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.

 

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Top 3 Posts of 2015

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“If we don’t tell our stories, our stories will tell us.” Dan Allender, To Be Told

If we don’t face our stories and ponder and process, well, then our stories will control us. We’ll be held captive by whatever drama is blowing in with the wind. But when we name and admit them, they have less power. Have you noticed that, too? I tell my kids that constructively talking about hard circumstances takes the power away from the hurt. When we willingly engage with our grief, we’re less controlled by it. And who wants to be controlled by anything? 🙂

I think we all want to be people who are aware and reflective and eventually smart in making future decisions. We learn from past mistakes, yes? The gray hairs which quietly boast of wisdom are grown from numerous regrets. They’re grown from redemption, too.

I’ve barely had a voice the past several months, and consequently, sometimes my day to day stories got the best of me. See, writing is my therapy. It keeps me in a good place. I did, however, find the courage to tell a few stories in 2015. These three here are the ones that resonated with you all the most.


 

When You're Scared to Write in Pen | hope, parenting, redemption | January 1
When You’re Scared to Write in Pen | hope, parenting, redemption | January 1

This story, When You’re Scared to Write in Pen, tells itself. It uncovers an an ever-common theme in my life: My children teach me more than I teach them. Anger, boldness, fear — this post touches on all of these themes. If you’re avoiding something or you’re blatantly angry and ready to unleash, this post is for you.

Happy Belated New Year and a Half | community, hope, parenting, redemption, surrender | August 1
Happy Belated New Year and a Half | community, hope, parenting, redemption, surrender | August 1

Happy (Belated) New Year and a Half is about being present and mindful of where you are rather than sweeping your story away and racing forward. It was born from a conversation with my then 13-year-old son in the car. Clinging to hope, this post admits I was all over the place last summer. Oh, and there’s touches of surrender, too… the hardest moments always seem to involve surrender. If you’re flirting with doubt — or it’s flirting with you — this post is for you. These words are also for those who want to believe but have lost their hope.

Goodness and Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise. | hope, parenting, scripture, spiritual formation, theology | January 29
Goodness and Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise. | hope, parenting, scripture, spiritual formation, theology | January 29

This post was born from hurts in my life and others’ lives. Struggling marriages, depression, chronic illness — these were all real-life circumstances some dear friends were submerged in last January. It’s for those crawling in the valley, for those who haven’t made it to the mountain yet. If you’re facing the loneliest of times, this post is for you.


So, based on blog traffic and post hits, these three are what struck a chord with you the most. Check back before the end of the week, for I’ll be writing about my three personal favorite posts of 2015.

Thank you for reading my blog. And thanks to those who told me to keep telling my stories even when I had walked away from the table a little too long. Thanks for your persistence.

photo source | John-Mark Kuznietsov

Hope

10888478_10203590246578826_910944565872039823_n Be strong, I thought as I silently scolded my quivering voice. Deep breath. Don’t you dare let those eyes water.

“I’m sorry this is your story,” I said to my 13 year-old.

“I’m sorry this is your story, too,” he replied.

My goodness, how does he do this? How does he balance between childhood one minute and manhood the next? I was trying to comfort him, and he let his tenderness spill out, flowing right toward me like a stream I wasn’t expecting.

We were talking about nothing life-threatening. Nothing that would look tragic to someone on the outside. To us, though, the ache we whispered about, the pain that was reaching both our hearts, was real. It was a simple conversation in the car that suddenly turned intimate.


And here we all are — well into the second half of 2015. I had intentions of taking a seat at the table again as we approached mid-year. July 1. It would be a Happy New Year and a Half post, full of reflection and challenge and grace as we pondered where we all were on December 31, 2014… and what we were hoping for on January 1.

But sometimes you literally can’t find words. Sometimes you must wait for your mind and heart to intersect again, in what you know and believe to be true, before you bring words into the equation. And as hard as it is to give yourself grace in the silence, sometimes it’s your season to be quiet. When you can’t find clarity within, it’s certainly hard to join the conversation again — especially that cyber one.

I remember back to last New Year’s Eve. I was weary, carrying burdens that really weren’t mine to carry. I was in the company of dear friends and slipped away for a moment, succumbing to social media numbing myself with social media. And somehow, I stumbled upon this photo of a street called “Hope” victoriously giving direction through the brokenness.

This will be my story in 2015, I determined. I am choosing Hope. A picture says a thousand words, and this would be my voice. So I boldly posted and shared this photo of Hope personified. Thank goodness we can’t see the future, for if we did, we’d be constant cynics.


“They’re really struggling,” I said to my husband recently.

“Who isn’t?!” he replied. It wasn’t said in disgust, but almost in a comforting tone.

I read between the lines. He was speaking truth again. We’re not lone victims, Christan. Our chapters read differently, but we’re all surrounded with the reality that we were made for a different Place.

We’re all kind of aching for something that doesn’t exist here, yes?


Another school year’s about to start. And you know what a whirlwind fall is, as we hold on tightly and watch life quickly unfold into new stories. It’s easy for me, come August, to mentally place myself in the autumn cool and the bustling holidays and another calendar year coming to a close. We blink, and what in the world?! We’re already Christmas shopping after stocking up on pencils and glue sticks and notebooks galore.

But this year I’m choosing to mentally place myself half-way through 2015. Seven months down, five to go. Am I still clinging to Hope? Watch closely, I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak, and you’re about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. Isaiah 43:19

I’m still so thirsty, and I’m really needing those streams in my desert. I look at my friends, my dear community near and far, and they’re choking on broken relationships and cancer and parenting aches and racial inequity and loneliness and mental illness and more. They need grace to wash it all down. My friends — those I hold dear have carried quite a bit in 2015.

And if I’m not careful, I start doubting in my mind what I know to be true in my heart… I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. 

But in the voice of a child, or in a young teenager this time, I’m reminded that I am seen, and those I love are not forgotten, and Hope really does rise boldly out of the rubble.

“I’m sorry it’s your story, too, Mom.” You see, I was resenting the fact that sometimes you just can’t protect your kids, and out of nowhere, I drank in empathy. And tenderness. And I saw facets of God’s character I had been ignoring.

Whatever it was you were hoping for on January 1, let yourself go back to that place. My intentions are not always yours, explains the Author, and I do not go about things as you do. My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you… My word will go out and not return to Me empty, but it will do what I wanted; it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8-11

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts. Romans 5:5

Cheers.

When You’re Scared to Write in Pen

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I’m not sure what I was thinking.

I love writing and have for quite some time. I should have revealed it’s therapeutic qualities to my daughter months ago.

My daughter, the writer. She’s organically etched her words in dozens of journals stuffed into drawers and under her bed. She has a lot to say. She listens to her Rescuer, and she’s not afraid to speak back.

It’s an interesting season, for she’s stepped onto that roller coaster called “almost middle school”. Bless her. Like anything in this unraveling world, I’d bear her angst if I could. But my job is to lead her, equip her, in daily finding her own story.

Yes, life is hard, even as a kid, when your mind and heart boast maturity one day but are bound by a child’s perspective the next. It’s hard, too, to hold your confusion as you’re riding that roller coaster without it spilling onto the person next to you.

Have you caught someone’s wrath before? Have you spilled your pain onto another?

“Here, my dear. Here’s a notebook. Write out your hurts and let your journal catch your anger. Take a breath, and then we’ll talk.”

“Will you read it, Mom?” she risks.

“No. But I will if you want me to.”

She assures me she won’t. The job of Savior is already taken, I remind myself.

So the first day in our new routine, she came into my office after school and grabbed her journal. She clenched her jaw and focused her gaze and wrote and wrote and wrote in silence. She wrote until we packed up to leave. Homework would have to wait that day.

The pen she grabbed from the depths of her backpack was a beautiful gem of an instrument.

“You know,” I said, “I love that you chose that pen to write out your frustrations. It’s so beautiful. It’s sort of a reminder God will redeem all the ugly stories of your life someday. Don’t you think?”

She nodded slowly. “I like it… because I’m writing in… pen.”

She narrowed her eyes and stared off into her heart, nodding ever so slightly, until she brought her gaze to mine.

She nodded again in silence with a question on her face as if to discern if I got her message.

I got it.

“Yeah, pen,” I whispered. For a moment, we traded roles again. I was the student, and she was wise beyond her years. She was the one moving me forward. You see, I will choose to journal in pencil every time. Pencil is safe and subtle and unthreatening. It’s changeable when you’ve risked too much. If you’ve been a bit too honest, well, you can erase your boldness and try again another day.

Not with pen. My daughter’s words were out there. They were raw and brave, and no one could erase her honesty. And she was okay with it. My goodness, she was okay with it.

It’s tough to create an image you’re proud of. It’s even more exhausting to maintain it.

Maybe we don’t like our truth, but it’s ours. And it’s real. And how can miracles happen without having something to restore?

The pen, it’s a starting place. It’s a bold, bold stroke onto a page of hope. There’s no denying what’s on your heart.

“There can’t be growth without pain,” a Brazilian mom told me one day. They were here for just a few months, and her five year-old cried every morning when she dropped him off at school. Confusing language, different routines, new school culture. My comfort place was her son’s fear. His growth.

Pedro’s mom would have chosen pen.

When we dig deep and harvest courage, the fragments boast honesty and the exposed heart whispers, “I’m real”. And there’s something welcoming about a person who’s truly lived, isn’t there?

Yes, where is redemption without something to redeem? Where is healing without the wounds? Where is wholeness without the shards?

Will you lean into your truth in Twenty Fifteen? You know, that truth that’s spilling over from last year? Can you grab the pen instead of choosing to be safe? And together on December 31, 2015, maybe we’ll ponder the healing and freedom this year has brought us.

I really can’t wait.

* Dedicated to my daughter’s teacher, Miss Hauser, for suggesting the journal. 

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When Kids Aren’t Satisfied

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I tucked him in bed on his tenth birthday that December night — my firstborn, my son. He’s so pensive, sometimes too much.  But he can’t help it.  He’s me, bless his heart. I know what it’s like to be thirsty for depth one moment and then completely drowning in self-reflection the next.

“Are you okay, honey?”

“Yeah, mom.  I wish…  Well, I’m glad Christmas is just two weeks away.”

Silence.

“It’s just that there’s so many presents I want. And yet I don’t want anything.”

My heart broke and rejoiced that very moment in the tension of real life. For just an instant I cringed over his disappointment. Or his ungratefulness. Or both.

But there was no room that night for mommy-regret or judgment or scolding. He’s getting it, I thought. He’s getting this Gospel. I understood his confusion, his mystery, all too well, for I’m living it myself. And I think you are, too.

Together, we pondered the Fall when sin entered the world. We grieved how it continues to unravel all that’s good, even on days of celebration. We risked, admitting how sin teases and taunts us to yearn for more, as we’re left desperate to fill the forever void.

“Yes, sweetie.  We want, but we’re already dreading the disappointment that comes afterward.  I get it.” 

We acknowledged the Holy Spirit within him, battling the lie, protecting that little heart made for only his Redeemer.  Oh, God, send discernment.  We get so confused.

And I’m too honest, for I tell him he’ll wrestle with this his whole life in this fractured world until he can be with his Rescuer.  Until he leaves the brokenness behind and his aching, striving heart is made new forever.

I’ve known the ache on Christmas night.  I’ve felt the loneliness after celebration and the emptiness after success. Have you been there, too?

We were made for more.  We’re complex and thoughtful and beautifully deep.  Maybe ingratitude isn’t always awful, for it uncovers the truth that there’s more. It points us to the One who forever satisfies and woos us back to His embrace. It frames our perspective as we travel through the shadow toward eternity… toward forever laughter and celebration and fullness as we worship without masks.

Happy Birthday, honey. The pain helps open our eyes. You’re understanding the deepest, greatest Gift ever.