Why Our Family Intentionally Celebrates Each Other

 

“Whose turn is next?”

Inevitably, one of my three children asks that question at least once a week. Despite the fact that we have practiced this significant family ritual for the past fourteen years. And their name appears on the tiny chalkboard on our fridge. But the urgency and excitement found in the voice of the one asking indicates that being “next” holds value to them. The irony is that my kids are now 14, 17, and 20.

What is being referred to is our family’s practice of celebrating “Person of the Week.”  Each week, we rotate a family member being the point of recognition for simply being a beautiful creation of God and plays a significant role in our home.  The celebrated person receives a snack of their choice for the week as well as the reminder that they have value: in our eyes and in the eyes of the Creator.

It began as an adaptation of my oldest son’s first grade teacher’s idea. Who doesn’t like a little recognition that they matter? Besides, it teaches one to look outside themselves. At the time, our family was in the midst of struggling with mental health disorders with our children. Unity lacked big time.

Despite the chaotic winds blowing through our home, we longed for something to hold us together.

It wasn’t easy to implement. Simply sitting at the table together and attempting to get through a meal without destructive overtones became a challenge. Often, I grieved over the reality of pain, anger, and misperceptions that hammered a wedge in the sibling relationships. Chronic illnesses affect the whole family. But my husband and I were determined to intentionally cultivate loving relationships between our kids. We tried a few other options but found no success.

Thus, “Person of the week” was born. Originally, we prayed a blessing over the specified person as well as guessed their favorite things. I also posted a funny picture of them on the fridge. Furthermore, each member was encouraged to write a message of encouragement or give a little gift to them (what kid doesn’t have an extra piece of candy laying around?)

Our practice isn’t about “Everybody gets a Trophy.” It’s about “Everyone is a Trophy”: a testament of God’s handiwork.

As they have grown, the ritual has changed. Pictures on the fridge are not always embraced with humor. Truthfully, my kids look most forward to their treat of choice. The tangible sharing of gifts has dwindled.

But, I like to think that the ways I see them laugh together, encourage one another and even argue with each other are gifts in themselves.

So we will continue our practice. In this world , we need to know that we matter. We. each. have. purpose.

But, I told my oldest, that once he’s married, it’s up to him to start his own tradition.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! http://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

 

 

 

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Why Eating Meatloaf on Christmas Reminded Us of How to Love Others

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

This picture speaks at least that many.

You see, there is much more going on here than meatloaf in a pan.

As I pondered on what to make for Christmas dinner at our for our intimate family gathering, ideas rotated through my mind.

My immediate thoughts gravitated to something “nice.” Roast? Lasagna? But finding a common dish to meet the palettes of all of our kids became a challenge.

And then….meatloaf presented itself. It’s not particularly recognized as a special holiday dish. In fact, I make it every couple months. But, to my family, meatloaf connects us to my husband’s grandmother.

“Granny” made the best one. In fact, one of the best testaments to her meatloaf comes through the story of it being sold at an auction for charity at a bar. (Someone bid $20 for it!)

Every time, we consumed it at our family gatherings at her home, we were reminded that it was literally shaped by love.

Her hands dug into the meat mixture; her fingers pinching the individual ingredients until they were no longer separated.  The process mimicked her approach to those who graced her presence. She dug her hands into their lives. Sometimes through the gift of food. Other times, through time or financial resources. Always through hugs. Occasionally, her dining room table (and her home) became an ecumenical mix of family and visitors. Each of us became beneficiaries of intentional shaping through her hands.  All of us coming to the table as individual ingredients but finding the substance which bound us together: Granny’s love.

Many of our life shaping memories are rooted in the moments at her home. Christmas ones are some of them. Trekking to her home on Christmas afternoon wasn’t always high on the list of my kids who would have preferred to stay in their pj’s playing with new gifts. And Granny would have understood. But, we also knew that our opportunities to share life with her were becoming limited.

Four years ago, we celebrated our last Christmas together. Voids remind you of the ways your life has been shaped by others.

So, I decided to make her meatloaf this Christmas. I’ve made it other days of course. But, on Christmas, it seemed particularly fitting. One I had added all the ingredients in the bowl, her words silently spoke to me: “You have to get your hands messy.” This is not my favorite part. I have traditionally avoided physical contact resulting in foreign substances covering my body. Perhaps, it comes with my anxiety or just a personal quirk. Regardless, I am aware that it is part of the process of creating: food, art, relationships.  It comes with the territory of being God’s image bearer.

Reluctantly, I did; allowing her words to come to life in my hands. Truthfully, it was not quite like her meatloaf. I added a twist but it didn’t really matter. Her recipe never matched how she made it each time anyway.

I baked it in her pan; the one which holds her fingerprints. The same round warped pan that found us hovering around it in her small kitchen as she cooked and talked.

As we savored the meatloaf, we remembered the ways her hands shaped things: both meatloaf and people. Sharing food defined much of how Granny expressed her love for others. Souls and bodies found nourishment through her hands.

Loving others means getting our hands “messy.”

