Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

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We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

In Praise of Letters

When did you last receive a personal letter? Not an email. Not a text. Not a voice mail. And especially not a plea for your money or your vote. But a letter—in which someone sat down, thoughtfully considered what they wanted to say, got out a pen and paper, and wrote to you in longhand? It’s a grand feeling, getting a letter like that. Just seeing it in your mailbox makes your heart glad, and you can’t wait to see what they said.

I grew up in the world of letter writing. The 1950s were simpler and less complicated. The only phone that rang was on the hallway table, and it had neither an extension nor an answering machine. Since we lived in the British West Indies, we had no television: just a radio for local stations and a short-wave radio if we wanted news from the States. We could hear the birds sing through the always-open windows and across the street was the park where we played and on whose sidewalks we roller skated. People sat on their wide verandas in the evenings, catching up on the day’s events and discussing the mail that day. On a normal day my parents would receive letters from the Missionary Board (our employers in the States) and maybe a magazine. On good days, we received personal mail. On extra special days, I got a letter from my sister in Minnesota, who had left Trinidad to attend high school when I was seven. Air Mail EnvelopeI examined each air mail envelope with its red and blue rectangles around the edge. The paper was usually light blue and in the upper right-hand corner were stamps: beautiful stamps, hand cancelled, and whispering of exotic places and distant lands. We now and then received letters from missionary friends in Africa, Egypt, or Europe. Letters took about two weeks to reach America, and interminably long to arrive from anywhere else.  But they came, like friends dropping in for a visit.

Mail was our lifeline. We could call long-distance, of course, but only in dire emergencies.  But in those days before cell phones and computers, mail was the only way to communicate with family and friends.

The Little Mailman of...When I was five or six, one of my favorite books was, The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane, by Ian Munn. The little mailman was a chipmunk who delivered letters to his animal neighbors. Some neighbors received lots of letters and some only a few. One neighbor never got any letters. The little mailman organized a letter writing campaign which cheered up the lonely neighbor immeasurably and brought everyone together. Strange, the things you remember from one’s childhood. Come to think of it, this little book is probably one of the reasons I write lots of letters and cards today. I love to hear from someone months, maybe years, later, telling me how my letter came at just the right moment or that my card was just what they needed at the time.

Mail is very important to me now because it is so personal. A personal letter still is one of the best ways to get someone’s attention. Mass mailers know this. That’s why they cleverly disguise their mailings to look like personal letters. One charity onto whose mailing list I was somehow unfortunately added even hires minimum wagers to hand write the address. They use real stamps, colored envelopes that look like a Hallmark card, and home return addresses to cajole you into opening it. And then—wham! The disappointing realization smacks you in the face that you’ve been suckered again. Ours is an impersonal world where things are made to seem personal when they’re really just an algorithm in a computer created to use your first name, as though the national offices of a political party care about anything more than getting your money. They don’t know you. It’s just business. It’s a cold world where one of life’s dearest joys is shanghaied by commercialization.

personal decorated envelopes2A personal letter means that somebody is thinking about you and wants you to know. Personal letters are rare, for one thing. And they’re from a live person who has taken out some paper and an envelope, checked on your address, sat down and wrote your name to tell you things that nobody else will know except you. There is no accidental copying it to a third party. There are no emojis decorating every other thought, as though words were so difficult to create that our society has to communicate with pictures. There is no ugly swearing or obscenity. Just simple words created for you. Above all, it is personal. The handwriting may be untidy, but it is unique to the sender. Perhaps the message is the same time after time, but, even so, it is for you. How are you doing? How’s your garden coming? Aunt Hilda just had hip replacement surgery. Our dog had pups. Fifteen! When can you come and see me? I’m going to visit you next Christmas. How was your trip to Budapest? (or Omaha)

My mother had incredibly precise penmanship until it got shaky in her 90s. She always used a fine point pen and could get more words on a sheet of paper than anyone else. (After all, postage was expensive.) My Dad’s handwriting was always a challenge to interpret, somewhat like his typing, that was filled with strikeouts. When, as a teenager, I lived in Seattle and they in Jamaica, their letters were a lifeline to me. The main body of the letter was typed, but before it concluded, each of them wrote a paragraph or two in their distinctive handwriting which I knew so well. My mother, especially, was amazingly observant and always included descriptions of her travels, the neighborhood children, or some recent event she’d been to, and even what people were wearing. I still remember one letter she wrote while flying across the USA. She drew little diagrams of the irrigation circles below that she’d never seen before.

