An Unexpected Thanksgiving Lesson

After only nine months of life as a new family, we buckled our six-, eight-, and almost nine-year-olds into the backseat of our two-door Honda Accord and traveled an entire day from central Minnesota to southern Illinois for our first Thanksgiving together. Settling in with snack buckets, water bottles, tiny toys, and each other, they rode (mostly) happily for hours.

A few days later, in a large room of a cousin’s heating and cooling warehouse, 30-40 of us feasted on all the traditional yumminess: turkey, dressing, and pies—the works—made only the way those Illinois farm moms know how. During our visit, our kids got to run through open spaces, visit ostriches, and be pampered by a host of loving Christian people.

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Yet on our way home, when we asked them what they most enjoyed of our Thanksgiving time, they responded, “Playing with Christopher’s toys.”

What? They didn’t mention the food? (They were often caught secreting a stash under pillows or in pockets, or stuffing their bellies so full they would throw up.) They didn’t recall those six-foot-plus-tall birds that puffed up huge when threatened? Nope. And, they didn’t say a thing about the rural setting, which also surprised us since two of the three had lived their early years in a similar environment. It wasn’t too surprising they didn’t say the people since there were none their age to play with. But Christopher was 17-months-old, and they liked his toys the best of everything they had experienced the past few days.

As they tried to explain their answer I began to realize, playing with bright-colored, noise-making, light-flashing, toddler-sized objects, was a part of childhood they never experienced. That first Thanksgiving for them was not about the food or the people or the historical significance. It was about catching up and filling in some empty places. And you know, this never happened again. It was like that one time, for those few hours, was all they needed.

Now I wouldn’t say that all kids need time in life to play with bright, flashing, annoyingly noisy toys. I do believe, though, they need to learn cause-and-effect and experience other brain-developing milestones that toys can often stimulate. I remember our adoption agent telling us we may need to spend time rocking our kids (which we did) or bottle-feeding them (which we didn’t) in order to make up for the lack of development such activities provide.

So, if your kids seem to take interest in activities more suited for younger children, don’t worry. They probably need to do so and their interest will probably be short-lived.

But what about us moms? What areas of development are we lacking? When do our responses reveal we’re not as mature as we thought? Where do we need to give ourselves grace to go back so we can fill in the empty places?

Are you like me where the two-year-old tantrums re-emerged and you realize you never fully learned to share or to be okay with not getting your way? How about the adolescent pity-party tendencies? Or the foot-stomping when things get stuck and don’t move along as smoothly as you’d like. Yep, that was certainly me. Still is at times.

I think it’s okay—even necessary—to allow ourselves to go back and relearn some lessons we “should have” mastered by now. Aren’t you glad our heavenly Father is patient with us? I think He’d rather we be intentional about growth than have us ignore our weaknesses and deny our need to revisit some lessons. We can’t fake maturity around Him; so we might as well quit trying to kid ourselves.

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What if we got really honest, embraced our lack, opened our spirits to learn, and started pushing bright buttons and enjoying the simple tunes our hearts need to hear?

Like . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always.
Philippians 4:4

Be anxious for nothing.
Philippians 4:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

In everything give thanks.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

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One Word Holidays

I’ve never forgotten how her hands shook nervously as she opened gifts her first Christmas with us. I’ve always wondered what caused it. Was she afraid she would be disappointed with her gifts? Was she so overwhelmed that there were gifts just for her that she couldn’t contain her excitement? Did she feel undeserving? Did she feel the gifts would require a response she didn’t know how to give? Were all the lights and sounds and decorations and foods and pretty wrappings just too much stimuli for her system? She was eight years old and probably didn’t understand why herself. I don’t think she ever regretted the experience. I just know the holiday somehow overloaded her nervous system and her body had a hard time handling it all.

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Just last week I had a conversation with another one of my (now adult) children about how the holidays always cause depression to the extent that he prefers to stay hidden away. This is not uncommon at all. Most SAFE families experience major behavioral issues during the holidays. I don’t know if it’s because somehow the family festivities remind them that they can’t experience this goodness with their birth families; if the holidays still feel a bit foreign and they just can’t find a way to feel at home with them—even though they long to; if they feel they don’t know how to celebrate as their new culture dictates; or if it shines too stark a light on lifestyle differences between them and their parents. For some reason, holidays are simply tough.

So if holidays are difficult at your house, welcome aboard. It’s normal. In fact, knowing this might help you anticipate difficulties and take steps to minimize the struggles. This may mean major changes are needed for your family. The following are some ideas that you might actually find fun to try.

• Keep things as simple as possible.

o Decorate lightly.
o *Buy only a few gifts.
o *Attend one (or no) holiday event.
o Celebrate each holiday only at home.
o Keep meals simple and include mostly foods your kids are comfortable with while introducing one or two holiday foods.

