Monday, April 1, 2013

Your Happy Home

[The following is my "parenting book," so this post is quite long.  While I obviously think all of the things in it are wonderful, your family is your own, and you must decide what works best for you.  It's also a bit of a skeleton, simply creating the support structure for the way my home was run growing up.  If you have questions, I'd love to take the time to answer them!  Mom and Dad did so much to make our home what it was, and I would love nothing more than for other people to experience home as I did.]

On February 4, 2012, life changed for the happy preacher’s family living in small-town Iowa.  That family—my family—suddenly changed when the slippery road, and I suppose the will of our Sustainer, took the lives of the two people our family was built upon.  In a few hazy hours, both Mom and Dad were gone, and life just kept going.  Not as it always had, but it’s going nonetheless.
The oldest of us four siblings will be getting married to a wonderful man of God in a few short months.  I’m now a freshman at Liberty University, studying to be an elementary teacher.  The only boy in the midst of three girls was crowned homecoming king and continues to develop a love and talent for all things outdoors—something our father instilled in us.   And the youngest is taking on her high school years, bravely conquering her freshman year and Driver’s Ed. 
We are all at different places in our young lives, but one thing still holds true for all four of us.  We are still aware of, and daily claiming the truth that, God is sovereign, all-knowing, and good.  I’ve had several people ask how it was Mom and Dad raised such good kids, so strong in their faith.  The following is the heart of Mom and Dad and their ministry.  It’s all the secrets and tips I can think of for how they raised us as they did.  There are no secret formulas.  No research was involved. If there is any plagiarism, I’m truly sorry.  This is just what I remember, what I’ve reflected upon.  This is how they turned our house into a home, not perfect, but daily striving for improvement.  This was their dream of how every child would be brought up.  From their heart, to mine, to yours, the following is a young lady’s guide to raising children who will love and respect people, life, and most importantly their Lord.

Relationships and priorities.  Every home is built upon these two things, and the two must go hand-in-hand.  Here’s how:

                Love God. Love your spouse. Love your children.  In that order.

If you remember nothing else, remember that those three things, in that order, were the foundation of our happy home.  They turned us, biologically related yet totally different, into more than just a group of people living under the same roof.  They made us a family in the truest sense.  And that’s what this is all about: family.  I suppose this is one formula you’ll find in here.  If those three things are taken out of order, you might as well disregard the rest of this “book.” Granted, people rearrange them all the time, and sometimes great children come from those homes.  But imagine if the order was correct.  If the order is correct, that’s not a guarantee to anything, but it’s the best place to start. Now, I’d like to take a moment to dig a bit deeper into each of those three things, as they were modeled and “preached” in our family. 

Love God.
The paraphrase of Matthew 6:33 that I heard countless times went like this: “Seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness, and He’ll take care of the rest.”  That was the principle Mom and Dad taught and lived out every day.  I remember walking up the stairs every morning to find Mom sitting on the couch with her hot tea and Bible, preparing herself for the day.  Dad would often slip away, especially on long vacations, to journal, pray, and read.  Daily quality time with God, one-on-one, was emphasized in both word and deed.  We were taught that, just like any other relationship, our relationship with God won’t grow or become personal unless we put effort into it.  That didn’t mean salvation by works—quite the opposite!  Spending time with God in His word lets us really see His grace and His good desire for our lives.  Without that, what’s the purpose to this life we’re living?
Apart from reading the Bible, we learn the most about God through prayer.  It was always made clear that prayer is not just a ritual.  It’s a time in which we open our hearts to God and reverently listen for that “still small voice.”  We thank Him and express fears and doubts, we jabber on about our days and we listen quietly, we ask for forgiveness and humbly accept the grace and strength He grants.  Talk out loud, write it down—whatever it takes to lay it all at His feet.  It’s in those times of surrendering to God and laying our lives before Him that we become vulnerable enough for Him to grab ahold of us and change us from the inside out. 
These changes make us look more and more like Him.  At the same time, spending all that time with Him makes Him easier and easier to identify and pick out of the crowd.  Much of loving God is about knowing Him.  I remember Dad giving the following example—or something like it—while talking to the youth group about knowing when it’s God trying to get our attention:

Think of a time you were in a store with your parents.  If you’re anything like my kids, you managed to wander off and lose them for a while.  When we’re younger and that happens, we feel the panic set in because our security is suddenly gone.  So, you start frantically moving through the store, but you just get more and more lost, and just as you think you’re going to lose your own mind, you hear that whistle you know so well, rising above all the other voices.  Or maybe it’s that name that only your parents call you.  God does the same thing when we get off track, calling us as individuals to return to His side.  For a time, it seems like He’s gone, but if you listen, you’ll always hear His voice above the rest of the noise.  If we’re wise, we’ll return to our Security instead of trying to tough it out on our own.  Ultimately, the choice is yours.  Don’t purposely ignore God, run in the opposite direction, and then shake your fist at Him when it’s closing time and you can’t hear His voice anymore.  Respond with humility and thankfulness.  Run back to Him.  Talk with Him, and get to know Him.  It’ll make things much easier the next time you head to the outdoor section when He’s clearly told you to go towards the formal evening wear. 

We were also taught much about trusting God in His sovereignty.  This didn’t mean life was always easy.  It didn’t mean we always had to like what we were going through.  It just meant trust God, no matter what.  For a time, Dad’s theme was God on His Throne.  I don’t know how many times within that short phase I heard him tell about different people in the Bible who’d seen visions of heaven, and every time, God was right where He belonged: ruling on His throne.  “Isaiah saw a vision, and in it, the Lord was seated on His throne in glory.  And guess where God’s at at the very end?  Still on His throne.  Folks, God hasn’t moved, and He doesn’t intend to.  Even today, in the midst of whatever you’re going through, God is ruling, still His throne.” 
I could go on and on, but the underlying principle is here.  Your children must know that your faith is not your parents, your spouses, or theirs.  You faith is your own, uniquely grown and cultivated, and theirs must be too.  God is not just the boss, Santa Clause, or the best friend.  While He takes on all those roles at some point, He is infinitely more than that.  He is beyond our comprehension, yet revealing Himself to us daily.  He is all around us, working in our lives even when we’re blind to what He’s doing.  He is our everything and deserves everything we have.  Our character, priorities, possessions, thoughts, attitudes, and deeds should all be given back to Him.  In releasing the things that matter most, we are able to become like Him and instill in those around us what it is to not just know about God, but rather, to know God Himself. 

Love your spouse.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dad telling us that he and Mom promised early on to never make each other their first priority.  I was shocked.  Isn’t that what a husband and wife are supposed to do?  Isn’t that what they’d been showing us since the day we were born?  In their wisdom and love for God, that promise had been made to make sure the Author of their love story always occupied the number one spot on their priorities list.  It was then made quite clear that they loved each of us children more than words could express, but their commitment to each other came first.  They had made a promise to each other, before God, and they intended to keep it.  As long as they both did live.  
My dad loved my mom, and my mom loved my dad.  That was so obvious to us four kids!  It was so obviously displayed. 
Dad was a charmer, but an honest one.  He would often stop Mom in the middle of the kitchen, pull her close, and kiss her, always with the reminder that “kids feel secure when their parents kiss in front of them.”  He called her “Foxy.”  He held her hand and started the car for her on cold days.  He took us to restaurants she liked, even if the rest of us weren’t especially excited about it.  He planned vacations to spots she would enjoy.  He praised her often and gave her credit for the role she filled in our home.  He recognized her hard work and encouraged us to pitch in when she was especially tired.  He cherished her and never took her for granted.
Mom was a jewel.  Dad didn’t just call her that because it went along with her name.  She woke early to pack his lunch.  She smiled through all of his bad jokes and even his crazy moments that I’m sure were nearly mortifying.  She cleaned up after him and knew exactly where he’d put that “lost” item.  She made real mashed potatoes because he didn’t like the boxed ones.  She learned how to clean pheasants and put up with the many dogs they had through the years.  She’d follow him anywhere.  She supported him and gave him utmost respect no matter what. 
They worked as a team.  He was adventurous, and she was consistent.  His presence was always made known, and she was usually in the back corner talking to the one who’d had a rough day.  He got all worked up, and she looked at the matter at hand with complete logic. 
Most couples have things that confirm the statement “Opposites attract.”  While the differences listed weren’t things they chose, what they did with those differences was a choice.  Moment by moment, they chose to honor and appreciate the things they saw that were so unlike themselves.  If you really want to love your spouse, try adoring the qualities you see in them that are so unlike yourself.   Instead of being jealous and/or frustrated, thank God for them.  Take the time you need to get to know your spouse.  Know what makes them smile and hurt.  Be aware of the things they like and don’t like, and act on that knowledge.  Celebrate each other as individuals, and embrace yourselves as a couple. 
Even with the conscious decision to be thankful for the differences, you will run into conflict.  Ideas will clash, and feelings will be hurt.  Many times, I heard Dad talk about the promise Mom and Dad made to each other to never go to bed angry at each other.  If he had acted unkindly to her in our presence, he would also apologize to her in front of us kids. I know Mom didn’t always agree with Dad, but she always respected him.  Upon agreeing to marry Dad, she had agreed to build him up and support him through good and bad. That meant that she brought up disagreements behind closed doors, but in public she had his back.  She was not acting hypocritically; she was giving him the dignity he deserved as head of our household.  As we got older, they worked out more disagreements in front of us, but it was always done in love.  They wanted us to see how couples could discuss things as adults and Christ followers, never giving in to screaming matches or physicality. 

Love your children.
Okay, let’s get the discipline issue out of the way.  It’s no secret that well behaved children are easier to be with than those who are always whining or causing trouble.  Letting a child get whatever they want is not love.  Children don’t come out knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do.  Reasonable guidelines need to be made and kept.  Children need discipline.  The keys to discipline are consistency and control. 
Consistency is pretty self-explanatory.  If you say you’re going to do something, do it.  Don’t threaten things that you’re not going to do—like leaving your child in a store.  Being consistent encourages obedience, but it also develops trust and a sense of security.  Your children will not respect you or your boundaries if they don’t know what’s expected of them.  If one morning a spilled glass of juice is no big deal and the next it’s worth a spanking, your children will never feel comfortable with you.  Choose your battles wisely. Know when kids are just being kids; know when discipline is needed. 
The last thing a parent should want is for their child to be afraid of them.  This is where control comes in.  A lot of parents think it’s their job to control their children.  One thing I learned through Mom and Dad is that a parent’s job is actually to teach their children how to control themselves.  Step one is Mom and Dad having control over themselves.  Mom once told me that she never punished any of us kids; she disciplined us.  Punishment is a parent’s way of getting even, in the spirit of anger.  If you are angry, do not take action in that moment, because you will always take it a step too far.  Discipline is correcting a child, in the spirit of love.  Spankings, if used correctly, are a form of discipline.  Mom and Dad hated having to spank us, but sometimes it was necessary.  We knew this because they told us.  Beforehand, they made it clear why we were being spanked, and afterward, they would look us in the eye, tell us they loved us, and give us a big hug.  It was the relationship being built in everyday moments that made this possible. 
One thing I know is that a child measures love by time.  Not time spent working for a standard of living.  Time spent with the one you’re claiming to love.  And by with I mean really with.  Yes, your family needs the money you make to live, but what your children really need is a relationship with you.  Set boundaries at work.  When you get home, get off your phone or iPod, or whatever it is that’s stealing your attention.  Be with your children.  Listen to them, and really get to know them.  Play with them.  Teach them.  Be patient with them.  Explore with them.  Take them on dates, and treat them to an ice cream cone when finances allow.  Let them run errands and complete projects around the house with you.  Play games, do puzzles, or go for a walk.  Just, please, do something with your children.  Let them be a child, and have fun with them! 
Looking back, one of the most wonderful things Mom and Dad did was treat each of us as individuals.  They recognized that we were each unique, and they valued that.  None of us were expected to be like the others.  None of us were valued above the others.  They did their best to be equally involved and interested in sports, academics, the arts, and our many ways of handling our social lives.  At the end of the day, they would do the same for each of us:  tuck us in, say a prayer, listen to any last-minute jabbering, then give a hug, closing the day with an “I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”  Let your children know they are valued for who they are as a human being.  For their talents and the areas where they’re growing, for the struggles they’re working through and the fears they face, for their beauty, and the joy and adventure they add to your life. 

There is so much more that could be said about every one of the subjects I expanded on.  I’m sure I forgot something, but each family is unique.  Even if you were able to see a complete movie of my life, your individual story would leave room for question and debate.  No family is perfect, but every family has hope. Start with loving God.  Let Him transform your life and your marriage with it.  Love your spouse.  Cherish each other as you demonstrate patience and conflict resolution.  Love your children.  Value them.  Make memories while life allows.