t search, I won’t be disappointed. And the classic “push you away before you push me away” leaves us desperate in our cynicism. Leaves us lonely in our doubt.  What if I come up empty-handed? Yes, sometimes it’s easier to carry a weary heart than hope.

And you may be almost to that mountain, ready to breathe deep and climb new heights. You may have endured the struggle and have quite a story to tell.

But those of you in that valley, I see you crawling and clutching and wondering how in the world you got there. You think you’re hidden in the shadows, and I know there’s no view. I know there’s no air to breathe. I know you’re dying in the monotony and routine of stumbling.

But when there’s no view, there are no distractions. And your eyes have no choice but to risk and look for goodness. And when you can’t breathe, His Spirit floods your being because that’s all you’ve got. And when you’re angry from the monotony, His mercy carries you when you least deserve it. Carries you to that place of safety, that place you could never crawl to on your own.

He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land, assured Dr. Martin Luther King.*

Many have gone before us. Many have crawled to the mountain and discovered it wasn’t about the mountain at all. But that’s another story for another day.

Hope does not disappoint. But if you just can’t go there yet, if you just can’t risk quite yet, turn around. Surely, goodness and mercy are following you.

Photo by Luke Palmer
* I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.