You Are Beautiful: A Conference to Serve Women

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL: A Conference to Serve Women

‘Think about when you go to events at church, on camps, to parties, to weddings…’ I said to my hesitant son.

 “Have you ever stopped to think about the women who are unseen, working in the background—and yes, some are very happy to be there—who make sure there is enough food, and clean plates, and clean toilets for you and your friends to have a good time? Do you see that this is an opportunity for you to serve them for a change, to say thank you and let them know they are appreciated? Please pray about it.’

That’s how several conversations went in our house a few months ago. But in our congregation the conversation went slightly differently.

What we’re looking for is an invisible army.

‘What we’re looking for is an invisible army. We want to give our faithful servants a day off – a day for each of our women to be able to sit and hear the message ‘You Are Beautiful’.

So, on July 1st, 2017, an ‘almost-invisible’ army of twenty blokes aged 8 to 80 served 140 women aged 12 to at least 88 (but who’s asking) at our ‘You Are Beautiful’ Conference for Women. Women came from all over South Australia, from Lutheran churches, local non-Lutheran churches, and some from no church at all.

Initiated by a group of women who attended the SA/NT Lutheran Women’s Retreat in Alice Springs in June 2016, the conference featured author, life-coach and speaker Peta Soorkia, of ‘Empowering You.’ Her engaging and entertaining talks inspired each of us to see the beauty that God has placed inside each of us. She coached us through God-moments – that is, taking moments during the day to meditate on God’s word. And she reminded us of God’s vision of us. 

In the evening, she called on her fashion design background to help us look at enhancing our own attributes to help us let our inner beauty from the inside shine on the outside. Our ‘models’ made the evening memorable – and convinced us that not everyone who appears shy is always shy.

It was anything but a ‘Guild Convention

But the day wasn’t just about the speaker. And it was anything but a ‘Guild Convention’. It was a very special event to be part of, from concept through planning, production and participation. 

When the women arrived in the morning, they were greeted with a foyer full of barista-made coffee, tea or hot chocolate alongside tables of home-made biscuits, or fruit for the health-conscious. Seminars by Peta during the day were followed by lunch from the Two Wells Bakery  and an afternoon of relaxation, socialising, being pampered with manicures or facials or hand-massages, doing handicrafts or sitting outside soaking up the rare Salisbury-winter sun.

A light but delicious meal in the evening provided by a local food-cart ‘Bohemian Barbecue’ took our day event through to our fun-filled evening event.

And what made it so special? 

It grew out of prayer. Prayer – when the women from our church were asked about having a speaker. Prayer – when the people who usually run things all booked to be away, so we needed a new team. Prayer – when we needed skills that none of us had ever had the opportunity to use in this context before. Prayer – when we needed a particular skill-set and had no idea where to look. Prayer – when we recognised that our retired caterers would be sitting in the pews and we’d promised them the day off. Prayer – when the invisible army of volunteers were slow to put their arms up. Prayer – that we would cover costs. 

And what did we learn?

We learnt that women need to be with women: But the way we’ve been doing it in the church over the past one-hundred and seventy-five years may not be relevant to the women of 2017. 

Women who faithfully attend worship for years have gifts to share – but we need to give them opportunities to find them.

Women LOVE the opportunity to simply sit and be with others. Our days together do not need to be planned to the minute – though we also learnt that something for the idle fingers to do, such as colouring, would have been appreciated.

Some women have NEVER had someone (i.e. a male) serve them. 

The older women who have been associated with ‘guild’ enjoyed not-having a business meeting. 

The younger women would have liked to have a deeper spiritual input.

That hiring caterers was a huge blessing. Resoundingly they said they were as blessed to be part of our day as we were by eating their delicious food. One of the caterer’s workers collected any left-over food to be distributed through a service to the homeless. 

That God provides what we need always on time – and never too early.

That getting advertising to congregations is really, really tricky.

That we’ve neglected Paul’s admonishment to Titus to ‘teach the older women to train the younger women’ and we need to find ways to do that better. 

That serving in a different capacity was great for our blokes, enabling them to use their untapped skills – and yes, they can serve salads at a barbecue. 

