Things I Like

Unusual Advice

The following excerpt from a graduation speech delivered at Cardigan Mountain Middle School in 2017, by Chief Justice John Roberts, recently caught my attention.

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.1

A mother living 237 year earlier wrote similar advice to her son, who was around the same age as the middle-school audience addressed above.

These are time in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by the scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.2

These two exhortations strike me similarly by acknowledging how difficulties can uniquely and powerfully form good, virtuous character. No one wishes for hardship, but when it comes, you can remember that it is an opportunity. Here at Give Me Joy, we look for the beautiful extraordinary in the difficult ordinary. We make lemonade from lemons on hard days. We take obstacles blocking our path and turn them into stepping stones to something new.

When Frodo faced was with extraordinary difficulties, Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” advice that both Chief Justice John Roberts and First Lady Abigail Adams express is various ways.3

So, when hard times come or the unexpected arises, what will you do?

 

1 Eicher, Nick. “Legal Docket: Unusual advice from Chief Justice John Roberts.” The World and Everything in It, WNG, 23 July 2018, worldandeverything.org

2 McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster, 2002. Print.

3 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Books, 1994. Print.

Questions

Is This All?

Is this all God intends me to be? All body, creating and bearing, loving and serving? Wiping tears and dirty bottoms, serving meal after meal. Teaching and re-teaching the basic lessons of life: be kind, love your enemies, honor your parents, and worship the Creator. Work so important and so encompassing that I feel overwhelmed by its high demands and yet trapped in claustrophobic tightness by my little audience and limited subject matter.

I dream of directing government policy projects with huge objectives that improve the life of millions, of being somebody and using my mind more than my body. I am light years away from that vision. Yet stopping to reflect, I realize that I do lead according to Biblical principles. My audience of children may be limited, but my influence over them is far greater than I could ever have with any constituents.

The work done here at home really matters – yielding tremendous consequences for all eternity. For what happens here day in and day out – these routines and behaviors that we practice, the books that we read, the conversations that we hold – form who we are and inform what we do when we go into the world. It is in this present, each messy moment of it, that we shape characters, form imaginations, decide to follow Christ, and encourage our children to do the same.

Though the work may seem small, it is not so, for we are entrusted with the care of eternal souls. Whether you find yourself here unexpectedly or on purpose, and whether you really like the work or you really don’t, I encourage you to live in this present moment that touches eternity. May we be faithful in these not-so-little things.

Things I Like

Two Parenting Resources I Recommend

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam teaches parents how to train their baby to sleep. BabyWise also helps parents understand how to take care of a child and when to do what. I used the techniques explained in the book with each of my four babies, beginning the eat-play-sleep routine when they were two days old. One friend began the routine significantly later, when her nine-month-old had trouble sleeping. The techniques helped him to sleep through the night within a week. While each of my own children has responded slightly differently, and I used the routine as a guideline rather than as a strict schedule, it has proved very helpful.

With my first child, I was not familiar with caring for babies. BabyWise helped me more quickly identify my baby’s needs. When my second had a lot of trouble settling into the BabyWise routine, I was able to identify that he had food sensitivities by the time he was six weeks old because I could tell that, despite meeting his need for sleep, milk, and play, something was wrong.

The consistent routine not only highlighted a problem, but it also positively set a rhythm to our life at home. We keep a balance between sleep, play, and food, giving each its particular place. When I meet the kids’ basic needs, they tend to have better attitudes and learn well. Please do not misunderstand – life is far from being perfect. We have rough days and bad days like everyone else. But while every child is different, there are basic principles that make child-raising easier and, I believe, healthier for both parent and child. This book teaches those principles.

Parenting with Love and Logic by Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay also provides many essentials for disciplining and raising children, giving numerous examples of application. It has been around for decades, achieving acclaim in both Christian and secular communities. One of the most convincing testimonials stems from one of the author’s own sons, who, as a teenager, decided not to attend the most significant party of the year because his only ride to the party was his best friend, who had begun to play around with drinking and driving. This son made an unpopular choice but lived to tell about it, while his best friend died the night of the party with everyone else in the car after driving off the road. If applying these principles can help a hormone-raging teenage boy make logical decisions, I will recommend it!

Love and Logic coincides with Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, which provides the Biblical foundations behind many of the ideas described in Love and Logic. It provides some application but mostly answers moral questions about why one teaches a child a certain rule rather than how that rule achieves the desired behavior. It pairs wonderfully with Love and Logic. Beyond helping me parent, this book has taught me much about myself and showed me how to nurture healthy relationships in every area of my own life.

When asked to recommend parenting books, these are the three I mention. Every child is wonderfully unique, but I believe these resources give valuable and timeless suggestions, strategies, and foundations for parenting.

Ponderings

There are Always Things to Do and People to Love

It is four in the morning and I am typing, invigorated by the ideas mulling in my head and apple cider vinegar-honey tea. There are lots of things that I might be doing right now (such as sleeping). When one has four kids and a husband, there are always things that I could do but that would mean that the steeped thoughts would never pour out and life for me would be defined by chaos rather than order.

Life and work for me involves a lot of doing. After rising at 4:45am for some quiet time and a run, I dress and make breakfast before waking the kids. They rise at 7:00am and the day begins in earnest. We are never “busy,” for to me busyness implies that I am caught in the activity without regard for people. If my doing means that I have no time for people, than I lose the purpose of all my work. I “do” to create opportunities to love people – family, friends and neighbors, my husbands’ colleagues, and strangers. We are NOT busy, but we are always doing something. For my kids, there are acorns to gather and bikes to ride, outdoor places to explore, books to read, pages to color, structures to build, and questions to ask. Oh, the questions!

On an ideal day, the older kids play quietly or nap in their room from noon to three, while the youngest naps from noon to two. This period is mama’s opportunity to do housework without interruption and maybe spend a few minutes reading or napping herself. It remains far, however, from being a solid two-hour block of time. This weekend provided a typical example. After washing dishes and beginning a load of laundry, breaking to assist two older children with going to the bathroom, I sat down to touch the piano with more than a feather duster. Playing fifteen minutes revealed years’ lack of daily practice, but this felt good nonetheless. Removing to the couch to read, I had turned my first page when my husband entered the room and needed to talk to his best friend. Break again. Minutes later I greeted my precious baby, who nursed and then joined me for dinner preparations. The nature of my “quiet” time made me laugh.

A daily routine brings order to what could otherwise be chaos. It sets a rhythm to life in which my kids can do the unexpected while having a sense of what will happen next. In theory it gives me time too – time that I need to be a human being rather than a human doing.

In a similar way, words bring order to the confusion in my mind. They help me thoughtfully live even in the most mundane of activities (think washing dishes), because words help me bring meaning to what I do. For example, I can remind myself that a house is a tool that is cleaned to be used, not an ornament to showcase. The kids do not “mess up” my tidied house, but use it for play and learning. So when I feel consumed by the doing, when two hours shrinks to two minutes, and my thoughts become muddled, expressing experiences and feelings in words helps me put everything in perspective.  I remember the gift that this life is and I capture its joy.