Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Helping Our Children Build Strong Relationships

Helping Our Children Build Strong Relationships
Oh my, it has been more than 2 years that I have updated my blog. I have decided to attempt to continue it again! Originally when I decided to make a blog, it was to encourage moms. I have so many interests, but I think the stuff that concerns moms interests me most- for now anyways! Four of my 5 children are adults now, one is married and so I am happy to have a daughter in law to add to my growing family. My youngest is 15 and fairly independent, but still needs mom, I think! Well, I think they all still need mom and will continue to for certain things- Even I believe that I still need my mom!
As they get older I see an important value all my children have and need is building strong relationships- with my husband and I, their siblings, and with others. Don't we all desire that the relationships we have are solid, strong and fulfilling? I look at the world and see so many hurts and troubles come when those relationships are strained or broken.
I have been blessed that my children are all very close to each other. They have amazing friends. My son has found a beautiful, kind, and caring wife who has also grown up in a home where relationships are strong. I don't take this for granted, but I also realize that it isn't luck or fate. Relationships take work and committment. It requires modeling and communicating from the time our children are very young.
Modeling? That may seem hard. After all, our children are the ones who see all of our flaws. They can be our biggest critics and we may feel that we are not always the best examples. In spite of this, there are many ways we can still overcome those weaknesses and instill what is good. I remember being very encouraged by my oldest son, when he was first entering his adult years, I wanted to know what I could have done better. While he did not want to dwell upon my faults, he shared with me two things he thought were right. He said he always felt loved unconditionally, and he always felt I had been consistent in what I valued, so if any kind of advice that I can offer to parents today, I would start with that- love unconditionally and stand strong in what you value.
The first relationships our children will have is with their parents, so it is important to think ahead what kind of relationship that will be. We are all different, with different parenting styles, but generally most kids turn out ok with a certain amount of love, guidance and security. As they grow older, their needs from their parents change somewhat, but still, they should always have love, guidance and security. Sometimes, however, the road may be bumpier for some than others. I have often thought about this and observed the differences in these families. Often it may be as simple as an attitude adjustment to your children- yes, our attitude, not theirs! Make choices that affect the way you want your child to see you.
Stop thinking "terrible twos," "boys are a handful," "girls are whiney," "teenagers have bad attitudes," "they're so hormonal," "I can't wait until they move out"! If you are thinking that way, you are already setting a tone for your future relationship with them. Children have a way of living up to our expectations whether positive or negative, so choose instead to look for ways to enjoy them and guide them. Instead of making excuses when they are being a terrible two, help them learn what kind of behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable, and so on all along the various stages of growing up. I will never forget my friend who had a wake up call when her pediatrician asked her the question "Who's the parent?" when dealing with a behavior issue with her toddler. That doesn't mean that you need to be mean or controlling, but just get yourself together and guide your child with the kind of love and security they deserve.
 Some people begin parenting without a clear sense of purpose and conviction. They may not have had the kind of role models to help them know what good parenting skills are. Perhaps they had good parents, but rebellion and lack of personal communication skills with their parents make them think their own child will be difficult to relate to. Other parents set ideals so high, as if living their own life through their child, that they fear their child will be unable to meet those expectations without total control of their child. I have seen these things become big obstacles in the parent and child relationship.  For the first parent who is unsure, remember, everyone can learn. Look for the good in others- your parents may have been a mess, but was there something they taught you, even if it was "I will never do that to my child" or "they had lots of problems but had a good sense of humor". Look for something to learn from, and if not your own parents, someone else's parents you may have admired. If you are that second parent with the fear of your child failing, or the need to over control, how about taking a minute and getting yourself a slice of that humble pie. It's great to want the best for your child, but your best is not always their best. Have you taken the time to listen to them? Do you find yourself disappointed in the ways they do things, or exaggerate how good they are at doing something? You are not going to live up to perfection and neither is your child so learn to love them and enjoy them anyways. How often I have seen an exasperated child who becomes an adult still trying to please a parent but always feeling like a disappointment or a child that has been told so much how great he is that he needs the same affirmation from his peers by bragging and becoming a self centered adult who the world owes him! Be real parents.
