Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Learning To Be Grateful

"Like the proud mother who is thrilled to receive a wilted bouquet of dandelions from her child, so God celebrates our feeble expressions of gratitude."
~ Richard Foster~

From the time they were old enough to talk, I wanted my children to learn the art of saying “thank you” upon receiving a gift.

In anticipation of the event, such as a birthday or Christmas, we would talk about gifts, the thought behind the gift, the money spent on the gift, the importance of gratitude and sensitivity to the feelings of the giver.

I can still remember when Sweet Pea was two years old. We were having Christmas with the extended family: grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I sat with her as she opened each gift, shared her excitement, then watched with pride as she set the gift down, scanned the room for the giver, made her way to her chair, wrapped her chubby little arms around her neck, and said, “Thank you so much Grandma!”, before going back to her spot to open the next gift. Needless to say she was always the last one to finish opening all of her gifts. As the years wore on, it became comical to watch as each of my four children opened a gift with glee, set it down, scanned the room then trampled over mounds of strewn boxes and wrapping paper until they found the giver to give that personal “thank you”, then stumbled their way back to their spot to open the next gift.

Since children are an open book, we also talked about facial expressions. Opening a pair of socks from grandma may not have had the appeal of the newest toy, but the love, money, and thought behind the gift were just as important.

We did the same thing for birthdays and birthday parties. At such events, it is not unusual to open a duplicate gift. We actually practiced for such events, so that a petulant, “But I already have one!” could be replanted with, “This is the best. Now I have two!” It worked out pretty well; all duplicate gifts went to Grandma’s house so that they had toys to play with whenever she babysat.

It is not too difficult to express genuine gratitude on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, but how does that compare to my daily gratitude? Like the child who expresses great joy over receiving the coveted toy, I frequently express my joy to God over the people and things that mean so much to me. However, like the child who receives socks for Christmas, I often fail to thank God for the things that I need but have come to take for granted: my health, the health of my family, my strength, mental abilities, freedom, democracy, a job I love, a steady paycheck (I could go on and on), until, of course, I am in danger of losing one of these things.

I can’t remember the last time I thanked God for my health until I suffered through two days of a stomach virus. A stomach virus; how small that is when I know of countless people who suffer on a daily basis for years with chronic and even terminal illnesses. Yet I need a wake-up call in the form of a two day virus to remember to thank God for my health.

Can you relate?

“You are my God, and I will give you thanks;

You are my God and I will exalt you.”

Psalms 118:28

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Power of Words (Potential - part 2)

A young man was sent to my office one day by a teacher who was frustrated by his behavior in her classroom.

This high school junior was tall, handsome, intelligent, athletic, out-going, and well liked. His parents were highly successful professionals. Unable to have children of their own, they adopted this boy and his brother when they were babies. His father was an elder in their church and their family was very involved in church activities. He seemingly had everything going for him. However, about the time he entered high school, he chose to run with a fast crowd; their weekends usually involved poker parties with alcohol wherever they could find a home with the parents gone. I never knew if he participated in these activities, but these were the kids he chose as his close friends. By his junior year, we began to see distinct changes in his behavior and attitude.

Sitting in my office, he was not happy. He felt that he had been unfairly singled out by his teacher for something that “everyone was doing”. Knowing that I could not reach him in this state, I allowed him to vent until he calmed down sufficiently so that we could talk. This was not the first time he had been sent to my office, so we already had a good rapport. Rather than berating him for what he had done, I began to ask questions about his plans, his dreams, and his future. I told him about the good I saw in him and in his future. Then I did the unspeakable; I used the “P” word. In my attempt to motivate him, I told him that he had a bright future, tremendous potential.

He exploded.

“I am sick of hearing about my potential!” he spewed.

“Has someone said this to you before?” I ventured cautiously.

“My dad; he’s always talking about my potential,” he snarled sarcastically.

I waited a few seconds then whispered, “What does that mean to you, when your dad says you have great potential?”

He looked me square in the eye and said, “It means I’m not good enough as I am.”

