For the love of God, put the screen down

For the love of God, put the screen down

I was safely ensconced in an easy chair by the fireplace, headphones blocking out most of the chatter around me. On Friday mornings I like to go to places like Panera to take care of tasks like writing, email and yes, blogging.

A different kind of sound that filtered through my headphones caught my attention.

At a nearby table a dad was reading a book to his preschool age boy. The kid’s face shone with the wonder of the story and the anticipation of what was going to happen next.

And maybe with the delight of a bagel and book with his dad.
Maybe such a thing shouldn’t be considered the stuff of heroes but don’t ask his son that. For myself, I’d like to nominate him just for the rarity of the sighting. Far too often  when I’m out and about I see parents and kids and sometimes entire families sitting at tables in silence, heads bowed before their individual screens.

What could be more important than the people you love?

For God’s sake, for the sake of the God who created us to be in community “(it was not good that man should be alone”) put down your phones and shut off your tablets.

Not all of the time. But when we’re with each other.

Because the cat video is probably going to be there later.

Because our time together, while seeming long while we’re living it, in truth passes as fast as a minute. Friends move away and family members die and the presence we took for granted becomes absence.

Because we cannot know each other if we do not tend to each other, and if we do not know each other our connections will always be stunted, falling short of the depth and richness they could bring.

Because that person on the other side of your screen is created in the image of God and may have something to teach you, something to give you, something that encourages you or something that surprises you.

For the love of God and the love of God’s children, put the screen down. There’s a little boy who needs you to read that puppy story again. There’s a spouse who needs you to see them, really see them. There’s a friend who has chosen to spend their precious time with you.

For the love of God, put the screen down.

 

 

 

 

Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

The problem with toys for boys

The problem with toys for boys

I was searching online for a Christmas present for a boy who is developing a passion for things scientific. I was horrified to see on one website for science toys a listing of toys for boys… but no corresponding listing of toys for girls. My old friend Scholastic did a little better – on the toys for girls site they had toys for budding engineers. But the boys site had no toys for boys who might like kitchens or dolls.

Maybe only a very few boys will be like my friend who, as a boy, was ecstatic to get a much wanted Barbie doll. But when we designate engineering toys as the norm for boys and dolls as toys for girls, well then, they become the norm.

So what? you might ask. The problem is that if you are a girl wanting a toy from the “boy section” or heaven forbid, vice versa, you are then by definition abnormal.

football BAs you can see by my picture, I have some experience in being abnormal. While my mom wanted a girly girl who’d take ballet, I  wanted to be playing ball with my brothers. While my mother faithfully came to my basketball and softball games in high school, we both knew it was her second choice. (She also used to tell me that I shouldn’t yell so loudly at college games because it wasn’t “ladylike,” but that’s another story.”)

One web site whom I’d contacted about the issue said that they had the listing because people typed the phrase “toys for boys” into search engines. What a wonderful world it would be if typing “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” brought up the same page.

Then no one would have to be abnormal. We could just be ourselves.

 

 


 

  • Ever wonder why you keep sabotaging yourself when it comes to your goals?
  • Ever get tired of biting your tongue and not saying what you really think?
  • Is your heart heavy with what you couldn’t tell them before they died  – or wish you could tell them now? (Even if them is a beloved pet.)
  • Do you wish you had help in making an important decision?

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It’s true. I see it often in my practice as well as in my own life.

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The point we’ve been missing

A friend posted a link to a recent NY Times article on books addressing the growing Spiritual but not religious segment. Writing a recent memoir has made me think a lot about Christiian community, and specifically, the communities that raised me, formed me and continue to support me. I want to offer an excerpt from that memoir as my response.

from I Don’t Remember Signing Up For This Class: a life of darkness, light and surprising grace

I think we get confused sometimes about who church is really for. Of course, I need the challenge and the community and the comfort and the chance to sing. I need the friendships that I form. But it’s not just about me.

I spend hot summer days helping with the recreation for Vacation Bible School because someone did it for me. I invest in helping to lead a Sunday school class because I never know who might need that small group of fellow pilgrims. I never know what people bring with them into that room. I gather for worship because I need it. But I also gather because there are children and youth who will need to know that God loves them too. There are children and youth who need to be connected with adults who aren’t their parents.

