Building Foundations of Belonging

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We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.

Teaching children to think by Raising Children Who Read!

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Statistics have shown that in a class of 20 students, few, if any, teachers can find even 5 minutes of time in a day to devote to reading with each student. These studies have also come to find that the majority of children in our generation will stop reading as soon as they no longer have to. This absolutely breaks my heart for a number of reasons. Children are no longer delighting in reading, getting swept away in a captivating story, or enjoying the wonder and fun that comes from learning.

As parents, God has trusted us with a very important job. We are here to not only be mothers, but to be teachers and instructors in all that is good and lovely in the world. In my sweet Sarah’s book, Read for the Heart, she quotes:

The first thing that a young heart needs is an education in all that is good.”

The main reason behind why children won’t find joy and excitement in reading is the fact that they are not being exposed to great books. We don’t live in a culture that is filled with very much excellence. While we may not be able to control the media of our generation, we must take on the responsibility of exposing our children to excellent books that will encourage, inspire, and help them flourish into adults who have a love of literature.

In our home, each child has his or her own book shelf. Every Christmas everyone gets their own books!

Book baskets are all over the house–with picture books, magazines, art books, and piled with all sorts of genre’s of interesting tales.

In our library, we have overstuffed recliners so anyone can go read in comfort at any time.

At bedtime we kept baskets of short stories and picture books and chapter books to keep going one more chapter each night. (and of course we always followed with cd’s of favorite music that placed beauty in their little heads as they drifted off.)

Mediocrity is natural. There are a lot of time wasters out there. However, as mothers, God has called us to the supernatural–the above and beyond of ideals that Jesus wants us to understand. We must rise above what our culture views as normal  activity and cultivate minds and hearts in our children that are excellent, joyous, and full of wonder. What we feed our children’s minds will in many ways determine what they will have in their soul to respond to when they are adults.

3 Excellent Picture Books to Introduce to Your Family This Month:

1- Tuesday by David Weisner
2- Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
3- Song And Dance Man by Karen Ackerman

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When Motherhood Includes Grief

 

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Motherhood.  The word conjures up a host of emotions and experiences that we long for and dream of for years.

Planning.  Expectations.  Anticipation.  Celebration.  Embracing.

Millions of women have experienced the miracle of motherhood.  The transition from a woman with a whole heart into a woman with a capacity to have her heart live both inside and outside of her body is a beautiful and miraculous process.

A woman’s heart is never again whole once she has children.  For each of her children carry a piece of her heart with them through life.  Our capacity for love grows with each new child.  We may think our hearts are full to capacity and yet with each new baby emotions shift and unexplainable reserves of love make their way into our hearts.

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Yet, because we live in a broken world suspended between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and Heaven, we understand that life is not always carefree.  Sometimes, life brings events that shake our foundation for a season.

Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Stillborn.  Pre-maturity.  Death.

Harsh, ugly words that no one wants to say much less experience as part of their journey in life.

Yet…too many of us do have one or more of those words as part of our life’s resume.  Known as grief, there is a process that we go through when our hearts are disappointed and we lose people or dreams that we had loved and held onto in our souls.

And when babies we carried beneath our breasts, those who lived and breathed and whose heart beat to its’ own cadence closer to ours than any other human being will ever be, leave us…part of our heart goes to Heaven with them and never resides again here on earth.

  • When we miscarry, hormones rage.  Ovaries and uterus contract and try to find their rhythm again leaving us with emotions that are often hard to control.
  • When death comes to a child, the word sorrow takes on a depth of unexplainable meaning.
  • When we long for a child and fertility alludes us, empty wombs and arms seem to betray our femininity.
  • Grief includes waves of sadness that suffocate us making breathing seem a difficult chore.
  • In our valley, words spoken by well-meaning and good intentioned friends seem shallow.
  • Maybe most painful of all is that human comfort is lost for a season.

But then…God

The One who created life and orders our steps, reaches through the clouds of grief and reminds us that He alone understands our pain and offers comfort that carries us through the storm.  Slowly, often painfully slowly, He shows us grace and strength and the only true comfort that exists that can penetrate the human soul.

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When healing begins, and it will, the next season is to find a way to remember and celebrate the life we embraced even if just in our dreams and in our womb for a few days or weeks.  The danger with grief is that it is so easy to get stuck somewhere in the process instead of moving through each phase toward healing.  We can get stuck in the stage of denial, anger, etc.  It will be that one season of life that becomes so commonly focused on that it emerges as that for which we are remembered if we are not careful.