If only we could know with certainty the words that would motivate and encourage our children, and at the same time, assure them of our unconditional love. May our prayer as parents be like the psalmist, David, who prayed:

“Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on your commands.”

Psalms 119:66

Can you think of a time that your well-intentioned words backfired?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Potential (part one)

When someone tells you that you have great potential, what does that mean to you?

I knew one Christian family whose dad tried to motivate his two sons by praising their potential. One of his sons was encouraged by the fact that his dad saw promise in him, even though this talk usually followed some kind of reprimand. He knew that his dad believed that he could do whatever he set his mind to; he was not forever defined by his behavior as a teenager.

His brother, on the other hand, heard an entirely different message. His dad also spoke of his great potential after he had made a poor choice. However, this boy was not convinced that his dad saw the good in him, because he saw no good in himself. As a result, “you have great potential” to him meant “you are not good enough as you are.”

The two sons grew up. One son became a Christian; the other did not. The Christian son got a college education, married a Christian woman, and had his own sons who also became Christians; the other did not. The Christian son held a respectable job and provided for his family all of his life; the other did not. His life involved drugs, alcohol, crime, failed marriages, numerous jobs, depression, and anger.

What went wrong? Here were two boys raised by the same parents in the same Christian home, with the same upbringing, hearing the same words, yet, their lives took two decidedly different turns that affected generations to follow in very different ways.

One obvious difference between these two boys was their self-esteem, which was deeply affected not only by environment, but their response to that environment. We have all heard stories of children born to wealth who squander their life away, or the inspiring stories of children who grow up in extreme poverty or neglect, only to use that as a catalyst to building a life of achievement and purpose.

A poor self-esteem filters in negative thoughts and words in to further reinforce how that person esteems or values himself. How often do you say things to yourself like, “I am so stupid”, “I have no friends”, “I am so fat (ugly, dumb, fill-in-the-blank)”, or “Why do I do the same dumb things over and over?”

In contrast, a good self-esteem filters in constructive thoughts and words. “Ok, so I blew it. I know I can do better next time.” “It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with a friend. I need to reach out to others more.” “So I’ve gained a few pounds. Here’s what I need to do to get my eating and exercise back on track.”

A person with a good self-esteem will recognize their shortcomings and weaknesses, but rather than be defined by them, will identify them, own them, and strategize ways to deal with them.

Perhaps what we need is not more self-confidence, but more God-confidence, confidence in God to love us no matter what, confidence in his promises, and confidence that he will mold us and shape us to do his will. How differently the lives of the other son and the generations that followed him would have turned out had he truly understood and accepted the magnitude of God’s unfailing love.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

whose confidence is in him.”

Jeremiah 17:7

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One Best Friend

By nature, I am a one best friend person. Even as a child, I wanted one best friend, even though I remember having a best friend at home, a best friend at school, and a best friend at church. Still, if forced to choose, I knew who my overall best friend was.

When I got married and moved to a strange town, my beloved was my one and only friend, my best friend. Although I still consider him to be my best friend, it is unrealistic to expect him to take the place of my girls. He won’t get manicures and pedicures with me. He doesn’t like chick flicks. He doesn’t like to exercise, and he hates to shop. He thinks four pairs of shoes are plenty: black, brown, athletic, and work boots. We can’t wear each other’s clothes or try each other’s favorite lipsticks. He refuses to go in a Michaels or Hobby Lobby; he doesn’t appreciate romance novels, and he would rather eat hard candy than chocolate.

I remember sometime within the first few years of my marriage feeling unsettled and dissatisfied. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself very critical of my beloved, as if he could do nothing to please me. Then God taught me something through Dr. James Dobson. I don’t remember which of his books it was, or even if I heard it on his radio show. I do remember that he was talking about our culture; how families have moved away from each other, how we don’t even know our neighbors, and how, with the husband and wife both working outside of the home, wives often do not find or take the time to cultivate close female friendships. He reasoned that most wives, having worked all week, spend their evenings doing those things that housewives do during the day. Weekends are spent with their families. Consequently, they put undue pressure on their husbands to meet all of their needs, even those needs that would better be met by girlfriends with similar interests (review paragraph two).

