Sticks and Stones

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

I have recently felt challenged in my own life in the area of words. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a crock, and most of us have probably figured that out by now.

We all know that words can hurt in many ways, but my personal discovery in this area has been more about how beneficial good words can be. I found myself asking: Is receiving words of encouragement, or compliments, or kind words, really that important? Even beyond that, does giving those same words to others really affect us at all?

Earlier this year, as I was praying, I felt very convicted on this topic. I felt God was telling me I was being stingy with my good words.

Ouch.

Stingy? Really? That is not a word I would use to describe myself. Nevertheless, in this specific area, that’s exactly what He was telling me.

This began some deep self-reflection. I had to understand why I was this way. I began doing some research and talking to different people. I came to see that there are a variety of reasons that people can lean toward the “stingy” side with kind words.

There’s always a reason, or multiple reasons. If you struggle with this, consider the following:

  • Sometimes, speaking encouragement to others is simply not a habit. Maybe it wasn’t modeled for you growing up. This can be easily remedied with one, simple concept: practice! Perhaps it would help to make a daily goal of giving at least three compliments to others. Be sure they are genuine and unique.
  • Shyness can certainly keep our mouths shut when they should be talking . . . particularly when they should be encouraging others. When you consider the benefits for both yourself and the recipient, it should be clear that stepping out in love and courage is worth overcoming your fears.
  • People with a lack of self-confidence can find it difficult to be generous with their kind words. It’s difficult to give something you don’t have. This issue is a more difficult one to solve. It will take time and long-term commitment. But, as with all the others, it is very beneficial to explore and overcome. Spend some time praying and reflecting on the reasons for your lack of self-confidence in this area, or in general. Jesus said he came to earth so that we can “have real and eternal life, more and better life than they [we] dreamed of.” (John 10:10, MSG) He is always happy to help us with situations like this. Who doesn’t want a better life? Ask Jesus for help in this area. He will guide you so that you can begin to experience the joy that comes from encouraging others.
  • Jealousy: such an ugly word! But it is most certainly one of the reasons why people withhold encouraging words. Can you compliment someone on something when their actions threaten you? Can you tell someone who you consider more attractive than yourself that they look lovely? Can you tell someone who has a bigger, more elaborate home that they have a beautiful home? Do you feel secure enough about how you look, what you have, and—most importantly—what your identity is in Christ that you can see the good in others without comparing yourself to them?

Sadly, I could relate to every single thing I’ve listed above in one situation or the other. However, as the good Father that he is, God was challenging me to do something that would benefit me. I definitely had to ask for his help in order to obey his nudging. I would encourage you to do the same.

It took me quite a bit of courage to muster up kind words to certain people; but, I did it. In some cases, I had to constantly remind myself because I would forget; but, I did it. For others, I had to swallow my pride to say the kind words; but, I did it.

I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference it has made in my heart and my mind. Over the months, my outlook has changed so much. It went from feeling judgmental, suspicious, guarded, and self-critical (yes, I do feel those things), to being much more gracious and forgiving of others and of myself. Not only did this cause an internal change, it also positively affected my relationship with others.

Todd Smith, founder of Little Things Matter, writes: “When you make people feel good, you enhance their self-image and give them energy, hope, and confidence. . . . When you are intentional about doing things that make others feel good, you create a special connection that accelerates new relationships and nurtures existing ones.”

And, as my wonderful pastor, Francis Anfuso, often points out, “Obedience brings God’s blessing.”

I have come to understand that regular encouragement has a ripple effect that is extremely valuable. God knew that about humans in general, and me in particular.

Proverbs 25:11 has a new meaning for me: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (ESV) Now I know that it’s not just the recipient of my kind words that experiences the “sweetness to the soul” and the “health to the body.” It’s the giver too . . . me!

Allow me to pose a challenge. Luke 6:45 says: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (NLT)

What’s in your heart?