All of those harsh, ugly words that we fear most about motherhood are just a few of the issues that the winds of life have blown my way.  And, while each event rocked me for a season (or more sometimes), no one event is the sum total of who I am.  I don’t want to be defined only as the mom of a premature baby, special needs child, mom of a stillborn son, the lady who lost four babies, or a number of other things.  While all of those statements are true, they are not the only part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  My goal for a legacy is to be remembered as a woman who loved God with all her heart and though she failed so many times, she claimed the grace of God and loved her family and friends with all her heart.

So, if that is my goal, then that must be the thing on which I focus every day.  I am not minimizing grief.  Please know that.  It is real, painful, and a life-altering process.  But it doesn’t have to define us.  Grief doesn’t have to overshadow everything else good and wonderful in our lives.  Oh, it will for a season, for sure, and that is healthy and wise.  Grief is painful, intense, hard, difficult, and sometimes the very act of taking the next breath is physically painful.  I understand that completely.

I also understand that God is bigger than grief.  His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and His grace is abundant and sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  But please know that if you feel “stuck” in the grief process, there is help available.  Seek out Godly counsel and ask God to help you move “through” the stages of grief so that your legacy will not be that one traumatic experience.

There are some benefits when motherhood includes grief.  We are given a unique perspective on the true miracle of life.  We can celebrate on a grander stage those who call us mom.  We can embrace a little longer and relish the presence of those children who grace our homes.  And we can reach out to others who are newer to the journey of grief than we are and assure them that even when despair is fresh and pain is great, behind the clouds the sun truly is shining and it will break forth again in their lives.

Motherhood is a celebration.  An amazing gift God has granted the females of the human race.  It is an opportunity to nurture, embrace, train, love, disciple the next generation of human beings.  How blessed we are to be in that group of women who have held motherhood in our hearts and life in our arms.

Photo Credit: Terri King (Timberlake, NC) and Laurie Whitehouse (Lexington, KY)

The Blessing

The Blessing

 

My mother sings. We grew up listening to her practice in the bathroom for her solo on a Sunday morning. Her father, our late grandfather, sung.  He sang loudly and with vigor anytime he sat on that second row at our church.  We used to chuckle and laugh at how loud he would sing.  He took hymns seriously.  My dad sings. He wouldn’t sign up to enter a vocal competition, but he can definitely carry a tune.  In fact, he will break out in the chorus for “My Girl” by the Temptations at the drop of a hat. My dad’s father sings.  He also plays the piano and has been a fantastic musician his whole life.

You could say that I, along with my three siblings, have been mentored in music over the course of our lives.

It’s no surprise then that my brother  sings and does it well.  He has a few albums to prove that very point.  Both my sister and myself sing.  We even have had our youngest brother join us and formed a quartet on special occasions.

One may argue that we have inherited this gift of song as a part of our DNA.  While that may be true in part, it’s not the whole story.  I know lots of people who can sing but have siblings or children who absolutely cannot.  So vocal aptitude is not solely a product of a particular gene pool.  This trait must also be related to environmental osmosis.  Plain English?  We were around song.  We picked it up.

What is true for song is also true of our spiritual heritage.  While the four of us are grateful for our upbringing, we are acutely aware that what we have received is largely a result of a spiritual trait, aptitude or ability that we were around.  We had the privilege of hearing our parents pray.  We have been blessed to see them serve Christ and His body when it was not necessarily easy to do so. We have witnessed them take their faith seriously.

And not only were we able to observe and absorb the beauty of their commitment to Christ, they invited us to join in with them.  Just like we might gather around the piano and sing in unison, we would similarly gather around the kitchen table and pray together in unity and be prayed for by our parents – our spiritual mentors.

Herein lies the blessing.

What my grandparents gave to my parents was the gift of a spiritual inheritance. My parents in turn gave that same gift to us.

Generation to generation the blessing was transferred. We were mentored in ministry and cultivated in Christianity.  And for that we are grateful.

There are so many things that you can teach your children.

There are so many good things that you can expose your children to.

There are so many books that you can read, songs that you could learn, and people that can influence them.

But they will learn so much from just being with YOU.

And it doesn’t matter so much of you have learned it all yet…

We are all a work in progress, practicing the notes of our thoughts and actions in various rooms of our hearts as we attempt to live lives that will please God and for which He will applaud.

You have the opportunity, simply as you move throughout each minute of your day to bless your children with the gifts that God has entrusted to you.

Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

Don’t discount the enormity of your own experiences and the elements of your personality.

Don’t sell short your own successes – no matter how small… or even your failures – no matter how great.

Your children can learn wonderful lessons by being with you.

Just by the very reality of your proximity, you can give them a blessing they can pass on to future generations.

And I can tell you from experience… your children will be grateful.

 

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Think Before You Speak

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by Cherie Werner

Do not 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.  Ephesians 4:29

 One of the greatest jobs I have as a mother is to instill godly character into my children. To do this, I intentionally utilize both resources and teachable moments. I have found that it is best to learn from life’s blunders.  Currently I am reading aloud and discussing the book Love As A Way of Life by Gary Chapman with my youngest daughter, Cayley, as well as the mom group I’m leading.  At the end of one of the chapters, I became convicted. There was a challenge to evaluate verbal interactions with others and determine whether or not the words spoken were kind. If any unwholesome words came to mind, the challenge encouraged you to take action and apologize.

My heart sunk as I remembered a phone conversation that I had with a friend. I sent the apology email below to my friend and then read it aloud to my daughter. Even though I was embarrassed by my blunder, I wanted to use it as a teachable moment. Words do matter and carry weight.

OK my dear friend, things just got real.  I just finished reading a chapter on kindness to Cayley and I was convicted.

I read, “To make kindness a habit, ask yourself after each verbal interaction with another person, what kind words did I say and what unwholesome words did I say?” I thought back to our conversation and was convicted.

 I realized that sharing with you about my disgruntles with ________ were not edifying or life giving.  I did looked up the quote you mentioned by Dave Ramsey concerning gossip which said, “gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.”  So I’m apologizing for gossiping.

Words are powerful as they give life or death.  I desire to be known as one who spreads life. 

Love ya.

My friend wrote me back the following:

Your email made me think, what if the words about _______ were said in a happy, surprised, and excited tone, but because it was hearsay, and because of our filters, we assume it was negative?  It gave me a lot to think about.  The other thing that I want to sort through with you is where is the line between gossip and sharing our heart, and frustration with a friend.

Was I gossiping or simply sharing my heart and frustration with a friend? I wanted to know. Actually, I needed to know.

Two definitions of gossip:

  1. Dictionary – Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
  2. Bible – One who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.

Gossip is different from sharing information in many ways. Below are some ways I feel the two differ but I’m sure there are many others.

  • Consider your motives for sharing? Are you seeking to build yourself up by making others look bad? We often feel superior to the person we are talking about which is prideful and often gossip.
  • Gossiping wants to share and tell a story for reactions. It is done repeatedly to many persons.
  • If you are hurt or angry with someone and desire to draw others into your pain wanting them to side with you it’s likely you are gossiping.
  • What type of information is being shared? Gossipers speak of the faults and failures of others or reveal possibly embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval.
  • Gossip usually occurs when you complain or talk about one person to someone who knows both of you.
  • Ask if what you are saying is helpful for building up the person I am speaking about by sharing this? Charles Spurgeon said, “Tale bearing/gossip emits a threefold poison. It injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told.”
  • Ask yourself why you want to share this information, do you have permission, and if it’s necessary? Then consider whether you would share if the person you were talking about were present? If not, you are most likely gossiping.
  • It’s gossip to say anything about someone that will lower the listener’s opinion of that someone as gossip changes the way we see people.
  • Do you have a complaint about someone that you take to someone else who can do nothing about it? If so, then that is gossip.
  • Do your words build up and edify others? Gossipers seek to tear down others.
  • Kind words see the best in people and call it forth. Gossipers tend to focus on the negative and nit pick.
  • When someone is talking negatively about others it become gossip on your part if you jump into the conversation.
    • Don’t participate. Excuse yourself from a conversation that becomes full of gossip, to avoid “falling into” gossip games or socializing-by-demoralizing.
    • Encourage them to speak directly to the person who is involved as it’s biblical, see Matthew 18:15
    • Let gossip end with you. Help navigate the conversation to whatever is true, pure, and lovely.
  • Always remember your words are powerful enough to give life or death.
  • Will what you share glorify God?

With this particular situation, I decided that my friend might be right as I truly was sharing my heart. Nevertheless, I realize that it is a fine line. Next time, before talking to a friend about something, I will ask myself if what I am about to say is true, kind, necessary, or helpful? This whole experience has reminded me that it is important to THINK before speaking. “He who guards his mouth keeps her life, but she who opens wise her lips comes to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3

T –is it true?
H –is it helpful?
I  –is it inspiring?
N –is it necessary?
K –is it kind?

In closing, I encourage you to ponder the following poem by Ann Landers. Personally, this poem really made me think deeper about a few things.

Remember Me?
“My Name Is Gossip. I have no respect for Justice.
I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
I flourish at every level of society.
My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody’s friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never quite the same.
I topple governments and ruin marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion.
I spawn suspicion and generate grief.
I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses. “I AM CALLED GOSSIP.” Office gossip. Shop gossip. Party gossip.
I make headline and headaches.
Before you repeat a story ask yourself. Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary?
If not – KEEP QUIET.

GREAT minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; shallow minds discuss people. Eleanor Roosevelt       

Which are you?

How do you differentiate between gossiping and sharing?  I’d really like to know.