Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Prodigal God

I've always believed "prodigal" meant "wayward". However, Keller titles his book, The Prodigal God which doesn't exactly fit my perception of God according this definition. According to Keller, wayward is not at all the meaning of prodigal. He insists it "means to spend extravagantly." Now there's something to think about.

I've already rethought The Parable of the Prodigal Son in my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training. With the children, we refer to the same parable as The Forgiving Father instead, so that the essential element of the parable, The Father is the central focus. Though I believe in sin and and depravity of man, in my heart of hearts, I understand putting the emphasis on God's Great Work rather than our falleness to be a far more effective presentation of the gospel.

Keller takes Forgiving Father to an even higher plane for me by accentuating that He outgave his child to win him back. Maybe you have heard the saying, "You can't outgive God." The Prodigal God draws the prodigal son back with his extravagant kindness. How compelling is the image of the Father longing, scanning over the horizon and then breaking into a run, arms flung wide, to embrace the son who was lost? The Parables of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the merchant in The Pearl of Great Price leap to mind changing my thoughts more charitably towards the lost son in light of the Prodigal God.

My favorite sermon ever was given on this very subject by a humble man, Joe Green, studying in Bible College allowed to speak at a small Sunday night service. I think Joe's words instructed me as profoundly as Keller's. Joe suggested the crux of the parable hung on the characters of the servants. I could not for the life of me see where he could go with that point as he narrated the story in his simple way. When he got to the servant's role near the end, I believe Joe got it right. Joe suggested the turning point of the lost son's thoughts were on the servants, the way His Father treated them with such care. The son examined the respect and dignity offered by his father to his hired hands and knew with more certainty than ever before, home with his father was better than anywhere else in the end.

These are my thoughts for this day. Any thoughts you have on this to add?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Self Esteem Myths

Low self esteem is a term I find to be unhelpful. To me, it implies one can do something or have something done for him/her to raise self esteem from low to high. Though it tortures me to say, I cannot help my son who despises himself. After living his entire 13 years on earth with us, he still clings to the rejection he experienced from his birth parents and holds me in particular responsible and at bay. If he were a fancy tea cup, I could keep filling him with praise of his many accomplishments and talents, but his delicate broken vessel leaks like a sieve.

Why? Self esteem has always and will forever come from within. No outside source can provide it. No counselor, mom, dad, friend, relative, pastor, boss, enemy delivers self esteem to the inside of another person. It's either there, or it isn't. There nothing more difficult than watching a child not being able to heal.

My son spends his day spreading chaos and doesn't have the slightest idea how to stop himself. Here's one way he wreaks havoc: he incessantly chatters and interrupts anyone in a ten foot range about how very important he is to every conversation and situation. He's searching desperately for the affirmation he does not possess inside. This empty self-important talk frustrates and inflames those close to the source, especially his brothers and sister. He's the king of one-up-manship. My days at home with him are spent keeping the boy at bay from building conflict with others. However, he perceives himself to “be in trouble” when I ask him to stay in the same room with me or go to his room to deescalate an intense situation he's ignited.

Those outside our family tend to feel sorry for him, because he must not “get what he needs from home” to have such sob stories. He outright tells people he just met, “I'm 13 and my mom and dad never let me fill in the blank,but they let my brothers do it all the time.” Buck and I are made out to be Cinderella's wicked step parents in his untrusting brain.

After the death of his friend in October, our son suddenly stopped the chatter and chaos for two entire months. He became peaceful, centered, serious about trusting me. I felt like finally he'd come to understand he did not have to self-protect but could be completely open to our family's love. I could breathe deeply that his life would take the turn we all needed it to for the better.

Then one day in mid-December, my oldest son, Peace, came home totally stressed from an injustice at school during finals week. Peace began nipping and biting everyone at home with his misplaced frustration, and I began clumsily grasping at straws to reign in all his bad karma. For two days I did something I have been endeavoring to abstain from since July- I argued with Peace. In retrospect, I shoulda let the consequences play out from his stinky choices, but instead I let my lower self take over and pronounced, “You are a fool and an idiot if you think...” Immediately, my other son with no self esteem reacted with, “If you are going to call names of Peace like fool and idiot then I certainly will not ever trust you again.” And he hasn't. He instantly flew back in full swing self-important chatter and bedlam. I hoped it was a bump in the road, and I all out apologized in front of him to Peace. It wasn't a bump- it's back to the self protective lifestyle for over a month now.

Last week, my son came to me and said, “I need to call my counselor,” after compiling a list of the all the things he felt I was doing wrong. No worries for me about this- these counselors know me, faults and all, and have all our best interests in mind. The counselor gave my son a teddy bear this summer and asked him to care for it as if it were his little self. The counselor suggested on the phone that my boy might be too hard on his little self and might want to tell his bear so. Such a good shame removal tool- as I said before, the child despises his self.

Since his call last week, I've seen my son white knuckling his way through the day, trying to do what is right. The grace he found after his friend's death is gone, and he's trying to will good behavior from himself. It's like watching an addict trying to stay away from crack in an opened bag on the kitchen counter. He'll start a conflict and back away saying, “Why are you mad at me?” Truthfully, it has been irritating to watch him “not getting it...still and again.”

He called his counselors again this week and told them he was doing a great job staying on course. I gave an invisible internal “oh, brother” eye roll as I listened to him talk. When they asked me if I also noticed him doing a great job I asked, “How do I honor the effort when I see him failing?” They encouraged me to press in and connect as much as I can with him. He'll work with me sometimes when they ask. He let me hold him, look into his eyes, lead him in listening prayer.

I didn't understand his huge backslide until my friend clarified it for me. After all, the initial conflict that shut our relationship down in December had been between his brother Peace and I and had absolutely nothing to do with him- except that he was listening. My friend explained, “Your son takes ownership of every.single. problem. in your home. He thinks he's the cause of everything. He is incapable of separating his issues out.” So, the boy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and it must be heavy. How sad. Her words ignited compassion I've been lacking since his re-eruption.

So how to patch up the holes in his leaking cup? That's a long road, less taken. And we are on it.
I'll keep reminding myself that correcting low self esteem is impossible, and that accepting my son and all his mess is key to his own self acceptance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Though I was moved beyond words at the inaugural ceremonies today, Buck said something on the light side:

I wonder if Obama will live up to the audacity of hype.

Do you think he can?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Buck explained to me that high school tomorrow is in, but all absences are excused, because it's cold. It's certainly not that there is a snowflake for miles around. Apparently we don't do snow in Tennessee any longer. Peace chimed in with Buck, "Of course, I want to go if school is open. I love school!"

Buck and I searched Peace's face to find some hint of sarcasm. None. Really. None. I suppose our curious reaction triggered the following speech:

"Mom, Dad, I'm not joking. I. Love. School. All my classes. Today some kids were complaining about hating school. I explained that school is their opportunity to make something of themselves. I talked about how they'd better start taking their education seriously, or they'll be eating out of dumpsters in the freezing cold while I'll be living the cool life in a warm apartment."

I asked Buck and Peace, "Is there any way to bottle up his exuberance and keep it all four years of high school?" Oh, I know it won't last, but how I wish it could.
Thanks to the very thoughtful tutorial by Thicket I have a blog header for the very first time!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Did our President really say misunderestimated today? What does this mean? I should be able to tell, because I make up useful words on the spot every. single. day. However, I'm dumbfounded on this one.

misunderestimated- underestimated in one way, but one really should have been underestimated in a totally different way.

Right? Help the girl.

Flinging out a completely new seventeen letter word on television is some awesomely bold leadership which Obama can only hopificate to reproductify.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Christopher Columbus and I in 2008

I've been mentally working on a list of favorites discoveries of mine last year. Mind you, me discovering something is something like saying Christopher Columbus found America when we all know it was beautiful land already inhabited with Native Americans long before his arrival.

These are things which I've stumbled across this year which have mattered to me.

1. Toothtunes- musical toothbrushes which sing a song only while a child has the brush remains in motion for 2 minutes. Why is this so important? My children simply didn't brush well enough and long enough before. This tool lets 'em know to keep at it longer than the obligatory 20 second swoosh. Even my teenagers think it's funny enough to use them.

2. The Hawk and the Dove- I've owned this trilogy a very long time, but I never quite made it through the first few chapters. I finally buckled down to read it through, and it is hands down the best book I've ever read. The insight into the woundedness of people and their necessary yet unlikely path to healing changed the way I think about human behavior.

3. Coldplay- Okay, they've been around a long while, but I just didn't know how much I liked them till Viva La Vida. Favorite song on that album is Death and All His Friends. "No, I don't want to battle from beginning to end. I don't want to cycle and recycle revenge. I don't want to follow death and all his friends."

4. Building the Bond of Attachment by Daniel Hughes opened my eyes to a new way to be with and guide hurt and exasperating child. The book is a fictitious case study on attachment disorder.

5. Watching my oldest son succeed and delight in the school setting.

6. My new comfort bike and the trips I've made with my sons. I especially remember the time I was fiddling with the gears on the first and very uncomfortable bike I started out with last summer. Surreptitiously, I ran smack dab into the back of Peace's bike which sent us both flying head over heel into the grass. We laughed till we cried.

