Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Favorites: Recalibrating for the New Year

Friday Favorites: 
Recalibrating for the New Year

Dear friends,

Two more days until the New Year!

I don't know about you, but I am exhausted from 2011.  It has been a year of very challenging transitions for my whole family.  Frankly, I don't feel much like writing anything except in my journal at this point, hence the paucity of new posts on my blogs lately.

I feel a distinct need for recalibration at this point.  I know there are areas of life where I have almost completely lost motivation and vision, where I am battling to overcome negative attitudes and habits.  It's time to renew my mind and tweak my lifestyle even more.  In some ways, I just need to find my way back home again in the sense of recapturing, rethinking, refreshing, reworking the noble dreams I once had for my family. Yes, there has been much baggage of unrealistic (and/or legalistic) expectations that I've had to shed along the way, but I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And for that process, it seems I need a constant stream of inspiration, whether it is from the Bible (I have been reading and reflecting on Luke -- see Reflections on the 6th of Luke), or from the encouragement of friends (which has been so priceless in recent very difficult months), or from authors and musicians.  And in this post, I'm sharing about some books, a CD, and some other blog posts to bless you, too.

Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life  -              By: Shauna Niequist
Cold Tangerines
My husband, at my request, gave me a copy of Shauna Niequist's book Cold Tangerines,which, as the title suggests, has been very refreshing to my soul. Subtitled "Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Every Day Life," it is is written in a warm and conversational style, and seeps deep. I appreciate that she doesn't offer easy answers, but instead explores some of the mysteries of faith and daily life. I seriously don't know how people learn to write like that, and I confess that I am insanely jealous. Maybe someday I will figure it out.  In my dreams.  One of my adult daughters who still lives at home borrowed the book, read it, and said it's her new favorite, too. Shauna Niequist reminds me of the literary version of musician Sara Groves, whose music has been such a balm to me in the past several years. 

Invisible Empires
Invisible Empires
I hadn't even realized Sara Groves had a new CD out, but my husband saw Invisible Empires in the bookstore and gave it to me for Christmas. Perfect.  We were listening to it in the car yesterday, just before our walk twice around Lake Lily.  We are working through sobering and pivotal things, the two of us, and that requires regular time away from the kids.


G.K. Chesterton

I've also been reading some books on Kindle.  You don't need an actual Kindle device to download and read them from Amazon.  I read mine either on my iPod Touch or on my computer. One of my Facebook friends, Angela (aka The Thrifty Homemaker) routinely posts lists of free Kindlebooks.  Here are three I've been enjoying lately: 77 Ways to Get Your Kids to Help at Home by Judy H. Wright, The Heart of Abundance: A Simple Guide to Appreciating and Enjoying Life by Candy Paull, and Orthodoxy by British writer G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary and friend of C.S. Lewis.  "Witty" and "profound" are the two words that come to mind when I think of the writing style of Orthodoxy.  You have to think about this book, which is a Christian classic.  I particularly appreciate his kind words about those of us who think more poetically than logistically.  Chesterton reminds us to break out of our airtight little circles of rigidly "rational" thinking and stretch our brains and our hearts to a larger life. I like that.  I recommended it to my FB friend, and she added it in with today's list!

On My Blogs

·        The End, The Beginning, and the In Between (brief reflection on Ecclesiastes)

·        Every Body Matters (Book by Gary Thomas, Review by Virginia Knowles)

·        Christmas, A Gift of Joy (not just for the holidays)

Inspiration in the Blogosphere

·        Simple Ways to Start Fresh in the New Year by Charlotte Seims at This Lovely Place "The new year is just around the corner and it’s a great time to get a fresh start in your life.  Whether you want to get in shape, manage your time or get a handle on your house cleaning, take advantage of the extra feeling of motivation this time of year to accomplish some easy and doable tasks." (Charlotte is a home schooling mother of 12, speaker, author,  and fitness trainer).  Also from Charlotte's web site, an article by Elvie Look: 21 Good (and Bad) Habits to Keep You Organized

·        Filling your soul with beauty, truth and goodnessby Sally Clarkson at I Take Joy "Make a plan of how you will grow in wisdom, beauty and truth this year. What will you read? When will you have a quiet time? What do you need to stop doing? Make a plan for all the ways you will pour beauty, goodness, wisdom and truth into your children this year. What books and stories will you read to them? When will you have devotionals with them? How do you need to change to reflect love and graciousness to them so that they will form their relationship habits on gentleness and generous love?"

·        When You Need a New You by Arabah Joy"And it strikes me one day, why so many of God’s people never breathe it in. Why we never let the Physician do the full work He offers us: Some of us are content to stay on the other side of the Jordan. Like the Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manassah, we are happy with the land just short of the Promised Land. (Josh. 22:1-4)  We decide our symptoms aren’t that bad, the prognosis is tolerable, and there are far fewer risks involved. Who wants to spend their whole lifetime fighting to gain territory, anyway? We’ll settle for stuffed bookshelves and too-busy lives and the intake of so much caffeine that it needs its own budget….we’ll take what we can get and make the best of it."   Also by Arabah Joy: The Gift

·        Quiet Time 101by Jeannie Fulbright "During the years I taught Bible study, I met many women who had never developed the habit of a daily quiet time. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to have a quiet time, it was that they simply didn’t know exactly how. They had tried to read their Bibles, but found it didn’t gel. They tried to develop a habitual prayer life, but found their minds wandered when they were praying so that they couldn’t really get through their list of prayers. Because many adults didn’t grow up in Christian families, they have never been taught how to have a vital, thriving quiet time with God. So, if you haven’t had a daily quiet time, how do you begin?"

·        A Faith That Fits by Emily at A Deeper Story "This faith I carry was stitched with as much love as that yellow dress, and just as my Mama made a big quilt to cover their bed of all our baby clothes, maybe I can make something worthwhile yet. So I gather up the tired faith with my scissors, needle, and thread.  And daily I snip out the worn clean through spots, split open the seams, and try to find pieces that are still good. I lay the salvaged squares out in front of me and try to piece it together with the emerging faith. Maybe one day I will make something beautiful from this mess. But today it’s still in pieces."

roasted almonds Roasted Cinnamon Nuts
·        Roasted Cinnamon Nuts OK, so this one isn't inspirational, but it sure is yummy.  I bought a three pound bag of almonds at Sam's Club made these as Christmas presents for my husband and my married daughters. I presented them in Rubbermaid containers with festive red lids, and they were seriously the culinary rave of the day.  My toddler grandson literally went nuts for them, and his pregnant mommy said she could just sit on the couch eating them all day.  Lightly sweetened, and just plain scrumptious…   I originally found this recipe linked from a post on Toni Anderson's Happy Housewife blog More food?  Check out Ann Kroeker's Food on Fridays; you can find today's post at Food on Fridays: Shrimp in Garlic Cream Sauce.


God bless you, friends!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Strong Hope (Reflections on Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel)

“Anything—minus hope—equals nothing. Hope is the human equivalent of oxygen when it comes to a person’s ability to live effectively. Take it away, and everything else becomes irrelevant. Without hope it is impossible to live a balanced life. Far worse, without hope, people surrender too soon and die too young… Any parent who wants to raise his or her children into strong, confident and resilient adults has got to grasp the reality of children’s fundamental need to a strong hope… Kids groomed in a grace-based environment find it easier to be visionaries, to trust in a better future, and to long for a greater good…”

Welcome back to my series of reflections on the book Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel! I thought the quotes above would provide a great introduction for this chapter called “A Strong Hope.” It’s the start of the Christmas season as I write this, and hope is certainly a relevant topic at the moment. Hope is often hard to come by, even as the holiday music serenades us in the shopping mall and advertisements promise us a jolly life if we only buy their shiny stuff on sale. My own kids are working on their wish lists right now! In the midst of the holiday hoopla, despair and disillusionment can creep in and take over not only the “world out there” (with wars, human trafficking, poverty and other social maladies) but also our own homes and churches. I know. I’ve been there. It’s a black hole. And yet Jesus Christ came to bring us hope—for the peace and presence of God, for our future in eternity, and for building communities of faith with others in the here and now. I could use a good strong dose of that hope right now.

This is a really long chapter—over 30 pages long—but I’ll try to distill the essence into one blog post! Dr. Kimmel's words, as well as Scripture verses, are in italics.

“One of the first things we need to understand is the role that helplessness plays in building a strong hope into our children. Their early ability to trust us in the areas where they are helpless to meet their personal needs weighs heavily in their ability to ultimately trust God as they grow older… If he can’t trust the adults in his life when he is helpless, why should he assume that he could trust in a God he can’t see—especially if that trust in God is preached to him by the parents who failed to help him in his time of need?”  

Dr. Kimmel writes this to introduce his comments on the rigid feeding and sleeping schedules advocated by some child training authors. He doesn’t mention which ones, but the obvious frontrunners are Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo of Babywise, who have been sharply criticized by many in the medical and parenting fields, especially since this has led to dehydration and malnutrition in young babies. Infants need responsiveness from their parents, not strict clock watching. When a baby is genuinely hungry – which isn’t always on cue from the parents – he learns to trust those caring for him when they are feeding him.  That doesn’t mean that parents are slaves to their babies, but that they orchestrate a reasonable, flexible routine. When my first baby was born, I tried to stick to a four hour feeding schedule. She might be crying loudly to be fed, but I would look at my watch and say, “No, five more minutes until you can eat!” Then it was ten minutes of nursing on one side, then ten minutes on the other side, and we were done for the next four hours. If she was asleep when it was “time to eat” I would wake her up. Really! At least that’s the way we started. I eased up considerably as we went along, just because it seemed the sensible thing to do.  When her sister was born 22 months later, I entirely ditched the four hour plan and fed when it was a good time for both of us.  If she seemed hungry, I nursed her.  If we were about to go somewhere and I knew I wouldn’t be able to discretely breastfeed her, I would nurse her before we left. If she was taking a nap, I would “let the sleeping baby lie”! If it was time for bed and she was awake, I would give her a milky “nightcap” until she fell asleep, even if she had just eaten an hour before that.  And that’s the way I fed the next eight babies, too. That responsiveness also meant that I had to start the last four babies on a mostly formula diet – though still nursing on a flexible schedule -- since by my late thirties and early forties I couldn’t produce nearly enough milk no matter what I tried. If I had listened to eager moms who thought cow’s milk was poison and insisted on breast only, my babies would have seriously failed to thrive.  I needed to set aside my mommy ego and do what was best for my helpless babies.  They were developing their most basic trust in me, whether it was by breast or bottle! I have watched that first sweet baby girl grow up to be a responsive and responsible mommy to her own little guy. (Sally Clarkson has just written a blog post related to motherly responsiveness to feeding needs here: Do Unto Your Children As You Would Have Them Do Unto You, and Tulip Girl has a series on the pitfalls of various aspects of Babywise parenting.)

Feeding is a profound metaphor for our spiritual needs, too. Jesus knows we are hungry and thirsty. “I am the bread of life!” and “I am the living water!” are two of his most poignant promises to those who come to him, whether it is the woman at the well, or the hungry crowd of thousands on the hillside, or a 21st century family in the suburbs.

As parents, we need to be aware of our children’s real life needs, so we can come alongside and offer loving nourishment and help. They will certainly need leadership and encouragement in their spiritual lives. Otherwise: “They have no idea how to find the way, know the truth, or gain the life… Passivity when it comes to their spiritual life signs their death warrant in advance. Few find their way through to God on their own. They need loving parents enthusiastically leading the way.”

Then there are the practical needs in their lives. Yes, they need to start learning independence. But first they need guidance and a tactical boost. Maybe it is tutoring in a weak academic area, or help choosing a healthy breakfast, or intervention with an irritable sibling, or tips on filling out college scholarship applications, or a small loan to start a lawn mowing business. Whatever we do, we can train and equip them for success in the future.

“Fortunately, children don’t stay helpless forever, and eventually they become old enough to feed themselves, groom themselves, communicate clearly, and even stand up for themselves. Their minds develop well enough to think inductively and deductively. Our mistake is when we fail to relinquish our control over these areas once children have gotten to where they can handle them on their own.  Parents who run their children’s lives and make most of their decisions discourage them from individual thinking.  This can damage their ability to learn to lean on God. It also confuses their ultimate choice to put their hope in God and could mislead them into thinking that God likes to keep them hopeless, too.”

God does not isolate us from worldly traps that could bring us down. He wants us to become mature enough to function around them and not be influenced by them. He doesn’t want us to remain as spiritual infants, fed only on milk, though that is where we all rightly start. “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

So as parents, we must transition from protecting our children to preparing them. We give them more options, knowing that they will make some bad choices and learn from them“Eventually they’ve got to stand on their own two feet.  God gives us their childhood (especially their teenage years) to let them practice making decisions under our roofs. Simple logic would say that if children are going to struggle and make bad choices, it’s better that they do so while they remain involved with loving parents to help them through it. When parents don’t let them practice, children often overreact to the freedom when they go to college or go out on their own. Unfortunately, those mistakes can do greater harm to them (and to others).  Grace-based parenting is shrewd about helping children grow up and develop independence before they are sent out on their own.”

We’re teaching our kids to trust in God, that there is hope for a good future, but what happens when things don’t seem to turn out all right? I have a young adult daughter, still living at home, who has faced a lot of tough circumstances this year. It seems no matter how hard her effort, something comes up to wipe out any gains. She is learning endurance through all of us, and I’ve reminded her of how much more compassionate she will be with others after struggling so much herself. As Dr. Kimmel writes, “Now, there’s one more area where God wants to use us to build their hope, and that’s when God chooses to solve their problems in ways that wouldn’t be of their own choosing… In these types of scenarios, they are hoping for a physical miracle, an intellectual epiphany, or a relational windfall to suddenly make everything right. The God we trust in doesn’t always deal with these problems in ways we expect or hope for. Sometimes He answers our pleas with answers like “No” or “Wait” or “Later.” When He does, it’s because He is working to make us better and stronger and to draw us closer to Him. He has a bigger plan that this setback fits into. Children need to have a hope in His love that enables them to trust in His character while walking down these painful corridors of their lives. For the child facing these crises, the grace that has surrounded him, the love he’s been shown, and the character of the parents who gave him that grace and love provide a natural springboard for him to rest in God’s final answer to his pleas. It helps him hope when everyone else would give up.”

I feel like I’ve already learned so much from this chapter, yet there is still so much more!  How about “A Checklist for Building Strong Hope”? Here are the bare bullet points in bold italic, which Dr. Kimmel expounds on for several pages, along with my brief comments on each one in parentheses.

1. Children develop a strong hope when they know their parents recognize their God-given abilities and liabilities and turn them into assets for their future.  (Dr. Kimmel applies the Proverbs 22:6 verse “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” as meaning we should not only train our children in God’s ways, but discover the individual way our children are created and called to be and equip them for success in that.  We also need to determine what their specific weaknesses are and help them to overcome in those areas.  They are not mini clones of us!)
2. Children develop a strong hope when their parents lead them and encourage them to live a great spiritual adventure.(One of my favorite phrases about life and parenting is “the grand adventure” so he instantly has my ears on this one.  What he’s getting at is that our goal shouldn’t necessarily be “the safe life” for our kids.  Over-sheltering leads them to be critical of others, and na├»ve about the dangers they will face.  Life is inherently risky.  Will they be ready?  Not to mention that Christians are called to risk their lives for the gospel anyway, whether they are foreign missionaries or not.  Yes, we should be shrewd.  We don’t throw a defenseless child to the wolves.  But we do teach them to rely on God, to discern good from evil, to make wise choices, to deal with the inevitable dangers.  Much of what we do as Christian parents is a reflection of our middle-class suburban sensibilities.  Parents in Third World countries don’t have our options, yet they can still raise spiritually savvy children who can withstand whatever cultural pressures and socioeconomic circumstances they encounter.  Speaking again of over-protective parents, Kimmel writes, “These protected environments don’t allow a system of spiritual antibodies to develop within the character of the child. This produces a generation of people who must within a spiritually sterilized environment in order to survive.  These are nice systems that produce nice kids who marry nice kids who go to nice churches and hang out with like-minded friends.   Meanwhile, the lost people in the world around them continue in their doomed condition.  In these environments, there is little spiritual adventure.  God is nice, Jesus becomes a plush toy that we cuddle, and we become irrelevant.”  I cried when I read Kimmel’s analogy of the ship that never goes past the harbor entrance.  That’s because of a simple quote my second daughter taught me when she, at age 19, traveled by herself to spend three months in the remote (and very hazardous) mountains of Bolivia: "A ship in harbour is safe, but that is NOT what ships are built for" (William Shedd).  I know I linked these in the post for last chapter, but here they are again: A Ship in Harbour is Safe..., and And They Are Strong and Bold... (Girls and the Grand Adventure) and Come With Me Here. Those who have children in public school may wish to read Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School by David and Kelli Pritchard.  I just received my copy yesterday, so I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I’ve read so far is very good and very stretching.  I am still home schooling several of my children, as I have for 20 years, but also have two in public school.
3.Children develop a strong hope when their parents help them turn their childhood into a series of positive accomplishments. Equip, equip, equip!  I often tell my kids, “I am here to help you succeed!”  But I need to follow through more with this for sure!

And in all of this, what do they need?  Our own example!  They need to see us exercising self-discipline, growing intellectually and spiritually, and taking on new challenges with gusto.   With our kids, we sometimes also need to “learn the graceful art of ‘pushing carefully’ by establishing realistic standards and then shoving them in the right direction.”  Yow, that one hits a little too close to home for me.  I tend to lean more toward being lax in making my kids work hard at school and chores, and it has come back to bite me.  Other parents might lean into pushing their kids to over achieve – which doesn’t make them better people, just more proficient in certain areas.  “They need to see their commitment to achievement as a way to glorify God as well as a way to make them more valuable to others.  Grace helps us keep achievement in its rightful place, as a means to an end.”

Kids won’t always win. They also need to learn to lose gracefully, to get past their failures, and to try again.  Parents make powerful cheerleaders when the going gets rough. And when we are discouraged in parenting, we need a little cheer of hope to keep us going, too:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9).

There are six more chapters in this book.  I hope to write about them soon, but for now, I’ve got some work to do on my own harvest!

You can read the complete series here:

Grace to you,

Virginia Knowles