Photo 1 via
Photo 2 via
Photo 3 via

Posted in Relationships, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

An Elementary School Empty Nest

This morning I sent my kids off to school for the first time. Did I mention that they have been gone ALL day? At a PUBLIC {gasp} school! BOTH of them?! My sweet, precious punkin’-babies!!!

I thought sending them off was going to be much too much for my momma-heart to handle. But surprisingly, I haven’t shed a tear yet. (Now their Daddy can’t say the same thing, but that’s another story for another day.) You see, today I officially feel like an empty nester: an “elementary school empty nester” if you will. In being entirely transparent, today is a day that I really never saw coming. It just somehow arrived.

My husband and I married while we were still attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. I was dead-set on climbing the corporate ladder with a pair of stilettos strapped on for good measure. But one unassuming night in March of our senior year, just two months shy of graduation, not one, but two, little blue lines commanded a sudden change of direction. Our five-year-plan evaporated. Instead of climbing a career ladder we jumped on board a parenting roller-coaster, moved back home to corn fields and family in Indiana and subsequently bought a minivan.

In November 2004 I gave birth to the single most precious gift that I had ever beheld, our son Peyton. (And for the record, I retract my aforementioned “no tears” comment because tears are unashamedly streaming down my cheeks now.) All of my career ambition vanished. Replacing it was a fierce passion to love, guard, admonish and pour my heart and soul into developing the best in this teeny tiny baby boy. While we were already in parenting mode, we decided to welcome baby #2, our daughter, Parker, to our family in 2007.

Sandwiched in between baby numero uno and baby numero dos, I worked full time as the Director of Development and Communications for a state-wide non-profit based out of my home office, meaning I worked full-time from home. While theoretically the job reads as every mother’s dream, it privately became my own personal nightmare. The great, faith-living missionary, Jim Elliot, once penned in his journal, “Wherever you are, be all there.” My great failure was that I felt like I was nowhere at all. I was home with my son but glued to a computer working while nursing guilty feelings because we weren’t out on play dates at the park. And vice-versa; when we ran to meet Grandma for lunch, I felt like I wasn’t working as hard as I should. It was lose-lose. So with our daughter’s arrival we determined as a family that my focus for the foreseeable future would be settling into the role of motherhood. And part-time writing aside, that is exactly what I’ve done every moment since we came to that conclusion.

It’s been a blissful five years of mothering. I have kissed booboos and soothed aching hearts. I spent hours in prayer over unlovely behaviors. I poured over books and “Googled” until I went cross-eyed when I needed more parenting wisdom. I made umpteen trips to the doctor, the dentist, the pool and park. We tickled and giggled and took for granted that these moments would ever end. Not to be fooled, there have been icky days when my temper flared and I felt certain that daycare would have been a better option. But I love every single thing about being a mom, and thankfully forgiveness flowed freely in our home, soothing our mistakes and failures.

Because I’ve cherished my time at home with my children so very much, I determined early-on that homeschooling was the best choice for our family. However, when it came time for Peyton to begin kindergarten, we had just moved across the country and decided that a small private school would be the best fit for him. Oh it was! How he adored every single thing about that year. It was amazing to watch. But unfortunately for him (and VERY fortunately for the rest of us), we moved back to Indiana just as he was about to start first grade. “Transition” was our Smith family motto. So in the midst of so much change, I opted to keep Peyton home and school him as originally planned for first grade.

Let’s just say that homeschooling wasn’t bliss. Peyton desperately missed school. I desperately missed some down time. Altogether, it just did not read like the motherhood fairy tale I thought it would be. Something needed to change, so my husband and I started researching local schools and, after a bit of back-and-forth, ultimately decided on what we felt was going to work best for us as a long-term option.

Public school.