And even our once-hesitant son discovered that blessings can come from being the server instead of the served.

But most importantly…

But most importantly, we learnt that when we follow God’s direction, and we join in willingly, and even not-so-willingly, God is glorified in achieving much more than the total of our contribution. It was way beyond what any of us could have imagined, and is an occasion that participants will look back on as significant in their life.  

There have been plenty of questions about when we will do the next one, and many times we’ve been asked ‘When will you do one for the blokes?’ 

Our answer is that we are convinced that this came about because we listened to God. We followed God’s lead. Perhaps God has more where this came from. Perhaps not. Our job is to pray, listen, discern (use wisdom and scripture to tell whether it’s God’s will or our own) and to join in God’s work wherever the opportunity arises. 

Grace-givers

Last year, we all celebrated James’ and Tiarna’s engagement at a church beach retreat, exactly where I am now, exactly one year later. Yesterday was their seven-month Wedding anniversary – So yes, we’ve had a big year.

Last time we were here, I wrote:

James came down the stairs (of another unit) at exactly the same moment that I’d determined to give each one of my family members a hug.

I went to him, arms outstretched.

‘But I can’t hug you back!’ he said, as if I didn’t notice that his arms were stuffed full of the weekend’s rubbish, headed for the bin.

‘That’s what grace is all about. Isn’t it?’ I teased. ‘When you receive and you can’t give back’.

I continued down to the beach.

Grey sky. Storm clouds. Crashing waves. I noted the contrast between the heat of yesterday and the refreshing cool of this morning.

Into my heart flowed ‘God of wonders, beyond our galaxy, You are holy. The universe declares your majesty…You are holy’.

The song continued in my heart and I joined in praise and worship for a brief moment bathing in glory…until a friendly dog came up to me, licked my shoe and then my hand, and splashed me with my second shower for the morning. I laughed, and the poor dog looked up and ran off towards its owners, one of whom was dressed similarly to me.

My walk continued – and so did my contemplation of the ordinariness of our lives in comparison with God’s glory.

But God gently reminded me of my hug with James and of how we often welcome new members of the family. Most often He gives us babies into our family—little ones who can’t coordinate anything yet, can’t do anything to receive our love, our service, our all.

God gives us others who can’t give back, to teach us grace–to gift us with the joy of being grace-givers, and thereby to learn something of the love He has for us.

 

*Song by Third Day

 

 

 

 

 

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

2008-04-22-18-47-46

I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

2015-12-24-17-28-31

It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition. 

 

Family Recipes

My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.

At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.

Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know

‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’

Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.

Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.

But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.

After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.

Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!

IMG_20160825_145611Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.

I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.

But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that  I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.

What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!

‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’

Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.

Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.

Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.

2016-08-25 14.56.51

The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.

So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?

Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.

With a little basic biology behind you, check out some child-development resources. Two good websites are www.raisingchildren.net.au and www.child-encyclopedia.com.

Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage.  That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.

My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.

Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.

If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.

*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.

Previously published in The Lutheran

Sex: You need to talk about it with your kids – Julie Hahn

One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information.  We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’

I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.

Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.

There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.

When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.

We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.

Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.

We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology.  Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’

These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.

Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’

In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.

‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.

It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.

As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it!  No other information offered!

If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will?  If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.

Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?

If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.

If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?

In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?

The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids.  Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.

As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.

 

Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.  

*The Parenting Place

 

Home again, home again…

We’re home again. Arrived at the airport at lunch time Thursday with peace in our hearts and minds and only a little anxiety at how things would be at our house.

This morning, I’ve spent my first few hours checking out some photos, my journal, and planning for where to begin this next phase of our lives.

In my  journal I was reminded about a sermon I heard while we were away, by Casey Treat. A phrase he said hit home to me and has been playing in my mind ever since. He said that some miracles are spontaneous and have instant effects.

‘But most times’, he said, ‘you’ve got to walk into your miracle every day’.

When we began our trek around the beautiful Northern Territory, I was unfit and felt sorry for myself. For the past couple of weeks, my mind has replayed ‘You’ve got to walk into your miracle everyday!’ Walking into my miracle has worn out my new shoes and given me a new attitude.

