Character


I tend to be a punctual person.  If something starts at 10am, I am there at 9:45.  I strongly and fervently dislike being late.  As a result, my philosophy is that if I’m always early, I’ll never be late.

Have I mentioned that I tend to be punctual.

I had a good friend in college who was the opposite.  He was always late.  You were supposed to meet at 12pm for lunch, he’d show up at 12:20pm, maybe.  It drove me NUTS.

Even today, with 4-kids in tow, I still strive to be early – and usually achieve that goal. Especially for church functions.

Come Sunday morning, I am determined to get to church on-time, at all costs. Recently, I have recognized that the ‘at all costs” is far too great.  My desire for punctuality can rise to the level of idolatry if I am not careful.

There have been days when my desire to get to church on time has led me to be impatient with my children.  In my impatience, I have at times been harsh and unkind.  I have exalted punctuality over civility, thus perverting true godly character.  In my over-zealous desire to be punctual, I have forfeited the greater joy of patiently, lovingly, leading my children.

So, next time we are cutting it close, next time it seems we may not quite make it on time, I am prayerful that I will respond with graciousness.  I am prayerful that I will be able to laugh at the last minute diaper explosion, or the lost shoe, or the temper tantrum.  I am prayerful that I will remember that God has ordained even those delays, and is giving me a chance to grow in grace and godly character.

After dinner tonight I took out a card game the girls have had for a while; a game that we used to play quite often, but haven’t touched in a while.  The main reason we haven’t played in a while is because a very active toddler boy would rather grab and squish the cards than sit nicely and allow a game to be played…but that is another post.

So I took out this game, similar to Uno.  We played the first round, and Annabella won.    We played the second round, and Annabella won.  We played one last round, me hoping that Abigail would have a chance to win, and….Annabella won.

Abigail is competitive, just like her Mama.  I once pegged a teammate in the head with a soccer ball because he was the reason we lost a game in practice…IN PRACTICE. Thankfully, my competitive nature has toned down (a bit) over the years.  I can see Abigail heading down that road, without some kind of intervention and direction.   She really really doesn’t like to lose, and doesn’t handle it well.

She complains.  She says she doesn’t want to play any more.  She says, ‘it’s no fair.’  She asks, ‘when am I going to get a turn to win?’

All thoughts and questions I can relate to.

Now, it was tempting tonight to simply scold her for being a ‘bad sport’ and a ‘sore loser.’  It would have been easy to shame her into outwardly behaving by condemning her for thoughts that are, quite honestly, understandable and reasonable.  I mean, who really likes to lose?  And given a choice, who wouldn’t want to win?

How often do scenarios like this come up in a given day?  If you have children at home, it doesn’t take long before someone has a bad attitude, a poor or selfish spirit. The quick solution seems to be a quick scolding, so that we (mom) can move on with the important things of the day.  But how shortsighted…and how shortchanged we leave our children when we do that.

I could have called Abigail a sore loser, but what does that even mean?  How often do I throw out cliché’s without ever explaining the meaning to my children?  As if they should just know what I’m saying.

The alternative is to take the extra time upfront, engaging in a thorough conversation addressing the heart issues, not just the outward behavior.  This, unfortunately, takes a whole lot more time and is much more inconvenient than offering a quick rebuke.  But that is what we are called to as parents, isn’t it?

Tonight I had a “teachable moment.”  I didn’t set up the scenario, I didn’t choreograph the encounter with the goal of lecturing my girls.  I got something so much better.  Within the normal, natural course of life, a scenario presented itself, revealing a heart problem with one child.

I know that her extreme competitiveness will present itself again, and the poor spirit that displayed its ugly head will reappear in some future event.  I haven’t tied a bow around this problem, believing that it is all fixed.  But, I have chipped away at the heart attitude, hopefully making an impression that I can call upon the next time this occurs.

Slowly, over time, and with diligence, I pray that I will be able to mold her in this area; making her more gracious both in victory and in defeat.  Teaching her to treat others as she wants to be treated.  Able to win without boasting and lose without complaining.