The Challenge of Finding Abundance in Simplicity

 

So. Many. Choices.

As I make my way down the aisle of the grocery store, I my brain begins to feel sensory overload. The boxes lining the shelves create a multi-colored tapestry of product options.

The abundance ought to create a feeling of gratefulness. The variety of packages testify to the number of individuals whose livelihood is connected to them. Furthermore, I can choose cereal according to my exact expectations: taste, texture, color, sweetness, ingredients.

But instead, I find my mind paralyzed by the varying fonts competing for my attention. How do I make a decision?

I am reminded of my time in Sweden.  As a college exchange student, I observed as well as breathed in the cultural differences.  Simplicity dots the landscape. Small stores may limit choices but not the quality of life.  Each trip is infused with intention. Intention gives birth to creativity: How can you make use of what you have? And Community: with whom can you share your resources?

Life is simplified.

Recent research suggests that choice overload can contribute to anxiety. In fact, many children’s discipline issues may be related to our desire to be surrounded by abundance. Parents are urged to minimize activity and toy choices for their children.  “Too much” can be “too much.”

But I don’t think it’s only kids that could use a new approach. 

Think about how long it takes to decide on a restaurant with a group of people or make a choice from an overflowing menu?

Perhaps, we challenge ourselves to identify what staples are necessary from the grocery store this week and create meals only from them.

Perhaps, we challenge ourselves to eat from a limited amount of restaurants this month and choose to eat something new from them.

What might we learn about finding abundance in simplicity?

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Why Divine Purposes Motivate Me to Emerge From My Comfort

The alarm buzzing in the background awakens me from my sleepy state. My mind is awake but my body hesitates to respond. I have found refuge in the layers of warmth and protection surrounding me.

Why can’t I stay here?

The darkness and chill of winter keeps me from embracing it’s unwelcome return. But Fear holds no power in the darkness of my cocoon.

The stillness pervasive in this space transforms my bed coverings into a sanctuary. Within it, I listen. I ponder. I plea.

Why can’t I stay here?

Slowly, my senses awaken. I begin to break out of this place of metamorphisis. Eight plus hours of renewal at the hands of my Creator have given birth to a new purpose: Today.

The first thick layer is removed. The chill of the air stings my face and penetrates the thin threads of my sheet; a slight breeze brushing across my body. But, despite the discomfort, I continue.

The motivation comes from the One who literally breathes life into me. How can I fulfill the purposes knit within me if I don’t venture into the ordained places?

Like a butterfly venturing back from the comfort of its temporary refuge, I emerge into the world. Navigating pain, destruction, fear is assured.  But so is joy, wonder, and expectation.

Despite the darkness outside, today has divine purpose.

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! http://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

 

Do You Believe Jesus is Enough to Meet Your Hopes and Fears?

The angels’ proclamation to the shepherds packs a powerful punch.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10

Their good news communicated the fulfillment of a long anticipated promise.

But. somewhere in the midst of hope lies fear. What if that which we expect doesn’t unfold according to our expectations?

The narratives surrounding the account of Christ’s birth reveal the common human struggle with hope and fear. 

These Jewish “chosen ones” longed for the promised Messiah. The hope had been passed down to them just as it had been through previous generations. The prophecies began to flesh out the vision. But did they understand how chosen they were? And there was a cost.

Hope became infused with fear.

Shepherds: ordinary folk from Bethlehem. As men, they were well steeped in knowledge of Jewish theology. The prophecies created a rough draft as to how the Messiah would be made manifest.

Micah 5:2-3[a] But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,

Hope grew in their hearts.

And then the angels visit. They are chosen to do a hard thing. The earthly implications are staggering. Who will believe them? How will they manage their sheep if they leave? Do they believe Jesus is enough to meet their hopes and fears?

Mary: Poor Jewish teen. Yet, from the line of David. She is aware of Isaiah’s words  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Hope grows in her heart.

And then the angel visits. She is chosen to do a hard thing. The earthly implications are life threatening. She could be stoned for appearing to break her engagement vows.

Does she believe Jesus is enough to meet her hopes and fears?

Joseph: A carpenter’s son-not a significant identity in terms of social and economic status. Yet, from the line of David. He, too was schooled in the hope of a Messiah. One who would transform the status quo. Perhaps he clung to these words spoken through Isaiah:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Hope grew in his heart.

And then the angel visits. He is chosen to do a hard thing. His reputation is at stake as well as his love for his fiancee. In addition, he and Mary could both be killed for their alleged violation of Jewish law. Does he believe Jesus will be enough to meet his hopes and fears?

Trusting God with what we can’t grasp is hard. Story after story throughout scripture bear witness to it. It’s a human problem.

Fear is mentioned in the Bible over 500 times!

The angels recognize our humanity which is why their first words are:“Do not be afraid!”

The exhortation itself was nothing new. God’s word to them and us spoken through Isaiah is this: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “ Isaiah 41:10

But the angels’ announcement to the shepherds and to the world was different. Because this time God wasn’t just telling us no not be afraid. He was coming to earth to transform their fears.