7. Learning strategies how to not to argue and be a strong parent in unity with my husband. Did I ever post about WALTER? I still fail terribly, but at least I understand new ways to deal.

8. Reading The Secret Garden with my daughter. She doesn't mind my fake English accent one bit.

9. Kicking back with the best people on the planet for birthdays and sundry get- togethers.

10. Playing Clue and Earthopoloy/Monopoly with my family.

11. Making fried green tomatoes from my very own garden nearly every single day of the summer.

12. Finding over-the-top red flowered half reading glasses. Now I can read fine print and laugh at myself at the same time.

13. Watching my mother make a full recovery from brain surgery. That's something of a miracle to behold.

I'll stop here though there are many more, but I'll have to pay attention to my children some time today. Shoot, maybe we'll even homeschool a bit.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why I'm not blogging about New Year's Resolutions, besides the fact that I haven't made any:

Never tell anyone that you're writing a book, going on a diet, exercising, taking a course, or quitting smoking. They'll encourage you to death.
Lynn Johnston, For Better or For Worse, 07-15-06
Canadian cartoonist (1947 - )

Saturday, January 03, 2009

L. L. Bean Shout Out

Just so you know, I positively love L.L.Bean. I don't shop there very often, but I never regret when I do. Here's why.

When Peace was a baby fifteen years ago, I decided a backpack (before there was such a thing as a diaper backpack) would be our diaper bag. We refused bottles altogether, and so we didn't have to worry about milk spills, and I liked all the handy pockets of this type of bag. I ordered a top of the line L.L. Bean navy backpack embroidered with his name across the top.

When Peace started high school last semester, he chose to carry that well worn but useful backpack instead of our family laying out $89 for the Northface or Underarmor brand name totes. It worked fine until the end of the semester when the zipper gave way as Peace tried to fit in an additional textbook probably too much in a hurry.

When I told Peace we could turn it in for a brand new one, and he laughed. "How can you exchange a fifteen year old backpack for something new? No one will do that."

Oh, yes they will. It's an L.L. Bean policy to exchange for 100% customer satisfaction. If only every company would stand by their products like that.

Today, a perfect, sturdy, new, navy, embroidered super deluxe book bag arrived on our front porch a few weeks after printing a free mailing label and dropping it at UPS for return. It practically glistened when Peace ripped it out of the fresh package, and this one's got a place for a cell phone on the straps- an invention which was distributed much later to the masses than before our original backpack. Peace is back in the textbook carrying business with flair.
I don't know how a week can fly by so quickly. Our fam drove to Florida to enjoy the sunshine and the comfort of grandparents. We visited Tampa Zoo and Clearwater Beach. The kids swam everyday even though I mostly wore a sweater. It's been good to see the bright sun, because Tennessee has been as dreary, dank, and dark as I picture Ireland or Seattle. And I've been cold ever since I set foot back in my house. We added our loud and chaotic presence to the quiet ordered home of my mother and her husband. We played games, watched shows we don't get out in the wilds of the country, and ate lots of home cooked meals.

While in Florida, Buck and I took in a movie, Seven Pounds which I recommend. I like surprises. Buck had the movie figured out in 20 minutes, but it took me nearly 30 minutes to fit the pieces together. I also like puzzles.

Buck flew home early to work, and when he wasn't working at the control tower he was working in our nasty garage. He asked me for serious purge instructions. I don't even remember exactly what was in there, so we can certainly live without it. Everything from teaching supplies to party decorations are gone and in their place- peace of mind. There is still more to be done, but there is a remarkable transformation already. Buck also did maintenance on the roof and farm chores like hoof trimming. What a man.

The kids and I were invited to my friend Piper's in Atlanta to spend the night to break up our long drive home New Year's Day. She prepared traditional black eyed peas, turnip greens, rice, chili, and even hog jowls. In the morning, she made my son, Peace, a huge birthday breakfast. Our kids haven't seen each other since they were toddlers, but you'd have never known it. They jumped in together and made fun with capture the flag in the dark and other teenagery mayhem.

We arrived at our home in time to pull out suit jackets, ties, dress shirts for ironing. Our friends held a Call to Manhood dinner for their oldest son, Hobbes, in which my husband participated, and the rest of us attended a lovely reception following. I met Hobbes' extraordinary keyboarding teacher who will have Peace in his class beginning Tuesday. Many told stories of the strong and kind character of Hobbes, and of his scholarly approach to learning. I admire his peaceful spirit and the way he stands for truth and purity.

Our grand finale of winter break will be an overnight hoopla in Deer Lodge tonight.
Then it's back to daily routines.