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Archive for December, 2008

I decided a long time before I had kids that I did not want to hit my children.  And it’s a good thing I made that decision ahead of time, because this week I’ve grown into a new understanding of why child abuse occurs so often.  The girls have pushed every button I have a hundred times.  And after long days at work and long hours spent working out disagreements with other adults, the last thing I want is to come home to screaming hungry tired demanding children.  But that’s my life and so I’m learning all over again how to live in the reality that I created for myself.

Working full time is hard.  Raising kids is hard.  Working full time and raising kids is next to impossible.  Yet thousands of people do it.  And after the impulses to inflicting bodily harm that I’ve experienced this week, I’m amazed the human race has survived as long as it has.  I’m not certain that there has always been a level of consciousness among humans to deal with familial conflicts compassionately and peacefully, and I personally know many many people who survived beatings as children, even into young adulthood.  Matter of fact, I know several adults who have endured years of domestic violence.  I know people who have disowned their families.  I know several more who have joined the military and fought in wars and killed others for reasons far beyond my comprehension.  I knew people who even felt it necessary to end their own lives, at young ages.  Yes, the human race must have a special calling on this planet, and God must be keeping us around for a reason, because from a logical standpoint we should have destroyed ourselves long ago.

So, last night, when I was exhausted from working late and the laundry wasn’t folded and the dishes weren’t done, and both kids were screaming and refusing to do anything I or Brendan asked them to do until he and I started arguing too, I was able to reach deep inside and get the hell out of the house before I did things that I would regret later…well at least before I engaged in too many regrettable acts.  I did not hit, slap, kick, shake or throw either or my children (or my husband).  I did yell at everyone, and I did try to physically force both Ida and Kellan to brush their teeth.  And I stomped around and whined right along with them, slammed the doors and slammed the dirty dishes around in the sink.  When I wonder where they learned to throw raging temper tantrums, I am sad to say I don’t have to look very far.  They have learned a lot of it right here at home.

But as often as they act like royal pains in the ass, more frequently my girls are beautifully compassionate and demonstrate God’s love through their innoncence.  They are creative and brilliant, they hunger for understanding and knowledge, and they light up virtually every room they walk into.  People love to have them around (most of the time).  And I realize that they must have picked up a lot of these things at home too.

Children are mirrors to adults, as we are to them.  They imitate us, and reflect back to us what they need and want.  Within their needs and wants, I get to see a bit of what is really important to me as well.

There is a whole theory of human development based on this concept of the mirror.  My loose understanding of this theory follows:  A baby spends all her time trying to imitate the people and things she observes in the world around her.  Eventually she begins to differentiate herself from these other beings, and realizes that she is separate from them.  Once she realizes this, she begins to develop fear.  For example, a child learning to walk is not at first conscious of the fact that she is walking.  She is simply doing the same thing that the big people around her do all the time.  But then she takes those first few staggering steps…hovers…and falls.  Perhaps she gets back up and tries again.  Perhaps she cries out in frustration.  But she also realizes that the possibility of falling exists where it never existed before.  And that opens up a space for fear.

My recollection of the mirror theory stops there.  When we live in fear, we reject faith.  When we reject faith, it becomes far too tempting to choose the easiest way out.  In my case, the easiest and most thoughtless thing to do when my children swing their little fists at me would be to swing back.  But since I have chosen a path of faith, I am called to make a different choice.  Sometimes I succeed at this, sometimes not.  The point is, I’m consciously choosing to do things a little differently than the way that was demonstrated to me as a child.  I’m paying attention.  Talking with my parents about their successes, and their mistakes.  Talking with others and trying to remember that no matter how badly things get screwed up, there is always forgiveness and God’s infinite love.  And then I’m asking God to guide my thoughts and actions within that love.  And if God’s love is in me, how can I help but reflect that love so that others can find it in themselves?

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It’s busy season for almost any retail business out there.  And the holidays bring with them temptation to get caught up in all kinds of busy-ness as we go about our busi-ness.  People who live at Koinonia are no exception to that rule.  Sure, we ascribe to simple living and seek alternatives to materialism.  But we also earn our bread and butter by running a retail business.  And the way things stand right now, we are busiest during the Christmas holiday.  November and December bring in hundreds, thousands of orders, millions of pecans are being harvested in our orchards and then cracked in the pecan plant and sorted in a room that we affectionately call the “nut house” since you start to go nuts after hand-sorting pecans all day long!

