Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Novel Approach to Character - part deux

First of all, I love saying "part deux." Second of all....


Definition: Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes; feeling what God feels towards their plight

QUOTE: How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. George Washington Carver

When our oldest daughter, Bethany, was little, we lived overseas. Daily, she mingled with refugees from Eastern Europe and heard their heart-breaking stories. Periodically, she would travel with us in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany, and would see, firsthand, the poverty of the people there.

As a result, we had a hard time keeping any of the toys sent by grandma back in states, because she wanted Daddy to give them away on his trips. She baked cookies to give to “the children who don’t have any.” She carefully clutched bananas to carry on a train trip to Budapest, to hand to missionary children there, where bananas were not to be had.

To this day, her heart is turned towards the poor and suffering. She’s traveled several times into remote regions of Mexico on mercy trips. Her college degree is geared towards one day helping such people again.

When we stay in our enclaves of comfortable environments with people of similar economic, intellectual and/or physical means, we do our children a disservice. Like all of us, our children’s hearts will be moved to compassion more when the nameless faceless people on the nightly news become real people known to them.

Compassion, of course, applies to more than the needy. It starts by understanding the feelings and hurts of a brother, the struggle to conquer math skills in a sister (when such things come more easily to you) or thinking about the hurt and loneliness of an out-of-town grandma who just had an operation. It grows to imagining ourselves in the place of the family who just lost a Dad to cancer and encompasses the lost and deceived people around us who do not have the sure hope we have as Christians.

PICTURE BOOKS: (FAR from an all encompassing list!)

Andy and the Lion by James Daughtery Andy takes a thorn out of a lion’s paw and his compassion is later rewarded.

Crow Boy by Taro Yashima Set in a small, rural Japanese community, Chibi is an outcast at school because he is different from the other children. Eventually, his uniqueness is discovered and appreciated. Caldecott Award

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss Horton the elephant discovers a whole new world on a speck of dust and ,despite ridicule from other animals, saves his microscopic friends and works to gain them respect, because , in the familiar refrain of the tale. “A persons a person, no matter how small.”

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister A beautiful fish won't give away any of his sparkling scales because they make him more beautiful than any other fish. He's too arrogant to play with the ordinary fish and when he refuses to share they decide they want nothing to do with him. All alone, he is faced with a choice about riches and friendship.

Ruff by Jane Hissey. 1994 Random House . Ruff, a stuffed dog, is abandoned but his new friends welcome him into their circle, and give him a birthday party and his name.


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White– A spider, Charlotte, devotedly works to saves her pig friend, Wilbur, from certain death.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Though the story takes place during wartime, and money is tight, Marmee exhibits an unselfish compassion towards the poor around her, and her daughters learn this trait from her example. One chapter tells the touching story of the girls packing up their special Christmas breakfast, contenting themselves with bread and milk, and bringing it to a poor immigrant family living in great need. The satisfaction this act of compassion brings to the girls is clear.
Note: Other character qualities: The girls recognize their weaknesses and work to improve, which is inspiring in itself. Each has her own particular struggles against, for example, vanity, contentment, and pride. Family love helps each through troubles and tragedy. Duty to their family and to society must sometimes take precedence over personal desires.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Too Much

Jon and I went to one of the most amazing marriage retreats last week. It was sponsored by Porter's Call here in the Nashville area (Franklin to be exact) and they brought in Dan Allender who brought a staggering perspective on gender, marriage, family and humanity in general. If you ever have a chance to go to his Intimate Marriage conference (I think it's coming to Birmingham in early February) or read his book by the same name, definitely do it. (I think he also has a curriculum for small group study which would be really interesting to do as well.)

There were many life changing things that I took from Dan's conference, but there is one thing he said that really struck me. He was talking about the original fall in Genesis and how God's punishment for women was/is pain in childbirth and our husbands' rule over us. He went past the surface explanation for these things and dug to a deeper meaning based on literal translation. I can't remember the exact points he gave due to my poor note taking skills, but essentially these two curses have to do with relationship. Women at their core have been plagued with loneliness. We will be plagued by the nurturing and maintenance of relationship and will be deeply pained by the sin that will eventually corrupt every relationship we have, to some degree. One of the problems we have, especially in relation to our husbands, is the insecurity of being too much. We are too emotional, too insecure, too passionate, too talkative, too analytical, too worrisome, too fat, too skinny, too needy, too lonely... I can totally relate to this - not just in relationship to Jon, but to everyone. Sure, not everyone is going to like me, but the idea that I - one whom God knit together beautifully and wonderfully - am too much for the world to handle is a lie from satan that is designed to keep me from being all that I was intended to be, limiting the impact that I can have for the Kingdom of Heaven. I am bothered by this very thing as I am typing. Is this post too much? Are people going to be put off by me because I am too insecure or too open or too...fill in the blank...

I know that this is something that will never go away because I am not perfect and neither are you and we are living day in and day out in this world together, in relationship with one another. Even in the inevitability of that last sentence, I can't tell you the freedom that Dan's insight has given me. I have shared what I've learned with just a couple of friends and the response has been astounding. These women REALLY do struggle with this. It isn't just me. It isn't just the women Dan Allender has counseled. We are all worried that we are not fit for true, unbridled, vulnerable, rich and meaningful relationships with people on this Earth. This oftentimes translates to our relationship with God. We hold back. We don't ask people over or to lunch or coffee because we're scared of what they think or how they would respond or whether or not they would come. We worry about whether or not someone likes us or why they didn't invite us to their party. If they do invite us or come over, we wonder if they really did it because they wanted to spend time with us or if they just did it because they felt obligated or had an ulterior motive. When don't fully confess our sins to the Father and we do not dare to reveal to Him the desires of our heart. We think we are too much.

Part of my goals for 2009 include allowing God to free me of this - allowing Him to break free the bondage of insecurity and paranoia - allowing Him to open me up to true fellowship and, in turn, be a real friend who really loves. The Bible not only speaks of the agony of relationship, but the inexplicable joy that we can have in relationship with others and, most notably, with Him. I am fully aware there are going to be awkward moments, painful conversations, tears and heartache. In reality, this is true regardless of whether I change or say the same. Why don't I take the path that results in deeper more meaningful communion? The catty, gossipy, critical aroma of the evil one himself that has lingered in most of our lives since middle school has lingered much too long.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Novel Approach to Character - part 1

In this post I talked about a great lady named Derri Smith who bestows her vast knowledge and wisdom on child rearing upon our intimidated and exhausted group of "new moms" at church. Every so often she sends us an email with a list of books which have been "pre-approved" by her as quality and effective tools for teaching our children how to be people of good character. She has even been so gracious (and wise!) as to suggest books even for us adults! As I promised, I will be sharing what I learn with you. Here is her first installment:


Have you known (or been) a person who sees the negative in every situation, and who complains about all that is not as it should be? Or the type who take the kindnesses and service of others as their due, with little notice or expression of gratefulness? Does such a person spread joy, encourage or bring out the best in others? Do they reflect God? You are likely nodding your head, “no.”

A grateful heart habitually focuses on blessings rather than the problems, irritations and things that don’t suit it – the things that are a part of everyone’s life.

A grateful family is thankful for much in the midst of hard times. Grateful people have a habit of noticing the little things done for them by friends and family and expressing their genuine appreciation. They notice the many gifts God has placed in their homes and lives and in the world around them, and they launch mental bouquets to Him in thanks. Such people know a contentment and joy that an ungrateful person never can, no matter the circumstances, and they spread that joy to those around them.

At its core, contentment – and the joy that springs from it – is a matter of trusting God. When we trust that God is at work and that, despite our failures and the obstacles in the road, He is accomplishing His purpose in our lives and those around us, we can be content. Discontent raises its ugly head when things are not going as WE think they should or would prefer or when we feel life is out of control … OUR control.

As parents, we need to nurture in our children an “attitude of gratitude”. They need to see that someone took time to purchase and wrap a gift for them. Children should develop the habit of speaking and writing their thanks. They need to understand that meals do not magically appear on the table and that money doesn’t just refill automatically in the ATM; someone works hard to provide for their family. Resources for school, trips to the zoo, the vet or music lessons all require parental sacrifice. Therefore, a “thank-you” is in order when a child benefits from these blessings. By working this awareness into the warp and woof of our lives, we raise children who see the service of others not as their due but as a privilege.

Everyone has problems; they are a part of life. The fork in the road comes when we decide to focus on our many blessings, rather on our problems.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Thessalonians 5:18

Picture Books:
Note: All picture books are unpaginated unless otherwise noted.

Happy Father’s Day by Steve Kroll, illustrated by Marylyn Hapner, 1988, Holiday House, ISBN 0-8234-0671-7. Six children and Mom plan a Father’s Day filled with loving surprises for Dad; they do his chores, make homemade gifts and plan a special treat. Throughout the day, Dad expresses his gratitude for the gifts. Other character qualities include love, resourcefulness.

Petunia Beware by Roger Duvoisin, 1958, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-394-90867-8. Petunia the Goose is never satisfied. She eats from her friend’s food because it looks better than her own. She always thinks the grass on the other side of the fence looks wonderful, so, despite warnings about wild animals, she walks out into the meadow beyond the farmyard. The grass is the same old grass, and eventually even drier than that in her farmyard, but Petunia keeps going further, sure that she will find grass better than what she is used to. She narrowly escapes a weasel, bobcat, raccoon and fox, is rescued by the farm dog, and upon her return declares that the grass at home is the best she has ever tasted.

The Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza, 1987, G.P, Putnam’s Sons, ISBN 0-399-21400-3. Even a hungry wolf, set upon fattening a chicken and eating her in a stew, is softened and won over by the gratefulness that is expressed by the hen’s 100 baby chicks for the food he left.

Chapter Book:
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder 352 pps. Reading level: ages 9-12 Harper Collins Seventh in the award winning classic series based on the author’s life, this book tells the story of Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and little Grace bravely facing the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards cover the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Christmas is lean that year, though Laura manages to make a small gift for everyone in the family. A great read-aloud that is sure to generate thankfulness for your family’s many blessings, including food, heat… and Christmas presents.

For Teens and Adults

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom In the midst of the horrors of a concentration camp, Corrie struggles to "thankful in all things." With effort, she even thanked God for the irritating fleas in her sleeping quarters. Later she discovered that the guards stayed away because of the fleas, enabling her, and others, to have Bible studies.

I can't wait to get started! I'm not sure if little boys ever like Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but I know I always did. I could definitely learn a thing or two about gratefulness. Our family has been so blessed. We may not have the biggest house in the neighborhood...we may not live in the best part of town...we may have just returned our cable box and tivo (lord help me) so we can cut down on expenses...but we have food and shelter and heat and each other and a God who loves us and has sacrificed for us beyond comprehension. Awe and gratitude. Awe and gratitude.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2009 is crazy

I have had the craziest couple of weeks, but it has been amazing. At the risk of sounding dramatic, outlandish, and possibly certifiable, these past several days have been supernatural, shaking me to the core, and nothing short of life changing. One of those experiences where nothing can remain as it was. 2008 was a blur....lost in a fog if you will. I have been praying for clarity and clarity is coming, my friends. It is refreshing and outright staggering at the same time. I am scared and I am hopeful. I shudder at the thought of the overhaul that the Holy Spirit is doing in my life, but at the same time I refuse to remain the same. I don't want to leave you hanging, but If I even began to tell you the story right here, right now, I would be typing for days. It is sure to reveal itself in the story of my every day life because that's how God works. As the lessons I am learning are applied, I will be sure to tell you about them. Right now I'm just going to sit in awe and be grateful. That's a lesson in and of itself. Another post for another day....
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