Upon the official announcement of Jesus’ birth, something happens that the shepherds would have recognized but we may not.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2)

A host of angels appears here. This is significant. The Greek work for “host” is a military term. These are not cute little angels playing harps. An angel army descended to earth to signify that Satan no longer rules it.  They are operating at the command of the infant Jesus.

Heaven intersected Earth.

Jesus is enough.

Enough to meet our hopes and fears: for

health, power, relationship, provision, purpose….

“The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight” (From the hymn “O little Town of Bethlehem”)

Our fears are transformed into hope when we surrender them to Jesus. 

Do you believe Jesus is enough to meet your hopes and fears? What can you leave in the manger?

*this post originated as a message given by me on Christmas Eve 2017 at Hope Covenant Church. You can listen to it here:

 

 

How to Sit With Sadness at Christmas: A Guest Post

Today, Elisabeth Klein guest posts about navigating through the Christmas season when you are not feeling “merry.” Welcome her!

I went through a period of feeling lost. Sad. Blah. Passion-less. I purchased a book to help me work through the sad state I was in and I was clicking right along. I did everything it told me to do: I came up with a life timeline, listed the negative points, processed the redemption that has come from each, and decided upon my five primary roles. This was all good and fine; I felt like I was accomplishing something.

And then…and then I hit a wall.

So I did what I usually do when I hit a wall: I spent some time with my mentor. And I was telling her about this process that I was making myself go through and how, when I got to the step where it asked what my ambitions were – how I wanted to live out my life in each of my five roles – how I hit a wall and couldn’t think of anything to write down under any of them, after thinking and praying about it for several days.

I told her that for the past twenty years, I’ve had various passions. Mothering young children, then women’s ministry, then social justice. That I’d poured myself into each of these things, wrote about these things, been an advocate for these things. But that right then, I didn’t have a passion for anything.

And she said, “I have your answer.”

“Okay,” I said. “What is it?”

And then she said something like this, “Years ago, when people lost someone they loved, it was expected that they would mourn for a year. They were given black arm bands to wear.  They even put black wreathes on their front doors. They were to rest and grieve and heal. They even had places in the middle of their town called Melancholy Park where they would be allowed to go and just sit.  Can you imagine? No one would bother them, no one made fun of them, no one pushed them to get back into their regular lives. They were not only allowed but encouraged to do the grieving work, for a year.”

I sat there, tears streaming down my face, not even four months past my divorce at the time.

She continued, “You have lost something big. Picture yourself with a black arm band. Let yourself rest. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself heal. I’ll let you know if I think you’re not doing enough. But right now, just rest. Because if you don’t do the work now, it’ll come out eventually.”

I went home and put that book away. The process of finding my new place, my next chapter, my next thing, would wait a few months. (Okay, many months.) Because in that moment, I had the deeper work of rest to accomplish. How I wished I could live in Melancholy Park.  (She says we can only visit…)

Is this you this Christmastime? Do you need permission to visit Melancholy Park? You have it. I’m giving it to you. Go rest and be sad.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. –Psalm 34:18

God, I am sad. Sadness is hanging over me like a cloak that is too heavy for me to wear. Please meet me in Melancholy Park. Please help me not feel guilty for feeling this way. Please help me walk through it with your grace and mercy. Amen.

If this post resonated with you, Holidays for the Hurting: 25 Devotions to Help You Heal would be your companion through this season.

Elisabeth Klein is the grateful wife to Richard and grateful mom and stepmom to five. She writes, speaks and mentors women in difficult marriages, those going through divorce, single moms, those dating post-divorce, and those who are remarried and stepmothers. You can find her at http://www.elisabethklein.com.

How the Different Ornaments on Our Tree Tell Our Story

The ornaments adorning my Christmas tree form an eclectic group.

Blue’s Clues, a homemade frame with a child’s face beaming inside, a glass heart engraved with our wedding anniversary, a small gold chapel and miniature straw animals find themselves hanging from the branches.

The image doesn’t fit the Pottery Barn Christmas tree motif. There is no color scheme or elaborate theme, Perfectly wrapped bows do not dress the soft pine branches of our Frasier Fir.

Not that those kinds of trees don’t have a place. But they don’t belong in our house right now.

You see, the ornaments on our tree have two purposes. They don’t just speak of Christmas present. They tell stories of Christmases past.

They may hang in different places each year. But their stories remain the same.

God spoke into our lives through those stories. Marriage took place. Babies arrived. Kids grew in “wisdom and stature.” Significant people crossed our paths who shaped us. Christmas traditions connected us.

In a sense, they help connect the dots of how we have come to this place: My husband, myself, two teens and a young adult.  Some of those seasons brought hardship: job loss, illness, devastating deaths. Others gifted us with unexpected happiness, new life, fulfilling callings.

And though it all, Jesus reigned. Which is really what we want to remember at Christmas anyway.

So while my kids are still all at home, we will cherish the years with our eclectic tree and all the memories attached. Because we must continue to remember our family’s part in God’s story.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come Join Us! http://fiveminutefriday.com/