Karon @ 15 - front shotAll my life I got personal letters. In college I met a captivating blonde with a knockout smile who stole my heart. For two years we wrote letters each summer while separated, she in California and I traveling. She still has those letters I wrote from Seattle, Barbados, and from across the USA. She, too, was a faithful letter writer. She joked about how their mailman commented every day, “Another letter from that young man in Seattle!” and told me a lot about her job and family. Any time I see her handwriting I see in my mind’s eye her lovely hands so soft to hold. The two are inseparable.

I don’t get many letters these days. I’m sad to say the writing letters is a dying art form. This lovely and altogether delightful way to communicate is vanishing in a culture that’s too fast and too electronic to be bothered with anything that takes time. Sending a text or email is fast and convenient, after all. I will admit that Facebook and the social media are fun and useful. But they’re still kind of impersonal, like Siri, that calls you by your first name. We respond with a thumbs up or maybe even a little comment like “Way to go!” or “Congratulations.” But likely others are reading it and adding their two cents worth; rather like having a conversation in the checkout line.

Me? I still love writing and receiving letters. Every week I drop notes and cards to people around the country. Even if they don’t respond, I know that receiving a personal note will brighten their day.

It just occurs to me that God has written letters, also: to us—to me. The Bible is filled with all kinds of literature. I believe that it’s no coincidence that the easiest to understand and also the most memorable are personally written: journal entries such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the letters in the New Testament. The true value of letters now stands revealed: one can ready them again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Self-Entitled Generation

Wait! She married herself?

The concept of solo marriage hit the headlines in Italy September 2017 when Italian Laura Mesi married herself. The 40-year-old fitness trainer dressed in a white gown and was joined by 70 family and friends for the self-marriage ceremony, (which is not legally recognized). She paid $12,000 for the wedding, which included a three-tier cake topped with a figurine of just herself on the top followed by a whirlwind honeymoon for one to Egypt.

When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner of the UK celebrated her second wedding anniversary earlier this year, there were none of the usual trappings – no flowers or romantic meal for two; no hastily purchased card sealed with a kiss.

It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16, 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.

Welcome to sologamy, or the practice of marrying oneself. This trend has been around for the last ten years. Is it catching on? We certainly hope not.

So far, this practice has been confined mostly to women as part of a woman’s empowerment statement. A 36-year old woman named Erika Anderson, from Brooklyn, famously married herself last spring. She said she got tired of people asking her why she wasn’t married, as if there was something wrong with her. “I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are … and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ‘You are not enough if you are not with someone else,’” Erika Anderson said of her decision to self-marry. The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her twenties but the pair split when aged thirty after growing apart. Committing to herself, she said, was “an act of defiance.”

Some years earlier, another young woman named Dominique, at age 22, also married herself.  While Anderson had a public self-marriage ceremony modeled on the traditional kind with friends, a wedding dress, and a ring, Dominique got married in her bedroom by herself.  She had a ring also, but it didn’t go on her finger. She put it in her nose saying, “I breathe my vows every day.”

Dominique went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2011, where she helped about one hundred other women get married to themselves. Now, of course, she is a self-marriage counselor and minister of something called the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow. Through her website, you can purchase a ten-week, self-marriage, self-study program to prepare yourself for the huge step of getting hitched to yourself. If you want one-on-one private lessons with Dominique, it costs $50 per session. Not that she’s trying to cash in on the self-marriage concept or anything.

Whatever it is called, it is not legally recognized.  That is, you can’t marry yourself and then file a joint tax return or claim benefits. At least not yet. Outside of the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow, I’m not sure any so-called religion would recognize self-marriage either. However, that is small potatoes to someone who loves themselves enough to self-marry. Erika Anderson says that when people ask her if she’s married now, she says yes and then introduces them to her other half.[1]

This self-marriage phenomenon is just one more evidence of the seriously misguided people our society is churning out in record numbers. More troublesome are a significant percentage of today’s young adults who have been raised to think the world revolves around them. They have no clue of the long-term consequences of their immaturity. All of their lives their parents have told them they are special, apparently just for being born. A child coming down a slide is praised by his mother for being a hero (for allowing gravity to work?) Teachers in some public schools are forbidden to give failing grades even if students turn in no work or flunk their tests. (This is not hearsay: a current teacher told me this.) After all, we don’t want anyone to feel he/she is less valuable than another student.

Welcome to the self-entitled generation.

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Photo by Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701065

It’s no wonder that twenty-somethings have no budgets, still live at home, and complain about how difficult “adulting” is. You cannot build a strong nation on people whose major accomplishment is beating their friends in video games or drinking the most alcohol. They have never been taught right from wrong and therefore they bristle when you suggest that their choices are inappropriate. They defy authority while imagining that the benefits that authority provides them are owed to them. You can rewrite history and delete from your textbooks the things and people you don’t like, but it’s still true that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Although flooding America today, self-entitled persons are nothing new. The world has had its share of those who flagrantly live as though rules don’t apply to them. I think we could say Absalom, son of King David, the first King of Israel, was self-entitled. He grew up in the palace where there were few rules and no consequences for those who broke them. He fostered rebellion against his father, slept with his concubines, and eventually had himself crowned king while David was still on the throne. The Old West spawned gangs of criminals. Italy famously produced its mafia called “Cosa Nostra” (Our Thing). Today’s cyber terrorists delight in wreaking catastrophe. All of this vividly demonstrates how society implodes when people are only concerned about themselves and their comfort.

Whether its professional football players dishonoring our flag or people who think that their Johnny-come-lately whims have more value than the eternal truths of scripture, I’m afraid that we may only be seeing the beginning of family disintegration and the unraveling of justice.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Most of us gripe about it. We commiserate together and roll our eyes about how society is going to hell in a handbasket. We spend our time lamenting what people wear (“I Saw it at Walmart” web site), we ridicule their so-called careers, and cluck our collective tongues at their never-ending stupidity, all the while praising ourselves that we at least have some sense. By the way, the “Going to hell in a handbasket” phrase has been in print since at least the 1800s.

We worry about it. It’s easy to allow these disturbing trends to dislodge our security and steal our sleep at night. We fret who’s going to run the government when these disorganized and dangerously imbalanced people land in public office. We fear that our nation’s moral fabric—already shredded beyond comprehension—will totally disintegrate. We are afraid of those who are different, imagining that they are no longer motivated by human emotions like ours.

We despair of the future, forgetting that God is still God and that there may be other viable futures for us that we haven’t even imagined. We cut off communication with the world and isolate ourselves as though the rest of the world has been bombed and we alone are left in our nuclear fallout shelters.

Could we try this?

Stop seeing others as “them,” and see them as individuals. When we group people together we tend to forget they are humans like us who want to succeed, to be loved, and find meaningful lives. Resist the tendency to jump on the bandwagon when others lump people together and blame them. Instead, look for and find one person you are writing off and start praying for them. Start a conversation. Send a card. Discover what would make them happy and try to make it happen. If you don’t know anyone who you would classify as self-entitled or a lost cause, maybe it’s time to find one.

Ask yourself about the history of the person of whom you are most critical. There are reasons people turn out the way they do. It doesn’t excuse bad choices, but it can explain them. Can we reasonably expect our fractured society to produce emotionally balanced offspring? Concentrate not on what they’re doing, or what you assume they’re doing, but on what you can do to build a bridge to them. Should they be cold to you or sluff off your attempt, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to build trust, and most of us could use some practice at building new relationships. Ask about the meaning of a tattoo or what they love about coloring their hair purple. You will surely learn something you didn’t know as well as starting up a conversation.

Cultivate a positive spirit. It’s so easy to see the dark side, or the glass that’s half empty. It takes work to see what is right. You may light a lot of candles before one stays lit, but that’s still a good thing. Ask God to alert you the moment you begin to criticize. It probably won’t take more than a minute or two. 😊 God still believes the world is worth saving. People determined to do right have rescued the world more times than history can record it. But they usually do it one person at a time.

 

[1] Thanks to my neighbor, Christopher Zimmerman, Whetstone, AZ, 2017 for the info. about self-marriage. Used by permission.

 

 

How to Handle Failure and Loss

July 28, 2015 our sweet black Scottish terrier, Maggie, slipped through the fence and was gone…forever. She was a hunter and loved to chase jackrabbits. That’s all it would have taken. We scoured the property and the surrounding desert. We left her bed and a dish of water at the place someone said they saw her. We took her picture to all of the neighbors, local businesses, and the post office. We checked in with the animal shelter day after day, but she was gone.

maggie-and-molly
Maggie (left) and Molly (right)

If you love a dog you understand what we’re going through. You’d think we’d be over it by now. After all, it wasn’t a child (thank God). We still look for her and can almost see her trotting back proudly from dispatching a jackrabbit, her tail in the air and her pink tongue hanging out. We think of her every day when we feed Molly, our little white dog. Yesterday, we talked again, Karon and I, about how much we still miss Maggie. As an experiment, I called Maggie’s name. Molly immediately jumped down from my lap and looked in every corner of the yard and then in the house. She misses her too.

I don’t think we’ll get over it.

Every loss is significant.

Mom and Dad lived into their nineties. Dad died at 93. Mom lived until 97. They lived wonderful lives and were citizens of the world, missionaries to the Caribbean and equatorial Africa. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that as I grew older abandonment issues and many other things distanced me from them emotionally to the extent that when they died, my overwhelming feeling was relief.

To my surprise, I feel a greater loss as the years go by. I especially miss my mother and our first thirteen years in our West Indian home (when I knew her best). I see her hanging out the wash, her arms tanned from the tropical sun. I see her playing the piano and watch her keeping books for the mission. I remember when she picked me up from school and I shocked her with, “We’re going to have to hurry like hell!”—a phrase I obviously picked up somewhere other than the staid Shultz residence. We shared a deep love of color and beauty, so profuse in the tropical flowers with which she surrounded us. And I understand her so much better now at this stage of my life, a woman transplanted far away from her family that she never saw and separated from the two children that she loved because of duty and obedience to God. I would like to ask her about all of that, and, perhaps in heaven, she will again remember the things that I remember, and we can enjoy those memories together.

Many of us grieve fractured relationships. People we loved and trusted have disappointed us. Grown children live irresponsibly and discard our most deeply prized values. We mourn relationships we have lost or have been unsuccessful at saving, and we still remember the good times with those people or with those children when life seemed simpler and our world seemed safer. We remember the dinner table when we all laughed when one of the children passed gas. We can see the sunlight in their hair and hear they innocent chatter as they play on the monkey bars in the back yard. We remember family get-togethers when there were no political issues to separate us or illnesses to leave empty chairs where smiles used to be.

We mourn the loss of bodies that moved easily or without pain, and yearn for the days when getting dressed in the morning took five minutes instead of forty-five minutes. We miss the “good old days,” days perhaps different for each of us, but remembered in a golden glow of nostalgia.

 How to handle failure and loss.

 1. Remember and enjoy the good things.

Last night we saw the 1951 movie David and Bathsheba and I found it surprisingly moving and insightful. When David was confronted by Nathan and the full realization of his failure and sin was overwhelming him, he collapsed in prayer. In those moments, God reminded David of the good times in their relationship: when God called him by Samuel’s anointing, when he saw God in every star, lily of the valley, and care of his sheep, and when God helped him, not the least of which was killing Goliath. We cannot bring back the one who has died, but we can find joy in recalling the laughter and joy we shared together. We cannot undo the time we failed, but we can remember the hundreds of times we did not fail!

2. Remember that everyone deals with loss, even Jesus.

Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water, describes the first time this realization hit her.

 “One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally he looked at me and said calmly, ‘Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.’

“That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.

Jesus’ losses and disappointments were massive: (a) the loss of divinity and heaven during the Incarnation; (b) the death of Lazarus; (c) the intense humanity of the disciples (“Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?  [Matthew 23:40]); and the failure to succeed with many people: the Pharisees, the rich young ruler, and Judas, to name just a few. But Jesus did not allow his losses to define him.

 3. Remember that God is always with us.

A secondary result of salvation—wonderful beyond description—is God’s continual friendship and presence with us. He cares deeply for us and is intensely interested in the tiniest details of our lives. Before Jesus departed this earth, he told the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, who will never leave you….I will not abandon you as orphans (John 14:16-18).

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3)

A book which always encourages me is that ancient classic The God of All Comfort by Hannah Whitall Smith. The language is dated, but Ms. Smith’s insights are simple and remarkable. For example,

“A wild young fellow, who was brought to the Lord at a mission meeting, and who became a rejoicing Christian and lived an exemplary life afterward, was asked by someone what he did to get converted.

“‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I did my part and the Lord did His.’

