11 Oct 2015

You are the best parents for your child(ren): keep calm! {#1 of Being Parents/Family Life Series}

Got kids? 

Are you mom, dad, granddad, aunt...foster parent?  If you are the main caregiver (and ideally it should be the biological parents) then hold on to this: you are the best parents for your child.  To believe otherwise will sell out what you can do. Children also detect this thing called 'Unreal' very easily. I don't mean fairy tales - those are believable - but they know when we don't feel and mean what we say and do.

Yes there are days (sometimes many days) we dream of care-freer days where there was more money, time, energy (and sex?)...but the fact is  you.now.are. a parent and you cannot just throw in the towel; because lives are at stake. So -

Breathe deep.

You - can - do - this. 

The child needs you.

In fact, you need this too.

Yes, parenting is tough. There are so many easy ways to get mad with ourselves -

He looks so skinny
O dear, she's still struggling to read
I said the thing wrong thing -- again -- and now she's banged the door 
How did I end up doing this - all by myself?

There are so many moments we can get angry at the child -

Why did you hit the other kid?
 Can't you sit still? 
What? Spilled the milk again?
Why is this homework not done?
Are you even listening to me?

We get angry. Sometimes too angry.

Honest parents have concurred that sometimes they are a short step away from abusing their own kids - through words, neglect, or even punishment in a fit of anger. 

In my research for my book Simple Tips for Happy Kids, a line by a child psychologist stuck with me:

Children are petrified by Anger

Our anger overwhelms them. The energy burns into their soul and rattles them. Without the means to out-talk and out-reason us, most children are bewildered and lost when anger is frothing over like lava that melts them from the inside out. If this goes on often enough; the child becomes even more vulnerable - emotionally and physically. They will withdraw into some form of shell they must imagine exists to protect themselves. 

This is why it is so paramount that as parents we watch our emotional Richter scale! Fact is, some of us are more explosive than others and anger often erupts so we feel like we have little control. 

But eruptions happen because something is already boiling beneath the surface. 

Could it be our unmet expectations?
Could it be the pressure from others?
Could it that we are way too stretched by our ambitions?

We need to discover who we are and examine our hearts; and perhaps see a counselor.
We need to create margins and buffers.
We need to brave it and look at what is simmering within our soul.

I am not proud to confess that I have seen my kids cringe at my outbursts. But I learnt there's a way to Keep Calm. {click to read}

Keeping calm actually begins with talking calmly to yourself; for the anger has begun from somewhere deep within.

"a gentle answer turns away wrath" ~ Proverbs 15v1

Be gentle with yourself.

You are under a lot of pressure.
You need finances, solutions, energy, enthusiasm, hope and more... 

Ask yourself what is the next step required; not the entire map. Then take that step.

Be gentle with your child(ren). 

They are under a lot of pressure, like you.
They pick up your stresses.
They do want to live up to your expectations.
They experience the power of sin in themselves and others that can make them feel defeated.

I believe that children from households of faith, who have leaned their hearts Godward are born again with the spiritual capacities to love, hear and obey God. Trust in God's Grace and power at work in them.

Countless times when I have worried and panicked; I have heard through the tears and silence an assurance that 'they are okay' even if they don't seem to shine the way the world wants them to.

I have also found that gentleness with children always arises after I have prayed and sought God's love for them. His love fills me and helps me see them afresh with His eyes of patient, loving-kindness and great hope.

I turn and tell them that I notice, and that I pray, even if I don't always understand (esp for the teen). The anger that could build up within them abates and they soften.

Anger fuels anger --

be gentle with yourself so you can speak without so much edge and volume,
be gentle with the children so they can feel the freedom to speak up.

Then gentleness breeds a bond that is strong. How strange sounding; but so true.

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2 Oct 2015

Dangerous Places in the heart that can kill you

You may think I overstate my case. Death? But I assure you I do not.

We have a view and experience of what it means to be alive. If you read the Word, you find what commonly passes off as 'living' doesn't make the cut of what the Original Intention was {for the whole story on this, please read my book Shed Those Leaves}.

In fact, the word 'death' occurs quite a bit in the Word though it always get trumped by Life (see Resurrection).

This one word is also used to describe three kinds of death:

physical, bodily death - when our body stops to function
permanent spiritual death - when our separation from God is final and irrevocable
current spiritual death - when our lives do not comply with our faith claims

Modern science confirms what the Word says: we do have some influence over our physical passing. Sinful habits that persist can lead to death. But of course, since we are not exactly tracking it, we commonly think that we have absolutely no say. Death comes unannounced for most; and even if you have years or months to wait it out; it will always still feel like a thief sneaked up on you.

The second too is tricky really. Many people obsess over this and want an iron-clad guarantee that once they are saved; they will always be saved. I suppose a very simple analogy can help here. You could be rescued from drowning, but you can choose to jump back into the churning waters. So we certainly do decide on this one; but the decision is not a sales deal or a transaction. It behooves you to think why you were drowning and help others out. Based on what Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, it sounds like there can be some surprises in the end.

The third kind is a daily reality: it's called dying to sin and self in order to truly live. This sits squarely on our shoulders; or should I say, in our hearts.

Why so moribund you may ask?

Well, I was sitting in my special chair where I regularly consider the big questions when I found my thoughts drifting towards a region of the mind-heart that belongs to what I call a dangerous place. It is one of 3 R-rated places in our hearts. I have wrestled with self and sin enough to know that these places starve us of Life and can lend us in a state of spiritual stupor, where we become pale, waterless clouds that live adrift with nary a purpose.

Listen, no one alive has no regrets. Yes I have them; such as this one, where I let my friends down.Or what about the job I chose not to take for some filmsy reason that isn't well-thought through? Who knows what phenomenal success I will be enjoying now if I had taken it.
I once tried to comfort a friend who was unable to forgive herself for years. The regret drove her to depression and shaped her decisions after that. It is easy when we are leafing through our album of regrets for the enemy to slip alongside and say: 'where was God? Didn't He guide you? Were you so sinful?'

This is like the emotional part of Repentance. It's necessary. being sorry for what we have thought/said/done cannot be a cold exercise in the calculation of personal merits! Tears often accompnay genuine repentance. But some of us can be quite absorbed with this..and then the enemy suggests: 'you just won't make a very good one will you? Better not be so h-o-l-y'.

We counter-accuse when we feel accused. It's our defense mechanism. We may not say it out loud; but when we are still smarting from unkind words or licking our wounds; it is easy to begin hurling accusations at those who have hurt us or let us down. We label them, put them down, reduce them to their mistake. The enemy is more than happy to add ammo: 'and it isn't the first time is it?'.

Looking back is important in helping us move forward. But it has to be an intentional time set aside to prayerfully consider one's life. Then we visit the places prepared and armed.

But all our minds drift at times, and our emotions tag along and often quickly magnify everything with their uncanny ability to get highly detailed and sensational. At such times, it is important to know not to dawdle, but to turn around and get out quickly. Cry if you must, Rant in your journal. Take a cold shower, run in the rain, have tea and read a book, hit the gym. Beware that dangerous places exist - and you can be safe.

28 Sep 2015

Searching for my peers + observations of the generations + a call for In-Betweeners

I miss my peers. That's you if you were born in the region of 1965s.

I don't mean they have all been abducted by aliens; and yes, I can name those I do see and are good friends with. It's just so few.

When you think about it, it seems we always have peers with us. Certainly if we go through the paces of school - we are organised along age lines and march merrily (or not) with the flow until...

all our paths diverge.

This sensation first struck me when I made a mental note of people I am spending time with, talking to, facebook following or being followed. They are all older or younger than me. It felt like such a surreal discovery, I was going to keep it to myself until in a casual conversation, someone else mentioned that he seemed to have lost his peers. I sat up. Well, I was not alone in my existential corner after all.

Perhaps I have neglected my friends I moaned. ("What? Friends since kindergarten?" - my actual words to an actual person). So I embarked on trying to find them. Facebook was very helpful here. Soon enough, I had an assortment of them like so many different kinds of chocolates in a box: old school friends, former church mates, groupies...  We even sometimes talked about getting a class reunion, an alumni gathering, a back to the past blast...but very little would happen. "O move on" someone said. I admit I have always had this nostalgic twinge to me. But is there more to it?

In fact, I did meet up with a group of old friends from youth days in church and it was very heartwarming and of course a lot of labour to figure out the nearly twenty years of life done! Thankfully we shared a tacit understanding that this meet ups will occur slowly over a long time.

But in real life, the everyday, I find that most of the women I relate with are older than me or else, younger.

The older women are in structured groups inevitably, mentoring group, exercise class and work-related relationships. The younger ones are discovered and cultivated through interest groups, activities and life mentoring.

There is something else. In both cases, though I am comfortable and enjoy them; I also find it takes quite a bit of effort to connect at times. You know, the humour, the language, the hidden codes in communication. I feel young with one, and old with the other. Both a privilege and a puzzle.

Maybe this is the more. There is this beautiful exhortation to women:

"...older women...teach what is good...train the younger women.."  ~Titus 2v25

I love the way this connects the generations, generating a community, a continuity, an interdependence, a sense of honour for the older and a compassionate concern for the younger. The text does have cultural elements (love husbands for example, which won't apply to single women) but the overall theme is one of an older generation investing in the younger one.

Alas, this is a huge difficulty. As I look at both sides I see a huge divide. Younger women today are so different from their older sisters! The access, opportunity, self-determination, knowledge base, even values are so different. I feel intimidated and wonderfully overwhelmed at what the younger set can get up to. I wonder if they need me at all. 

It's not unusual to find one generation flustered over the other; and mothers, aunts and older women in general cannot find successors for work and ministry. 

But this isn't in the end about fashion, language and technological changes. We can learn the LOLs and who doesn't love emojis:

This is about something deeper. We have a bent away from each other. Reaching out, trusting, risking a relationship has always been difficult. No one wants to feel foolish, or worse, get rejected. The air we breathe today breeds individualism and narcissism. 

It will take a lot of humility on both sides to look up and gaze across until our we sense that in the older/younger woman is a heart beating much like ours; and perhaps women who can --

enjoy both kopi-see and Latte
eat chee-cheong fun today and eggs benedict tomorrow
read 150 Psalms as well as Fifty Shades (or about it)
articulate her core values and listen to new ones
hold on to her faith and hold on to a doubter
release her children to adolescence yet go ga-ga over new borns
The in-betweeners.

These women can remind us all that while some strain will always exist between the generations; there is equally, if not more true; a precious bond in sisterhood that becomes bold and holds us all together if we tend to it. 

I hope to do so; and if you are my peer, join me. Just this: please let me know so I know you are real!

Your story and your scars are important for the next generation if you share it out of love for them.

Do you sometimes miss your peers?
How can you reach someone older, or someone younger?