Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shopping for Connection

Usually when I grocery shop with my two-year-old, I talk to him.  But the other day, he happily played games on my iPhone while I went up and down the aisles, consumed with my mental grocery list.

While I was in the produce section, I saw another mother with a toddler who was my son's age.  She was lost in conversation with him.  I would say she was actually "verbal streaming," because he wasn't really responding, and she was describing everything she was doing:  what she wanted to buy, what she was putting into the cart, and what she missed and needed to turn around for.  We know adults typically don't like a play by play, but this little boy was loving every minute of it.  He sat gleefully looking at his mother with wide eyes, wondering what she would say next, and learning about food, vocabulary, and grocery shopping all the while.

It occurred to me that he was being really seen by his mother.  It didn't involve her spending money to take an expensive class with him.  It didn't involve having his favorite friends over for a killer play date (which at this age simply meant toys and parallel play - ha).  It simply involved treating him like an important member of the shopping team and giving him quality attention.

I marveled at the gift she was giving her child.  She was gratifying one of his basic needs - the one for connection - which is one that we all have really.

Our children often look to us mothers first and foremost for connection, for when they are little, we are their whole world.  It is a privilege to have this role, but we need to balance its responsibility with an acknowledgement of our own need for connection too.  This need manifests itself both as mothers and as Christian women.

Stay at home mothering can be isolating.  Although you assuredly may not be home all of the time, you are still occupied with an endless assortment of tasks to meet your children's needs.  Your focus on them can leave you missing quality adult interaction.  When my children were in the baby stage and I was particularly sleep-deprived, I missed easy access to adult understanding, stimulation, and activity.  This is normal, but we need to be aware of it.  Recognizing that our need has integrity opens the door for us to take steps for creative solutions.

Being a faithful Christian woman also necessitates meaningful connection.  The road of obedience itself can be isolating, and if we are going to intentionally craft a family life that differs from the world, we will need other Christian mothers standing beside us.  I have learned that there are people who will celebrate you and your faith - your faith isn't something they will just tolerate along the way.  Seek out the people who will be blessed by what you have to offer, not only to the world, but to Christ's church.  I promise, they exist.

If attending a weekly Christian fellowship group is too much for you to navigate scheduling wise, I encourage you to find a prayer partner.  This can be a woman whom you enjoy talking with but who also possesses a similar drive to follow Christ.  Sharing your story with vulnerability can sometimes be easier in one-on-one interactions, and remember, where two or more are gathered, Christ promises to be there (Matt. 18:20).  Try to plan meetings regularly based upon mutual availability.  Take time to pray for each other.  Delight in being heard and understood by a fellow journeyer.  I have used this form of communion may times in my faith walk, and it has always unlocked blessing.

Our desire for connection appears at every level in our families.  My prayer is that we not only take the time to give it to our children - through the grocery shopping conversations, or the random tickle fights, or the games played past bedtime - but also take the time to seek it ourselves.

If you liked this post, you might also like Haunting Ocean Tale.

{Photo by Coolmikeol at Flickr}

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Every Parent Can Learn from the Rachel Channing Case

Last week we saw a welcome conclusion to a messy case:  Rachel Channing, the teen who was suing her parents for financial support, moved back home.  And earlier this week, she dropped the case against her parents entirely.  It’s hard to imagine the toll this case has had and will have for many years to come on this family.  What should have been resolved behind closed doors came into the homes of every family in America. 

As the daughter of a criminal prosecutor, I know the welcome justice that can be won through litigation.  But we live in a society that is often quick to pull the trigger litigation wise – sometimes in ways that prove unhelpful.  The Channing case appears to be a prime example.  Difficult feelings were exasperated rather than addressed through the recent public proceedings.

As bystanders, we do not know the intricate logistics of the case.  Although many have spent time sharing their opinion on these matters, a better way to process it is to reflect upon what each of us can learn as parents.  Parenting is no easy task.  It bothers me that another set of parents emboldened and supported Rachel to sue her own.  A nobler enterprise is to ask ourselves how we can come together in the common task of parenting to protect and strengthen our families.  Toward that end, there are three conclusions that we can all walk away with from the case.

First, each of us is keenly aware that we live in an internet and media saturated age.  Hyper-connectivity defines our daily lives.  The advent of social media has been swift as it now trumps most other forms of communicating.  It is the relational currency we use to explore, connect, and even purchase goods.  This dependency has its perks and certainly its dangers. 

As parents, we know the importance of setting guidelines for our children’s internet exploration.  We know the importance of limiting their screen time.  We also know that hyper-connectivity brings an increased risk of vulnerability.  Privacy can be compromised and there is a loss of control over where the information flows.  We know this, but children if left untrained can remain ignorant.  The reports are unanimous that Rachel Channing was unprepared for the case’s media storm and the ramifications it would bring. 

Something that we can do as parents is to place an emphasis on educating our children about the dangers of the age we live in.  Also, we can model healthy boundaries with media and technology ourselves.  Face to face time instead of screen time accomplishes two things.  It puts media and technology in their proper place and illustrates our availability and willingness to work through sometimes tough issues together, for we will all face them.

But we can do more than educate and serve as examples as far as media and technology are concerned.  We can take another cue from the case.  Rachel Channing was suing her parents for money.  She was suing not just for independence in her frustration, but for enough money to continue her current lifestyle and fund her subsequent aims.  There is an air of entitlement suggested here, and we would be amiss to deny that it has larger resonances in our society.

Parental self-sacrifice to provide children with the best opportunities possible should be honored, not assumed.  As parents, we can work to foster a spirit of gratitude in our families.  We can reflect a thankful spirit, serve others, and steer our children away from self-centered behavior.  This is no small task.  We live in a society as Americans in which many know indulgence and value immediate self-gratification.  Our goal should be crafting a grounded perspective in our children, regardless of their situation.

Finally, it is undeniable that Rachel Channing did not like her parents’ rules.  Her decision to leave home was a direct result of it.  But we can be encouraged as parents that some rules are necessary for children to really thrive, despite the fact that they may not like them.  It is our responsibility to dole them out justly.  It is also our responsibility to genuinely listen to our children’s thoughts and feelings in conflict, although we might not necessarily change our course of action.  Ultimately, we are parents – not friends.  But I hope that the latter will be a natural byproduct of aging and time for each of us, the Channings included. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

This Pastor's Response to Disney's Frozen

**Spoiler Alert!  This article is intended to process the popular film with people who have already seen it!**

Disney's Frozen recently won an Oscar for the Best Animated Feature Film at the 86th annual Academy Awards.  The film generated over $810 million during its time in theaters, making it the second-highest grossing, non-sequel animated release in history.  The result is that Disney's stock has climbed, its theme song "Let It Go" has gone viral, and my children keep begging me to watch the movie since its recent home release.

Yes, I'm a pastor, but I'm also a mother.  So when I'm watching the movie with my two young boys, I'm secretly applauding its feisty female leads.  I join in on my children's attempts to sing and dance to its catchy choruses.  And I appreciate its plethora of quirky characters too - like the adorable reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf, who bring well-timed comic relief to balance some of the movie's darker moments.

For one, Disney does not shy away from death in this film, just like in many of its other classics.  It's somewhat of a surprise, as many parents with young children avoid addressing the topic, and yet here is a movie targeted at the age group that includes it as an important element in the plot development.  My two-year-old has not realized its occurrence in the movie, but my five-year-old has started to ask questions.  That in of itself is not necessarily bad, however.

The troubling part of the movie as a pastor and mother is how the king and queen handle their daughter Elsa's power before their demise.  Elsa has the gift of being able to create ice and snow.  With it, she has the ability to bring good - like creating fun and imaginative playdates for her little sister, Anna - or harm - like when she accidentally injures Anna while they are playing.  Because it is a gift that Elsa has had from birth, it resembles the mysterious way that all of us are entrusted with gifts by our Creator.

Each of us has been created to fulfill a unique purpose and entrusted with different spiritual gifts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to do so.  We are to use these gifts for good - for the upbuilding of community and advancement of the kingdom of God.  Although we do not have control over the weather like Elsa, scripture tells us that with God, the possibilities are limitless.  Remember how Paul describes God in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (NIV, emphasis mine).

Instead of nurturing and shaping Elsa's gift, her parents fear it.  Because the gift harms her sister once accidentally, they decide to isolate Elsa to prevent any future occurrences.  They mention wanting to help her learn to control it, but their instructions to her work to conceal it instead.  She isn't to have contact with Anna or the outside world and she is to wear gloves to mask the power in her hands:  Ultimately, she is to "conceal, don't feel, don't let it show."

Upon their parents' death, the two young daughters are left without the benefit of sisterly companionship.  Elsa remains a "good girl" by following her parents instructions.  Her gift grows stronger in the dark and alone.  Anna effectively is left mourning three losses in her family.  She is confused, frustrated, and alone as well.  The decision to hide Elsa's powerful gift was the wrong one, as illustrated by the resultant division, cover ups, and pain.  

A scriptural understanding of giftedness recognizes the importance of gifts functioning within community - never isolation.  Paul explores this principle by demonstrating how believers can function as different body parts within the larger context of Christ's body (Romans 12:3-8).  Each person has a unique purpose appropriate to how their gift naturally functions within the whole.  Some gifts are stronger than others, but no gift is more important than another.  That's because community growth, contagious love, and furthering one vision (advancing the kingdom of God) are the common goal.

Actively learning how to control her gift and openly using its power for good would have been a better goal for young Elsa.  Instead of imprisonment and fear, connection with others and confidence could have shaped her childhood.  As Christians we know the power in confronting trial; Elsa's parents could have been a source of unconditional love and acceptance through it instead.  As Elsa learned to control her gift, she could have been empowered to do great things for the kingdom - her kingdom in this instance.  Not only would the larger community have been stronger, but the bond between the sisters would have remained intact.

That was not what her parents chose, however, and the movie plot advances with compiling complications because of it.  It is no surprise that the movie ends with a Christological moment that changes everything.  Elsa has accidentally injured Anna once again, but this time, she has frozen her heart.  Only an act of true love can reverse it.  With little time left before her own frozen demise, Anna opts to save Elsa from sudden death rather than to save herself.  Yet this act of self-sacrifice is able to melt the frozen rift between the two sisters as their love, rather than romantic love, is enough to save them both.  

Anna's self-sacrifice, like that of Christ, is the pivotal moment that initiates the healing of everything.  The characters discover the redeeming and redemptive power of love - it's the key to controlling Elsa's gift, building relationships, and effecting a stronger kingdom.  As the scenery and characters' hearts begin to thaw, new life begins to bud everywhere.  And the last scene shows Elsa openly using her gift to create community fun - she is finally both free and connected.    

It is well-known that Disney movies have several layers.  It's interesting to watch old classics and discover the adult material we missed as children.  Frozen has its adult layers, but it definitely a Christian one too.  With eyes tuned to the gospel, we won't miss its presence.  And I hope we won't miss its inspiration to use and nurture our gifts in freedom either.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Surprising Lesson the Night I Broke Routine

Late in the day with two little boys can be, well, hard.  

As much as I enjoy the giggles at dinnertime and the plunges underwater at bath time, when they're ready to put on their PJ's, I'm tired.  Yet that's exactly when they're winding up.

If you're like me, you're a parent who is used to managing schedules.  I know how many minutes it takes for my boys to do any part of their daily routine.  I know exactly when I need to get up in the morning to get every task done before we need to get out the door. (Translation:  I can only manipulate the snooze button so far.)  So when we get to the PJ stage at night, I know exactly how long it takes before I turn off their lights and can head downstairs.  

But recently, when we get to the PJ stage, my two-year-old has discovered the fact that he has a CD player in his room.

His little fingers find and press just the right buttons and knobs to not only start the music, but to turn it up full blast.  He particularly loves his new Justin Robert's CD entitled "Recess." The first song on the album shares the same title, and includes voices from rowdy kids in school ready to go outside.  On top of that, there's a bold electric guitar riff and snappy lyrics - everything that makes a two-year-old boy excited.

When he first played the music, I was tempted to turn it off quickly and reinitiate a more soothing bedtime tenor. 

But there was something about his strut that kept me from doing it.  He was proud.  He was initiating his own dance party.  He galloped around his rug with his just-learning-how-to-do-it legs, stopped to jump up and down, and then attempted a spin (which he did - almost).  It was too cute.

"Mommy, come dance with me!" he said.  I picked him up, and we started spinning together.  We spun and spun until we got dizzy, I put him down, and we laughed and laughed.  

And that's when the Justin Robert's song got quieter and I heard him sing, "There's more beauty in this world than we could guess, oh yes, it's recess, oh yes, it's recess..."

It hit me that I was experiencing a beautiful moment in this world like that.  My son knows I love him.  But right then and there I was showing him that I enjoy him.  I was in a moment that captured what is so endearing about his age.  And I was allowing myself to experience it, savor it, and treasure just how he expresses it in his own way.

My son needs these moments with me when I break the rigor of our usual routine.  He needs to know that play and fun are not just allowed, but a vital part of our house and life together.  So many school breaks have come and gone when I have had big plans to hit museums or do some grand activity.  Sometimes we have followed through and sometimes we have not.  But I am convinced that family fun actually begins with the little memories we make at home together.

It's easy to forget how much we looked forward to recess as children.  I remember my feet getting so restless under my wooden desk beforehand that I almost couldn't feel them.  And then the bell rang, and there was racing, swinging, and the opportunity to be carefree.

One of the things I appreciate most about parenting is that it gives us the opportunity to experience the world all over again through the eyes of a child.  The beauty of the world is highlighted through the innocence, inhibition, and boundless energy of children.

And that's when I realized our dancing before bedtime wasn't only special because I was enjoying my son.  He was giving me a gift.

I was getting to be a kid again too. 

TODAY Video Clip