The next relationships I want to share is about sibling relationships. These can be the best or worst in our lives, and I have seen first hand both kinds. As I mentioned earlier, my son had mentioned that I was consistent in what I valued. Since my family was one of the greatest value to me, I was very intentional the way it was communicated how my children were to relate to each other. Of course there were many situations where my children disagreed, got impatient, or frustrated with one another, but there were certain values I determined to make clear. Unkindness was not tolerated. Siblings came before friends- if a friend was being unkind or leaving out a sibling, I expected my children to support their sibling, and to also help a child who needs space from their siblings to have alone time. Always be happy for another siblings success, never jealous of it. If there was a fight, even though initially nether side feels wrong and is angry, to work through the anger and allow each side to communicate and allow parents to mediate and give guidance. Three phrases they were taught- "I love you," "Please forgive me," and "I forgive you". (Mom and Dad need to communicate the same words- remember- humility). Whenever we could and as often as we could, we did things together as a family. If relatives were visiting or a special event was taking place, unless there was a commitment that could not be broken, we all stayed together. Nobody said "I want to go over my friend's instead", or "I'm not going because it is boring". They were taught to value being together and value others that were inviting them.  To this day the reward is in seeing how much my children enjoy hanging out together and liking family time!
So finally we come to others. I will divide this into three parts of who the others are: basically there are peers, such as friends with similar ages, interests, etc., those in authority like elders, leaders, teachers, etc., and those who they need to show an example to or responsibility for, such as younger children, those who have special needs or need extra help, the people whom they lead. When it came to peers we always wanted our children to feel like their friends were always welcomed. They were invited into our home, brought along to our events, and enjoyed together with our children. It is important to ask them questions, "like how are you friends" "what do you enjoy doing most when you are with your friend" and so on. If our child was hurt by a friend encourage not only communication with you about the friend, but help them to be able to go back to their friend and communicate and hopefully reconcile. If a relationship with a friend was becoming difficult to help them assess why, and to determine the "right" thing to do even if it is painful. When they are out with their friends it is a good time for them to establish independence and to build responsibility and trust while creating healthy relationships. By the way, there were never "bad" friends. If my children had friends who were making poor choices they would talk about it with my husband and I or a sibling on the best way to be a supportive friend and still encourage their friend to make a better choice, or take a stand in not becoming a part of the problem.
The next group of those in authority is often highly tied into the kind of relationship they have with parents. Do they think those in authority are oppressive? If so then we should ask are we oppressive parents? Do they ignore, disregard or lack interest to those in authority? Are you also disrespected? Do they respect and show an appreciation for those in authority, and not just outwardly? From a young age it is good to help them learn how respect is shown to someone, in simple steps as they show readiness, like whispering softly or waiting for a person to finish speaking before interrupting, becoming aware of surroundings, listening, having good manners, using proper greetings and the proper eye contact. Even shy children can practice learning these skills with help and encouragement.
Finally while we prepare our children to one day become adults who have healthy relationships all around them, they to can learn how to lead and be respected. When we point out to them the importance of their influence to others, they learn to me more caring and giving. I saw this recently in my youngest daughter who thought some younger children were pestering her. When she was told the opportunity to encourage them by her kindness and being helpful to them, since so often younger children look up to those who are older, I was able to witness her moving from a self centered attitude to that of a leader forming solid relationships with others. Isn't it amazing how the same issue taken with a self centered attitude could turn into one that encourages relationships to be made and a possibility to impact a younger generation!
Parents, this is your opportunity to influence your children to healthier and better relationships. Figure out your purpose and see it through!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Orthodox Response to an Evangelical Friend's Questions on Theological Terminology Defining Deification and True Church's Meanings

The following is a response I made to an evangelical friend who had some questions and misunderstandings on some Orthodox theology, especially the view of deification and what they mean by true church. My attempt to answer is below thanks to much help from the book, The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos Ware). It is a little long, but please be patient with me, they were packed questions that don't have short and simple answers- And thank you my friend for asking. Until we are bold enough to ask questions of one another's faith, we can never fully grasp what it is all about!

Hi My Friend!
