We Let Our Kids Make Messes (10 Things I’m Glad we did for our Kids, Part II)

Creativity looks like chaos before you see anything worthwhile. Anything from a cake to a newly paved road involves muck, mess, noise and displacement. I think if we want creative kids, we have to let them mess stuff up.

As soon as our twins had learned to walk, they would climb out of their cribs, slither down the stairs on hands, knees and bellies, and toddle into the dining room, where they would purposefully tip over two or three chairs and each dump out a basket of toys. They would survey their work with satisfied expressions, as though they had righted many wrongs.

I had an instinct not to correct them. They were too proud of the accomplishment. I’d let them play in the derbris and picked it up when they had moved on. They eventually grew out of it.

Some of my best memories, the times of most intense joy, took place in a heck of a mess. One time we had another family over, and while the adults grabbed a few minutes of conversation around the table, the kids filled the living room, entry and half the dining room with about 20 of those three-foot nylon pop-up cubes, gifts from a doting grandma.

An old friend from my single days happened to be campaigning for an election in the neighborhood. When I opened the door to his knock, his jaw dropped at the sight of the wall to wall pop-up cubes and the hoard of swarming kids slithering through them. He backed out of the doorway, at a loss for words.

That was nothing. When my nephews came over, I would let them turn my living room into a fort. Furniture would be rearranged and upended, cushions piled high and beds stripped to make roofs and walls out of the blankets. Anyone who entered was caught in the crossfire of countless nerf gun darts. The passion and joy of the battle warranted the inconvenience, and they were so grateful for the freedom that the kids did a pretty good job of cleaning up.

dan leaping (2)

Probably the tackiest thing we ever allowed was an old mattress in the middle of the boys’ bedroom, for three years. My husband put it in their room when we bought a new one for our bed, so our three little boys could have fun ‘for a few days’. They had so much fun, leaping from their beds onto it, rolling around wrestling in its softness, doing flips – we couldn’t bring ourselves to get rid of it until they needed bigger beds.

I could go on and on. The loft of our old barn in the backyard was turned into a bunker, the lower area into a work-out space complete with punching bag suspended from the rafters. The backyard is dominated by a trampoline, the basement by an arsenal of nerf guns, the attic by enough Legos to build a small nation.

I think kids who are given territory upon which to make their mark become confident, creative adults. They can take risks and imagine new realities. They can tolerate the disarray of change. Our house may never be featured in “Better Homes and Gardens”, but I’m still glad we let our kids make messes.

We Stayed in our Starter Home (10 Things I’m Glad We Did for our Kids Part I)

Anyone who has raised kids can quickly think of the things we wish we had done differently. That can be instructive to younger parents, but what I think is more helpful is to hear what people think they did right. In the next 10 posts, I’ll have a shot at that – what I’m glad we did for our three boys, Daniel, Joshua and Ian, now that they’re all officially adults. (Sort of.) To start with, some thoughts on the location of it all:

Our three-gabled Victorian house was built in 1880, long before this was an urban neighborhood troubled with drug dealers and break-ins. I fell in love with the carved staircase, tiled fireplace and grand old trees.

But by middle class standards it’s small; a fifteen foot square living room, the same sized dining room, a smaller kitchen, three bedrooms. There’s no finished basement with giant-screen TV and sectional couch like our friends in the suburbs have. No second living space, no mudroom. I have dreams of discovering hidden storage closets.

It’s not an investment to have a home in a struggling city neighborhood; we’ve poured money into the place but it’s not worth much more than we paid for it.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we stayed here. We chose it twenty years ago because we wanted the diversity of city life, a short drive downtown for my husband, proximity to our church, and a mortgage that would not require two large salaries. If we had followed the normal pattern of young professionals, we would have moved when we had kids – for more space, more safety, better schools.

Here’s why we’ve decided to stay here:

  1. We’ve had less debt than we would have if we had moved up, which has freed us to give to causes we care about and take some wonderful vacations.
  2. Our kids have had friends who are both rich and poor, black and white, which has been invaluable for them and prepared them well for diverse workplaces.
  3. Less-than-ideal neighborhood schools led us to really examine our values and weigh our options. I ended up home schooling our three boys through the primary years, then we put them in Catholic schools, even though we aren’t Catholic. Both choices have kept our kids in educational settings where our values were taught and they were in caring communities.
  4. A smaller property has freed us up to spend less time on maintenance and more on visiting family and being involved in church and kids’ activities. In other words, we’ve had less time needed for stuff, and more for people. I’m grateful for that.
  5. While I’ve wished for more spaces for guests and holiday meals, I’ve never felt crowded as a family. I like the forced closeness. I’ve known what my kids were up to, what they were watching and how they were speaking to one another. I think we’ve had more conversation than if we had been spread over a bigger house. I think my boys are closer for having shared a bedroom all these years. I’ve offered the oldest our third bedroom, which we use as a study, but he’s always said, “Nope, we’re good.” When we’ve wanted to host more people than we can fit in our house, we put them up in a bed and breakfast about a mile away.
  6. We’ve grown deep roots by staying in one place. We’ve walked to church for 20 years, our kids growing up in its close community of over 300 people. We really know our neighbors, and greet many we see on walks.
  7. There are several families we know who’ve made this conscious decision to stay in the neighborhood, and I think our presence makes a difference. Stressed urban neighborhoods need stable families.

For all these reasons, I think staying in a “starter” home is an option worth considering.

 

Unblocking our View of God (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part X)

When it comes to being aware that God is right here with us, most of us are blocked. Like a guy with foggy glasses, like a girl who has the radio cranked too loud to hear her GPS, there are some simple things we need to do before we can perceive what is so close.

This is the last in a series of ten posts that discuss things we can do on our own to let God into our heads and hearts. Any contact with God is renewing. So, in summary, here’s what we can do to spiritually recharge:

Elijah on Mt Horeb, by Sister Genevieve
  • Find beautiful quiet places to be alone undisturbed.
  • Give yourself time alone in silence, undistracted by noise and the demands of people.
  • Learn to meditate on true statements, repeating them while you breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Examine yourself and confess to God the ways you have harmed yourself and others.
  • Practice gratitude for what is in your life right here and now.
  • Develop faith by praying for healing of physical, emotional and relationship problems.
  • Surrender to God anything that is not good for you, or is taking the place of God in your life.
  • Build a habit of reading the Bible often.
  • Learn to study the Bible for yourself.

There’s a balance between spending time alone with God and experiencing God in community. Each needs the other, each feeds the other. People who want to seek God benefit greatly from worship services, service projects, Bible classes, prayer groups, retreats with spiritual directors. These are the things we tend to think of first when considering practicing a faith.

But following Christ is much more than practicing a religion. It is a relationship with the one who made us, saved us and loves us every moment of our lives. God really wants time alone with us. And whether we want it or not, we really need time with God.

Whether it’s once a week hiking in a forest, or every morning sitting in an armchair for fifteen minutes, our spirits can be continually renewed, like a fountain that never stops flowing. All we have to do is give God time and permission to work in us.

How to Get a New Mind (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part IX)

Why is it that people can go through genuine conversion experiences and really believe in Jesus, yet still be jerks? It confounded me for years. I’ve seen selfish, cheap, bigoted, mean, even abusive Christians, make it much harder for those around them to have faith in God.

Gradually I’ve realized; the invitation to grow in knowledge and goodness is as unforced by God as the first invitation to come to faith. If we don’t do anything different to change what’s in our minds, our behavior won’t change either.Image result for bible study

The way our minds get changed is by studying the Bible. Until we do this, we’re victims of the families and cultures we were raised in. The Bible is the playbook for being in God’s community, across all time and cultures. One verse in Romans, a letter in the New Testament, says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Mental transformation takes place when we’re exposed to new information, when we lay aside opinions to observe, analyze, question and act on it. A good process for Bible study allows all this to happen.

Here’s a suggested format, with much of the material based on appendices from “The Bible Study Handbook,” by Lindsay Olesberg:

  1. Pick a book of the Bible. Maybe start with the gospel of Mark, a short record of Jesus’ life.
  2. Find some background on when the book was written, to whom, and what was going on historically with those people. You don’t have to become a scholar, but a some context is needed, from a site like Dr. Craig Keener’s , or a book  like,  “What the Bible is All About,” by Henrietta Mears. Once you have some context, don’t keep flipping to other sources for interpretation. Just dig into the passage.
  3. Select a short section at a time. Mark 1:1-20 is plenty to start with. Read the passage.
  4. Read it again, looking for the facts – who, when, where, what happened, how.
  5. Look for connections in the writing, such as repetition, patterns, contrasts, cause and effect, images, metaphors. Pay attention to words like ‘therefore’ or ‘because.’
  6. Write down any questions you have, to research later or ask people you know.
  7. Sum up what you think the main themes of that passage are.
  8. Ask yourself how the passage applies to your life.
  9. What can you do to act on something you’ve learned?

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Lots of us tend to jump from reading to application. Don’t. Take plenty of time for steps 4 through 8.
  • Remember that we haven’t understood the Bible till we know what the author was communicating to his original audience. That’s why you need some context from history and culture, and to scan what passages come before and after.
  • Expect that you will encounter God as you study. Try to be humble and open to what God wants you to see.
  • Studying in groups can be really rich; there is the combined observation and interpretation of many different personalities. But realize that if the leader is talking a lot, it’s not study, it’s a lecture. Try to find a group where everyone is given responsibility to explore the text.

Some people find a little time to study every day, some take a chunk of time on the weekend, or even go on study retreats. You may not notice anything different at first, but a year or two of regular Bible study changes our lives in profound ways.