My husband heard the same sermon. Before the sermon he encouraged me up and over and through King’s Canyon. He sat with me when I conked out on the way to the Mirray lookout at Kakadu, and helped me get to the top…eventually.

2016-07-12 16.57.27He taught me about where to place my feet, to take the smallest steps possible to conserve energy. He held my water bottle and my camera. And held my hand when I was scared.

Since the sermon he’s been encouraging me to ‘walk into my miracle everyday’, pointing out my progress.

I need to add here that the kids were almost placing bets as to whether we would come back liking each other more, or ready to throw each other off a cliff. I think they’re happy.

We’ve had lots of coffee. We’ve eaten lots of camp food and many take-aways, especially if there were markets available. We’ve even helped to cater for several meals for 80! We’ve spent time with our daughter and some dear friends, and made new ones.

We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve held hands a lot and learnt more about each other. We’ve also realized how much we’ve rubbed off on each other over the past 28 years. The past month has refreshed our relationship–another miracle we’ve walked into every day.

2016-06-18 14.50.14Now we’re home again and I guess there’s the temptation to get back into the same life we left a month ago: which would seem to destroy the purpose of having ever left.

My hope is that the good things will continue – spending time together, less television and news interrupting our day, our increased communication with each other.

But what I’ve learnt during this trip is that hoping to do well in anything doesn’t bring the miracles. It’s walking into those miracles everyday that makes the difference.

It doesn’t matter where we walk. What does matter is that we consciously and intentionally continue to walk into the miracle of a great relationship, together. And wherever we are will be home.

 

 

 

The Yes House: Changing from No to Yes

 

In days gone by, theirs had been a No House.

If the children asked for something, the answer was,

‘No’.

If the children reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with a no!

If they stepped one metre outside of their mother’s reach — in the supermarket, in the shopping mall, in the playground — they were called back …

‘No!’

Even if Mum and Dad wanted something for themselves, they thought the ‘godly’ answer was no.

Where on earth Mum and Dad learnt this, they weren’t sure. They’d heard it on the radio in Southern USA. They’d read it in books about raising ‘godly’ children, and they’d certainly heard it over and over again from several older members of the community who had observed the three-year-old son’s mischief.  Those people loudly disapproved and proclaimed his behaviour was due to a ‘lack of discipline’.

More often than not, that statement sounded something like: ‘What that child needs is a good smack!’

Smacks did not solve the problem.

It’s not entirely surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from the daily lives of this family.

The children each expressed in their own way that life was not as it should be. The four-year-old took control of everything — and everybody. The three-year-old bounced off walls and grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.

Mum appeared calm on the outside — most of the time — but on the inside she was screaming, stressed out and miserable.

Dad, devoted and meticulous, attended to all the needs that Mum did not have the energy or motivation for. His life revolved around working at his place of employment, then coming home to pick up everything that hadn’t been done in the home all day, every day.

If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.

Thank God, the family had chosen a local church where they felt they would be cared for. It took a year or two, but the family was nurtured and loved by that congregation. The congregation tolerated the boisterous activities of the three-year-old boy and provided care for the one-year-old baby while Mum sang in the choir. The eldest was placed in a loving Sunday school class. And the whole family attended frequent Sunday school family days.

One day the Sunday school director, Miss Irene, (who also happened to be the three-year-old’s preschool teacher) took the mother aside and asked in her deepest, sweetest Southern USA accent,

‘Mizz Julie, is there a reason you never say yes to your children?’

That question was one of those moments that changed our family’s life path.

That day, when preschool ended, for the first time I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could, and my children came running. I’m glad they knew what to do — because it was new to me! But it restored that smile that had gone missing.

From then on, at every possible opportunity, I would watch people like Miss Irene in action — in the preschool, in the playground, in the supermarket, in the classroom. And then I’d go home and practise.

I didn’t make it obvious to anybody else what I was doing. I certainly did not ask questions. But I took everything in, and our house gradually became a Yes House.

Miss Irene and her helpers organised a parenting course — a video with Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) and Ross Campbell (author of How to Really Love your Children). While we watched a video and had discussion, Miss Irene and her helpers fed pizza to our kids and kept them occupied in the Sunday school classrooms.