It’s what the “I can worship anywhere” crowd forgets. It’s not just about us. It’s about the widow living alone who has no other source of hugs than what she gets on a Sunday morning. It’s a teenager who gets told in a thousand ways that she’s too fat or he’s too stupid, and who need to know that there are people who love them as is. It’s children who need to learn first hand that God’s house is a place where they can laugh and have fun, be silly, talk about what bothers them and know they are loved.

Sometimes you can pick them out. Even if you don’t know them, you see the haunted, desperate look in their eyes. You feel the hunger in their hug. And sometimes you’d never guess.

Just look at me.

We encourage each other to pay for the cup of coffee ordered by the person behind us in line, and when it happens to us we’re astounded by the grace of it. Yet week in and week out there are folks who are paying it forward, and I gladly count myself in their number.

The God I came to know through God’s people saved me. How can I not extend the same grace to someone else?

I participate in Christian community not just because my spirit needs it, but because I’m helping to create a container that the world needs.

It isn’t just about us.

I Don’t Remember Signing Up For This Class will be available on Kindle within a week, and will come out in paperback in September. Sign up for my newsletter (click on sign up) to get fair warning for both of these events (as well as others.)

Redeeming Mother’s Day

Redeeming Mother’s Day

by Peggy Haymes

I’ll be honest.

It’s never ranked as one of my favorite days.

It began when I witnessed too many churches getting too schmaltzy when recognizing the moms in the congregation. It always felt too syrupy and vaguely uncomfortable to me.

However, it was almost redeemed by the one memorable year when two elderly women almost got into a fight.

The pastor asked all moms to stand, then started eliminating them by age. (What possessed him to think that this was a good idea?) Finally one woman was standing, and the usher started towards her with a bouquet of flowers. About that time a quivering but determined voice was heard from another part of the sanctuary.

“I’m older than she is.”

I don’t remember how they resolved it, but alas, the two elderly women were not asked to duke it out.

In the last few years it’s seemed like a party for which I saw preparations but to which I wasn’t invited. I don’t have children, and it’s the fifth Mother’s Day since my mom died. I know to stay away from Hallmark commercials and scroll quickly through Facebook.

In worship this morning we didn’t ask the youngest or oldest mom to stand. We didn’t inquire as to which mom had the most kids. Instead, the pastor preached a fine sermon on the mothering side of God. All in all, not a bad morning.

After church a friend hugged me. “Happy mother’s day,” he said. “You mother people. I’ve seen it.”

And just like that, a day was redeemed. Maybe I could stroll into this party after all.

Wouldn’t you know it, just an hour or so earlier we’d been talking in my Sunday School class about Christian community, the hard things and the blessedness of it. We talked about the power to bless in dozens of ways small and large.

And there I was, an hour or so later, getting myself my own blessing.

You have to watch out For God. Sometimes she has a wicked sense of humor and timing.

Sometimes I struggle as a counselor…

Sometimes  I struggle as a counselor…

I’ve been doing this work for over ten years now, and sometimes I struggle. I struggle because we live in an increasingly clinical world and I see therapy as both dance and art… as well as clinical wisdom. I struggle because I believe that a diagnosis may open a window into a client but will never tell the whole story of them.

There’s a checkoff on one of my online record keeping forms that I am to check if I think this treatment is medically necessary. And I never know what to do with that, because isn’t all my work medically necessary? As people heal old wounds or stop beating themselves up or punishing themselves or trying to make the entire world happy, their bodies are able to let go of heavy and powerful burdens. As we get healthier emotionally we tend to get healthier physically. But I’m not sure I can whip out an evidence based study to prove it. I just know it in my soul from all of the people whose journeys I’ve been privileged to share.

Some days my work is in asking the right questions. Some days it’s simply sitting and listening and really hearing the stories they’ve been too afraid or too ashamed to tell anywhere else. Some days I reassure clients that they are not crazy or hopeless, they are simply in the midst of the grand rhythm of life, a rhythm that brings birth but also loss, and that loss can take a thousand forms, from the husband you lost to the childhood you never got to have. I remind them what their bones know, that grief is not a thing to be done but a journey to be lived, and there is no going back to the place where we used to live.

A little while ago I just read a powerful blog about the journey of grief; or, more accurately, one woman’s journey of grief, and all of the misunderstanding she faced from those who thought they had the right clinical box to put her in.

It is a deep and powerful story and I cannot commend it to you enough.

You can read it here

“But, when a child dies, even “good therapy” doesn’t cure or fix. Good therapy is merely joining the sufferer in their pain, non judgmentally with full acceptance and compassion.” Bereavement and snorting seaweed, by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore