Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

As I write this I am on the porch of a cabin looking out a beautiful panoramic view of the Great Smoky  Mountains in E. Tennessee.   It seems like the first time in a few weeks that I’ve had both the time and inclination to reflect on what I am learning from my life and to write about that reflection.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains and  now living in the Midwest, I am always perplexed when I visit at the changes to this area that I think of as home.  Driving  in to reach this cabin we passed a mountainside that has been what can only be described as ‘raped’ by unregulated building.  Rather than a mountainside forested with trees and an occasional house or cabin, it is now covered with nearly identical two and three story cabins with an occasional tree.  Rather than the soothing shades of green and brown one is now confronted with the jarring sight of the red clay soil of this area covering nearly the whole mountainside.  The sight is a blight on the landscape that is disturbing to see because it represents both a basic disrespect for the land and a disregard for sustainable development.  It is an extreme example of what has been happening in this area for years and I wonder where it will all end.

Seeing what is happening to this place I think of as home leads me to wonder at the sustainability of the life I am building for myself.  Having this time to slow down and be quiet makes me more aware of just how busy and stressful life has felt in recent weeks.  Our family is going through a transition as I start a new job as the director of a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Indianapolis.  This new job means I will be commuting and working daily 60 miles away from home until we are able to sell our house and move closer to my work.  That change to a daily commute is a significant one but for my kids, particularly my 9 year old son, the idea of moving is very anxiety provoking.  He’s been really anxious and worried about the upcoming changes.  It’s going to take very intentional decision making and boundary setting on my part over the next few months to ensure that our life during this transition is sustainable for all of us.  I’m going to have to be careful about how I use my time so that I have enough energy and time to help my kids (and myself) through this time of change.  I don’t want to look back a year from now and see something like I saw driving in here…change that has left scars on the landscape of our lives that will take years to heal.  I’d appreciate your prayers during this time of transition.


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Yesterday was my birthday.  I’ve never been particularly worried about getting older but this year, as I reached the 45 year mark, I was feeling melancholy about the brevity of life.  Yesterday, after eating a celebratory lunch of chili dogs (my hubby took me out for a nice meal earlier in the weekend) and receiving the mandatory gift of chocolate, my 9 year old son said he had one more gift for me.  Putting his arms around me he gave me a big hug and a kiss and said he loved me.  I thanked him and told him that the hug and kiss was the best gift I received.  “Love is always the best gift” he said.  I agree.  I guess if I have to be 45 (and I clearly have no choice in the matter) I’m glad that I am able to spend this year living with and learning from my children.  Thanks be to God.

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I haven’t posted in several days and have, in fact, been trying not to think too deeply about much. I’ve been dealing with some feelings I would just as soon avoid. A few weeks ago I wrote a post following the death of our friend’s two year old son entitled “Living With Sorrow.” Now I find myself having to revisit that post and remind myself of what I wrote there about how to live with the grief that life brings. Last week a dear friend of ours came home from the hospital after being transferred into the care of hospice. He had been battling cancer for a few months and the treatments set off a terrible chain of events in his body; the end result of which is that his lungs were so badly damaged that he could not recover. Tonight, surrounded by his family, he died.

Tomorrow I will have to tell my nine year old son, Ben, who has been praying for him every night and worrying about him. He’s trying to understand why he can’t be healed – why the doctors can’t just fix his lungs. He’s trying, again, to comes to terms with our mortality; with the fact that life is a mixture of sorrow and joy and that when we allow ourselves to love another person we open ourself to the possibility of loss. I wish I could protect him and myself from the grief that life brings but I know that protection of that sort comes with a high price. If we can’t allow sadness in our lives we sacrifice opportunities for joy.

So, instead of protecting him from the sadness, I’m going to allow him, and myself, to grieve. In the process, I’m sure there will come a point at which the tears give way to laughter as we remember the good times, the laughter, the joy. We’ll give thanks together for the blessing of such a friend. I would appreciate your prayers.

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As I worked I watched you…



enraptured by the music

and the moment

and the joy of being six

and alive:

free to dream the dreams of what might come.

As I worked I watched you

and listened…

remembering a moment on a mountaintop,

the wind on my face,

my dog along side:

immersed in the music of life.






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I knew it was coming…there had been hints and questions that had been skirted but it was out there…lurking…the talk. You know the one I’m referring to…the one every parent knows is inevitable but hopes to postpone as long as possible…the “how does the baby get in the mommy’s tummy?” talk.

It started with my nine year old son a few days before Christmas when we had to have a discussion about our dog’s occasional mounting, a.k.a., humping, behavior. We talked about his trying to establish dominance but ultimately I explained the mechanics of canine reproduction which my son found “gross.” A couple of days after that, my daughter became upset after watching “The Nativity” which portrays Elizabeth giving birth to John in a pretty realistic way. She was upset to know that it hurts to have a baby and said she never wanted to have one. Here’s a snippet of our conversation with Julia’s words in italics.

I never want to have a baby. You don’t have to honey, you can choose not to. I don’t want to have a baby inside me. Julia, no one will make you…there are ways to make sure you won’t have a baby. You can choose. But Mary didn’t get to choose…God made her have a baby. What if God makes me have a baby?.

She’s a thinker. I answered as best I could saying that Mary was a special person and that I felt sure that would not happen to her but clearly I did not put the question to rest. I know this because on the way home this evening she again became upset and said that she was afraid of having a baby and that she never wanted to have a baby, in fact, she wished she was a boy so that she would not have to have a baby. I again tried to reassure her. The conversation, as best I can remember, is recorded below.

Me: Honey, don’t worry. You can choose. There are ways you can make sure you don’t have a baby.

Julia: But I’ve already got the eggs in me, remember? You said that girls have eggs.

Me: Yes, you do have eggs but the egg won’t make a baby unless you get a sperm from a boy.

Julia: What’s a sperm?

Benjamin: Boys have sperm? I thought only boy dogs had sperm.

Me: Yes, boys have sperm and the sperm has to join with the egg to make a baby.

Ben: So how does the sperm get inside the girl to the egg?

Me: (Feeling like a deer in the headlights but taking a deep breath and speaking matter-of-factly) The boy puts his penis in the girl’s vagina and the sperm comes out of his penis and finds the egg.

Ben: That’s gross!!!!

Julia: I’m never going to do that!!!

Ben: …pause…Is that what you and dad did?

Me: (Oooooo….should have seen that one coming…GULP) That’s what all people do to have a baby, honey, so……., yes.

Ben: …..(long pause)….That must have been painful for you.

Me: (trying not to laugh) No, it’s not painful. That’s what people are talking about when they talk about sex.

Ben: Ohhhhh…now I get it!

Julia: I’m never going to do that!

Me: And if you never do that you will never have a baby.

And that was pretty much the end of the discussion.

It occurs to me that we have come a long way from my grandmother’s days when sex was not mentioned, much less explained and women (and perhaps men though I’ve never heard a man of my grandparent’s generation talk of this) often went into their marital beds fearfully or in complete ignorance about sex and reproduction. At the same time, I’m aware that while we in 21st century western cultures can talk easily about such matters and have so much information about reproduction and sex, many of our sisters around the globe are denied such freedoms.

I’m glad I can talk to my children about their bodies and the way their bodies work without feeling ashamed and passing that shame on to them. God created us as physical beings as well as spiritual and emotional beings and what God has created is good and beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of. Certainly as my kids get older I will talk to them about sexual intercourse as more than a physical act and teach them about the spiritual, emotional and psychological ramifications of that kind of intimacy but today they just wanted to know how the baby gets in the mommy’s tummy. Perhaps that is an easier conversation than the ones we will have later. For now, I’m thankful to be living in a time in the history of humanity and in a culture in which my daughter will have the choice as to whether or not to have a baby. I’m glad that we are living in an era that allows such open (if not completely comfortable) communication about such matters. I’m thankful.

Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer,

Thank you for the challenge of parenting, for my children, for choices, for life. Help us to be mindful of the blessings of our lives and mindful of our brothers and sisters whose lives are not blessed with the freedoms and privileges we enjoy. Be the companion to those women who have no choices as you help us to see them and hear their cries and respond with mercy as we work for justice.

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

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As we enter the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my goals for this year should be. I’ve never been a person to make resolutions or to set goals at the beginning of the year primarily, I think, because I knew I was unlikely to keep them and I didn’t want to have to feel that failure. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about self-reflection and goal setting as an issue of discipleship. As someone who is committed to follow the Way of Jesus, I have a responsibility to live an examined life; to be on a lifelong pilgrimage of faith that is a journey of becoming. That journey has moments of joy but also moments of discomfort as we face into our shortcomings and weaknesses.

Back in August, shortly after commencing our fast from TV and launching this blog, I wrote a post about the Pull of the Dark Side. As I said in that post,

Some might call it Satan, others, unresolved childhood trauma, unmet dependency needs or simply human frailty. Whatever you want to call it we all have it. It’s that room inside of us where we keep the feelings of ugliness, frustration, inadequacy, hurt and anger.

I’ve been feeling the pull toward that dark room quite a bit in recent days with the busyness of the holidays, having the kids home from school, fighting a nagging cold, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure I could fill quite a few lines with all the stressors and sources of anxiety in my life (as I know most of you could) but understanding what makes me vulnerable to the pull of the dark side does not necessarily change anything. Self-understanding provides cold comfort when I see the hurt or bewilderment in my children’s eyes as they are pulled into the vortex with me. Insight, alone, does not provide immunity to old pain or change patterns of behavior. (It only took me ten years working as a psychotherapist and five years of my own therapy to come to that conclusion.) It’s not enough to understand.

I don’t intend to imply that insight is unimportant, on the contrary, it is a blessing and a powerful tool but it does not automatically change our behavior. So what does? How do we make positive and lasting change in our lives? While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, here are a few things I am trying to do:

  1. Articulate the problem or issue. As they say in 12 step programs, the first step to getting help is to acknowledge that you have a problem and need to change. This step requires that we actually stop distracting ourselves long enough to be quiet and think about things that make us uncomfortable or anxious. If this process is a part of your spiritual journey, then inviting the spirit of God to be present with you and reveal to you what needs to change is a foundational part of this step. Sometimes, we know something needs to change but are unable to articulate what the problem is. In this case, seek the counsel of a minister, therapist or mentor to help you sort it out.
  2. Envision the change you want to see. There is a lot of research indicating that being able to imagine or visualize a change is a powerful tool in realizing the change. Again, this requires time; time to imagine, in as much detail as possible, what life will look like when you make the change you desire. What would be different about you? Your relationships? Your use of time and other resources? Allow yourself to dream and do it regularly.
  3. Set realistic goals. Rather than thinking that you have to achieve a 100% change (which almost always guarantees our failure) try thinking about making a 10% change and then build on that success.
  4. Make a plan about how you are going to achieve your goals. I’ve heard it said that failing to plan is planning to fail and I believe it. Make a plan. What resources do you need? What are the steps?
  5. Get support. As humans, we thrive in community. Whether that community is a church, a small group of friends, family, therapist, or other supportive individual or group, we need to be connected to those who can encourage us, pray for us and help us hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we make to ourselves and to God.

I am painfully aware that this is all much easier to talk about than to do. As I get older, I recognize that we seek familiarity because while it may not be comfortable, at least we know what to expect. To commit ourselves to self-examination and change is to enter into a process that is uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. And yet, as followers of the Way of Jesus, we make our journey of becoming with a constant companion. We are not alone. We do not attempt to grow and change in our own power alone but with the assurance that God’s grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness. (2 Corinthians, 12:9)

This year, for the first time in quite a while, I’ll be making, not New Year’s Resolutions, but commitments to myself and to God for the coming year. My first is to resist the pull of the dark side as I deal with my children. I’ll be following the steps above as I try to make that commitment a reality. I’ll let you know how it goes. I would covet your prayers.

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As I write this we are gathered preparing to watch a movie. The kids are alternating between playing and bickering. Not watching TV means that they have more time on their hands to try to fill. Consequently, they seem to bicker more which is maddening to me. I have no idea how my parents stood having six kids in the house at one time. I’ve asked everyone to come upstairs where our computer is so that we can have a discussion about our fast and I can attempt to transcribe it as we talk.

Betsy: “Ok…what do we want to say about our three months without TV?”

David: “It’s only been three months? Time really crawls when you are not watching TV.”

Julia: “Don’t watch it until two thousand hundred thirty seventy five years.”

Mom: “Why?”

Julia: “So we can get more healthier.”

Mom: “How does not watching TV make us healthier.”

Julia: “Too much TV makes you get jello in your brain.”

Ben: “Not watching TV is fun because you can play with other stuff like your legos or you can read books. We can talk with our family at dinner.”

Mom: “What books have you been reading?”

Ben: “Guardians of the Ga’hoole, Harry Potter, Hank the Cowdog, The Island,”

Mom: “What is hardest about not watching TV?”

Ben: “Nothing, I already told you, it’s fun.”

Mom: “You don’t miss any TV shows?”

Ben: “I don’t miss any.”

Mom: “What would you say to other families that might think about fasting from TV?”

Ben: “No one in my school is going to do that. I’d tell them it can hurt your brain. ”

Mom: “Do you tell people you don’t watch TV?”

Ben: “No. They would think I’m stupid cause everyone watches TV.”

Three months. Now that we’ve moved the clocks back an hour it gets dark so much earlier and it seems a little harder.  I’ll write more later about some surprising things I’ve discovered in these three months but the kids are clamoring to watch the movie (Evan Almighty) so I’ll close.

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