I am going to try to tackle your questions and hopefully do the topic some justice! It is a difficult concept because we as evangelicals do not really understand the term deification. It is important to get a grasp of essence and energies and image and likeness. As stated in your quote, deification does not mean that one share in the pre eternal uncreated essence of God. When the early church fathers were arguing for the proper understanding of the incarnation, they used the terms essence and energies. The Holy Trinity was explained in terms of the essence and energies of God.  I want to state on this from the book, the Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos Ware). It helped me with these distinctions.
God is "One essence in three persons" (homo-ousious) "The divine is indivisible in its divisions (Gregory of Nazianzus), for the persons are united yet not confused, distinct yet not divided (John of Damascus), both the distinction and the union alike are paradoxical (Gregory of Nazianzus)."
The distinctive characteristics of the first person of the Trinity is Fatherhood: He is unbegotten, having His source and origin solely in Himself and not any other person. The distinctive characteristic of the second person is Sonship: although equal to the Father and coeternal with Him, He is not unbegotten or sourceless, but has His source and origin in the Father, from  whom He is begotten or born from all eternity- ‘before all ages’ as the Creed says. The distinctive characteristic  of the third person is Procession: like the Son, He has His source and origin in the Father; but His relationship to the Father is different from that of the Son, since he is not begotten but from all eternity He proceeds from the Father.
This is precisely at this point that this point that the western view of the Trinity seems to conflict with that of the east. According to Roman Catholic theology- as expressed, for example by St. Augustine of Hippo (360-430) or by the Council of Florence (1438-9)- the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son (Filioque). This doctrine is known as the ‘Double Procession’ of the Spirit. The Orthodox position is based on John 25:26 where Christ says “
‘When the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father- He will bear witness to Me.’ Christ sends the Spirit, but the Spirit proceeds from the Father: so the Bible teaches, and so Orthodoxy believes.
Image and Likeness. According to most of the Greek Fathers, the terms image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. ‘The expression according to the image’ wrote John of Damascus, ‘indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression according to the likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtue’. The image, or to use the Greek term icon, of God signifies our human free will, our reason, our sense of moral responsibility- everything in short which marks us out from the animal creation and makes each of us a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God’s ‘offspring’ (Acts 27:28), His kin; it means that between us and Him there is a point of contact and similarity. The gulf between creature and the Creator is not impassible, for because we are in God’s image we can know God and have communion with Him. And if we make proper use of this faculty for communion with God, then we will become ‘like’ God, we will acquire divine likeness; in the words of John Damascene, we will be ‘assimilated to God through virtue’. To acquire the likeness is to be deified, is to become a ‘second god’ a ‘god by grace’. ‘I said, you are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High’ (Psalm lxxxi 6; cf. John x 34-35) (quotation from Psalms the numbering is of the Septuagnt is followed. Some versions of the Bible recon this as Psalm lxxxii)
The image denotes the powers with which each one of us is endowed by God from the first moment of our existence; the likeness is not an endowment which we possess from the start, but a goal at which we must aim, something which we can only acquire by degrees. However sinful we may be, we never lose the image; but the likeness depends on our moral choice, upon our ‘virtue’, so it is not destroyed by sin.
Humans at their first creation were therefore perfect, not so much in actual, but potential sense. Endowed with the image from the start, they were called to acquire the likeness by their own efforts (assisted of course by the grace of God)- Adam began in a state of innocence and simplicity. “He was a child, not yet having understanding perfected’ wrote Irenaeus. ‘It was necessary that he should grow and so come to his perfection’ God set Adam on the right path, but Adam had in front of him a long road to traverse in order to reach his final goal.

The author, Ware, continues to explain further the different view of the fall held by Augustine, which greatly influenced western theology and then explains grace and free will, the fall and original sin, Jesus Christ, the incarnation, the Holy Spirit, and then what is meant by being Partakers of the Divine Nature. So here again I will pick up what he has to say.
‘Partakers of the Divine Nature’
 The aim of the Christian life, which Seraphim described as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God, can equally be defined in terms of deification. Basil described the human person as a creature who has received the order to become a god; and Athanasius, as we know, said that God became human that we humans might become god. ‘In My kingdom, said Christ, I shall be God with you as gods.’ (Canon for Matins of Holy Thursday, Ode 4, Troparion 3.) Such according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is the final goal, which every Christian must aim: to become god, to attain theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’. For Orthodoxy our salvation and redemption mean our deification.
Behind the doctrine of deification there lies the idea of the human person made in the mage and likeness of God the Holy Trinity. ‘May they all be one’, Christ prayed at the Last Supper, ‘as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, so also may they be in Us’ (John 27:21). Just as three persons of the Trinity ‘dwell’ in one another in unceasing movement of love, so we humans made in the image of the Trinity, are called to dwell in the Trinitarian God. Christ prays that we may share in the life of the Trinity, in the movement of love, which passes between the divine persons; He prays that we may be taken up into the Godhead. The saints, as Maximus the Confessor put it, are those who express the Holy Trinity in themselves. This idea of a personal and organic union between God and humans- God dwelling in us and we in Him- is a constant theme in John’s Gospel; it is also a constant theme in the Epistles of St. Paul, who sees the Christian life above all else as a ‘life in Christ’. The same idea recurs in the famous text of 2 Peter: ‘Through these promises you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (1:4). It is important to keep this New Testament background in mind. The Orthodox doctrine of deification, so far as being unscriptural (as is sometimes thought), has a solid Biblical basis, not only in 2 Peter, but in Paul and the Fourth Gospel.
The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s essence and His energies. Union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence; The Orthodox Church while speaking of deification and union, rejects all forms of pantheism.
Closely related to this is another point of equal importance. The mystical union between God and humans is a true union, yet in this union Creator and creature do not become fused into a single being. Unlike the eastern religions, which teach that humans are swallowed up in the deity, Orthodox mystical theology has always insisted that we humans, however closely linked to God, retain our full personal integrity. The human person, when deified, remains distinct (though not separate) from God. The mystery of the Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and those who express the Trinity in themselves do not sacrifice their personal characteristics. When St. Maximus wrote ‘God and those who are worthy of God have one and the same energy’, he did not mean that the saints lose their free will, but when deified they voluntarily and in love conform their will to the will of God. Nor does the human person, when it ‘becomes god’, cease to be human: ‘We remain creatures while becoming god by grace, as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation’. (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 87) The human being does not become God by nature, but is merely a ‘created god’, a god by grace or by status.
Deification is something that involves the body. Since the human person is a unity of body and soul, and since the incarnate Christ has saved and redeemed the whole person, it follows that ‘our body is deified at the same time as our soul’ (Maximus) In the divine likeness which we humans are called to realize in ourselves, the body has its place. ‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’ wrote St. Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19) ‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I beseech you by God’s mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God’ (Romans 12:1). The full deification of the body must wait, however, until the Last Day, for this present life the glory of the saints is as a rule an inward splendor, a splendor of the soul alone; but when the righteous rise from the dead and are clothed with a spiritual body, then their sanctity will be outwardly manifest. ‘At the day of Resurrection the glory of the Holy Spirit comes out from within, decking and covering the bodies of the saints- the glory which they had before, but hidden within their souls. What a person has now, the same comes forth externally in the body’. (Homilies of Macarius v.9). The bodies of the saints will be outwardly transfigured by divine light, as Christ’s body was transfigured on Mount Tabor, ‘We must look forward also to the springtime of the body’ ((Minucus Felix, late 2nd century, Octavius,34).

I shall stop on deification here. What I wrote was taken from the book The Orthodox Church, as I mentioned above.
Now the other part of your question- What do Orthodox think of other Christian denominations.