Yes, the temptation is strong to get so wrapped up in all the important things we have going on this time of year.  In fact, I’m sitting in my office right now, after 10 pm, having come back to work late for the third time this week.  But then the universe has this gentle (or sometimes not so gentle) way of reminding me what is important.  I came in late tonight because tomorrow morning I will be home with my sick four-year-old.  Last night she was running a fever, but she seemed fine this morning and so I came to work and she went off to school.  But tonight she fell asleep at 5:30, burning up with fever again.  So tomorrow, during one of the busiest weeks of the entire year, I will stay at home with Ida to watch movies, read books, and nurse her back to health.  God has once again called me back to what is most important.

At the end of the day, Koinonia will not succeed or fail based on the number of packages we ship out during the holidays or how many pounds of pecans we harvest.  It will not endure based on the great plans we make and then follow through on, nor because we receive huge grants for worthy projects.  The quality of our life here is not based primarily on income or percentage yield.

What, then, will make or break Koinonia?  One word: relationships.

Our relationships with one another and with God are what will carry us through difficult times and help us to soar during great successes.  Busy or not, we are here to learn how to communicate, how to support one another, and how to draw closer to God as he comes alive within each of us.  And as we practice, we are called here by God to demonstrate this way of life to others, to welcome strangers and friends to experience a little bit of the kingdom of heaven.  To borrow the tag line used by Mission Year:

Love God, Love People.  Nothing else matters.

The relationship with God comes first.  And, sustained by his infinite and unconditional love, we are able to offer that same love to one another.  Liberated from myths like “busy-ness,” we are free to enjoy each other’s company regardless of our day-to-day circumstances.  So I can care for my Ida, even during the busiest weeks of the year, and trust that God’s grace will carry all of us through.  Thank God I don’t have to do it all by myself!

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From http://www.foundmagazine.com/find/794 Found Magazine's Find of the Day

I’ve found myself wanting to apologize a lot lately.  I’m not always sure what for, just seems like the right thing to do when people are feeling bad.  I had a friend who used to scold me for saying “I’m sorry.”  He would say, “You feel sorry, but sorry is not what you are.”  So when someone is sick, or lonely, or just plain grumpy, I’m learning to have a new response.

When I say “I’m sorry,” I am accepting some responsibility for the circumstances of another person’s life.  Sometimes this is warranted.  For example, if I yelled at my kids over something small, or if I nagged my husband, or if I gossiped and spread rumors, or forgot to return something that I borrowed for weeks on end…those situations warrant an apology.  I was at fault.  I need to accept my part in the situation, own up to it, confess it within the proper venue, and then be willing to move on and do better the next time a similar situation presents itself.

When I get into trouble is when I’m apologizing for things that I had no part in, things that I have no control over.  For example, if my friend comes down with a stomach virus, it is not my fault that she is sick.  “I’m sorry” doesn’t do anything to help her.  Instead I could say, “I know how you feel,” and then offer to bring her some 7-up and saltine crackers.  Somewhere along the line, though, we screwed up our understanding of “sorry” and it became a means to comfort rather than a means to accountability.

I had to stop apologizing to my husband altogether for a while, because we had become kind of like the comic strip above.  “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth every five minutes until it meant nothing because I wasn’t doing anything to change my behavior.  I was just repeating the same awful habits…nagging, micro-managing, manipulation…and then trying to fix it with a two-word apology.

Here at Koinonia there has been a lot of talk about re-claiming certain words that Americans have distorted.  One of those words is “Christian.”  Another is “waste.”  I propose that we now begin to re-claim “sorry,” according to the following definition from the Collaborative International Dictionary of English:

Sorry \sor”ry\ adjective [the original sense was, painful; hence, miserable, sad] 1. Grieved for the loss of some good; pained for some evil; feeling regret; –now generally used to express light grief or affliction, but formerly often used to express deeper feeling. “I am sorry for my sins.” —Piers Plowman

I would like to see more people follow the lead of Piers Plowman and actually mean it when they apologize; I would like to hear people apologizing not for the wrongs of others, but for their own mistakes, for their own sins.  Not in two words blurted out and then forgotten, but in altered actions, in humility, graciousness and faithfulness.

In twelve step recovery, steps 8 & 9 tell us to make amends: 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. And then step 10 tells us to maintain this state of being right with the world: 10.  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The keys are willingness, directness, being careful not to cause more damage, and promptly taking care of new issues as they come up.  And always, always, always taking accountability for my part in all situations in my life.  Not just muttering “I’m sorry,” but truly seeking a new way of existing with my fellow humans.  Sometimes my part is good and warrants praise, sometimes it’s deplorable and I have to go apologize, but most often these days I’m following God’s will, and when I embrace that calling I find that there’s not much left for me to feel sorry about.

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