So we became part of a group of parents who were also separated from their own parents. We formed our own little community to encourage, laugh and support each other.

If Miss Irene had criticised what I was doing wrong, I would probably have got in a huff and run off in the opposite direction.

Instead, she prayerfully, lovingly and gently came alongside me and trained me to love my children and my husband.

She invited me to pick up the children early from preschool and let me sit in the playground to observe — and to gradually learn how to join the children in their play, allowing them to sort out minor quibbles by themselves but intervening when necessary.

She taught me to sit with children and debrief with them after they’d had a moment or two of ‘thinking time’.

She taught me two very concise but brilliant rules which we were able to adapt to our home rules: ‘Please be gentle with the people here. Please be gentle with the things here.’

But most importantly, she taught me how to love in a very real way — unconditionally, practically, positively and with an element of fun.

Eighteen years later, our kids have grown into beautiful young adults — and our house is definitely a Yes House. Ironically, for a few years I was employed to stand alongside other parents to encourage them — just as I was mentored through that process all those years ago — and to  facilitate parenting courses. And, for years, I wrote a column  about family life called ‘Heart and Home’, in The Lutheran magazine in Australia.

Frequently I am asked about smacking, discipline and many other hot topics. But among the most common comments I receive is,

‘It’s a shame that the parents who really need it won’t come to these courses’.

I reply that every family needs community.

Every family needs to know that they are not alone and that there are some tricks that can make parenting easier and even enjoyable.

As far as those parents who don’t come to the courses … there is plenty of evidence that says that for every family that goes to a course or receives parenting help, another 20 families in that community benefit.

Perhaps other families also watch other parents in supermarkets and playgrounds — just like I did!

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ , 2011, July edition. The Lutheran

 

Mother’s Day

On one particularly frightful worst-mother morning, I threw a particularly frightful tantrum because the family had seemingly forgotten my birthday. Though there had been some efforts to help me to celebrate—one out of the four of the kids had made me a home-made card, and my husband had gone shopping at 10-minutes-before-closing time the night before—I remember feeling particularly unimpressed by the lack of thought.

It seemed I was being taken for granted.

I also remember my performance – to my shame.

But on the following Mother’s Day, the family made up for the previous              un-celebration. I was smothered in flowers, gifts, cards and hugs, and the obligatory, celebratory ‘Stacks On!’ where all five of the other members of the family piled on top of me.

I was required to stay in bed where I received a cooked breakfast followed by coffee, the paper and a puzzle book. Bliss! Lunch was served eventually, complete with Oysters Kilpatrick and Prawns. I don’t remember the rest of the menu, but I do remember how I felt…like I was the most important mother in the world.

I wanted to write something wonderful and inspiring about mothers in preparation for Mother’s Day – a definitive article on mothers. But the story of my tantrum reminded me that I am probably the least qualified of all to write such an article.

So I looked for help.

I asked my friends what I should write about mothers, but they raised more questions than answers:

How do we define ‘mother’? Who is a mother? Is ‘mother’ a job description? Are all mothers female? Why are mothers from different generations so tough on each other? Does becoming a mother make one weaker or stronger?

I wanted to make it a light-hearted article so people might want to read it, but realised I needed to be sensitive to the grief that surrounds motherhood.

I wanted to remind people not to take their mothers for granted, but remembered that many who will read this have lost their mother.

I wanted to remember those who have yearned to be a mother but will never hold their child in their arms. And those mothers who have said their final good-bye to their children.

The harder I tried, the more I was reminded that motherhood cannot be restricted to a thousand words.

I looked to the bible for what it said about mothers. Though there are plenty of examples of godly mothers, there are no specific instructions.

Mothers such as Hannah and Moses’s mother are upheld as examples of women who nurtured future leaders in their homes. The bible gives specific instructions to fathers, but talks only of the mother’s role as nurturer and carer, and that she needs to be respected, honoured and protected in that role.

 

Mothers have a tough gig. Always have had, always will have, I suppose. Perhaps that is the pain to which God was referring when Eve sinned – not the pain of child-birth which everyone is terrified of but soon passes from memory. But the pain that Simeon prophesied to Mary: ‘the sword that will pierce your soul’  (Luke 2:35); the solitude of becoming a mother – giving everything she has, to bring her child into life; having to stand up for what she believes is the best thing for her child, despite the pressures of outside observers and her own heart breaking.

