The Gift of Family Dinner

Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I grew up in a household that made eating meals together a priority.  We tried to eat dinner together every night and most of the time breakfast was a time to come together as well before starting the day.  Therefore, that concept of eating together was not new to me.

However, when I started dating the man who is now my husband, his mom introduced me to the gift of weekly family dinners.  Even before I was legally part of their family, my mother-in-law included me in this weekly tradition.  She would schedule one day a week when she would invite all family members who lived close enough to gather around her table for great food and lots of laughter.  She was always flexible with the time, day of the week, and menu, showing us that what was most important was gathering together at least once a week to regroup, reconnect, and stay close.

She would always prepare a Thanksgiving feast – something different each week that was always incredibly delicious.  That was not what drew us to her table, though.  It was the fact of being accepted and included that kept everyone coming back.  Once my husband and I exchanged wedding vows, we began adding additional family members to the weekly celebration.  My mother-in-law would happily add more chairs to accommodate the newest additions.  Highchairs would not stay vacant for long.  Those that had filled them years before graduated to the kids’ table while new members took their place.  Cousins built relationships, adult brother-sister bonds tightened, respect for elders was taught, and old stories were re-lived, giving those of us not born into the family a glimpse of what life was like back then.

Sadly, life moves on and some family members have moved to other parts of the country or are no longer with us, making it impossible to have such big family dinners every week.  However, the five of us still have the privilege of sharing dinner at least once a week with my in-laws.  It has kept us close and kept us connected.  Our kids look forward to “dinner with Grandma and Papa.”  It has become a time to learn from the past, look to the future, and stop long enough to sit down and enjoy the present.

I want to thank my “mother by marriage” for giving me the gift of being part of her family from the beginning.  My challenge for everyone else is to take the time to find that gift for your family as well, whatever that may look like for you:  Weekly family dinners, once-a-month coffee shop get-togethers, or quarterly loud, chaotic family gatherings.  Let us not lose sight of taking the time to build memories today to pull out and remember tomorrow.

All Things Are Not Created Equal

When deciding to get married, some couples have the idea that it is going to be a 50/50 partnership.  If the husband works outside the home and the wife does not, then she is responsible for taking care of the household such as laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning.  When the kids come along, the wife may take on more responsibilities with them, especially when they are young, but her husband will increase his responsibilities with the outside chores and car maintenance.  If both spouses work outside the home, then the chores at home are divided evenly depending upon their preferences and natural abilities.  As the responsibilities and chores increase in a marriage, they will continue to divide things evenly, creating essentially a balanced environment. 

However, in my experience, in order for a marriage to be a truly 50/50 partnership, all equality needs to be thrown out the window.  In order to build a marriage on the principles in God’s word, we must follow the teaching in I John 3:16-18:  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 

If that was to be applied to marriage, here is a sampling of what it might look like:  Letting your wife, who has been sick all week, rest on the couch while you clean the house getting it ready for company…or possibly even cancelling the get-together so that she can rest, spending that time taking care of her needs until she feels like herself again.  Knowing that your husband has wanted to see the Lions play in person during their amazing season so budgeting wisely and surprising him with tickets when you really wanted to buy that new Kindle you saw on sale instead.  Realizing that your wife has had an extra tough week at work, so volunteering to either grab fast food a few times this week or offering to cook dinner instead, even if it means cold cereal or heated up soup in a can.  Taking one of your vacation days and cleaning out the garage for your husband, a job he has been complaining that needs to be done but never having enough time to do it, and surprising him when he gets home from work that day. 

The only way that marriage will truly be equal is not when chores and responsibilities are divided equally between partners, but instead by both individuals giving more than 100%.  When each person is willing to step up and go the extra mile is when God’s love is truly shown in our lives.  Then marriage is truly the partnership that God intended. 

Marriage is not the only relationship that will be benefit from giving more than 100%.  Think about the difference that will be made when giving more than 100% is shown in friendship, at the workplace, with your children, extended family, or with God.  Every relationship will only blossom more when this principle is practiced on a regular basis.

What is one specific thing you can start to implement, giving more than 100%, to show someone in your life how important he or she is to you?

What Did You Say the Score Was?

The best way to cause conflict and create resentment between two people is to try and keep score.  That is seen often within families between siblings and also, in some cases, between a husband and wife.

The scenarios for marriage sometime play out this way:  “I took Jane to basketball practice last week so it’s your turn to take her this week.”  “I’m not mowing the lawn.  That is your responsibility.  I have too many chores to do inside the house to worry about taking over your outside chores also.”  “Why isn’t the oil changed in my car?  I’ve been telling you about it for months now.  Pretty soon the whole engine is going to seize up and then we will have to buy another car, something we can’t afford.”  “It’s not time for you to get a new phone.  Yours works fine.  Besides, it’s my turn.  The last thing we bought was your new iPod Touch.  I want the new Kindle.” 

John 15:13 tells us this: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  In order to maintain true happiness in marriage, both partners need to keep this principle in mind.  Even though the world tells us to think about ourselves first and others second, God instructs us to do just the opposite.  It is only when we put other’s needs before our own that we are truly happy. 

Is this always easy to put into practice?  Does the husband who has had a long week at work really want to get up early and take his daughter to basketball practice, again, instead of sleeping in and relaxing?  Does the wife, who is busy with cleaning and laundry, truly want to take care of mowing the lawn because it needs to be done and her husband is not available to complete the chore?  Does the husband want to remember to schedule time to either change the oil himself or arrange to get it done somewhere else?  And does the wife really want to sacrifice her wants and her pleasure in order to allow her husband something he has been looking forward to? 

The honest answer is not always.  But that, also, is part of the sacrificial aspect explained above.  When only one partner is sacrificing and the other is continually taking, the marriage still remains out of balance.  It is only when both husband and wife continue to show sacrificial love to each other, that true union exists and balance is achieved.  And what an amazing example to demonstrate to your children, who probably are continuing to fight amongst themselves over whose turn it is to take out the garbage this week. 

Keeping score does not just happen at home.  What about when driving down the road, at your job, or with your friends? 

What is one thing you can do in your marriage, or another relationship, to quit keeping score and demonstrate love instead?

 

But, Sweetie, Lighten Up…I Was Just Kidding

Everyone has heard the children’s rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” (author unknown). 

However, God instructs us to treat each other differently.  In Ephesians 4:29, he tells us not to “…let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Who better to put that lesson into practice on than our husbands, wives, and children?  Joking about your husband’s lack of handyman skills repeatedly when getting together with friends, telling that cute story that truly embarrasses your son just so you can get a laugh at family get- togethers, or reminding everyone about your wife’s little problem with tardiness can all wound the soul when repeatedly spoken, no matter what tone of voice is used. 

Instead of trying to get the last laugh at your loved ones expense, why not instead work on building up your spouse or your children to others?  It may not be the most popular thing to do, but I can guarantee that you will become the hero in their eyes.  Complementing the way your wife cooked a special dessert knowing she is overhearing your words, bragging about how your son persevered when learning a new piece for the school concert, or telling others how kind and sweet your daughter’s heart is when she is patient with her two-year-old brother all help to build stronger relationships and stronger family ties. 

What specific area are you going to work on in your life to help build up those around you that you love?  Even changing one thing can make a lasting impact on the overall atmosphere of your family or with a friendship.

Daddy/Daughter Dates

There was nothing like seeing the light shine in my daughter’s eyes when she got ready for her first official daddy/daughter date.  It is amazing the significance that occurs when a daughter feels special in the eyes of her dad. 

We started this tradition within the past year and aside from being a special time for my husband and his only daughter to bond, without any interruptions, it has really grown into a time where life lessons are learned. 

The first and most important lesson she learned was how special she is and how she deserves for the love of her life to treat her with respect, honor, and kindness.  More than anything, the prayer we have for our children is that they will marry a spouse someday who treats them well. 

Using manners, complimenting someone, holding open the door, and not talking with your mouth full are all actions that should be second nature.  With my husband modeling the type of behavior our daughter should expect from a man who wants to date her, hopefully she will not settle for second best in her quest for a boyfriend or spouse. 

Another lesson she learned was how to let the man lead and to humbly give up control.  In today’s society so many woman are single mothers or leaders in their workplace that it is hard for them to sit back and let the man take over planning the evening, choosing the restaurant, or even driving.  My daughter and I had a chance while she was getting ready to talk about how special it is to allow that special guy to have some fun planning the events.  That is not to say the woman can never voice an opinion or even to plan a few surprises of her own; but I was trying to explain that if the man asks you out on a date, it is polite for the woman to allow the man to take the lead.  It was an opportunity to teach her grace and to learn that sometimes just being together and eating dinner is better than going out and buying a bunch of things that will get lost eventually anyway. 