With my eyes on the long term, I hope that this issue diminishes over time and that as she enters adulthood, her character here will be more Christlike.  In the meantime, I will fight the small battles, knowing that each battle is a small part of the entire war.

My coaching season finished up a few weeks ago.  It’s been great to be home again, to not have the afternoon rush of bringing the kids to the babysitter, and rushing off to practice….not to mention the drama that I left behind with those teenage girls.  After thoroughly decompressing, I am now able to reflect on the season and the overall experience with fresh eyes.

This season was exponentially more difficult than the season before when I coached 7th and 8th graders.  This year I had 9th and 10th graders, and oh my the drama, the laziness, the complaining and the disrespect that came from a good number of these girls, mostly 10th graders.  To say that I am glad, thrilled, relieved that the season is over is an understatement.  Each and everyday was a battle .

Midway through the season I had a bit of a chat with the team.  I explained to them that soccer is simply a game.  At the same time the soccer field, their classrooms, and their homes are their training grounds for the people they will one day become.  The effort they put in, the character traits they build now, whether diligence or laziness, teamwork or selfishness, these are the things that will determine who they are in 10, 15, 20 years.  I shared with them that I love winning as much as anyone, but I am more concerned with the character they build through the season than the record at the end of the season.

My mini-speech had little short-term effect on anyone since the same people still complained, the same people were still lazy, the same people still had no regard for teammates…but I can hope and pray that my words will stick with them, and have an impact on their lives sometime down the road.

Reflecting on all this I realized that most educators and coaches don’t care much, or at all, about the character of their students and athletes.  They care about classroom grades and game scores, but don’t intervene in a young persons life when a lack of character is detected…at least this has been my experience as a student and athlete, and in observing other coaches.

The importance of character is one of the main reasons my husband and I have chosen to homeschool our children.  The development of good character is far more important to us than whether they know the dates of the Civil War or who was the 17th president.  Don’t misunderstand, I expect my children to study hard and apply themselves, but not because head knowledge is an end in itself, but because as they study hard, they are developing a character of diligence and perseverance.

Reflecting on this group of 25 high school girls, I was strengthened in my conviction that homeschooling is the right decision.  Why would I send my child off to school to be ‘socialized’ among peers with such lack of character.  Now, not all 25 were difficult.  There were quite a few who were a joy to coach, and who were equally frustrated with the handful of misfits.  I’d like to hope that my child, if in public school, would be like the players who were a joy to coach…but even still, why would I put them in the situation of having to endure to immaturity of these classmates who simply waste time and add little to nothing of value?  Why would I disregard the truth that bad company corrupts good morals, and inflict my children with such bad company on a daily basis?

Why would I send my child to sit under the instruction of those  who do not care to develop their character in addition to their academics?  Who spend most of their class time trying to quiet the complainers, motivate the lazy and discipline the undisciplined as my child sits quietly awaiting some kind of instruction?  And where my child will not be confronted for a bad attitude, unless it’s disrupting the class.

Why would I want to give up my God given right and responsibility to be the main influence on my child’s life, especially when the alternative is as scary as I saw this fall.

 

My 4-year-old has this horrible habit of talking back to her Papi and me.  When we tell her to do something, we often get a reflex, smart answer back.  Even when she goes on to obey, her mouth reveals whats in her heart, and it ain’t pretty.  But where in the world does she get that??

I have 2 answers…and the second answer I don’t like so much.

Firstly, she gets it from her sin nature.  Her ‘exceedingly wicked’ heart is prone to disrespect, not respect.  In many regards, that’s the easy answer, because the other answer is, she gets it from me.

The other night at dinner my husband made a comment.  For the life of me, I cannot remember exactly what was said, or what the actual topic was, but for a point of illustration, I’ll create a scenario that could easily have occurred.  Warning, this ain’t gonna be pretty.

I was refilling Annabella’s plate, and hubby says, ‘don’t give her too many potatoes, it hurts her belly.’  My mouth quietly spews out, ‘no it doesn’t, as I serve her some more food, trying to avoiding picking up a potato.

As soon as those words came out of my mouth I thought to myself, ‘where did that come from??’  It was a total reflex.  I didn’t think up this disrespectful response.  I wasn’t plotting a way to cut him down.  No, the words came out before I really even thought about it.  It was a sad realization that my heart response to my husbands loving direction was not gratitude and submission, but rebellion and disrespect.

This wasn’t the first time something like this has happened either.  But thankfully I am starting to recognize these occurences more quickly, and it is a somewhat rare occurrence (I think.  Maybe I ought to ask hubby).

As soon as these words came out, I also thought, ah, no wonder why Abigail does that.  I could have said, ‘okay.’  I could have said nothing.  Instead I answered back smartly, showing a lack of respect for my husband.  I communicated with those few words, in front of my children, that I know more than him, and that his opinion does not count and does not deserve respect.

How in the world is Abigail going to learn proper respect for her Papi when she sees the opposite modeled by her Mami?

The heart issue isn’t going away.  Her heart is exceedingly wicked, and we will be addressing her innate sinfulness for quite a while.  But I do not need to complicate the matter by offering up a poor example.

Learning to show respect for others, starting with our Papi, begins with me.

I’ll warn you upfront, this is a bit of a rant.  I have had this thrown at me several times over the past two years, and it’s getting old.

Are we called to simply, ‘forgive and forget’ when others hurt us or offend us?  Are we to overlook EVERY wrong deed, and just let it go?  When folks do ‘forgive and forget,’ are they even truly forgiving?

My husband and I had a fallout with a close family member about 18 months ago.  My husband was the one directly affected, and I got caught in the crossfire.  It was a very difficult situation for my husband and I to endure, but we did.

There are always three sides to every story.  Each party has their point of view, and then somewhere in the middle is the truth.  It seems to me that forgiveness and reconciliation cannot occur until both parties agree to seek that truth, and come to some sort of agreement on who offended whom and how.  Until both parties are willing to humbly go through this exercise, forgiveness simply cannot take place.

In the wake of the situation I had people telling me to ‘forgive and forget, it’s family after all,’ as if blood relation means that one should just get over it, when, in my estimation, if ‘family’ were esteemed as much as these folks claim, then the situation never would have happened in the first place.  (how is that for a run-on sentence??)

I had an aunt and grandma each send me a note, tucked inside the packaging for my daughters’ birthday gifts that came through the mail.  Both of these notes, in effect, told me to just get over it, that I was breaking the family apart by carrying this out.  Despite any first hand knowledge of the situation and despite never having talked to either me or my husband about our perspective, they both felt justified in telling me that I was wrong.  (apparently they wanted to add to the list of folks needing my forgiveness).

The incident came up a few months back in a conversation with a former school teacher, who rendered the same advice.  Once again today, in conversation with an old family friend, I was told to ‘forgive and forget, it’s family.’

I wonder if the folks dishing out this advice even know what they mean when they say these words.

Forgive and forget = pretend like it never happened.  Sorry, that just does work.

All the people offering this advice have been people who know both parties (also non-Christians, which somewhat excuses the bad theology).  I’m sure it pains them to know that there is now a riff in the family, but what they don’t know is that it’s a work of God that the riff did not occur long before.

I do think there needs to be a willingness to forgive.  I don’t think we should be walking around bitter, replaying the incident over and over again in our mind.  If that was the intended meaning of these well-intentioned folks, then I’d agree, but that’s not what they meant.  They wanted us to just act like nothing ever happened.  How does one do that?  How can they live a lie like that?  How can one continue on, and not acknowledge something MAJOR has occurred?

When one forgives, it entails a promise to never again bring up the incident.  How can I promise to do that when the incident has never been addressed and resolved?

And forget, what do they mean by that?  Seems to me forgetting may simply be stupid.  If someone has a pattern of behavior that is harmful to you or your family, you may forgive them after heartfelt repentance was offered, but it equates to brain damage to ‘forget’ their pattern, and continue to put yourself in harmful situations with that person.  You don’t necessarily have to avoid them all together, but maybe you do avoid particular situations.

If my brother was a horrible drive, always getting into accidents due to his recklessness, even injuring me on one occasion, I may forgive him, but shoot me in the head if I get into a car with him again.  Come on people!!

And when we toss around this cliché, we put the burden of reconciliation on the offended party, and let the offender get off scot-free.  The tactic here seemed to be to guilt us into just moving on, RATHER THAN addressing the pride in the other person (maybe in us too), convincing them that they need to come clean about the incident.  It sure is a lot easier to guilt-trip the non-confrentational party than confront the proud, haughty party.  So I don’t necessarily blame them there.  But even if they were able to create peace through this tactic, it would be a false peace.  (thankfully I have married a man who doesn’t cave into the guilt-trippings of my family, and I am finally learning to stand up the them as well — haha, your powers are wearing off…)

So, to close my rant, if we must continue with meaningless, useless clichés that don’t help anyone, can we at least find one to replace ‘forgive and forget’, ’cause I’m just about out of patience for hearing this one said.

~Rant Over

Why do I care what other people think?  Why do I care what strangers think?  What is the rationale behind allowing my pride (displayed in my misplaced concern over the opinions of others) to influence my actions and even the way I treat my children?

These are some of the thoughts that have flooded my mind today.

In the morning, I treated the kids to some bagels.  Annabella was pushing Alexander in the stroller, a job she LOVES to do.  We were entering the bagel store, and she got stuck on the little bump in the doorway.  She didn’t want my help (Ms. Independent) and it took her all of 5 seconds to clear the doorway.  It’s amazing the thoughts and emotions I had in those 5 seconds.

Someone was coming in behind us.  They experienced 2.5 seconds of the delay due to Annabella’s navigation skills…the slightest holdup.  Nevertheless, I became embarrassed, which led to impatience, which ended with me being a bit snippy to her as she struggled to get in.  WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH ME?

My concern over the opinions of this stranger led to me speaking to my child in an unkind manner.  How does one even get from here to there??

This isn’t the first time that I reacted this way to some MINOR inconvenience by one of the kids.  I act as if I need to apologize for my children being children.

I’m not talking about them acting like obnoxious little brats, rudeness or other unacceptable behaviors here.  It’s merely childishness, and childishness in its most minuscule form.

To top it off, I have yet to encounter a person that was nearly as annoyed as me in any of these scenarios.  So my embarrassment isn’t even justified from that side of the argument.  Most of the time the folks seem amused at my kids.

And when I see other kids do the things I’m talking about here, I usually smile and admire the wonderfulness of children.  So why do I assume others would do any different?

So I’ve been camped out in James 1 for a while.   I stepped out of the shower this morning thinking about how I am more characterized by being slow to hear, quick to speak and quick to anger, and was grieved by that realization .  God, in His Sovereignty, provided me a wonderful opportunity to exercise my will in this area less than an hour later.

Seated for breakfast, we were enjoying an array of juices and smoothies.  Annabella asks for a sip of mine.  I slide it over, and turn my attention to Alexander feed him.  As quick as I turn my head to Alexander, there is the dreaded sound of a cup hitting the floor, and with it, purple smoothie all over the wall, the rug and the chair.  I know my middle child well enough to know that this probably wasn’t an accident.

Fighting every urge to scream, I bit my tongue, and ask calmly, ‘what happened.’  Upon gaining confirmation that this was indeed on purpose, I escorted my child upstairs to hand out some correction – which was down in an amazingly calm matter, considering the circumstances.  We returned downstairs where I cleaned up the mess, and finished the meal with the kids.

I didn’t quite model ‘slow to anger’, as anger arose quite quickly, and I wasn’t perfect on ‘slow to speak’ and my voice did get loud when the culprit initially refused to provide an answer, and again at the innocent bystander who needed to ask a million questions while I was cleaning up (none of which were helpful).

But, I can say without hesitation, that the Lord is faithful.  That the incident was a lot less ugly than it could have been.  That I was a lot calmer than I often am.  That, while anger was certainly present, it was much more subdued than usual.  I was in control of it, rather than it being in control of me.

So, while perfection is still a long way off, sanctification is present and active in my life.  For that, I am very grateful!

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