I took Dr. Dobson’s lesson to heart and looked for opportunities to develop, cultivate, and invest in female friendships. It wasn’t long before my attitude toward my beloved changed as I no longer felt that he and he alone should meet all of my needs. During our time together, we were able to choose those things that we both enjoy, rather than me haranguing him because he doesn’t enjoy to (fill-in-the-blank with something from paragraph 2).

Just like in most things in life, balance is the key. One should never spend so much time with friends that family suffers, but I thank God for my girls.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down, his friend can help him up.

But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Find Your Girls

I was talking with the mom of one of my students the other day. I asked about her daughter’s adjustment to college; although she is doing well, her roommate is apparently having adjustment problems. Apparently she hit the floor running by going after the boys, trying to secure a boyfriend before he could be snatched up by another new freshman.

My former student wisely pulled her aside one day and said, “Look, you’re going about this all wrong. You need to find your girls first. Your girlfriends are more important, for they will stick with you long after you have broken up with the boy of the month. Find your girls.”

I was impressed with such sage advice coming from a girl so young. It turned out, though, that this was the advice her mother had given her when she transferred to our high school a few years back.

I started thinking about my girls, the friends who are so dear to me. Each of my girls has an important role in my life.

There are the girls I like to chit-chat with just to pass the time of day. We work together and meet for lunch as often as we can.

There’s the girl I meet every day for exercise. We both bring potential topics to share and whatever we don’t get to is saved for the next time.

There are the girls I go to when I need a boost or someone to pray with.

Then there’s the one girl who can make me laugh like no one else as we share our childhood memories. Come to think of it, she makes me laugh no matter what we are talking about.

There are the girls who swap recipes with me, and those who like to get together and quilt. Some of my girls and I like to share spa days, mani’s and pedi’s, and shopping or road trips.

One of my girls and I manage to squeeze in outlet mall shopping whenever we go to a work-related convention.

I have a group of girls who meet a few times a year for dinner. We helped each other through a difficult time years ago, and although most of us no longer work together, the bond is still there.

Some of my girls are my daughters, some are my colleagues, and some are just friends.

Yep, that’s pretty good advice. First, find your girls and love them for who they are.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


"These children are the seeds my days plant, the blooms of the next generations."
~ Ann Voskamp ~
"Holy Experience"

We have many traditions in our home. One tradition began when my oldest children were potty-training. My beloved and I took turns sitting with them, trying to keep them on the potty seat occupied with puzzles, books, and conversation until they relaxed enough to let nature take its course. Once that happened, the parent on duty took the “big boy” or “big girl” to the other parent to brag about what they did on the potty. When my beloved brought our child to me, I jumped up and down and clapped, which eventually provided another incentive for using the potty. “As soon as you use the potty, we’ll go tell Mommy and she will jump up and down and clap!” Oddly enough, this worked.

As the years rolled on, Mommy was expected to jump up and down and clap for every bit of good news: finished the puzzle, let’s show Mom. Took a nap, won’t Mommy be proud. Shot the basketball through the goal, let’s go tell Mom. Made an A on the report card, take it home to Mom. It seems I jumped up and down and clapped through each milestone of their lives.

As one by one my children left for college, I wanted there to be no doubt in their minds how happy I was whenever they came home. Sweet Pea attended Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, so her visits home involved airfare and were planned way ahead of time. Each time she came through the revolving door to baggage claim where we waited, her eyes scanned the area, looking for a familiar middle-age woman trying to discretely jump up and down and clap. A year and a half ago, Sweet Pea and her husband announced that they were having a baby. Once again, she looked at me expectantly. Obediently, and with much exuberance, I jumped up and down and clapped, and subsequently pulled a muscle in my back. That was difficult to explain at work. “So, how did you hurt your back?” “Um, well, I kind of jumped up and down and clapped……with gusto. Long story.....kind of a family tradition sort of thing. That’s really all I can say about it.”

Kindred Spirit attended Harding University, which is six hours away. She drove home more than she flew. Not entirely comfortable with this, my beloved and I took turns calling her every hour, checking on her progress. As the time drew near for her arrival, we stood by the curb. As soon as we saw her car turn onto our street, my excitement took over and, bless her heart, she drove up with a big grin on her face as she saw her mom standing by the curb, jumping up and down and clapping.

My Buddy chose Oklahoma Christian University, which is three and a half hours away. He liked to surprise us by pretending that he left later than he did, or was caught in traffic, so he could see the surprised looks on our faces when he appeared at the door hours earlier than we expected. At least that’s what he told us. In reality, as much as he seems to enjoy his old mom still jumping up and down and clapping at his arrival, I think he prefers it at the door to our home rather than by the curb.

Lovey also chose Oklahoma Christian University. She and Buddy just came home for the first time since school started this year, along with her new boyfriend, and her new college best friend. I had to work the gate (take money for admission) at our home football game, so I was not home when they arrived a little earlier than expected. Toward the end of my shift, though, I looked up to see all of them pile out of the car with big grins on their faces. I do hope they warned their friends about their odd mom, because I jumped up and down and clapped as I ran around the car hugging and greeting each one.

The father of the prodigal son had a similar strategy.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20

Won’t it be great when God greets us the same way as we enter heaven?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Humbled (part 2)

My second most recent humbling experience took place at church. At our church, parents of children birth through 5th grade must check their children in at one of the new computerized kiosks located in the children’s wing. Parents give the volunteer the name of their family and child, and the volunteer locates their names on the computer screen and prints computerized name tags with bar codes. Only the parent with the matching bar code may pick their child up after Bible class.

Since this is a fairly new system, only the two children’s ministers have been trained to use it. Their efforts to elicit volunteers to man these kiosks have been unsuccessful so my daughter, who is the technology minister, volunteered to help out. Computers are her business. She is a fast learner and simply walked up, asked if she could help, and in minutes took over the booth. After her first Sunday to help out, she told me about it. I asked if she thought it was something I could do, and she eagerly replied, “Sure, it’s easy. I can show you how real fast.”

“It’s easy.” That simple sentence should have been my first clue that I was in big trouble. The next Sunday, I marched up to the kiosk, ready for my on-the-job training. As the children’s minister saw me coming, her face broke out in a huge grin. She backed away from the kiosk she was working, grabbed her keys, thanked me for coming and over her shoulder said, “It’s easy. Just follow the yellow brick road. That’s really all you need to know. Follow the yellow brick road.”

What does she mean by that? As the line to my kiosk began to stack with one frazzled parent after another, each holding the hand of a restless child, I’m staring at my computer screen with color coded buttons that I am supposed to touch in a certain order to indicate the age and class of each child. My daughter leans over and says, “When in doubt, push the yellow button.” Fairly certain that I might be able to execute this registration I look up at the first parent.

I smile a little uncertainly. “Good morning. Name please?” “Schneider.” “Could you spell that please?” “S-c-h-n” “That’s all I need. I’ve found you. Who are you checking in today?” I navigate through each of the steps to check their child in, stopping my daughter at the next kiosk each time I hit the wrong button so she can get me back on track. As she stops checking in her family to correct my errors, I look sheepishly at her family and mine. “I’m sorry for the delay. This is my first time.”

After checking in a few families and needing my daughter’s help on each one, I decided to start off on the right foot with those in my line. “Good morning. This is my first time. Please bear with me.” Then the next parent steps up. “Good morning. I’m new and kind of slow. I’ll be just a moment.” “Good morning. How are you today? I’m new at this.”

As the morning progressed, this greeting became my mantra. After one agonizing, slow, fumbling check-in after another, I looked up to find that my line was empty. All the children were checked in. I made it.

I still say that on-the-job training is not my favorite, especially with an audience of restless children and frazzled parents, but every once in a while, a little dose of humility is probably a good thing.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand,

that he may lift you up in due time."

I Peter 5:6