“‘But what was your part,’ asked the inquirer, ‘and what was the Lord’s part?’

“’My part,’ was the prompt reply, ‘was to run away, and the Lord’s part was to run after me until He caught me.’ A most significant answer; but how few can understand it!

God’s part is always to run after us. Christ came to seek and save the lost….This is always the Lord’s part; but in our foolishness we do not understand it, but think that the Lord is the one who is lost, and that our part is to seek and find Him.

We must simply believe what the Bible says about God’s love for us and His determination to be with us and to help us. We don’t have to explain it, feel it, or defend it, just accept it.

4. E + R = O (Event + response = outcome)

This formula was concocted, or perhaps repeated, by Matthew Cornell, a man whose blog I read the other day. He struggles with imagining the worst possible outcome, always reacting negatively.[1] For example, when he receives a letter from his insurance company, he immediately imagines that he is being canceled or that his rates are going up, and dreads opening the mail. It’s easy to imagine the worst when we lose something important to us or when we face an embarrassing situation or failure. But such events, losses, or failures do not define us. Our response defines us. My granddaughter, Krissy Klotz posted this on Facebook recently: “There are always going to be hard days. The way you respond to them defines you.”

As I mentioned above, Jesus suffered unimaginable rejections, disappointments, and pain. But he did not let those things define him. When bad things come our way, we need to learn to respond with a childlike innocence and curiosity instead of imagining the worst right off the bat. What can we learn? What good and positive thing is God going to bring from this? (Romans 8:28)  It may take months—or years—to get to the point where we can see it, but God promises that it will come.

 

[1]  http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2005/10/9/e-r-o-event-response-outcome-dealing-appropriately-with-crin.html

Parenting: the Forgotten Years

2015-09-14 18.09.14-4Our daughter, Jodi, was here for a couple of days of R&R from her crazy, busy life in Chandler as a nurse in a pediatric critical care unit. She loves to come and flake out, get up late, eat the food she remembers from her childhood, and spend long hours visiting, looking at the mountains, and sharing how God is working in her life. I mentioned that I was working on a blog about parenting but that I wasn’t sure who would read it since most of my Facebook friends, the largest audience for my blogs, are long past child-bearing years. She stared at me and said, “So parenting stops?”

As I’ve thought about it, I now realize that parenting not only never stops, parenting adult children has become a lost art in our society in which nontraditional families flourish and generations live miles apart. These “forgotten years of parenting” actually corroborate for your adult children everything you told them as they were growing up. In fact, the same actions, traditions, and practices that were important to your children as they were growing up are even more important to your adult children and grandchildren. In other words, they need you now more than ever. They need to know that you are who you said you were all those years. Tremendous security emanates from dependable people and we all need such people in our lives. How wonderful to be those people for our children.

They still need your approval

Adult children don’t need to be told what to do but they need to know that you love them and believe in them. You can never tell anyone too much that you love them. They need to hear from you often. They still need you to take an active interest in their lives and families.

When our son, Jon, was in Little League, Karon used to sit in the stands and yelled at him to pay attention, to watch the ball (when he was batting) and to watch the batter (when he was on the field.) Mostly, however, she yelled, “That’s my boy!” Years later she yelled, “That’s my boy!” when he was in pilot school and took off in his F16, and again when he graduated from the USAF Academy. She doesn’t yell that particular phrase much these days, but she says it in many other ways every time they talk on the phone or text.

Understand that your relationship has changed.

Now you and your children are adults. We don’t want them treating us like children, and you must no longer treat them like children, correcting their behavior or controlling their friendships. We must respect our children as we respect any other adult and wait for them to invite us to give our opinions. If we blatantly disagree with their living patterns and act like they don’t have a brain in their heads, we will only distance them and will eventually drive them away.

Karon is a master at treating our children like adults. For example, when watching our grandchildren (when they were small), she always kept open communication with their parents about their preferences in disciplining and training them. Then she supported that behavior. She never corrected their discipline or the things they did, and would never have even dreamed of correcting them in front of their own children. When our kids did ask her for advice, she was happy to offer it.

Set and keep boundaries.

