Silence ...

I went out to lunch with my parents yesterday, which is always a treat.

My parents are almost 80 years old. My dad still works full-time as the senior partner in his law firm. My mom works for my dad most afternoons. They go out to lunch together almost every day. Occasionally, I get invited along.

We had great conversation. They are some of the only people besides my husband who love hearing about my kids … in detail!

However, during one part of our conversation, I noticed I was not listening well to my mom. She (a nurse) was trying to explain something medical to me, and I kept talking over her, explaining to her that I already knew what she was trying to tell me.

Yuk.

Why did I do that?

Why do I often do that?

I use my words to try to control people. To try to explain to them how much I know. To try to correct them; fix them, even.

I want to be a better listener. Do you?

First, then, we must start with silence.

“Silence frees us from the need to control others … A frantic stream of words flows from us in attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit because it puts the stopper on that.” (Richard Foster)

Oh silence, will you be my friend?

Truth at your kitchen table ...

The world of the church, throughout history,

has tended to be a "man's world."

In many places, it still is.

And yet, even in the early church

there were whispers...

names mentioned...

women who led,

taught,

funded,

were at the center of,

Jesus' ministry,

and the start of the church.

As one who teaches,

some would say, preaches...

(and happens to be a woman)

it has been an interesting ride.

Fifteen years

of serving God

in this unexpected way.

And as I take a look behind me

at the amazing young women God is using

all over the world,

but especially in my little neck of the woods,

I cheer.

I came across this poem the other day

and post it as a hat-tip to my fellow

"kitchen table theologians."

God sees you,

and he cheers, too.

Laywoman

Were you a man and single,

the Jesuits would have you in a trice.

But you are a man's wife, 

lovely hair coarse and wild as a Morgan's tail,

on each hip a fine son, and one on your shoulders.

Your bent for theology is more startling

than your renegade humor, 

your ease on a good horse, fast and wild as he can be.

You are no cut-out saint.

Bus-stop apologist, 

training your eye for truth at your kitchen table,

turning worn pages in the weary night

as your tea grows cold.

The day has come for your kind.

Venerable Jenn,

you are better than you know,

stirring the oatmeal,

reading Aquinas,

shoveling the snow.

(by Nancy A. Henry)

 

 

This ordinary day ...

One more post related to "my dad turned 80..."

One of the gifts we gave him was 

a letter from each of his grandchildren

recounting some of their favorite memories

of life with "Grandpa Dave."

Here's what I noticed:

None of the memories had to do with money.

None had to do with a big, fancy vacation.

None had to do with effort, or forethought, or intensive planning.

None.

Not one.

Instead, each memory was

incredibly "ordinary."

A moment that, while it was happening, if you blinked,

you might have missed it.

Some wrote about playing basketball together at the YMCA on New Year's Eve.

Others wrote about the family card game we always play, complete with prizes from Walgreens.

One wrote about a look of approval my dad gave her when she thought of others ahead of herself.

Several wrote about the power of my dad's presence in the stands at one of their athletic competitions.

One wrote about the power of a hand-written letter of encouragement my dad wrote to him after a major athletic loss.

Do you understand the point?

Each of these treasured memories in these young people's lives

was a very ordinary thing,

that happened in a very ordinary way,

on a very ordinary day.

Much like this day.

What happens today...

how you smile,

what you say,

what you write,

how you laugh,

has the power, the potential, the possibility 

of being

a

life-changing,

life-affirming,

life-giving 

moment,

or memory

for the people you love.

Don't miss it, friends...

This ordinary day,

every ordinary day,

is 

sacred.

 

Nonjudgmental presence ...

The practice of "nonjudgmental presence" explained beautifully here by Henri Nouwen has changed our family dynamic more than almost any other practice.

Parents of adult children... it is no longer our job to "fix" our children (it never was)...

It is no longer our job to tell our children how to live (it never was)...

It is no longer our job to constantly evaluate our children's lives (it never was)...

It is our job, however, to ponder our grown children's beauty, to love them unconditionally, to be amazed at God working in their lives, to offer them the fullness of our blessing...

What might our lives begin to look like if we simply offered others our nonjudgmental presence?

I dare you to try it... 

Listen to how Nouwen describes it:

"To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.

Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.

We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.

When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.

Jesus says it clearly: 'Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge;... do not condemn;... forgive' (Luke 6:36-37).

In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.

But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily recognized by those who long for reconciliation."

(Henri Nouwen)

We're All Grown Up ...

I recently delivered a message at my church about navigating the sometimes choppy waters of the relationship between parents and their adult children - Friends and Family: We're All Grown Up

It came out of my ignorance, not my knowledge.

It flowed from my failure, not my success.

It stemmed from my pain, not my progress.

And it really resonated with people.

So, for the next few weeks or so, I am going to write more about this topic.

I created a Top 10 list of suggestions for healthy ways to navigate the waters of parents and adult children.