• Relocate holiday celebrations away from your home so your child can feel the needed stability in the sameness of their home environment.

o Celebrate only at an extended family member’s home.
o *Take decorations, gifts, foods, etc. to a nearby hotel for a fun overnight.
o *Celebrate the holiday at a recreational facility (indoor water park, amusement park, skiing, or vacation spot).
o Search your area for restaurants that are open that day and enjoy dinner there. Then return home and celebrate with familiar activities (movies, games, outside play, etc.)

• Start over from scratch and involve your kids in creating your own unique traditions. This gives them a sense of contribution and personal identity with the holidays.

o *Have them help bake cookies.
o Hand make decorations.
o Bring something from their original culture into the holiday.
o Share stories of memories from holidays with their families/countries of origin.

• Provide opportunities for them to focus on others and keep personal expectations to a minimum.

o Serve a meal at a local shelter.
o Deliver meals/gifts to needy families.
o Carol at assisted living centers or hospitals.
o *Work to earn money to buy gifts for family members.
o *Hand-make cards or gifts for family members.

We did very few of these things—only those marked with an *. Most of the above are just ideas off the top of my head to help get you started with your own ideas.

In our experience, we had more difficulties when the kids were older—when all were in their mid to late teens. I remember six tough Christmases in a row. In fact, the seventh Christmas, our kids were finally all adults, so Bob and I didn’t celebrate with them that year. We did things for them, and had short visits with some of them, but for the most part we avoided the anxieties that had become too routine. Now, I can happily say, we love celebrating with them again.

I know we parents get so excited to share our warm traditions with our children. But sometimes our children just can’t grasp the heart of it all. So, keep your traditions in a special place in your heart, while creating new ones for the family you’re becoming.

What if you …

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What would your word be for this upcoming Thanksgiving?

For those of you who’ve created manageable ways to enjoy holidays with your SAFE children, I’m sure other parents would love to glean from your insights and ideas. Would you mind sharing with us here?

As I write to you each week, I mostly try to keep the focus on practical spirituality rather than a how-to focus; but for some reason this week I felt led to share this with you. So is there a biblical principle to reinforce this idea? I think there is. How about Jesus’ words to Martha?

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

John 10:41-42 (NIV)

We All Want a King

He’d been our pastor for eight years. He’d called us heroes for taking in children from orphanages. He’d counseled us, encouraged us, and prayed with us on several occasions. I truly felt our family was still intact because of his kind and wise support. But then he retired after pastoring most of his adult life—thirty of those years at our church. As a pastor’s kid and grandkid, I was used to this routine of pastors following the Lord calling elsewhere. But this time I cried. I felt the loss and wondered, “What are we going to do now?”

Most of the church felt the same way. How do you even begin looking for another pastor after thirty years? I can tell you this, it was a painful process—like having to use muscles that hadn’t been used in a very long time. As expected many people left the church, the interim was highly criticized, and the next pastor didn’t last long. But eventually the church settled into a new identity and began growing again.

Incidentally, we were some who eventually left, but more because of parenting issues rather than pastoring issues. One of the thoughts that occurred to me during the church’s transition was how much we all want a king—even when we claim Christ is our King.

And here we are again as a country, crying out for a new king.

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We want someone to fix everything. We expect someone to make us prosperous. We hope for a leader who will take us to some utopia. We chant for our enemies to be destroyed and cheer for a president to unify us. Never mind that we can’t agree even among family members, church members, friends or neighbors on what needs fixing, who deserves to prosper, what utopia should look like, or who our real enemies are.

And that’s why—that’s why—there’s only one King!

Only One who will protect us. “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7, NIV).

Only One who will provide for us. “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever” (Psalm 111:5, NIV).

Only One who triumphs over the enemy. “You have delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes” (Psalm 54:7, NIV).

Only One who heals us. “He sent out his word and healed them;” (Psalm 107:20, NIV).

Only One who brings unity. “…the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, … to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10, NIV).

Only One who leads us into His Kingdom of kingdoms. “’The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15, NIV).

This King cannot only lead a nation, He rules the heaven and earth. He isn’t just the Head of the Church, He’s also the Shepherd of our souls. And He doesn’t just bless the fatherless, He also gently cares for the mothers (Isaiah 40:11).

But He can’t do any of this until we bow to His lordship. He’s not pushy, bossy, or showy. He’s gentle, humble, and quiet. When other hopefuls bluster for our attention, or shake foundations for our loyalty, or ignite fear in search of our subjugation, He waits and stills (1 Kings 19) and gently leads us to quiet waters and green pastures (Psalm 23:2-3).

It matters not what we need, hope for, and groan for, He alone satisfies. “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16, NIV).

So whatever results show up in your newsfeeds tomorrow—whether you like what you see or not—remember those results represent human beings, not God. God is in control of your city, state, and country, not elected officials. Jesus is the Head of the Church, not your pastor. And God has charge of your family, not you.

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