First I shall tell you based upon what I wrote above on image and likeness, Orthodox look humbly as we regard ourselves and with love in regard to others regardless as to Christian, Orthodox, Other religions, even atheists. We understand the concept of spiritual life being a journey, and view others on this journey as well. We are cautious to judge. With that said, to understand Orthodoxy, you need to see historically, there was one church. The word Orthodox means correct teaching. In early times whenever factions or divisions occurred councils were held and the church worked together to uphold correct teaching and the truth of the Gospel. Therefore, if you held to the teachings of the universal church, you were Orthodox. It was not a denomination, it was the Christian church.  The Orthodox churches today still uphold those same teachings and nothing has been added or taken away from what was taught since the beginning. Changes on doctrine and dogma occurred in the west after the schism in 1054, but the east remained faithful to what had always been taught.  Now this does not mean that Orthodox think they are alone the only ones who will see heaven and all others are damned. It only means that what the church teaches is and continues to be “orthodox”.  Unchanged, historic, apostolic from its beginnings. This may sound exclusive, but you cannot say the same about any church in the western Roman Catholic, or Protestant tradition.  There have been many additions (The Immacculate, conception of Mary, purgatory, the filioque clause in the Nicene creed, just to name a few additons) Wile Protestant churches have subtracted a great deal of what was the early church (the stripping down of the sacraments, and sacred tradition and everything not Bible). So Orthodox is terminology for what the church represents, not a term of elitism or pride. There is a sacred responsibility to preserve what has been handed down through the centuries. Yet any Orthodox person will tell you that when we are face to face with God by His mercy, we may be quite surprised who we see, since God looks upon our hearts. One Protestant may be filled with the love of God, while a member of the Orthodox church may have no love for his neighbor or fellow man, and then again the opposite can be true.  I have often said of a very close Buddhist person I know, that she is a better Christian than most Christians I know.  Only God can judge.  My friend, don’t  let the meaning of the word Orthodox confuse you about our dealings with other Christians. It is the true church in terms of what has been taught has not been changed but,  that word true is dealing with an upholding of teaching, not the idea that if someone goes to a different church they can not be called Christian. Maybe instead it should be called original unchanged church, and new and improved flavor church. Just kidding, but basically the term is not a judgment. By the way remember how we as evangelicals sounded exclusive in our Gospel method of asking “are you saved? Is he/she saved? Did they accept Christ as Lord and Savior? There is only one way to get to heaven, Jesus is the only way!” yes, to a non- Christian or a person who holds a sacramental Christian tradition this sounds pretty exclusive too…just a thought.
 Finally I want to say a few words on your statement if orthodoxy alone holds theological views on certain positions, I read an excellent book called Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy by Andrew Stephen Damick, an Orthodox priest. He visits various denominations as well as non- Christian belief systems and writes about where they agree and differ on orthodox teaching. I learned quite a bit about the historical and theological views held and how many hit the same mark in several places and differ in others, and even those I would think are way off base actually get certain things more right than I thought.  It was a great read, and if you don’t feel like getting the book it has also been made into a free podcast on OCN.
Take things slowly, we have learned to think a certain way. New ideas are sometimes hard to digest but you just need to dig deeper to see the correct context. Get the context down when something is hard to understand- I never quite figured out for a long time why I felt uncomfortable with certain Calvinist ideas until I learned about dualism…a-ha! Now I see!
Wish we could talk more!
Love you,

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Old People Eat

Have you ever wondered if it really matters if what you eat really has anything to do with living a long life, or if it's just all in the genes? As I have spent a great deal of time, especially over the last several years, being involved in the care of both my mother in law and grandmother-both now 93 years old, watching their eating habits makes me think about this. Two women of different ethnic backgrounds share in this amazing longevity. Is it diet? Are there any connections? My mother in law is Japanese, and my grandmother has an Eastern European background, but indeed, I have obeserved so many similarities in what they include in their diets, that it makes me wonder if it is more than the genes. I'd like to share some of those similarites. Maybe it does make a difference.
Oatmeal- daily. My mother in law (Grandma H.) would eat what she called her unromantic breakfast every day- oatmeal with a teaspoon of sugar and a little powdered milk, a small apple banana, and half of a papaya. My grandmother (Grandma S.) also eats oatmeal daily. She prefers hers made with chicken broth, sometimes in the morning, or as a light dinner, but still daily.
Fish- In general, a Japanese diet includes eating fish frequently. Grandma H. would enjoy her sashimi, but also a variety of other seafood- salmon, butterfish, mahimahi, various small reef fish, and sardines, at least a couple times a week. Grandma S. eats fish every morning for breakfast, especially sardines, but often salmon or white fish.
Pickled vegetables- This seems a bit strange, since picked foods tend to have more sodium than what I would expect to call a health food, but they both included pickled vegetables regularly. For Grandma H. perhaps some namasu (Japanese pickled cucumber) even kim chee ( a Korean pickled cabbage with chili pepper), and for Grandma S., sauerkraut or pickles- and since living in Hawaii, she has also acquired a taste for kim chee, only she adds a little vinegar because she thinks it cuts some of the salt.
Spicy Foods- They both love their garlic- lots of it, and hot spices too- chili pepper, wasabi, horseradish.
Fresh fruit of all types, but most important the banana. Grandma H. especially enjoys mango when its in season. Grandma S. loves when watermelon is in season- with a little feta cheese!
Cabbage, Mushrooms and Onion- Grandma H. always had cabbage, won bok, or mustard cabbage to add to a variety of dishes, as well as shitake mushrooms, onion or green onion. Grandma S. also is a cabbage lover, especially head cabbage and she spent years picking her own mushrooms when she lived in Pensylvania. She has sliced onion every morning with her fish.
Olive Oil- Both know that Olive Oil is a healthy choice, and although they could enjoy spurging on fried foods cooked in not so healthy fats, those foods are special treats, not part of the regular diet.
Starches are an area of difference- the staple for Grandma H. is steamed rice, and for Grandma S. hearty whole grain breads, preferably a bakery multigrain or rye- never soft fluffy bread.
Calcium is also from different sourses mostly because of cultural differences. Grandma H. eats lots of soy products. She doesn't agree with dairy products. the small fish soft bones also are a good sourse of calcium. Grandma S. enjoys dairy products, especially yogurt, which she eats at least several times a week.
So, are these the amazing foods for longevity, or is it the genes? Maybe both! Perhaps a little lesson is here for us to learn to eat like old people!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Dog for Mom

My children were shocked when I came home from the Humane Society with a 2 year old formerly stray dog, possibly a jack russell beagle mix. Not only that I got a dog, but that I got a house dog. In the past we had big friendly dogs to live outside and protect our home, well as much as big friendly dogs can protect. The children were younger and I didn't want to worry about the dogs hurting them. Also, the dogs were supposed to teach them responsibility. I took care of the kids, and the kids took care of the dogs. Of course having a pet often becomes a chore, and after our last dog died, I was not prepared to have the responsibility of another pet whether it would be their responsibility or mine. So we have been dogless for a few years now. That was a good thing. It was not the time nor did we have the time to care for another dog.
My youngest daughter often begged us for a dog. When we were in the Humane Society neighborhood we would always look- just look. We also would often admire puppies in the pet shops. It gave me time to think that maybe someday I would get a dog, and I would know the right dog when I saw it.
I thought, if I were to get a dog, it would be a small dog that I could enjoy having around the house, but I worried a small dog might be yappy or nippy and nervous. I like animals to be gentle and trainable. I also wanted a dog with a shorter coat that I could keep clean. I had a dog when I was a girl that fit my ideal for size and cuteness, but not really behavior. All I could say is that I may not get a dog today or this year, but I'll know when see the one I will choose.
This is what happened the day I decided to make a quick stop in the Humane Society just to look. There she was, the size, the temperament, the cuteness, sold! I brought her home to the surprise of my daughters. She was for them, but my girls figured out quickly that she was for me!
The girls named her Heidi. She's so fun. I don't think I have enjoyed having a pet so much- Why? I think this time I was ready. I am no longer busy watching young children, but maybe also feeling some of the empty nest since my sons have grown and are now on their own. While dogs don't take the place of my kids, I have been experiencing the kind of excitement of what it was like when my children were at the toddler stage. I find myself laughing so much when I watch my dog play. She is keeping me active, something I need to keep off those middle aged extra pounds. And the unconditional love when I walk in the door, when I call her name to come and when she lets me pet her and scratch her tummy. If ever I was ready for a pet this was the right time, and this was the right dog!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Compassion=Suffering and Anguish

     I never realized how much it hurts to have compassion. While I do not claim to have "seen it all", I feel like I have seen enough- directly and indirectly. I am not sure of "why me" in the grand scale of having certain life experiences and survived; let's just say God has given me a high degree of resilience and survival instinct.  Over time, however, I have been questioning my own resilience.
     Painful experiences can have a way of hardening a person. I think I first noticed this happening to me following when our youngest child was born with a fatal birth defect. I was so concerned about everyone else, and in staying strong for my family, that in the process I became numb.  I couldn't grieve, I couldn't cry anymore, and I thought, thank God for getting me through this.
     New experiences both good and bad with all sorts of opportunity to experience all ranges of emotion came and went. After time, it dawned on me that there was very little emotion left in me. I was a dead person inside of a living soul. I fervently prayed that God would help me to feel again and bring tears back to me once again.
     My prayers were eventually answered, and I remember that moment. I was reading the newspaper, which that days news told of the tragic killings of child hostages by terrorists at a school in Beslan, Russia in 2004. I sobbed in grief, not only my own, but for all those children and their families. It was a turning point and a very different kind of compassion that I had not ever experienced.
     It's not that I was not compassionate before this; to the contrary. I was always extremely sensitive and aware of others in their weaknesses, and I was intolerant of unkindness or cruelty. What became different in this instance of compassion was the connection I felt in the actual physical suffering and anguish over these children.
     Time has not made it easier. Be careful what you pray for! It is hard for me to describe what happens now. I feel more pain with each new instance of not only difficult events and circumstances in my personal life, but those happening to friends and in the world as well. The pain I feel often comes to the point of anguish. It is humbling for me who was once resilient to anything that came my way. Yet, because I feel so weak, I am forced to see others differently; maybe with more tolerance or  patience, and certainly with more compassion. It has helped me to forgive more quickly and fully, because when compassion overwhelms me, I cannot feel anger.
     Sometimes I say I am relieved, but why does it feel so bad? Why do I need to feel so much and hurt so much? Thank God, and may He have mercy upon me. Maybe I am beginning to see a tiny glimpse into how He sees us, and if I could just love others in a small way the way he loves us.  I am at odds with myself. Part of me wants to run away from the experience of pain, but when I really think about it, I never want to simply survive. I want to live.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Mixed Bag of Readers

I am hoping I have hit the jackpot for my youngest child who I shall just say is a reluctant reader. We saw the book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" on the display at our local Walmart and to my surprise when I offered to buy it for her she was receptive to the idea. She finished the book in two days and was hounding me for the rest of the series.
Twelve years ago, when my oldest son was her age, I would not even consider buying a book like this. Books I read on teaching and on parenting focused on quality. We stuck to the classics, and the Newbury Award books. Books like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" would not make the quality list. They made the fluff list, and fluff is not a good thing to fill a child's mind with when they can have quality. Since then, I am coming around to see that perhaps there is a place for the fluff books after all.
If homeschooling my children has taught me anything, that would be that there is no one size fits all. Each of our children are unique, and individually have their own strengths, weaknesses, and of course personality. Because I personally love to read, and have an extensive library in my home that I have collected over the years, did not automatically mean my children would also share my passion. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Still, I wanted them to drink- I saw the benefits and so could never give up on finding a way to get them to read.
I read often aloud often for hours, especially to my older children (when I had more time). This was actually a great time because we could read engaging chapter books that were hard to put down, that they were not ready to read on their own due to the higher level or more difficult vocabulary. It was hard making the transition to reading aloud to getting them to read, and with each of them, I took different approaches to making this transition.
My poor oldest son did not have much say in what he was able to read. I was not going to buy fluff and let him fill his precious mind with nonsense. I picked the books and he had to read them. To his credit, he was a compliant child and read even the books he didn't like. God bless him for reading all 1200 pages of the unabridged Les Miserables at 14 years old- What was I thinking! Educationally, perhaps the reading benefited him for college, but I don't know if he ever new the fun of reading with the exception of only a few of the books on the list.
I started to loosen up a little bit with my second son. I still wanted him to focus on quality books, but we here and there would get a few books that were just silly.  I thought I was going to be reading aloud to him forever, because he always wanted me to read the first couple of chapters. Then I discovered that he was an auditory learner. he needed to hear the story to put the characters and setting in place, and after that could proceed to reading the rest of the story on his own. I ended up collecting unabridged audio books to help him get going. It was a good balance, it kick started him, and he still enjoys reading.
My third child, and oldest daughter, never had a reading issue. When it came to reading, she was the model reader I thought they all would be. She saw her older brother's lists and books and was challenged to read them. She wanted to outdo his lists! When he refused to finish reading Crime and Punishment because it was so depressing, it was his sister who took up the challenge to read all of it. My oldest daughter has surpassed me in the amount she reads, but with her, the momentum of bringing up enthusiastic readers fizzles as her younger sisters do not share this passion.
Fourth child, middle daughter- I really wondered if she would ever learn to read. She wanted to learn, we tried and tried, when I finally found someone who could tutor her using a different approach using the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Once she got going, she enjoyed the Little House series of books, and then got hooked on Nancy Drew. I began to wonder if she would ever try more challenging books, and when we started a book club with a group of her friends, she really stepped up to the plate. This motivated her, although I can't say it gave her a love for reading. Maybe some people read when they need to, and others read when they want to. I'm learning to be ok with that. I'm glad she reads.
Now this brings me to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." My youngest child lacks interest in books- well not all books, she likes the activity type of interactive books, or books I would call fluff- just not the typical chapter books the average sixth grader would be interested in. I've tried a huge variety that I see others her age reading, but she's not interested. Even when I read aloud to her, it is much harder to keep her focused and interested as when I would read to her siblings. What was different about this book were the magic words I heard her tell her older sister (the one who loves to read). She said, "Guess what? I'm starting to like reading now!" Thank you fluff books! And there you have my mixed bag of readers!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

About Humility

Today's theme of the day seemed to be humility. It all started this morning, a Sunday morning, and as Murphy's Law goes, what can go wrong goes wrong. The last thing I want on a Sunday morning when I'm getting ready for church is conflict, and sure enough as I am getting ready, what do I hear coming from another room-conflict! Conflict is often about two sides both being right and the other side wrong, neither side seeing the other's point of view- generally. Sometimes one side is right, and the other wrong, but the way I see it, most of the time if conflict is coming about, both sides really need to look at it that none was 100% right. The only thing that truly cures conflict is humility.
After a what seemed like a long lecture on pointing out to one of my dear children the value of restoring harmony and taking the humble road to accept that she may have been even slightly wrong, we arrived at church, still frazzled by what had earlier taken place. "Let's go inside." "No, I don't want to, I'm still mad." "It's ok, church is the place to be when you feel that way. Sometimes being in church fixes those bad feelings." Reluctantly we go inside. No one but God knows what has just taken place. A while later, she excuses herself to use the restroom, comes back, and slips her arm around my waist. No words, just a gesture. The words of the Cherubic Hymn are soothing as we "lay aside all worldly care, that we may receive the King of all."
After church we joined together for fellowship in our social hall, chatting with friends, and even getting into some interesting and thought provoking conversations, and then... a voice in the conversation brings back the memory of all that took place earlier in the morning with words that dealt with our topic of conversation- "the problem is that we are taught to be proud instead of grateful, and we don't learn humility" he said. So my next question was, "how do I teach this when the heart wants to be stubborn?"
Once home, a friend calls. The topic- family conflict. I realize to some extent all families face conflict in some for or another, and to varying degrees of severity. While some are able to move on, at other times there is what appears to be irreversible damage, unforgivingness and brokenness. I don't have words to heal the pain of others, but hope that God is bigger than any problem, and through humility and cooperation with Him, it is God who carries those problems over the tallest mountains and deepest valleys. 
I wondered about what the Fathers of the early church would say, and turned to a small book, On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom. I'm not going to quote anything because everyone should read this book for themselves, but will say the principles written in the 4th century are totally relevant to our family relationships today. So simple, and full of wisdom. Bearing conflict through love and nurture verses entitlement- loving the one who doesn't listen, or obey, because while we have an expectation of our spouse or child they are not slaves who are always going to agree. A couple is so joined as if they are the same flesh, and the child is the fruit of their union. How do we hold back in doing all we can to nurture that relationship? If there is conflict, there must be a desire for restoration and the harder we make our hearts, our pride will continue to divide. The Holy Trinity is in unity. All are given authority and equality while the Father is given the headship. It is perfect unity in full cooperation, and the model of our own lives and families. We are called to love in this way, and that takes real humility. 
By afternoon, the morning's conflict was restored- by an act of humility- first by one who apologized (and I believe the most correct in addressing what was taking place) and then by the one who insisted on being right who took the time to think through that perhaps not everything was right on her part, and it was better to let go of her pride. This is humility. This is love.