I will start with suggestion #10 (Make the Transition) for my next post and will write about that until everything I know about it (or think I know) is tapped out. Then I'll move to #9 and so we will proceed. I don't really know where this will go, but I am anxious to see.

The one thing I want to start with is this thought, however. 

Just because I taught about this topic, just because I am writing about this topic, just because I am in the middle of the reality of this topic with my own incredible adults (who are still my kids, of course) don't think that I don't struggle, and struggle alot.

I do. I struggle. A lot.

I loved this quote from Rilke, for it describes what I so often feel and can't quite find the words to say:

“Do not assume that [s]he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His [her] life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, [s]he would never have been able to find these words.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Do you get that? Do not assume that because I seek to comfort and to encourage, I live an untroubled life.

That is what I most want you to know.

I am in it with you. I share your joys, and I know your pain.

We're all in this together...

Make the transition ...

Point #10 in my Top 10 List for Parenting Adult Children is "Make the Transition."

By this I mean that both the becoming-an-adult child and the becoming-the-parent-of-an-adult-child parent must gradually, slowly, in fits and starts, make the transition from the stage of overt parenting to the stage where the parent plays more of a consultant role.

This transition is hard for all kinds of reasons.

For parents, we have spent 18 years or so being on-the-job, teaching, training, advising, coaching, disciplining, modeling, telling, explaining, etc. It is a formidable task to make the transition to a more "hands off" approach. Especially as our little birds fly from the nest and want to try out their own wings without us flapping around making sure they remain in the air.

And yet it is mandatory for our little birds' successful flight experience to flap and flutter on their own. To try things and fail. To experiment a bit. To test their wings. They won't do this well if we don't express trust in them and trust in the process.

At the same time, we don't need to completely step out of the picture. I often hear parents say, "Well, once my child turns 18, that's it. He's on his own." I bite my tongue, but often want to say, "Seriously? You think your fresh-faced 18 year old doesn't need your wisdom? Your occasional advice? Your gentle coaching and encouragement? Good luck with that."

The gradual transition from parenting children to parenting adults is unique to each parent-child relationship, and is often an uneven, awkward and imperfect transition.

Usually starting around the time our teenagers can drive, parents need to practice giving new responsibilities to our fledgling adults. The more they demonstrate maturity and wisdom, the more responsibility we give. If they show us they are not yet ready for more responsibility, we don't berate them for this fact. We simply (and I know this is not simple!) slow down the process and continue to provide them encouraging shelter until their wings are strong enough to keep them afloat.

The danger comes when the person on either side of this equation refuses to start to make the transition. Parents try to over-parent. Young people act like complete fools. Moms won't release their child to live out their own dreams. Dads demand their sons play football like they did, or that their daughters follow in their career path. Danger. Always danger. (More on this tomorrow)

Where are you in this transition?

How is your child navigating it?

Are you letting go too quickly allowing your child to flap, fail and fall?

Or are you hanging on well past the point of overt parenting and cutting short the necessary process of independent wing-flapping that eventually leads to strong, powerful, independent flight?

Great questions to ask ourselves as your kids move from the teenage years off to college and beyond...

(Yea, Alice, great questions... but you know what? This is really, really hard. This is incredibly confusing and rife with potential conflict. Emotions are hot. Feelings get really hurt. Bad things happen. Words get said that can't be forgotten.)

Please don't hear me say this is easy. I know it is not. I have battle scars, too. Let's keep talking, praying, trying things out, cheering each other on, picking each other up. One step at a time...

More soon...

 

Get out of my sh&#!

When my son was about 16 he did his best to let me know he had had enough...

Enough of me constantly checking on his classwork through the satanic program that allows parents of high school students to check in on their student's daily assignments, homework and test scores.

I refused to give up.

Will was different in his approach to schoolwork than were his two older sisters.

He really didn't care that much about acing quizzes, doing extra credit, pleasing the teacher or generally doing all the things that make public school situations work well.

Don't get me wrong: Will is super smart (mom brag, sorry).

But he didn't like to have a bunch of people checking in on him all the time, especially yours truly.

He tried in every way he could to let me know I was overstepping my bounds, but I simply refused to listen.

I refused to trust him.

I balked at him watching TV when I knew (because I checked that darn homework tracker!) that he was missing assignments.

I relentlessly asked him about upcoming quizzes.

I hounded him about getting his required number of practice minutes done each week before his violin sectional.

Finally, since I was blind to his request to let him start to learn to manage his own life, he started to blow.

Eventually he called in his dad, I think.

Fighting ensued between my husband and me.

Finally Chuck blew, too, and said to me with the most serious eyes: "If you don't stop this, you are going to crush his soul."

Complete quite in the home...

I don't think I talked to either of them for 48 hours, mainly because I was so ashamed of myself.

But this was the wake-up call I needed. I did not want to crush my son's soul. I just wanted him to get all his work done.

Never did it dawn on me that perhaps he was choosing NOT to get his work done BECAUSE I was breathing down his neck.

Never did it dawn on me that the only real way he was going to learn to be his own man was if I stepped back and allowed him the freedom to become himself.

But Chuck's words made something dawn...

And so I stepped back. I stopped checking the online homework obsession creator. I let Will manage his own academic life.

And guess what?

He soared. And is still soaring.

Said to me later that year: "Mom, you got out of my sh$! and I got my sh$@ together."

Big smile. (Sometimes when your kid swears, it is a really, really good thing.)

Is it time for you to get out of any part of your becoming-an-adult-child's sh$! so that they can do the hard, but life critical work of getting their own sh$& together?

You can do it. Trust me.

 

Comparison is death ...

I think it was Teresa of Avila who said:

"Comparison is the death of the spiritual life."

Regardless of who first spoke these words, they are both brilliant and painfully true.

Especially when it comes to making the transition from parenting teenagers to parenting adults.

Each person makes that transition in their own way and in their own time.

Parents need to pay close attention to their own burgeoning young adults and adjust accordingly. There is no 3-step plan that works in all instances. There are no set rules. There is no one-size-fits-all protocol.

In this journey, we live not by the law, but by the spirit and the Spirit.

As I blog my way through the Top 10 list found in this teaching - Friends and Family: When We're All Grown Up - I am reminded (and want to remind each one of you) that we must not compare our newly formed adult children with other people's newly formed adult children.

Comparison is death.

So, as you find yourself going through this transition in your family - perhaps with one child, or many - keep your eyes on your own situation. Learn from others, of course. Watch others and adopt practices and skills and strategies that fit with your unique situation.

But don't compare. Don't judge. Don't fall into despair if your young adult seems stalled out, or hits a speed bump, or takes a bit more time to fly.

It's all ok.

Do your best.

Love. Have mercy. Be kind. Watch for grace moments.

Everyone eventually becomes an adult.

So, don't compare. It will surely kill your soul. And your young adult's soul, too.

Be honest ...

I am working my way through the Top 10 List I created for a sermon I gave recently on parenting adult kids.

Last week on my blog, I spent a few days working through point #10 which was "Make The Transition," and today I am going to ponder #9 for a bit, which is "Be Honest."

By "be honest" I mean: Parents, at a certain point in your relationship with your young adult kids start to share your own struggles, failures, mishaps and mistakes that you experienced when you were their age.

Of course, there are all kinds of cautions with this! No young adult wants to hear stuff that is TOO personal from their parents, because... well, just yuk.

So, make sure you are not using your kids as therapists. Share stuff that you believe will be helpful to them. Not advice, of course... because, um, see Point #10.

Let me offer a couple examples of the kind of honesty I am talking about:

1. When our kids were teenage athletes and faced the inevitable failures inherent in high school sports, they loved to hear about how their dad dropped a punt during a very famous college football game and about how I swallowed what felt like half a swimming pool's worth of water in the 3rd lap of the 100 butterfly at a district swim meet which caused me to lose all oxygen to my muscles and drop from the lead to dead last.

These stories from our past helped them process their own failures and keep them in perspective. Their dad and I survived, and so would they.

2. As I mentioned in my teaching, our adult kids have relished knowing that their dad and I did not skate through our 20's easily, always knowing what path we should take, never stumbling, never doubting our choices, never feeling despair over our lives. They love the story of their dad staring up into the night sky as he pondered what the heck he was supposed to do with his life (he was 23 years old at the time). They take comfort in the fact that I did not figure out what I was good at until I was 35. These stories of our confusion help them realize they are not alone when they feel confused. They make them feel normal which, of course, they are.

Parents, don't be afraid to be honest with your adult kids about times in your life when things were less than stellar.

As my son said when he told me how important this was (and still is!) to him: "Knowing that you guys struggled makes me feel a lot less angst when I face hard times. I look at you and think, 'I can make it.'"

#9. Be Honest... more on this in the next few days.

The things that tormented me ...

Working my way through my Top 10 List for parenting young adults...

#9 is Be Honest, meaning parents of young adults can be really helpful to our kids by being appropriately honest with them about our own struggles, confusion, bad choices and mistakes as we navigated the turbulent waters of young adulthood ourselves.

There is something powerful about knowing you are not the only human being who has ever struggled. And somehow this power is multiplied when the person who struggled in a way similar to you is your very own flesh and blood parent!

Listen to how author and social critic, James Baldwin, puts it:

"You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or whoever had been alive. Only if we face those wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people."

Obviously, Baldwin is talking about writing about his own struggles in order to connect with his readers.

But the principle applies, nonetheless.

Parents, as your kids become adults and face inevitable dark days, failures, break-ups, rejection and confusion, listen to them first, and when it seems wise, pull out an old story about a time you faced a similar speed bump, and speak some words of hope and courage into your child's life.

They won't feel so alone.

And neither will you.