We all do better when someone expects us to be our best. We act better when someone is watching and caring about us. However, sometimes parents of adult children still have a reason to “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6). A dear friend of ours struggled with her youngest child who, partly because of unfortunate physical issues, got the short end of the stick in life. However, as an adult he consistently made bad choices, chose bad friends, and developed bad habits. Even after he got married he called her to bail him out. She didn’t want to believe that those were the only times he called until we pointed it out to her. She so desperately wanted him to be happy that she enabled his irresponsible behavior, repeatedly sending him money when she could not afford it, and even buying tires for his car. What he needed from her was for her to say, “Enough!” which she finally learned to say. This story still has not had a happy ending. Ultimately we learn that our children make their own lives and we must accept it.

Love them unconditionally.

Life is hard and sometimes our adult children choose people and habits that make life harder. While we must set boundaries, the most important thing we can do is to love our children unconditionally. This does not mean we do whatever they ask or condone wrong behavior, but it does mean that we never withhold our love. Sometimes –rarely, thank God—extreme circumstances dictate that, for our own safety, we must totally cut off a relationship. Most of the time we can keep communication open and continue to invest ourselves emotionally. We pray and trust that our prodigal children will someday come to themselves and come home (as happened in the parable Jesus told in Luke 15). Our children need to know that when that happens, they will find a warm smile, hot food, and open arms. God is the one who told this story and we need to remember that we all have been prodigals who are whole only because of his incredible, healing love.

Let them see your struggles

Mimi was married and Jon and Jodi were still at home when my depression forever changed our lives. I left pastoral ministry and for the next seven years followed other career paths. My faith was severely tested. My marriage and family suffered from my inability to maintain any emotional closeness. I questioned everything I ever believed and withdrew from every important person in my life. Because of my wife and children’s incredible longsuffering and commitment to me, and because of God’s extremely personal care for me through His Word, I eventually moved beyond the worst of it. Forever scarred, we live on, thankful for God’s grace and each other.

I asked them later how this experience affected their respect for me. They all said, “I respect you more.” This speaks of their integrity, maturity, and faith. But it also underscores the wisdom Karon and I had (by God’s grace) to openly discuss it and keep them apprised of every step along the way.

I am able to live with depression because my wife and children love me and also because of antidepressant medication. But aging is continuing to change things:  my back problems limit both movement and travel. It’s likely that our physical strength will continue to decline, changing our lives in ways that many older adults are discovering. I’m thankful that I can talk with my children openly about these struggles, because I need their outlook and spiritual support.

Keep the Faith

The most powerful legacy we can leave our children is our faith. It is no accident that scripture promises God’s blessings on those he favors to continue for several generations. Karon and I recently talked about how blessed we are to each have grown up in Christian homes. Those homes were by no means perfect, but they gave us priceless foundations that sustain us. Those of us with adult children must continue growing, forgiving, serving, and loving. How we behave in our later years validates—or invalidates—everything we have ever taught them. Maybe this is the time to conquer longstanding habits that have plagued us through the years and to finally forgive siblings for old hurts. This is not the time for them to hear us ranting about how people treat us or that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. God gives us hope and optimism even in the face of cancer and Alzheimer’s and we must point them to it.

Above all we must pray: pray for our children and their children; pray for ourselves and our country; pray for those who need help and healing; and pray for our world. Our schedules are more open these days. Physical limitations may corral us, but this we can do. For years we were too busy to read the Bible through and to keep a detailed prayer list. Now we have the time and there is no better way to use it.

Stay in touch

Mimi, John, DS and KS SeptYears ago I waited for people to make an overture of friendship before I would offer a hand. Such a misguided idea! Thank God I learned to take the initiative! Over the years I have been saddened to observe many people who wait for others to communicate. “She should apologize first!” “Why doesn’t he ever call?” “They never write.” Your children lead busy lives and you should not be too proud—or lazy—to keep communication open. You will find a way that is best for each relationship. Some like you to call. Others prefer texting. Email is still used by some (although not by many under sixty years old). Sending a note or card is uncommon these days, but there still is nothing quite like getting a handwritten note or letter in the mail. Don’t be offended if they never let you know they received it. God will use your every effort to strengthen the bond between you.

My adopted mother, Helen Flynt, always calls on my birthday. We don’t often talk at other times of year, depending instead on Facebook and email. But I can expect to hear her familiar voice on my birthday, and I love it. I know she’s thinking of me. She, now that both of my parents are gone, reminds me many times each year that she’s thinking of me, or that she’s proud of me. And if you think that a seventy-one year old man doesn’t need this anymore, you fail this exam.