 

I read a book in which an author called his mother ‘a quitter’. She was an accomplished pianist, he said, but she had a whole house full of unfinished projects. I wondered how he became ‘successful’. His mother’s work was obviously invisible to him. If he had looked at her through eyes of love instead of criticism, he would have understood that a mother’s life happens in seasons rather than schedules. He would have seen her as ‘the one who dropped whatever she was doing for herself, for the good of those she loved’.

 

A few weeks ago, I was wandering in our local shopping mall and saw a family struggle.

‘What are you looking at?’ the mother snarled at me.  I concentrated on the blank, non-judgmental look on my face.  Two of her three children were screaming: one because she’d been hit by her big brother, the other because his mother had hit him.

One day I’m going to get in big trouble for doing this, I thought as I made the decision to walk toward this screaming family, instead of away from them. She watched me come close to her and we both stared at each other in an uncomfortable space.

God. Words, please? I prayed.

At last, I broke the silence between us.

‘This mother-thing is tricky isn’t it?’

That’s all I said. But a dam full of what she had been holding inside just burst out in a tidal wave of words. She told me about what had been happening in her home: why the kids had been fighting, why they were crying now, how she felt about it, that she didn’t know what she was going to do about it, could I hold something while she picked up the stuff that she’d dropped, how life was so tough at the moment, how she loved her kids but was struggling especially with her son’s behaviour…

While she talked and I listened, she packed up all the bags around her, organised herself, placed the older kids either side of the stroller and began to push. We walked together for 100 metres until she stopped.

She looked at me and she smiled.

‘It’s just a stage. It’ll pass. Thanks.’ she said and we headed off in different directions.

I smiled back, knowing that though I could not walk in her feet, for a few short moments I had walked beside her.

 

 

 

Originally published in The Lutheran magazine, 2014, May edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith is like a…cleaning cloth?

It had looked so good at the demonstration.

Sparkling clean results.

No unnatural, caustic, biohazardous or environmentally unfriendly agents were necessary.

All it required was water: And if the job required a little more cleansing than usual, just add more water.

I could just imagine my home sparkling like it never had before.

 

Housekeeping has never been my strong point.

I can always find a higher priority – a child that needs some attention, a friend who needs a phone-call, an article that needs to be written, a book that needs to be read, a topic that needs to be researched. I thought it was high time that I made the commitment and spent a worthwhile amount on a product that would change my life.

So, I thought I would make a purchase that would ultimately help me to achieve a squeaky clean house.

My purchase didn’t prove quite the miracle I was hoping for. Several months after my purchase of a rather expensive piece of fabric, my house, though it had sparkled in places for a week or two, had returned to its usual state of “busy-ness” and “dust-bunnies”. The windows again wore those special marks of little fingers, noses and paws that are familiar in homes with small children and smaller pugs. The bathroom was spilling over with too many soggy towels to even find the sparkling basin, and the dishes were again piling up as though they were reproducing each night.

One morning, as I looked through bleary, unmotivated eyes at the mess that confronted me, I realised that what was lacking wasn’t the ability of the cloth to work a miracle, but my preparedness to use it and put it into action.

When put into use the cleaning cloth works miracles, but is useless if it’s stuck in a drawer. The thought also struck me that faith is rather like my cleaning cloth. Faith too is ineffective if its filed away safely in our heart, without us ever giving it an opportunity to work.

In my house, I’ve learnt its much easier and more effective to use my cloth a little bit, often, rather than wait for the perfect empty day when I can use it from the ceiling to the floor on every wall, window and shower screen. That’s a really daunting task – and inevitably just doesn’t happen.

Similarly, faith often gets left to work on a marathon event, rather than being used a little bit at a time. We are much less likely to have faith in God performing BIG miracles if we don’t learn to trust Him with little miracles.

James wrote, ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).
Faith without works – like the cleaning cloth that’s stuck in a drawer.

 

 

Originally published as ‘Faith is like an enjo’,

in The Lutheran, August edition, 2007.

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst