Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Mean girls - the reality show

Mean girls. My kids think I need to watch the movie. They say I'll love it. I say I don't need to watch the movie; I lived it. The reality TV show version.

It took me years to love myself and to believe that I was lovable and worthy because of the actions of the most popular girls around me in middle and high school. And I think it was even more difficult to reconcile because it was a Christian school. My little heart believed the lie that if Christians didn't think my life was worthwhile, it must not be. That if even the teachers didn't step in and confirm my gifts, then my peers must have been correct; I had nothing of value to add to the Kingdom.

Of course these were all my perceptions and they came from the twisted mind of a young girl who just wanted to fit in. I attended schools not unlike everyone else, where the expectations and determinations of value had been set in place for decades. You were supposed to be pretty and smart. Our women's sports teams were top-notch so being athletic was a bonus. And because of our faith tradition which valued four-part singing, a great voice was included in our particular mix of worthiness. I didn't fit into any of them.  Creativity, being a voracious reader, sewing, and volunteering with disabled kids after school didn't fit the qualifications of student of the year for students or teachers.

I'm embarrassed to admit how many years it took me to stop writing the school's annual fundraising campaign on my calendar just so I would remember not to answer the phone that week. One year I forgot and after a lengthy conversation with a former classmate who feigned deep friendship and interest in my life just so she could convince me to donate money to perpetuate the class system, I never again forgot. (And then we moved and I might have accidentally forgotten to give them my new contact information. Oops.) Let's just say I was well into my 30s when I finally found healing and whole-heartedly pursued the God of my past, present, and future. When I knew whose I was and where my identity was found. When I finally understood  the concept of having Genesis 50:20 vision: As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. When I could see that my peers also came from a place of brokenness and of wanting to belong. When I could see at least a glimpse through God's eyes and that those years of feeling unacceptable gave me a desire to speak life to those who also feel unacceptable. When I connected the dots from volunteering with the disabled to earning a degree to better teach and reach them. When I started to see how everything truly does work together for good; for the good of many. When I saw how I, too, would likely have been sucked into popularity and devaluing others had I been beautiful, athletic, and musical.

So when any of my children find themselves in the reality show of Mean Girls, I have to watch myself. I have to be careful that I don't respond out of my own past hurts but out of my true identity and healing. Several months ago I signed HopeAnne up for Track and Field camp and Monday evening was the first session. I didn't expect any trouble for my very social runner. When she came home with a frown, I was confused. She went on to explain that there were some girls who, for whatever reason, decided they weren't going to treat Hope with respect. She reported that they would whisper about her behind their hands and make comments about her within earshot. Knowing myself and knowing that Hope can be very sensitive, and can at times be the one to make another feel left out, I decided to commit this to prayer before having a discussion with her.

During my prayer time, God gave me these words: "Beautiful. Beautiful in my eyes. Protect. Love. Love fiercely. Pray for those who persecute you. Love. Love your enemies. Give. Joy. Run. Bless. Change of heart. Care for people. Special." Continuing my prayer, I was encouraged to use this opportunity to remind Hope to love and care for people, even those who we perceive as disrespectful to us. I didn't want Satan to use this to discourage Hope from running (Although there seems to be a theme here - last year it was undiagnosed asthma and now it's mean girls? Really, Satan? I think this girl is supposed to run and someone's scared!). We talked about being kind to the girls instead, encouraging them and complimenting them on their running. I reminded her to pray for them.

And when she came home from the second session on Wednesday, she was all smiles; God had answered our prayers for that day in a way that we couldn't have imagined: HopeAnne not only made some friends that night but the girls who had been so mean? They weren't there. They had a church activity.

Go figure.

And you know, every time God answers my prayers and adds something a little extra on top, I see Jesus standing to the side, smiling with that smile that says, "See that? Surprised you again, didn't I? Be careful that you don't forget."

My Jesus smiles.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

The system

Imagine you are a teen-ager, seated in a meeting in a room full of adults. You are seated in the center of the room with a stranger next to you. You have met this stranger before, always in this room, and never long enough for you to get to know each other. Directly in front of you is another stranger and to your right and left are three or more strangers, only one of whom knows anything about you but no one has asked you if you want this person to be your lone representative in the room. The rest are also strangers. Behind you are (hopefully) one or two people who know you very well but they are not permitted to speak. They are surrounded by at least two more people who are strangers to you.

The meeting begins with the most important person in the room speaking, the man or woman at the front. Then the person to your right, the one who knows you somewhat, at least through a file, starts speaking about you. Imagine having to sit there while all of these adults, mostly strangers, start talking around you but about you. They talk about your family and your faults and how you're doing in school. They talk about how you relate to your family members and about your medical, dental, and psychiatric history. Everyone is updated on what medications you take and why. They speak formally but with a flippancy as if all they are doing is rearranging the furniture in their living room: "Well, we could put the couch here but then everyone would see the stain. If we put the chair over there, then it would just be in the way and everyone would trip over it. And we've tried that location before. It didn't work."

After everyone around you has talked about everything but your peeing and pooping habits, you are asked if you have anything to say. Would you feel like talking? Would you feel like adding anything? Would you think that anyone would even care?

I've never been a teen-ager in this situation but I have been one of those people in the back watching and my blood boils every single time. This is the review hearing for a child or teen in foster care. The best way to describe it is that it is like a trial you see on TV except in this case the juvenile on "trial" is not being accused of anything other than needing a place to call home and parents to love and care for him. Depending on the situation, the teen-ager must sit through this every three to six months while she and her situation (referred to as a "case" in this room) are discussed around her. Imagine this humiliation on top of the rejection one has already faced; the rejection that put the teen here one or more times already. And the reason he came here in the first place was never, ever his fault. To be in a room where no one really knows you yet is sanctioned to talk about you and licensed to make all decisions for you. Imagine that. I'm an adult, and I know that I would not be able to handle that. And we wonder why so many teens in foster care feel alone, helpless, and struggle to find their voice.

If you're lucky, one or two of the people sitting behind you are your foster parents and if you're really fortunate, you've established a relationship with them. You know they love you and want the best for you. But they have no say in this meeting. They can't sit with you and you can't sit with them, be held by them, or be physically supported by them in any way. They have no importance to anyone in this meeting but you and no one else seems to notice or care.

I don't know what it's like to sit there and listen to my family's and my dirt being talked about as if everyone is listing last night's dinner menu. But I do know what it's like to watch it and to watch someone you love slump lower and lower in the chair. I know what it's like to watch the person who is usually bubbly and talkative suddenly become sullen. I've had discussions with these teenagers after these meetings and heard how they really feel about what happens. Children and teens were never meant to be talked about in sterile environments while their futures are decided upon by strangers. Whoever thought that this wouldn't add more trauma to the fragile psyches of our most vulnerable children and teens?

This is, of course, a generalization of the scene in a review hearing. Sometimes the child's caseworker, the one to the right side of the room who is doing most of the talking, has taken the time to get to know the child. Sometimes the judge or magistrate speaks kindly and less formally, trying to make the child feel at home. Sometimes the child's GAL, the stranger seated right next to the child, has made an attempt to establish a relationship with the child. Sometimes the judge or GAL gives the child a chance to speak. But this is all rare. But the teen's words rarely get much traction; the decisions have already been made. The good, but mostly the bad and ugly have already been shared. Why add anything?  And none of this changes the fact that no one likes to be in a situation where your life is being decided by others and you have little say and no one in the inner circle to call your own.

It's a broken system, run by broken people, caring for broken children from broken families, living with broken humans who want to see brokenness transformed into wholeness. There are good people in each of the represented professions but in the system, even that goodness is often too little, too late, and overshadowed by the hopelessness of the whole. I hold little hope that a governmental system can ever be personal and human enough to heal but I can introduce children and teens to a God who never wanted it to be this way. I can allow my heart to break so that others can be made whole. I can be uncomfortable so others can be comfortable. And I will. As long as I am able.

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” William Wilberforce



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Immeasurably more

Victor's bedhead this morning was just a bit disconcerting. Not just because of that whole guy in the red suit with horns thing but because it's rare to find a fictional character with horns who also has behaviors worth emulating.

And because we were 3 for 3 for good days at pretty school this week, I hoped that this wasn't a bad sign.

Since I had an older child at home to stay with HopeAnne, I was able to leave extra early for pretty school pick up. All of the children were sitting at the tables, busily coloring a counting book about flowers. Victor was, I hoped at least, around the corner, so I went to the one-way mirror to see if I could get a good view of him.

The view was perfect. Victor was seated (seated!) with his TVI* next to him and his TSS standing nearby. His TVI was helping him put stickers and pompoms on the flowers in his book and braille stickers over the numbers on the page. Victor was compliant and participating in the activity. Did I mention that he was seated? Every few minutes he would jump up, spin a time or two, but then would sit (sit!) back down and pick up right where he left off.  It was beautiful. I might have found my eyes leaking just a little.

His pretty school teacher came out into the hall and I expressed my joy at finding Victor seated (seated!) and participating. She echoed this sentiment and added more examples of how Victor is not only progressing but succeeding. This is so much more than I could have asked or imagined when we started the year.

And then it was time for Victor to meet me and take me to the office where he is to give me the report for the day.

"Okay, Victor, how was your day? How many times did you go to the office today?"

A big smile and then, "Zero!"

We are 4 for 4 for this week, folks. We've never been 4 for 4 before. Until this week we've never been 3 for 4 and most weeks we weren't even 2 for 4. 1 for 4 used to be something to be celebrated. Today we celebrated 4 for 4. 4 for 4!

Victor is in the right place with the right team so that he can be exactly what God promised those months before he was even born - victorious! God prepared this team for us long before we asked for a team, long before we even knew we needed a team.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, 
according to His power that is at work within us, 
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3: 20 - 21



*A code for Victor's alphabet soup team:
TVI - Teacher of the Visually Impaired
TSS - Therapeutic Staff Support

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kick in the pants

Meals on Wheels. It's a hot topic these days. It came up in two separate conversations within two days. And of course it showed up multiple times in my newsfeed. It's the new poster child for everything that's wrong with our country. And funny thing, Meals on Wheels isn't even directly funded by the federal government.

But I get it. I know that it gets its funds from somewhere and some of those funds come from federally funded programs and those programs face possible cuts.

I get it.

What I don't get is my fellow Christians. Christ-followers, as our name says. We are to blame here. Not President Trump. Not the Senate or the House. Meals on Wheels should have been our job in the first place. Taking care of widows is in our job description, from the Old Testament to the New.

********************
Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 
If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. Exodus 22: 22 - 23
(And read verse 24 to find out what God said He would do to those who didn't listen.)

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless, or the widow.
Deuteronomy 27:19

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,
if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,
then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 
But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless... 
Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. Jeremiah 7: 2 - 11, 23

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: 
She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; 
they did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16: 49

This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer  true justice; 
show mercy and compassion to one another. 
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. 
In your hearts do not think evil of each other. Zechariah 7: 9 - 10

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

********************

"But," the argument continues, "there are so many people who rely on Meals on Wheels!"

Yes, and if, as a Christian, you are truly concerned, are you ready to get to work? Do you know how many churches there are and how many people there are who attend those churches?

God has provided the resources and the people. We are Plan A. We need to stand up and be counted for.

And this obviously isn't just about feeding the elderly. Whatever the need: refugees, immigrants, homeless, mentally ill, single parents, children ... The needs are great. They always have been. But there are always enough resources if those of us with the ability, time, and finances are willing to give of our time and resources to care for those right around us.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. "God, I'm already caring for orphans. I'm tired. Do I really have to add something else?" And I hear that still, small voice, "I gave my son who gave His life."

A few weeks ago, a friend at church came to me to tell me that she had had a very vivid dream that week and she needed to share it with me because I was in her dream. She told me that she saw all of the houses in my neighborhood and that John and I owned all of them. My first thought was that it was just a crazy dream; no meaning here. Surely God was not saying that we were going to buy all of these houses and put children in them? (Yes, my mind always goes to the children.) A few weeks later, I think my eyes have been opened. I have long felt that we are not doing enough for our widowed neighbors. Shoveling here, sending over a loaf of bread there... That's nothing. What if God wants our family to "own" the needs right around us? I already cook for an army. What if I provided for our neighbors, too? And, what if we carved time out of our lives to visit with them more often? Took our instruments and played songs for them? What if we were the neighbor Jesus spoke of in Luke 10?

And what if that dream wasn't just meant for me but was God speaking to all of my friends who call themselves Christ-followers? Who occupies those houses right around you? Might God be calling you to "own" the needs around you? For too long we have forgotten that we follow a radical, crazy Lord who loves and serves with a radical, crazy love. He told us to "Go, and do likewise." He never asked the Roman government to do the job for Him or even to join Him in His work.  He never seemed concerned that the Roman officials were not investing money in feeding the poor, housing the homeless, or caring for the physically and mentally ill.  Instead, He lived a life of giving, loving, and caring; a life of sacrifice. Are we?

Maybe this administration is just the kick in the pants we need to do what we were meant to do in the first place.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Victor keeps talking...


I love you, Mom. You're my special boy.
But when he's mad at me he yells...

STUPID BOY!
********************
Victor: Mom, where's Dad?
Me: He's at work.
Victor: What is he doing?
Me: I don't know. He's probably in meetings.
Victor: He's playing his guitar. And listening to Hershey.
Me: Hersh.
Victor: What did you say?
Me: I said, "His name is Hersh."
Victor: Right. He's listening to Hersh. And singing songs...
********************

But I don't want to eat supper; I just want to have fun! (And then he called me an apricot for suggesting that he eat supper. On the meanness continuum, I'm not sure if I should be more or less offended that I've moved from a period to a question mark to a pepperoni to an apricot?)
********************
Me: Victor, tell me about pretty school today.
Victor: I went.
Me: Yeah, I knew that.
********************

Soda buzzes me. Take the spicy out.
********************
Me: Victor, please turn that music down so I can hear myself think.
After a bit of a fuss he turned the music down and then...
Victor: I can't hear you thinking.
********************
I was narrating the morning for Victor, telling him about the children and parents I saw walking into pretty school. "Oh, there's Owen and his daddy. I see Jacob walking up the stairs." Etc. Then I said, "I see a little girl but I don't know her name. She must be in Ms. Ursula's class."
Victor (who couldn't possibly see her because she was too far away for his limited vision): Ooooo, she's so cute!
Hope: Oh, are you going to marry her?
Victor: Yes! I'm going to buy her a ring that lights up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow day!

So how do we spend a snowy day with no school?
There is, of course, the necessary work of snow removal but after that comes lots of play...

First games...
Victor insisted he had to be on
Isaac's team. It worked. They won.

...then snow.
Those are smiles. In case you couldn't tell.


and for the Mama, time to sew while there are extra Victor entertainers in the house. A while back I heard of organizations like Dress a Girl Around the World and Little Dresses for Africa. I was intrigued and went to the Salvation Army to find a few pillowcases that could be repurposed into dresses.

And then those pillowcases sat on my shelf for a long time. A few days ago I pulled one off the shelf and then another and another. I added pockets and ruffles. Today, I finished off three more. How fun to look at a plain pillowcase and then look through the odds and ends in my stash to add flowers and lace and other embellishments. Now there are no more pillowcases on the shelf and these dresses are ready to be shipped out. Anyone have any pillowcases in the linen closet that aren't being used? Just in case there's one more snow day left this season?

Two boys got stuck cleaning off the hot tub so some could enjoy the fruits of their labors.

And that's how we spend a snowy day with no school.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Olympics, Opry, and horse poop

June 29, 1994. It was our anniversary. It was also the day we saw one line turn into two.

The Good Doctor's mom and grandmother were visiting from Ohio and in the next room but we didn't tell them. This was our little secret.

A few weeks later we were in a van, taking a group of teens on a mission trip to Chicago. We tried to keep our secret. But you know teens, "Why doesn't she [me] have to paint, too?" It's all about being fair, you know. And if the youth pastor's wife ain't paintin', then they ain't paintin'. And maybe my weird cravings were just a bit, well, too weird. So we had to tell them. We swore them to secrecy. But you know teen girls...

The secret was out. 42 long weeks later, he was here. Andrew John King.

Who would have guessed that 22 years later we'd be celebrating with a son who has been to the Olympics,

filmed at the Grand Ole Opry,
and sets up photo ops of  horse poop?
(And is equally proud of all of these accomplishments.)

Love you, Andrew! Happy birthday! Thanks for the last-minute decision to come home despite the chaos, broken down car, and forecasted blizzard. Here's to a safe trip back.

P.S. Your gift should be waiting for you when you get back to Kentucky.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grateful and giving

How do we teach our children about entitlement and safeguard them from this vicious trap? There may be some who haven't even thought about this since entitlement is rampant in America, and it knows no age limits. Of course there are many forms of entitlement and we do need to teach our children about all of them but for now I'm talking about material entitlement.* Why? Because the Good Doctor and I just finished team-teaching an 8 week class for parents. On the last day we had an extended Q and A time. It's always difficult to adequately formulate an answer to a question on the fly so we did our best but since then, I've been thinking about each question and how I could have answered it better or, if we had more time, in more detail. This is one of those topics that has had me thinking and since it fits right in with our family's Lenten studies, it's in the forefront of my thoughts.

The holidays are a great time to look at the topic of entitlement. More specifically, to ask ourselves the question, "How do our holiday traditions and activities encourage or discourage entitlement?"

In 2013 I read the book, Advent Conspiracy by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder. I must have looked funny, sitting in the NICU in Utah, reading a book about Advent and Christmas in the summer but I did. It had been on my pile for a while but I didn't have time to read it until I found myself with plenty of uninterrupted time between diaper changes and limited baby holding. I decided that summer is the best time to read it so that you can plan ahead for your family's Christmas. If you wait until the Christmas season, you'll probably fall into all of the same traps and find yourself too busy to read the book.  It's also best reviewed yearly. You'll forget. I promise.

The book has 4 tenets: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  Pursuing each of these will not only change your family's focus during the Christmas season, it will be freeing as well. But shouldn't we be living those four values every day of every year? In that light, Easter seems like another good time to focus on those four. Take a look at how your family celebrates Easter. Is it all about the bunny and the eggs and the basket? There's nothing wrong with that side of Easter as long as it has its rightful place behind the true meaning of Easter. And there's nothing wrong with giving our children gifts in baskets and eggs as long as we think about what we're giving, how much we're giving, and why.

Do our children really know what we're celebrating? Do we?

It's not surprising that since our Lenten devotional is written by one of the authors of Advent Conspiracy (Seay) that many of the same themes come through. On Day 5 of Lent, Seay talks about entitlement and suggests that increasing our gratitude is one way to cure us. "If entitlement is like a disease to a healthy spiritual life, then gratitude is the proven vaccine. What lengths are you willing to go to in order to integrate a grateful spirit into everything that you do?"  (Seay, 71) And, I would add, how can we teach our children to have a spirit of gratitude so that they can go against the tide of entitlement?

For our family, we've found that the more we share with others, either in our home or out, the less entitled we become. We have less to spend on ourselves, first of all, but more importantly, we find the joy of giving far exceeds the act of getting.

As Christian parents, let's agree to use this Easter season to purposefully share the true meaning of Easter with our children. Let's promise to re-think what goes into their baskets and eggs, if we do Easter baskets. Do they really need another stuffed animal, just because we've included one every year before?  Is it really necessary to purchase a cart full of Dollar Store items that will break before the day is over just to have an overflowing basket? And how we might be able to share our abundance with others? Could we purchase two of everything we're giving to our children and put them in a basket for a child in need? Could we take our children shopping for a family that could use some encouragement? How fun it would be to anonymously drop off a box or basket of food and clothing to bless that family. And let's agree that this is just the beginning. To counter entitlement, we need to be grateful and giving.

Lent

A chance to
Stop
Breathe
Rest
Ask whose we are
And why we are here

A time to
Humble ourselves
Take less and share more
Make room at the table
And be transformed into Christ-likeness

A season to
Surrender our hearts and lives
Remember the miracles and grace of God
Follow Jesus on His journey to the cross

And discover for what we might be willing to die

*For an excellent book on anger, unforgiveness, feelings, and entitlement, I highly recommend Unoffendable by Brant Hansen.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dangerous men

Our church has a ministry to teen boys called Dangerous Men. Several men, committed challenging our young men to a life of integrity and purity, meet with a group of teens to mentor, model, and work through a curriculum on these topics.

As parents, we are thrilled that such a ministry exists and that each of our four oldest sons has participated in a small group with their peers. We know that we can't be the only voices in our children's lives and desire to have godly mentors for our children. As children transition to adulthood, they tend to listen to outside influences more than what their parents say. This is part of launching our children well; providing people who will speak into their lives, and teaching them to seek them out.

Dangerous Men has also been a blessing to us as we celebrate rites of passage with our children. Long before we had any teen-agers, we were intentional about thinking through specific ages that we would like to celebrate and ceremonies that we would like to accompany those steps into adulthood. Our desire to do so started with the reading of Raising a Modern-Day Knight by Robert Lewis. We took the idea to celebrate milestones, made it a little more Anabaptist (the whole knight thing was foreign to us), and found a way to include our daughters as well. Later, the Good Doctor chose to research this idea of transitioning to adulthood when he prepared his doctoral dissertation work. He found that while many civilizations and countries celebrate rites of passage, the concept is completely missing in western cultures. In fact, it is almost counter cultural. After his qualitative study was complete, the Good Doctor came up with this statement: The transition to healthy manhood involves a process of accumulating greater responsibilities and experiences in the company of at least one other man who has already made this transition.*

In our home, one of the rites of passage we celebrate occurs when a son turns 16. All of the men in that child's life are invited to a celebration. (Don't worry, the daughters aren't forgotten. The only difference is that all the women in her life are invited to the celebration. Get it?) The men are sent an invitation with the following information:

"Thank you so much for the important role you play in _____'s life. As you may know, _____ turned 16 recently. To celebrate this big milestone for him, I am planning a special night to bless him as he becomes a young man. You are invited to come to a special evening at _____ on _____. During our time together, we will have a lot of dessert, some great times to talk together, and a time to bless _____ as a young man. If you are able to come, I would like you to come prepared to share a few words about “what it means to become a man.” When I have done this for other children, people would often come and have something written out to give to them that evening. At the end of the night, _____ will hopefully have a lot of letters and notes of encouragement. If you would like to give _____ a gift, please feel free to do so, but my request is that you make it symbolic. in the past, I have seen people give a CD of music, a book, a Bible translation, something that they are passing onto the next generation, and even a sword. Creativity is very welcomed. 
If you are unable to come, I would still ask you to write a letter to _____ about becoming a young man and what that means for him. 

And since the last of our triplets turned 16 recently, last night was his night. Even though I'm not there  for our sons, I love to read the letters that are given to each of them and then I put them into a scrapbook for him to read over and over throughout life.

Here are some of the highlights of last night's letters:

"I'm grateful that your dad invited me to spend the evening with you celebrating. The question of becoming a man is difficult for today's young generation. You are bombarded by so much at such a young age. I will offer my humble opinion on what it takes to be a man. I must be honest in the fact that no one ever did what you're doing tonight when I was your age. I would offer up that you have the opportunity of a lifetime to hear from other grown men what it means to be a man. I would also posit that many other men you will hear from never had this opportunity either. So what you will hear is what it means to be a man through the lens of past mistakes and failures that otherwise may not have been made had we had this information earlier in life."

"Leadership and being an example to others is directly related to your connection with [our son]. That boy admires you, not just because you are the cool teenager, but because you truly care about him. You are teaching him truths that will help him guide his thoughts and decisions for years to come. You set an example for him to follow, which as his father, am so grateful for in his life. Even the 'little things' like your handshake when you first see each other are ways that you purposefully attempt to connect at his level. Psalm 78: 72 - 'He shepherded them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.'"

Some thoughts on driving a car...
"-driving a car is a huge responsibility
-slow down, it's ok to ride in the slow lane
-the most important part of a car sits behind the wheel, it's not the bling accessories
-when reacting to another driver, you never know what the other driver is going through
-follow the rules of the road
-if you ever get lost, take time, pull over (safely), and ask someone"
Connected metaphorically to life..
"-becoming and being a man is a huge responsibility
-as life comes at you, be careful to not get caught up in the fast lane
-what matters most is what's in your heart, God really doesn't care about bling
-be ever mindful of others and what they may be going through
-rules of the road = The Bible and wise counsel of others
-when troubled times come, don't be afraid to seek out help"

"You are a gifted young man, with many talents in many arenas, but especially when it comes to music. Sometimes masculinity is mistakenly thought to exclude love of the arts. God made the world with intricate beauty - think of the vast array of colors in flowers, the unique camouflage of various insect and animal species, the awesomeness of a river roaring down from the melting snowcap of a majestic mountain. Historically, many of the best tailors, musicians, writers, composers, clothes designers, gardeners, sculptors, painters, chefs, and architects have been men. We have been made in the image of a Creator, and have that creative drive instinctively. God put a love of art, music, and beauty inside us to draw us to Him...I encourage you, young warrior, to continue to cultivate the gifts within you. You have a good heart. Continue to love and lead others. The Kingdom needs a man like you, to bring the redemptive work of Jesus to those who are lost and hurting."

"As you already know, you will receive mixed messages about what 'manhood' means and it can be difficult to determine the truth. I encourage you to focus on your personal relationship with God, and hear His plans for you, specifically how the gifts and talents He has given you can be used in the world around you. I believe that you have been blessed with some great examples of Godly men, starting with your father and grandfathers, brothers, and other family members. As you look around and consider the men in your life, you will see Godly examples in your youth leaders and youth pastor, in the adult men of McBIC who have watched you mature, and even in some of your peers in the youth group. Be thankful for the examples that God has placed in your life, and use these me when you need encouragement, support and advice."

"I have seen many virtues in your life. I have seen the patience that you have shown in caring for Victor. I am sure that you are needing to show patience in sharing driving privileges with three sixteen year olds in the family at one time. I have seen the virtue of being a team player as you have performed with your family in the King's Strings ensembles. You have shown that you have perseverance and have worked hard in becoming a top notch viola player. I was happy to see you be rewarded for that hard work when you earned the fourth chair in district orchestra and qualifying for the regional orchestra! I have also seen you as a person with a gentle spirit. This is a wonderful virtue as you work with other people."

3 thoughts about becoming a man...
"Don't hide your weaknesses. We all have them, and when we are able to acknowledge our challenges and even our failures, we build trust and relationships that are strong.
Be willing to take risks. It's so easy to go with the flow, but if you feel the nudge of God, follow it. And surround yourself with people of the Spirit who will be honest with you if you are falling into self-centeredness.
Listen, listen, listen and love, love love. Listen for the voice of God in its myriad of forms. Listen to those who seem very different from you. Listen to those who care about you. Love yourself. Love those who are nearest to you. Love those who the world says are unlovable."

"You also have a heart for people and a compassion for those around you. I sense that God will lead you to help many people around you. You will be a protector for the weak. I would caution you, however, not to follow others blindly. Choose your friends wisely. You cannot follow God's chosen path alone. But poorly chosen friends can easily lead you astray. Learn to differentiate also between friends or peers, and mentors or coaches. They serve valuable but very different roles in your life. And finally I would encourage you to have a plan for your life. With God's leading, and the advice of your mentors, set goals for yourself and stick to them."

All of the letters are important and special, but maybe Dad's and PopPop's are just a little more special. Many verses are shared, advice given, challenges made, encouragement provided. As one participant said of last night, each time affirmation of character was given, our son grew taller and taller in his chair. That's what this night is about.

Our children have free will; they get to make their own choices. As Christian parents, we pray they will choose to love the Lord our God and love others. We need to be intentional to raise up adults, living in community, who are independently dependent on God.

*The Good Doctor is not sexist. A dissertation needs to be specific and limited. Since the Good Doctor is a man, he thought it would be better in the context of this study to meet with, and ask questions of, men. If I were to allow him more degrees, I suppose he could, at a later time, study the process of becoming a woman. However, he has many degrees and no funds so that will not be happening. If it bothers you to read this post in light of all the masculine comments, just stick she/her in there and it can read the same. It just hasn't been studied yet, for the reasons just stated.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A place without expectations



Valentine's Day at our house is really Valentine's week where I plan at least one special, out-of-the-ordinary treat daily. On the 14th the treat was heart shaped pancakes, a balloon taped to the chair, a card with a message from Dad, and a usually-not-seen-in-our-house candy bar.

But when we and our treat was summarily ignored by one and then unmistakably rebuffed as that child walked out the door for school, I was at first angry. How dare someone reject our efforts to share familial love in this way?

Having been at this journey of open hearts, open home for a while now, and finding a place at the table for many who have been abused, rejected, forgotten, and dismissed, it didn't take me long before I was able to look at the scene through my Father's eyes.

How many times does my Heavenly Father lavish His love on me and I reject Him and His gifts? It's too hard. I don't think I deserve it. The enemy convinces me that due to past sins I could never be worthy. Or Satan tells me that my current sins deem me unworthy. As I thought of this I remembered how many years it took me to accept the gifts of love and grace that God gives to me - no matter what I do or how I feel. I remembered the years of holding His love at bay because I didn't believe know that I was a beloved daughter. And I thought of the many times that those feelings still creep in.

I also remembered how God's gift of the Good Doctor has been part of my healing; to have someone who loves as unconditionally as a human can. But along the way, I too often pushed his attempts to show me that there was a place for me at his table and at God's, too. I struggle to hear his words of affirmation and believe that they are said with honesty and not with a hidden agenda. In the same way, I fight to believe that God means everything He says to me through His word and in the words spoken through Holy Spirit.

This Lenten season I want to spend time with God, hearing His whispers of love, seeing the gifts He gives to me every day, remembering who I am, and that I have a place at His table no matter what. Only in finding my place, am I able to offer that same unconditional love and a place at the table, with the desire to see the person inside as God sees them, even if they can't see it themselves.

So when we open our homes, when we give our hearts to others, when we truly invite them to a place at the table, we do so with grace, no matter the response. We have no expectations of the response or the outcome. The outcome isn't our responsibility but making a place for everyone is up to us.

Lent

A chance to
Stop
Breathe
Rest
Ask whose we are
And why we are here

A time to
Humble ourselves
Take less and share more
Make room at the table
And be transformed into Christ-likeness

A season to
Surrender our hearts and lives
Remember the miracles and grace of God
Follow Jesus on His journey to the cross

And discover for what we might be willing to die

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A place at the table

The phrase "a place at the table" is one that has resonated well with me for many years now, even before finding the book that is our current focus for Lent. In fact, I think it was my fascination with the phrase and it's implications that drew me to the book.

The Good Doctor and I have made a conscious effort to live our lives always with "a place at the table". It has looked differently at different times. We've been better at it during some times than others. Many times I've struggled with the Good Doctor's spontaneity in having a place at the table (I still cringe when I remember him telling people, "Come anytime! The door is always open.) while he has struggled with my desire to plan ahead and my need to have everything "just right". But through the years of choosing to have open lives and an open home, I can look back and say in every circumstance, "It is good." While addictions, mental illness, history with the prison system, choices made, or lifestyle lived may separate us, our common brokenness and humanness always bring us together. We were all created with a need for community. Yes, even introverts like me.

While at times we may have been taken advantage of and other times we (mostly me) have felt overwhelmed with the burden of hospitality, we've come to know that ease, self-gratification, and prestige are never part of the equation.

Look who Jesus made room for at the table:. the disabled, the ill, children and women, the lowly in society (shepherds and tax collectors), people who would eventually lead to His death.

Making a place at the table doesn't mean I have to agree with those who come in. It doesn't mean I get to argue my point or to speak in a condescending, disparaging, or demeaning way. Making a place at the table means I simply love. It means I love in spite of differences. It means I see myself as a servant and give others a higher position than myself. It means I will listen; to hear another's story with true interest. It means I'm willing to sacrifice myself; to get my hands dirty in service. Making a place at the table means that anything that has been given to me, I hold loosely in order to better give it up for others.

Ultimately, like Jesus, making a place at the table means I have to be prepared to give my life for others. Judas, sitting at Jesus' table, set into motion a series of events that led Jesus to the cross. And He willingly went to the cross for Judas. For me.  For everyone at my table.

It's hard. So hard. The desire for self-preservation, for comfort, for being "safe", is strong. But it's not Christ-like. So this Lenten season, as I fast from desires that are strong, I am trying to replace them with Christ's love and grace and sacrifice - for everyone who finds a place at my table.

Lent

A chance to
Stop
Breathe
Rest
Ask whose we are
And why we are here

A time to
Humble ourselves
Take less and share more
Make room at the table
And be transformed into Christ-likeness

A season to
Surrender our hearts and lives
Remember the miracles and grace of God
Follow Jesus on His journey to the cross

And discover for what we might be willing to die


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent

Lent is a season that I knew little about until about 10 years ago. Advent, preparation for Christmas, yes,
Our Advent "wreath" has a figure on a donkey 
that circles through a labyrinth of candles until it reaches the center.
We're not brave enough for real candles 
here at the King household.

but Lent, preparation for Easter, no.
And for Lent, our "wreath" gets a few extensions giving us 40 days
to move Jesus carrying His cross to the center
where we have a rock with the empty tomb drawn on it,
a carry-over from Easter celebrations a few years ago.

So I've set out to learn all I can from a number of faith traditions.

A few years ago I read A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay during the Lenten season. This opened up another quest to learn more about fasting. So for 2016 I find myself craving a season of preparation and fasting yet I am also entering it with fear. and a heaviness. Fasting doesn't come easy. That's the point. Like I tell my children (in an attempt to remind myself), if I'm fasting from something that's easy, then I'm not really fasting for the right purpose. Breaking the chains that distract and weigh us down is never straight-forward and sudden but it's time.

Lent

A chance to
Stop
Breathe
Rest
Ask whose we are
And why we are here

A time to
Humble ourselves
Take less and share more
Make room at the table
And be transformed into Christ-likeness

A season to
Surrender our hearts and lives
Remember the miracles and grace of God
Follow Jesus on His journey to the cross

And discover for what we might be willing to die

I like how Seay puts it:
"Holy Week and Easter are so important to our faith journey that if we encounter them without taking the time to prepare, we risk not grasping the fullness of god's love and grace. our hearts, minds, and yes, even our bodies need a time of preparation to lead us joyously to the feast, reluctantly to Gethsemane, solemnly to the cross, and jubilantly to the empty tomb."

So today, our family will together begin a 40 day journey of Lent, focusing on being transformed into Christ-likeness and solidarity with the vulnerable. We are using our Advent-turned-Lent visual reminder of the days ahead and the event we will celebrate at the end.  The plan is to take turns presenting the information in the daily readings and I look forward to the individual perspectives we will bring to this topic.

"The world will not be changed when we ascend to power. God's kingdom will not be furthered because an evangelical Christian resides in the White House or the highest court in the land. God changes the world through humility and service. It is a subversive tactic, yet highly effective... The primary reason why we struggle so deeply to be transformed into the character of Christ is likely because so often instead of living with humility and vulnerability, we are busy chasing power and prestige." (Seay)

As Shane Claiborne has been known to say (in multiple ways): We can better win the world with fascination than by force.
The kitchen chalkboard art reflects my first attempt at encapsulating Lent.
It got longer after that.

Here's to 40 days of becoming more fascinating...