The look on our daughter’s face when she opened the door and saw my husband standing there with flowers (we all live in the same house but going out on a date requires a little extra flare), she barely knew what to say.  I think it was important for her to see that she was special enough for her daddy to take some time and effort to get dressed up for her too.  Hopefully she is learning that when you love someone, you are willing to go that extra mile sometimes. 

It was not until they got back from their dinner out that I was allowed to share in the rest of their date together.  Our daughter went on and on about how much fun she had, but it was that special glow about her that showed me more than her words told me how loved and special she felt. 

Since that special night, they have had several more daddy/daughter dates; usually coming just when she needs it most.  None have been as magical as that first one (isn’t that how it goes with all first dates?), but all have been just as special. 

Maybe it is time you and your daughter share a special evening together – just the two of you.

Calm Among the Chaos

Psalms 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Dogs barking.  Kids fighting.  Baby crying.  TV blaring.  Work deadline looming.  Dinner burning.  The dreaded “To Do” list that sits on the table:  Taxes need to be organized, school papers need to be signed, the house needs to be cleaned, laundry is threatening to overtake the laundry room…”Calgon – take me away.” 

Do you ever feel like there is too much that needs your attention ‘right now’ when all you want to do is sit in your favorite chair with a good book or to watch a great movie?  How are you supposed to get the work of three people done in the amount of time that even one person’s tasks cannot honestly be accomplished? 

I have found when I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, that the best thing I can do is stop what I am doing and take some time to give it all to God.  That might sound counterproductive to some.  If I already need more hours in the day, why am I choosing to sit and be still before God when I could be crossing things off my To-Do list instead? 

From personal experience, on more than one occasion, when I choose to give God my time first and ask Him what His agenda for my day is, it inevitably works out much better than on the days I have tried to do it myself.  I find that even though my To-Do probably does not get completely crossed off, on either day, on the days that I ask God what He wants me to do, I have more peace, things get done faster, and there are less frustrations.  On the days I just plow ahead without consulting Him first, there are more mistakes, more time is wasted, and my day is far from smooth.

The key for me, to actually achieve calm among the chaos, is choosing to give God my time first and letting Him be in charge of my schedule.  I challenge you to try it once and see if it does not work for you as well. 

 

Embracing Their Uniqueness

Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (NIV)

Children are very different, even if living in the same household.  Some are compliant, some are more challenging, and some are nice enough to meet their parents halfway in between.  Those are definitely stereotypes as each child is his own individual person, but generally, that would be a good description. 

Having said that, different parenting styles do greatly influence our children and their behaviors.  If we choose to be uninvolved parents, our children’s behaviors will reflect that, most likely in a negative way.  If we choose to be too controlling, again, their choices will generally demonstrate more negativity by acting out against the rigidity and too much pressure. 

While choosing the best parenting style and staying consistent is important, I have found that each child needs specific lessons, each taught a little differently.  The same lessons will not apply to all children.  A more challenging child might need more lessons on learning how to obey in order to be an effective leader, while a more passive child might need more practice in the art of compromise or standing up for herself.  The happy-go-lucky child might need more practice in discovering his own likes and dislikes instead of being easily influenced by those around him. 

It is the parent’s job to discover the uniqueness of their own children and then adjust their life lessons accordingly.  However, instead of seeing that as a negative, learn to embrace your children’s different personalities, remembering that each lesson they are needing to learn now might in turn become the gift they use in the future to fulfill their specific purpose in life.  Who knows, maybe as you are helping to develop specific traits in them, it might teach you something about yourself as well. 

 

Who Gets the Praise?

My mother started a habit when I was a child.  Whenever anyone would compliment her on something my sister or I did well (whether it was a difficult task that we had completed or we behaved appropriately in public), she would make sure to pass the praise along to whichever of us it was intended for.  She showed by example that we were the ones in charge of our own behavior, not her.  Therefore, not only did we get the credit, but we also were the ones to have the responsibility when we made the wrong choice.

I have tried to do that with my children as well.  Whenever anyone compliments me and tells me that my children are well behaved, fun to be around, responsible – whatever the compliment might be, I am quick to say to that person that my children get the praise for their accomplishments and that I will pass it along to them. 

I think that is a really important habit to get into for two reasons.  The first being that our kids need to know that not only are we proud of them, but also that others take notice when they do a great job or use self restraint or practice good manners in public.  The second reason is just as important as the first:  Our children need to realize that when they make a bad choice, that negative reaction is a reflection on them, not on us as parents. 

In addition to the benefits our children get from that perspective, we as parents reap rewards as well.  It allows us to be let off the hook when our children are navigating their way in this world less than perfectly.  We did not get it right all the time when we were growing up and neither will our kids.  However, the flip side is true as well.  When our children do something praiseworthy, it is not our praise to keep.  They are the ones that made the right choice.  We might have provided the boundaries and structure for them to learn the good choices, but ultimately they made the decision to follow through. 

I think that as long as we stay beside them to encourage,  provide wisdom, and use a healthy dose of sense of humor when needed, not to mention, most importantly, to pass along the praise that is rightly theirs, it is my belief that stronger families will be built.  Lastly, I think it will help your child’s self esteem as they start internalizing that they are in charge of themselves and good things happen when good choices are made. 

So, a special thank you goes out to my mom today for modeling such an important lesson while I was growing up so that I, in turn, can pass along that gift to my children.  Since I am more than willing to give the praise due to my children that they deserve, I am also willing to give the praise due to my mom as well. 

 

 

Free To Be Me

Psalms 139: 14-17: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Throughout my life, there have been periods of time where I wish I was more like someone else and wondered why God made me the way I am.  I can be a mixture of opposites.  I am very shy in new situations but once comfortable, can be outgoing and sometimes too loud.  I tend to be a perfectionist in some areas of my life, but wish I was more like my sister and mom at keeping my house neat and organized. 

“Wishing to be something (I) am not is an insult to God.” (Joel Osteen).  That quote reminds me of a conversation I once had with a very good friend.  I was commenting to her how I wished that I was more like a coworker of ours than myself.  Our coworker was one of those people who was very deliberate in everything she did and I admired that.  She thought things out carefully before doing anything:  Whether eating, speaking, working, or even moving.  I was admiring that trait in her because I tend to be the complete opposite:  I eat fast, move fast, talk fast, work fast, drive fast (but not too fast)…I think you get the picture.  However, my friend’s answer was one that I still remind myself of often.  She told me that God has a specific purpose for everyone and He wants me to fulfill my own, one that requires a different personality and set of gifts from anyone else. 

And she was exactly right.  The jobs that God has used me the most in require multitasking, lots of energy, and quite a bit of a sense of humor (not to mention eating on the run).  If I was a more deliberate, carefully planned out person, I would not be as effective in the areas that God has designed me to fit best in. 

When I remind myself of those wise words, it frees up my thinking and I am able to relax my perfectionism in certain areas.  I will probably never have the neatest house and I may never learn the art of slowing down, but I have learned to enjoy running full speed ahead to my next adventure in some instances and appreciate the times life is calm.  In other words, I am learning how to be free to be the real me.

The Challenge of Blessings Passed On

“…understanding true joy by being more aware of the gifts inherent in our lives every day.  And in the turning of pages I am thinking of all the many gifts I am given that I simply take for granted……and often don’t even think of as a blessing or a gift.”  (Joanne Miller)

I was recently given the privilege of receiving a message from Joanne Miller, a truly inspiring woman, challenging me as well as many others, to consider the many blessings in my life.  She received as a gift the book titled One Thousand Gifts….A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,  by Ann Voskamp.  The challenge set forward was to write down and record the many little blessings, or gifts, that God gives to us each day, hoping to reach 1000 before the year is over. 

It only took a few days for me to realize that I wanted to accept this challenge, and also to pass it on to others who might want to take up the challenge for themselves.  I have a journal that I am going to begin writing down the many blessings that I have so often taken for granted:  My ability to exercise.  The privilege to hear my children play their drums, guitar, and sing, not to mention when they say, “I love you.”  The joy of seeing a different sunrise each and every morning, instead of focusing on the fact that I did not get to sleep in.  The feeling of satisfaction when I write a check to cover the mortgage this month, knowing that God has provided my job in order to write that check. 

Everyone’s list is going to look different.  Mrs. Miller even suggests taking our little notebook with us in our car or purse to catch the times we are blessed in the community.  But everyone, if we look hard enough, will see multiple blessings each and every day. 

And because Mrs. Miller says it best, “By keeping track in this physical way, I believe I will not only become more aware but I will also gain the blessing of saying “Thanks!” to God in a tangible way that is in line with living my life as a prayer.”

Thank you, Joanne, for challenging me to see life as a blessing. 

Psalms 103:2: “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”