An unusual heritage?

Recently my son had to draw up a family tree for his family psychology class.  Okay, let’s be honest, I drew it up but he valiantly carried it all the way to school. We were able to go back four and five generations and I found myself really getting into it!  I don’t see myself becoming a genealogy hound but the questions asked at school made me even more grateful for our heritage.

With ‘tree’ in front of him, he had to put a D next to those who were divorced.  Other kids marked their trees; Son did not.  Then, he had to put an A next to those with addictions.  Again, he waited.

I’m not saying our heritage is pristine, but as I started asking questions of the older generations, thinking that surely there must be a divorce or addiction in there somewhere, they couldn’t think of any.  O sure, they thought so and so had a brother who liked to drink, but otherwise, no. Is it just me or is that unusual?

What really caught our eye was that all the names were of Dutch heritage.  How rare is that nowadays to have every single ancestor be from the same nation?  On both sides?  I think it’s becoming more and more rare all the time.  I’m not saying I think that’s the way it should be – not at all, but it is a special part of our family tree.

I’m very thankful for the hardships that our ancestors endured.  Many of them traveled across the ocean for a better life.  They settled in Dutch colonies in Michigan, South Dakota and later, Washington.  They worked hard in farming or small business and raised kids who were equally hard-working.  It’s in our DNA to work and visit together and laugh and be generous with what we have.  We’re the kind of folks who go to church regularly and pass along our values to our kids.  A love for  music and sports has found its way into our relatives’ lives. Many of the women I know thrived in the kitchen or the garden; the men were active members of church boards and community organizations.  Both raised kids who were good but knew how to soak up mom and dad’s penchant for playing practical jokes.  One side of the tree contains numerous relatives with a need to speed; the other, those with such tender hearts that tears come easily.

None of us thinks we’ve got the market cornered on how to live; it’s just how we do it.  We’re not perfect and our ancestors weren’t either, but they’ve given us a path that is a blessing to follow.  A popular song on one side of the family has a line in it that says, “May all who come behind us find us faithful.” Studying this family tree makes me want that for our children.   To pass on all the good and solid qualities from the generations before us.  There’s a lot to be proud of there.


Teen titles every parent should read

It was so much fun to be the guest speaker recently for a school celebrating the joy of reading.  What better person to talk about it than a local lady who has been known to hug a few books and generally get quite excited about them?   I alternate my reading between adult and teen books, always on the prowl for a good one.  The teen authors have much to offer, if you can weed through the dark themes that seem to dominate the industry.  Thankfully, there are authors out there who write good stories that are well-told.  I shared these titles with the group and so many moms wanted the list that here it is.

Kathryn Erskine has written an important book here that helps us all understand those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Hearing Katelyn filter her experiences through her eyes is funny and heartbreaking at the same time.  She’s incredibly honest about life yet her honesty isn’t always appreciated or understood by her peers.  Meanwhile, her dad is grieving the loss of his son at a random school shooting.  In Mockingbird, Katelyn needs to navigate school and dad’s confusing (to her) grief but her school counselor and others come alongside her to teach her the nuances that other children know naturally.  A great book that makes kids sensitive to those kids who might seem ‘different’ but they don’t know why.

Bluefish is another winner because it’s simple to read but you just love the characters!  Travis lost his parents and his dog.  Velveeta has a dysfunctional mother but a sensational personality.  When she notices that quiet Travis can’t read, she sets out to help him, but both of these kids need help in other ways, too, and they find true friendship and healing in each other.  It’s sweet but not trite.  My 7th graders love this book as much as I do.

I’ve read The Outsiders more than twenty times and I never tire of it.  Sometimes parents have questioned my choice, but after they read it and their teen raves about it, their mind is changed.  This novel simply changes how we look at people. Do we judge by appearances?  We don’t like to think we do, but…we do!  I encourage my students to read it with their Christian eyeballs. Life is harder for the Greasers, but they have solid friendships and a thoughtful boy who narrates the story.  He longs for people to get along and to understand why others can treat those who are so different from them as poorly as the Socs do.  Readers ‘get’ how they also judge others and they’re inspired to see them as people, not as a stereotype.

I read Wonder in two days.  Three teens I recommended the book to read it in two days and my hubbie read it in an afternoon.  It’s not because it’s simple or brief, it’s because it’s so good!  Once you have it in your hands, you want to just keep going!  Auggie enters fifth grade as a first time public schooler because he’s had so many facial surgeries.  A number of voices tell the story of his school year and how his face might be different but his rockin’ personality totally wins people over.

The Wednesday Wars is part of my reading curriculum and I recommend it to everyone.  Holling begins 7th grade thinking his teacher hates his guts, but as the year goes on, he and she bond through a variety of experiences and she becomes just who needs to grow into a wise and thoughtful young man.  Along the way, Holling has hilarious adventures and learns not just about himself but also about his friends and family, all with their unique quirks.  This has a beautiful message but kids are so busy laughing and commiserating with Holling that they’re more than happy to read it.

Happy Reading!!  If you have a recommendation for me, please let me know!  I love to find great fiction.


Okay, that doesn’t help

I know that generally, people mean well.  Really, they do, but there’s some real ham-handedness going on out there.  This week I’ve had a hand-full of people mention how they cringe when they are offered cliches when what they were really looking for was some compassion or understanding.

Okay, okay, I know not everyone is a counselor, nor should they be but can we not say to people who have just lost a loved one, “Well, at least they’re in a better place,” or to someone who’s struggling in a relationship, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or how about my most loathed, “It is what it is.”  Ugh!!!!

That last one frosts me because I heard it said too many times from someone who used it as an excuse for his ineptness, his tardiness and his apathy.  Schedule a meeting (you’re supposed to lead) and not show up? Well, it is what it is.  Disappoint and frustrate a dozen people because you continually over-promise and under-deliver?  Well, it is what it is.  Actually, no.  What it is is rude.  It’s a cop-out.  It’s lame.  Own it and treat people better, buddy.

The words we use are a good indication of what’s important to us.  Want someone to buck up?  Tell them Kelly Clarkson’s ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger’ line.  (not that she’s the originator of the line) Want someone to get over grieving already?  Tell them their loved one is in a better place.  Sick and tired of someone being sick and tired?  Give a flip story about how you just get up and get on with the day, as if that’s so easy for everyone.  Usually our trite responses just make our listener wish they hadn’t said anything.

Everyone will be in a situation in which we just don’t know what to say, but I vote for saying something kind and loving as opposed to trite and harsh.  Saying “I don’t know” or “I’m so sorry you’re struggling with that’ is better than posturing that you’ve figured their problem out and have a flip answer for them.  Sometimes we want to rush people to the end of the story.  We want people to just get over it already.  Don’t we?

Many, many years ago, I went through a particularly long relapse of Chronic Fatigue.  Throw in a few other complications and I was barely slogging through my days.  It was obvious I needed help and there were those who wanted to help so a cleaning crew of ladies came in and went over my house with invigorating energy.  It was such a boon.  Wanting to thank each of them personally, I called each one over a series of days and expressed my gratitude.  The first few I called were confusingly cool to me on the phone.  A few more were a bit warmer but I was puzzled by their clipped “you’re welcomes.”  Attributing it to anything else but my inklings, I made one last call and out it came:  after they left my house, they went out for coffee and all decided that what I really needed to do was tackle one little project at a time.  Other bits of advice came out but what I heard loud and clear was judgment.  I didn’t hear compassion for being an ill young mom.  I didn’t hear any kind of leeway given for having to tackle these things and more while I feel like I have the flu every day.  It was just a ‘you-really-should….’ list that just plain hurt.

Experiences like those make us clam up.  They make us determine never to reveal a need again.  They make us distrustful, because what’s behind our words are values and assumptions and those can lead to some profound misunderstandings.  Misunderstandings lead to hurt.  When someone is told something as unhelpful as the above comments, we hear what they’re really saying loud and clear and it’s not loving, kind or wise.

As the years tick by and the hurts stack up, so do the occasions where people get it right, thankfully.  I think of my neighbor Sherri who had only a faint hint that I wasn’t the image of health and one day she came onto the yard to see me barely awake and as limp as last night’s spaghetti.  God bless her, she didn’t ask anything, she just took in the scene of two little boys running around and said, “I’ll have the boys at my house this afternoon, go get some rest.  I’ll bring them home in time for dinner.”  I could have cried.  No judgment, just help.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  That scene is a model for me that I refer to often.  I don’t always get it right, but I try, and it helps to know that when people disappoint us on earth, we can lean into a Savior who was an expert at suffering.  He knew it all: betrayal, pain, sleeplessness, rejection….and he chose it.

Everyone’s going to have a weak day or week or month or year and when we do, I want to lean into a Lord who gets it and not rely too much on people who don’t.  I also am reassured that there ARE folks out there who know exactly how to come alongside others and just do what needs to be done, with kindness and love.  So if you know someone who wouldn’t be helped by a ham-handed remark, keep it to yourself and reach for something a little more gentle.  Better yet, just listen without judgment – one of the most beautiful gifts you can ever give to another.

Different is not necessarily wrong

This summer my husband and I took a food tour at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.  Our guide began at a tea shop in the corner of the market – a place I wouldn’t have visited on my own.  Literally, everything in there was foreign to me, including the way they made tea.  Two lovely Chinese ladies performed a ceremony in which they poured hot water into tiny pots over an elegant, lipped tray.  The tea leaves contained leaves and miniature rose buds and a variety of other oddities that tasted delicious.  After a dozen tastings we moved on to other new culinary delights.

I do it differently.  My student, Hannah, timed how long I steep a tea bag: a whopping 8 seconds.   That’s how I make my tea.  While my students thought I should leave that puppy in there the whole time I’m drinking, I wouldn’t think of it.  It makes the drink way too strong.  Who’s right?  Me?  My students?  Or the lovely Chinese connoisseurs?  Usually we think the way we do things is naturally the right way, but I couldn’t disagree more.  It’s just a way.  That’s it.  Not necessarily the right way. Seems to me that, more often than not, people think that their way of doing things is the right way of doing things.

Want to get someone’s knickers in a knot?  Change the way things are done.  I’m not advocating this…in fact, I go out of my way (or at least I think I do) to make people’s knickers stay comfortable.  But before this analogy goes too far awry, let me explain.  I’ve been noticing more and more lately that some people are all too quick to point out something different as wrong.

And yet, different is not always wrong.  I remember feeling that it was wrong somehow when I put cheese on the top of my pizza instead of underneath the toppings; when I ran outside one summer day to say goodbye to someone and I was wearing socks; when someone opened my utensil drawer and found it – I don’t know – organized?  full?  Clearly these things are criminal.  And yet, the people I was with made me feel that my different to them was also wrong to them.

When that’s our mindset, other, more important things can become ‘wrong’ too.  It makes a person start to wonder if how they pray or worship is wrong; how one raises their kids is wrong; or any host of other behaviors or decisions.  some people are more open to and interested in how people do things differently.  Recently we were with a group of people who were talking about how we observed Sundays.  When I was growing up, it was wrong to do anything other than avoid any kind of physical activity on a Sunday.  We had to take a nap, stay very quiet and basically not have much fun.  Other Christians who love God just as much had considerably more freedom on Sundays.  Is one wrong and one right?  Or, just different?

Many advantages exist to living in and working for the same place for many years.  However, the disadvantage is that you might not see that something needs to be changed, and can be changed without the world ending, or, that others can do something differently and it’s still okay.  This is something I really want to teach my kids.  As they move away and live with other people, they will need to be more flexible with how things are done.  I’d be thrilled if they see something done a different way and be interested, curious and open.  So they can move to China and drink tea (the right way) or stay in town and rub shoulders with someone of their same ethnicity; I hope they notice something about their new friends and be intrigued….and maybe even come home and show me how it’s done!