I’ll admit that I had moments of fear and doubt, but God’s sweet, precious peace calmed my heart every time I felt uncertainty creep in.  “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” Jeremiah 1:8 (NLT)

Public school meant sending both of them off for a full-day, five days a week this year. My daytime job abruptly ended today. But my lifetime career of mothering those two are far from over. I simply have a new focus and determination. I will pray without ceasing, rejoice in their victories, and nurse wounded hearts instead of skinned knees. My nest will never be empty as long as my heart remains full. And that is good news.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Wello-Berry Jam (Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry Preserves)

I had declared 2012 my year of canning. So far I’m 1 for 1. Not a bad batting average, but I admit I was rather intimidated about the whole thing. Luckily, my sweet friend Liz from Portland gave me a book on canning in the southern tradition as a going away gift before we moved. She wasn’t going to let me forget my declaration.

Canning is a funny thing. Oregon completely opened my eyes to do-it-yourself ideas. Making jam only scratched the surface.

I attended a chapstick making party (my favorite flavor was orange-sage), made friends who made their own shampoo/conditioner/hair product, and was given homemade laundry detergent as a Christmas gift! I don’t care what you all think . . . I learned so much from these women! Some of it was for fun, some of it was for controlling the chemical ingredients and some of it was for cost efficiency.

But we are all about food around here . . . so back to my canning!

Canning used to be about preservation. I’ve never lived anywhere where this was the norm. California and Oregon (and now a lot of the US) can get just about any product any time of year. It’s quite a food revolution. For as convenient as that may seem, I like to buy as local as possible. Not because I’m all about agenda (although I do believe in supporting local agriculture) but also because it is more fresh (local) farm-to-table. In this case, it’s from bush to can.

 

Wello-Berry Jam Recipe:

3 cups crushed strawberries

1 1/2 cups crushed red raspberries

1 1/2 cups crushed blueberries

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tbls butter

1 packet pectin or 1/3 cup bulk pectin

8 1/2 cups sugar

 

Equipment needed:

Canning funnel

Measuring cups

Mashing utensils

Large boiling pot

1 case of 12 half pint jars with lids (sterilized in dish washer).

 

For full instructions and step-by-step photos, visit The Joyful Table . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Reflection: Blessed Fate

A Medieval manuscript of a Hadewijch poem

I am always amazed at how the Gospel works in a backward and upside-down way. In most religious establishments, individuals are taught that if they do good, they will be accepted by God; if they work hard, God will love them; if they pray good prayers, God will hear them.

But the Gospel is unique in that we inherited blessings that we never deserved! Regardless of how much good we do, how hard we work and how eloquently we send our prayers to God, he has already loved, accepted and heard us. It’s because of our depravity that he has adopted us as sons and daughters . . . not because of our trying hard!

One morning, during a devotion, I came across this beautiful poem. It is ancient, yet its message is transcendent:

The madness of love

is a blessed fate;

and if we understood this

we would seek no other:

it brings into unity

what was divided,

and this is the truth:

bitterness it makes sweet,

it makes the stranger a neighbor,

and what was lowly it raises on high.

Hadewijch of Antwerp, female poet and mystic of the thirteenth-century

I love this poem. It gives examples of how Christ’s love has redeemed the things that were broken. It reminds us that God promises to make the bitterness of life into sweetness that only He can give. We are also reminded of Job 5:11 which says, “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”

As Hadewijch says, “If we understood this . . . we would seek no other”. I pray that we will seek to understand this mystery and allow it to move our hearts to seek Him alone.

 

Poem via. Photo via.

Posted in Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

To Spank or Not to Spank

There is a pattern emerging. When someone I am having a conversation with discovers that I am a parenting instructor, the response is often a series of questions. It generally goes something like this:

“. . . and what do you do?”

“I am primarily a homemaker, but I also teach parenting classes.”

“Oh really? Do you use a book or program?”

“No, I base my teaching in biblical and child development principles.”

“Uh-huh, and do you teach spanking?” Or, “How do you feel about spanking?” Or, “Well, the Bible says spanking is okay so you must support it, right?”

Here is where my evasive tactics come into play. I have had some practice, as of late. It’s not that I don’t want to answer their question . . . well, I take that back. I don’t want to answer THAT question. But for good reasons!

1. I am disheartened that one of the first things, if not THE first thing, that comes to people’s minds when they think of parenting is spanking. I realize it’s a hot button issue in our culture, but it has very little to do with the overarching mission of parenting.

2. I am uncomfortable being labelled and/or defined by my personal position on spanking. There is so much good, helpful, Christ-honoring information out there, and I feel called to help get these tools into the hands of whomever desires it. It is more than likely that no one will agree with every aspect of my teachings, and that is okay! I’m quite sure I am wrong about something. Just ask my kids! But drawing a conclusion about the merit of my teaching based solely on the spanking issue is like choosing a contractor to build your house based on what kind of hammer he uses.

3. It just doesn’t seem helpful for me to attempt to simplify my position into a one word answer. If I say yes, and they concur, they assume that we are on the same page on parenting and the conversation seems to quickly shift topics. If I say no, and they think I should support spanking, a few choice verses from Proverbs are generally quoted for my benefit.

My primary frustration is this: good parenting is not about spanking. Good parenting is also not about NOT spanking. As a matter of fact, the core tenant of parenting isn’t even discipline, though it is an important aspect of it. If I was to pick a pillar of parenting, it would be MODELING. We lovingly and intentionally take our children by the hand and, with baby steps, SHOW them what it is to become independent, Christ-like adults in this world. Believe it or not, this can be achieved with or without spanking!

I will not be writing a dissertation on the pros and cons of spanking anytime soon. I am convinced that each child is unique, each relationship between parent and child is unique, and that I need to approach each family ready to help them discover the techniques that work best for them. That being said, there are some general guidelines I support regarding spanking:

1. Spanking should only be used when then child is between the ages of 18 months and 6 years old, and only VERY sparingly between the ages of 6 and 9. There is a lot of developmental data to support this, and you can check out more at your leisure. This is James Dobson’s findings.

2. Reserve spanking for willful, pre-meditated defiance. Spanking should be a last resort, not only because of the severity, but also because in and of itself, it does not teach anything other than compliance. There is no life lesson that your child learns from receiving a spanking that they can take with them into adulthood. There is a time and place for compliance, especially when safety is involved. We don’t want a 3 year old to run into oncoming traffic, the life lesson would simply cost too much.

3. Spanking is not appropriate for children who have trouble connecting emotionally, either due to trauma, certain adoption circumstances, or for anyone who has suffered physical abuse.

4. Spanking must be done when the parent is calm, emotionally neutral, and in a predictable routine. It is FAR better to not spank at all than to do so in anger. It can cause soul wounds, and do damage the bond between parent and child.

Let’s lift our eyes a bit! Parenting is really about coaching our children toward maturity and Christ-like character, and discipline should be nothing more than the correction of a behavior in a way that adds a tool to their toolbox for life. Parents need to be watching for the discipline method that is effective and does not lead to anger and rebellion. This could be different for each child. For some kids, a “look” from a parent is enough to change course. For others, a removal of a privilege is sufficient. Imagine how difficult it is for a child to receive a spanking for a behavior that he or she would have been willing to change if Mom or Dad had just sat down and explained it to them. It can be a crushing blow.

The question I come back to time and time again with parents is, “Are your discipline methods moving your kids closer or farther from you and your God?” Answering this takes careful observation, sober consideration, and prayer.

So, when someone asks me whether I “teach spanking” or not, I am finding that the best and most truthful response is this: I teach all kinds of creative discipline methods. You can use them in lieu of spanking, in addition to spanking, or you just might find that by being willing to learn, having your ideas challenged, and making changes in YOU, you might not need those new discipline techniques nearly as often as you thought you would.

Photo via
Photo via

Posted in Family, Parenting | 2 Comments