Saturday, November 14, 2015

How Not to Raise a Spoiled Brat

You can often hear them before you ever see them in the grocery store--ear piercing screams, loud fits of crying followed by mumbled phrases pleading for the prize they want. A few second pause...then it begins again.  Screaming. Crying. Whining. Pause.  I'm not sure what the longest recorded time for one of these episodes is, but I'm  pretty sure I have experienced a contender.  Or two. The little hellions, pardon the French, can hijack an entire ten thousand square foot building in a matter of seconds, leaving hundreds of weary shoppers reeling from the display.  I've seen the checkout lines grow exponentially during one of these tantrums, people frantically hurrying to grab the last items on their checklist and  beeline it to the front of the store.  Store clerks with eyes glazed over, scanning, packing, bagging items at record speeds.

I don't know about you, but I have actually found myself pushing my cart toward the raucous. Curiosity just gets the best of me.  I need to catch a glimpse of  the poor soul who birthed this urchin. Part of me wants to see if there is something I can do to help the floundering parent.  Part of me just wants to witness evidence of bad parenting.   I want to mentally run through a checklist of their parenting flaws, feel a little better about my own skills,  and be on my merry way.

There, I said it.

I need to find a reason for children-behaving-badly.  Secretly, I want to assess the evidence of a child-directed tantrum, point an imaginary finger at neglectful parents, and walk away with my head up and shoulders back. Now, can I say that oftentimes, it's obvious the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree? Because if the voices were the same, I would be hard-pressed to figure out who the parent is. Any attempt to give advice during the storm and I would probably be pouring gasoline on an already blazing fire and have it turn on me.  But, really, how badly do I want to help?  Deep down, do I desire to relieve a tired and weary parent's burden and lift their heavy load?  Or do I want to tap them on the shoulder, tell them their child is disturbing our peace, and suggest the obvious--he or she and their little peace-disturbing noisebox need to leave.

Inevitably, I do neither.  I walk away, finish purchasing my necessary items, push my cart out the door, pack the bags in my car, and drive home.  With purse slung over my shoulder, I grab for as many bags as I can clutch in each hand at a time, push my hip against the car door, and hobble up the sidewalk to the front door.  Managing to elbow the front door latch open,  I hoist my load onto the kitchen counter and plop it down.  Soon I hear footsteps of eager home-dwellers making their way from the far corners of our home to assess my purchase. " Food, yay!"  "Did you get anything good?" "Where's the chocolate? ""Hey, how many times have I told you that I like strawberry, not raspberry fruit gummies?"  "Where's my coconut, extra-volume, high-shine, (insert name brand) conditioner?" "Did you forget it AGAIN?"  "Why can't you ever buy (name brand) cereal, yogurt, chips, toilet paper, lunchmeat?"

Said children, simultaneously manage to grab a bag of generic chips or granola bar, humph, turn, and stalk off to their clothes-laden rooms, iphones in hand.  All around the kitchen and family room is evidence of everything eaten that morning--wrappers, crumbs, half-empty soda cans, dirty plates, cups, bowls, spoons strewn about.  Dirty, rolled-up socks and tennis shoes litter the floor.  Last night's  jackets, purse, make-up, hair ties and papers are carelessly piled on the corner of the sofa.

I assess the morning's aftermath and then it occurs to me.  The only difference between me and the tantrum-enduring, weary parent I left at the store is that my kids are older, and I managed to escape from my house to the store by myself.  That's it. The same entitled, "I want it" attitude dwells richly under my own roof.

How did we get here?  Was it the portrait-filled walls that greeted them every day, a constant reminder that they were the most important people on earth?  Was it the constant giving in throughout the years to the latest toy just witness on a tv commercial, the name brand jeans that everyone was wearing,  the fast food run that they would die without? Was it my unselfish desire to give them those things, those experiences that I lacked growing up in a home with limited means that eventually turned them into self-absorbed, unsatisfied, frustrated mini-dictators?

Maybe I could have used a lesson or two in parenting.  Maybe I was the one who consistently chose peace over justice, overlooking bad behavior because giving in was easier.  Or worse yet, maybe I have modeled the very thing I am seeing in my children.

I have heard it said that what parents do in moderation, their children will do in excess.


I need to take a good hard look at myself first.  How many times have I secretly longed for more--a more beautiful house, fashionable clothes, a thinner, more toned body, newer car, more stuff?  How many of my purchases throughout the years were a reflection of nothing more than meeting my own selfish wants?  Did we really need that new throw rug?  Was my comforter all that worn that it justified a whole new bedroom makeover?  Is my ever-growing body evidence of an undisciplined life feeding it what it craves instead of what it needs?  The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree here at my own homefront.

The question remains.  Where do we go from here?  How do we become less self-absorbed, spoiled and undisciplined?  How do we get to the place where we are satisfied whether hungry or well-fed, whether there is chocolate in the house or not?  I believe the first step is to identify the root cause--selfishness.  Pride.  Seeing ourselves as different than those in the world that have been given much less and are still satisfied and grateful. Believing that somehow the rules change for us.  That we deserve more. Thinking that starving, homeless, parentless people aren't as deserving of God's blessings as we are.  Thinking that it's our portraits that line God's walls, that we are the most important people on earth.

It's time to get a new dose of perspective.  And I believe the starting point is on our knees.  Pray that the Father of all of the world's children, who fiercely loves them all equally would birth a passion in us to truly love our brothers and sisters.  Pray that we would see ourselves as the spoiled brats we really are.  Pray that we would catch a glimpse of our condition and begin today to make changes.

How do we raise a spoiled brat?  How do we raise ourselves up to become people who overcome the selfish nature of the flesh and embody the fruit of the Spirit? By getting low. By seeking, praying, asking for a new heart that sees others as equally important and deserving as ourselves. Finding someone today to give ourselves to.  Someone we haven't noticed before. Someone who has been overlooked.

How do I keep from raising a spoiled brat?  By realizing that I am one myself.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

It's Hard to Tell...or is it?

“I’m telling!”

I have heard these very words so often during my years as mom and referee.  Soon after, a little person scurries through the doorway armed with a new story of injustice.  Apparently, it is of the utmost importance that their mom know about it, because deep within all of us is a need to make things fair.  And if I can’t make things fair myself, by golly, I am going to find someone who can.

Isn’t that the pull of social media these days, to find an audience that will sympathize with any injustice I encounter?  

“I’m telling!”

Only, now that I am older and supposedly more mature, what seems to have changed is my method and audience.  It’s powerful to see how many people I can find to agree with me and “like” my status.  It helps me validate my own feelings of injustice.

The problem with this method is that it is shaky at best, and based on a false sense of security.  

I am just beginning to see the magnitude of power there is in the written word of social media.  The need to rally people around me to support my cause can blind me to the fact that my cause may have a false premise.  I just might be entirely wrong. If I base my sense of right and wrong on a system of popularity, how am I any different than the teen who dresses for her peers, whether or not the rest of society deems her appearance attractive or proper?

How often do I experience something funny, or sad, or maddening,  and I immediately think, wow, I need to post this!  

Why?  Because, deep down is a need to feel validated. But, how many “likes” is enough? Twenty? Thirty?  Fifteen, with a few comments thrown in?  Well, yesterday, twenty made me feel good, but my friend got 55 likes on a photo of her kid and it wasn’t anything great or new, or even that cute. So, now, I’m gunning for at least 60!  It’s almost addiction!  I need to have more and more “likes” to make myself feel good.
It’s time to step back and get a dose of perspective.  
Who are those whose opinions matter most to me? 
Is it a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, or even someone I have never met? 
Shouldn’t the ones I love and value most have the most influence on me and I on them?  

When all is said and done, when I reach the end of my life, how many of my social media friends will do little more than like the status that informs them I have passed on to another world? It’s time to put time into the ones whose lives I have been given the responsibility to mold and affect, those with whom my heart beats.

Those I like most. 
Those I love.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Day I Grew Up Just a Little

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, life was carefree. We were somewhat poor, but of course didn't know it. When you're not surrounded by the clutter of stuff, your imagination has a chance to make up the difference. My days were filled with the magic of pretend. What I remember most were my dollies, my babies piled carelessly in the top drawer of an old peach colored dresser in the playroom of our basement.  They were my secret stash, the promise of long hours of pretend, of dreaming of the days I would hold real babies in my arms and they would call me Momma and I would love them like nothing else in this world.  

My first baby was a Chatty Cathy doll I unwrapped when I barely knew what Christmas was and first discovered that beautiful boxes under a magically lit tree held wonderful surprises inside. If I put my finger into the little white plastic ring on the back of her neck and pulled the cord, she would say amazing things like, “kiss me good night,” “may I have a cookie,” or “I love you.”    Eventually her pull cord broke, and she was forever silenced, but she was still my baby.  

There were other babies in the drawer, including several cast-off, hand-me-down dolls from friends or cousins who outgrew the need to play house or babies.  There was my beloved Paulie, so named because it was the best name in the world and because I always had wanted a boy baby.  I found a picture of Paulie in a Sears catalog years later and to my dismay, discovered that his real name was something akin to “little Miss Wet Wet” or something equally derogatory.  Paulie was beautiful, and a BOY, and would never be reduced to a little miss anything. There was Cindy, my biggest chubby baby that had indelible red marks on her face, left over from the time I tried to play clowns with  her and a sample tube of Avon red lipstick.  She was forever marred, but I covered her face as best as I could with a receiving blanket when I held her, and loved her despite the fact that her clown-like appearance remained.  

Babies were for holding, and dressing, changing, feeding, and putting down for naps.  They didn’t have many clothes between them, so they learned to share and make due, just like the rest of us. They loved you, and needed you and never left you.  Whenever you needed a friend, they were forever waiting in that top drawer, carelessly strewn from a quick clean up time. They never seemed to mind being piled in there, always ready for their next excursion.

I remember sewing outfits for my babies.  I had taken old pairs of shorts that were too small for me and cut them down and sewed them on my mom’s old Singer that she had patiently taught me to use at the tender age of seven.  Paulie, Cathy, Cindy and the others had new clothes.  They were so excited!

Days of playing and imagining turned into weeks, months, and years.  Eventually my tattered group of dolly friends grew old and worn, and I felt the need for a new baby.  Christmas was coming, and along with it was the promise of a new doll.  Out came the Sears catalog, and as I began my search for a new friend, I came upon a very sobering discovery.   As I turned page after page, combing the pictures of beautiful little baby dolls, some with pacifiers and bottles, others with beautiful clothes or accessories to accompany them, one thing kept popping up at the bottom of each description--"recommended for ages 5 to 10." A few included age 11. All of a sudden I realized the manufacturers must have known something that had unknowingly slipped by me. The truth I discovered that day was this:  twelve was too old for playing with dolls.  It was time to embrace what other girls my age had long since done.  The babies were to be set aside to make room for music and sports, sleepovers and crushes.

This day will remain in my mind as the day I grew up, even if just a little.  The bitter-sweet coming of age time ushered in new days of insecurity, peer pressure, and a nagging feeling of innocence lost.  But I will be forever grateful for the care-free days of playing Momma to a group of little ones that helped mold me into someone who would someday love her real babies more than I could ever have imagined.   

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your Life is a Mosaic

Do you ever feel your life is composed of many fragmented, dull and inconsequential experiences? Do you find yourself rushing from one mundane task to another, only to wake up tomorrow for more of the same?  Me, too.  

So many of our days are spent performing rote tasks that are necessary, but don’t  really seem to amount to anything important in the scheme of things. Right now, I’m sitting and typing and I already have spent the first hour and a half of my day washing clothes, cleaning a bathroom and taking out the trash.  Not very exciting stuff. I have to say, though, the highlight of my trash-taking-out  was when I found the white garbage bag of  old pumpkins I had left by the front door yesterday (don’t judge) leaking and spouting a trail of clear, foul-smelling ooze  all the way from the front door, through the kitchen, laundry room, and garage to the trash can. True story.  Out came the paper towels,  mop, and sanitizing wipes. Wow, don’t everyone faint with excitement.  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any of your stress-related injuries.  Honestly, that stuff is BORING.  Oftentimes, we conclude that boring equals unimportant.  Since so much of our time is spent doing these seemingly unimportant tasks  we assume then, that we are also unimportant.

Do you think that too? Can I tell you something?  You couldn’t be more wrong.

You see, there are stories behind the tasks.  Those rotten pumpkins were carved by little hands that were so excited to be elbow deep in pumpkin goo, scooping, carefully saving the seeds, drawing the faces.  Those pumpkins were their art.  They had never carved pumpkins before, and we left them proudly displayed in all of their glorious imperfections on the ledge near the front door so that all who entered could see the orange smiling faces.  So, we left them a little too long, but so what?  
rotten pumpkin.jpg

That laundry mountain that never ceases to erupt is evidence that there is life in your home.  Same goes for the dirty dishes, the scattered toys, the fingerprints on the windows.  There is a story behind the mundane, and if you and I are not careful, we may miss it.  Now I’m a huge proponent of time management, efficiency, job sourcing (which looks like chores for kids, by the way), setting life goals, and self improvement.   But I will leave those subjects for future blogs.

For now, I would like to leave you with this:  Cherish your days.  Look carefully for the stories.  There is a Master Artist who longs to take all the broken, imperfect pieces of our lives and create a beautiful masterpiece with them.  In fact, He is already at work doing just that. Those dark pieces?  They’re a part of the picture.  I’ve heard it once said that an artist can’t create light unless there is dark to contrast it.   So don’t despise the mundane. Don’t be ashamed of past mistakes, the imperfections, the dark pieces.  

mosaic 4.jpg
Look hard for the precious story that lies quietly underneath the surface.  Your life is a masterpiece.  You can’t see the whole picture now because you are too close.  But there is One who is creating, setting those pieces in a beautiful pattern that will bring joy to Himself, and tell a story to others.

Pumpkin pie, anyone?

Friday, November 6, 2015

So You Think You Can Dance?

For most of my life, if I was ever asked that question, I know what my response would have been.  
To this day, if you ask any of my kids, they would whole-heartedly agree.
Aside from choking on whatever it is they were eating at the time, they would say,
"Hahaha, well. No." 
And I would have agreed with them.

It's pretty sad that as I look back many years on my wedding day, I recall that one of my biggest concerns about that epic, monumental day was that we were going to have a DJ who would play some amazing music, and my new husband and I would have to dance in front of a lot of our family and friends, and they would SEE ME DANCE.  Such a tragedy, as I look back.  I missed so much of the magic of the moment dancing for the first time with the love of my life, and all I could think of was, "can people tell that I just can't dance?" I was hoping that the layers of fabric and lace would be my friend and camouflage my feet moving. Really.

I would have to say that most of my life I have been wrong.
Sorry, kids, you are wrong, too.
I can dance.

Now, nobody qualified it and asked how well I dance.  
That's not the question.
How well you dance doesn't matter.
Dancing should never be about other people.
It's really more about you.
It's about your expression of joy.
It's about getting caught up in worship of the King of kings.
It's about sharing closeness with someone you love deeply.
It's about celebrating!

So, self, stop worrying about the question that was never asked.  Who cares how well you can dance? (Except maybe your kids, in front of their friends.  But that's just a lot of really good blackmail material, note to self.)

So, you think you can dance? Yes.
The new question is obvious:  "Will you dance?"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

DIY Therapy

I never knew about word art therapy  until recently.  I guess it's not really 

a thing,  I like to think I invented it.  But when I mention it to other writers, 

we smile and nod, knowingly.

My kids used to say, "Mom, can you draw me a cat?" (or a snowman. or house.  I was exceptionally good at snowmen.)
And in my feeble way, I would scratch out a cartoon version of the real thing. And they thought it was amazing! Beautiful! How did I get to be such a great artist?

Well, I knew the truth.  It wasn't any of those things, but to a five year old soul it was perfect.

Not too long ago, I discovered that for me, words were a better way to draw pictures.  For most of my life, the pen had been a tool used for utility.  It wrote reports, it calculated numbers.  It sketched ideas for house plans.  It jotted notes to my loved ones.

But then I discovered that if I sat long enough to catch the swirling thoughts that raced through my head and weighed on my heart, I could transfer them to the page and it made sense. I was surprised  that those fragmented pieces that had floated randomly could be collected together and it sketched something.  Amazing.  Beautiful. Complete.  I could tweak, trim, embellish here or there, but whenever I decided it was finished, it was.

That is no small thing in a life of endless washing, drying, folding, cooking, shopping, shuttling, packing, unpacking, budgeting, and, well, the list keeps going. None of those things stay finished.
But the written word wasn't, and then it was, and then it stayed. Finished.

And I knew I had touched on some hidden venue of creativity that my Creator had deposited in me long ago. I just hadn't noticed it was there.

Words are my therapy.  I know it to be true, because as I type, tears slip out of the corners of my eyes and run down my face.  And even days later, when I reread the carefully chosen words, the mist in my eyes tells me that the message is still true.

They may not paint the same picture for you.  I don't believe they have to.  Call it modern impressionistic.  That's the beautiful thing about art. You don't know why you love it, but something about it rings true for you, and stirs your insides and you smile. And you think, yeah.  I have always thought that. I just hadn't seen it written out.

Word art.

Why Grown-Ups Are Not Good Dreamers

If everyone lived out their childhood dreams of what they once wanted to "be," I think we would have an awful lot of astronauts, firemen, teachers and nurses around.

"What do you want to be?" It was one of the first questions most adults asked you when they were trying to be nice and didn't really know what else to say. I didn't mind, though, because the whole subject was  exciting. When you are young enough to dream, there is no pressure, no sense of regret or frustration to go along with this question.  With the whole future ahead of you, anything is possible. You could dream about being a mommy or a teacher, an astronaut or a nurse. You could travel the world, help feed the poor, even cure cancer.  Why not? The sky was the limit.

But somewhere along the way those dreams drifted into the everyday responsibilities of life.  The question, “what do I want to be?” was hijacked by “What needs to get done today?” The need to be responsible and practical overcame the dream.  There are people who depend on you now, bills to be paid, homes to keep in order, jobs to be worked, laundry to conquer, food to buy and cook.  The original question is often written off as a childish exercise in developing your imagination.

But, should it be?
Ephesians 2:10 says: ...we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

What are those things He planned for us?  Did he plan for us to be so bogged down in everyday responsibilities that we can’t see beyond our “to do” list? Is our sole purpose being put on this earth to clean up after other people, shuttle, hurry, wash, rinse, repeat?

Or have we missed something? Did the Infinite Creator of the Universe put in us the desire to create?  To build?  To build-up? And if so, what is keeping us from it?  

What is that dream that lies dormant, almost lifeless?  What questions do we need to ask ourselves so we can fan into flame those gifts, those dreams, those abilities that were put into us and planned for  since the creation of time?

Here are some new questions to ponder as we hurry along our  in duties today, shuttling, cleaning, filing….

  • What do I love?  What gives me great joy?
  • What do others say I am good at?  
  • What do I think I am good at?  
  • If time, money, and ability were not an issue, what would I love to devote myself to and become an expert in?

In other words, if you could dream again, and live your dream, what would it look like?  Who would you love to take along with you?  What would you love to look back on and say, “Wow, God, we did it! “

If, in fact, many opportunities in life are merely hindered by our imagination, isn't it time to dream again?