Have you ever wondered how other people think of you or your family? I have. As my kids have gotten older and our first grandchild came on the scene, I have wondered what they think about our family and how they would describe it to someone else. So, a couple of weeks ago I asked them to list a few things they think of when they think of "us", things that defined who we are through their eyes. This isn't a complete list by any means, but here is what they said...
1. Family Dinner
dinner is a time to talk, not just eat
As a boy growing up family dinner was a non-negotiable. If you were in the house at dinner time, you ate. If you weren't hungry, you sat and talked. That tradition has continued in our family as my son so eloquently put it, "dinner is a time to talk, not just eat." Dinner time is where we catch up on the day, see how everyone is doing, and talk about the upcoming day. We laugh, we joke, and sometimes even address family issues. It is far more than a simple time to eat ... it's time to connect. There are also more than a fair amount of spiritual conversations.
We have ham at Christmas
Christmas is a time of tradition for everyone and we are no exception. The biggest Christmas tradition we have, outside of reading Luke 2 from the Bible, is the fact that we have ham for Christmas Eve dinner, but this is no ordinary dinner. There is a real table cloth, real fabric napkins, napkin rings, fancy plates, stemmed glasses, and we only eat by candle light. This tradition has been particularly interesting to watch our foster and adoptive kids take in. It's our special dinner. Mom and I wanted to have something different this year, but it was a no-go. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. We had ham.
No one says moms food is gross until she does
Thankfully my dear bride likes to cook, and she is pretty good at it. She also likes Pintrest and trying new, usually healthy, recipes. We are basically a low-carb family as it pertains to cooking ... most of the time. Once in a while there is that rare occasion when the recipe that looked so good on the web doesn't exactly meet everyone's expectations of excellence. In these times there is always that awkward moment when everyone is respectfully, though slowly, chewing this creative feast, secretly wondering if we are really going to eat it ... because it tastes terrible. No one speaks. We wait, praying silently for pardon, praying silently for pizza. These instances are very rare, but their uncomfortable tension can be broken if mom realizes and agrees with our fate, denouncing the meal as unfit for human consumption. If she doesn't like it, we get pizza. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
Pants at dinner
This one takes some explanation. Our 11-year old daughter has severe brain malformations and is firmly on the autism spectrum. Her emotional, mental, and sometimes physical functioning are around a two year old, give or take. She is also fully tube-fed and doesn't appreciate our dinner time.
Our gathering around the table will often spawn an autistic meltdown. We've tried it all: inclusion, separation, play feeding, singing, praying, begging ... but she simply gets wound up at mealtime. There have been a couple of occasions, once during a young boy's first visit to our home, when Brynna, in adamant protest, removed her pants and flung them at us at the table. We simply removed and replaced the trousers then continued our meal. Our poor guest never returned.
2. Organized Chaos
Over the last eleven years, Brynna, our special needs daughter, has changed the way our family runs in every way imaginable. There is so much activity, often centered around or directly related to her and her needs. To the outsider it looks like chaos, but to us, it's just part of our daily like.
There was a time, though it a bit less now, that she took 26 medical applications of some sort throughout the day. This was just the normal stuff, we wont talk about her step up plan when she is sick. Med time can be a flurry of activity. On many occasions we have asked visitors to please stay and not leave while we do meds and put her to bed. It's 15 minutes of well-choreographed chaos consisting of four or five nighttime meds, a shot, a change of diaper, and well-deserved hugs and kisses.
She has so many things requiring spurts of activity. When we all swing into action to get her taken care of it may look like we are completely out of sync, but in fact, we move like a well-oiled machine.
Kids, lots of kids
I was recently asked by someone, "so, how many kids do you have?" I love this question because I love their faces when I say, "Seven." The responses vary from "oh my!" or "Wow" to "Good Lord!" or the occasional "You're crazy." All of which are likely appropriate.
With lots of kids, four biological, three adopted, and the sporadic foster child comes a ton of juggling. We juggle cars, schedules, meals, soccer games, work times, laundry needs, bathroom access, and the ever-present challenge of "who is gonna be home for dinner." It's exciting, it's who we are ... and we like it.
3. Solid Christian Home
This one came without fanfare or a great deal of discussion, but it warmed my heart nonetheless. They could have simply said we had a Christian home, but they added that important adjective: solid. I'm taking that as a good thing, a house built on the Rock and not the sand.
I suppose their response shouldn't come as a huge shock since we have really tried to carry on some of the same traditions and teachings our parents taught us and pass them along. We really have tried to make faith a priority in our home, and thankfully, the kids have apparently noticed.
Also, as a parent you wonder how you are doing. Will your kids turn out OK? Will they go off the radar? Will they be who we think they should be? Will they be who God wants them to be?
At the end of the day, what really matters is whether or not they have seen Jesus in our daily lives and experienced Him in a myriad of ways through our journey on this earth. This answer gave me some affirmation that we have at least done a decent job of showing them the love of Jesus and His ways. They know we really do believe what we teach. This was my favorite answer.
4. Our Own Style of Communication
Random pointless jokes
Every family has inside jokes. For us, this is the norm, not the exception. There is a good deal of laughter in our family, mostly pointed in my direction, but that's OK. It's important to keep up the joyful and playful banter, even if no one else understands what in the world you are talking about. They don't need to. There actually is a story behind why the kids call me Fabio ... I promise, it isn't my hair or physique. Tell the jokes, laugh as much as you can, and don't be so sensitive. It works for us.
Sarcastic War Zone
Honestly, this one wasn't a surprise, though "war zone" may be a bit strong. It is, however, something we should work on. I know sarcasm can be dangerous, especially if laced with truth one is unwilling to genuinely talk about with someone else, but disguised in sarcastic humor. We have to be careful not to feed into bitterness, negativity, or plain old mean-spirited communication.
At the same time, we believe it is very important to laugh at yourself and even take a little ribbing from time to time. OK, so maybe our house is more verbally playful than others, and maybe it is even more so than it should be, but it's often how we show affection ... no really, it is. It's playful banter that often builds bonds. Playful banter can help make light of things that sometimes feel heavy, but in the scope and reality of eternity they don't mean very much at all, and apparently, it is open season on Dad at all times.
Delayed obedience is disobedience
I don't remember where I heard this, but I remember hearing it and saying to myself, "YES!! Exactly. I'm gonna use that!" and use it I have. Alot. Almost as much as the next one.
For our family, obedience has always been a big deal, but it's a big deal from the point of instruction, not from the count of three, or after we've given the instruction umpteen times, we mean now. For us it boils down to practice; practice for obeying God when He gives a command. If He says go, then waiting is sin. Delayed obedience is disobedience. In fact, just tonight one of our twins tried to negotiate for one more minute awake. My response? "Delayed obedience is disobedience." He performed the task, he is learning.
It's a heart issue
One of my all time favorites. This one has become sort of a joke around the dinner table. The kids give me grief, saying I can turn everything into a heart issue!
Them: "I don't like green beans."
Me: "That's a heart issue."
The conversation inevitably ensues as to how, why, or what on earth could make green beans a heart issue! To which I would reply, "You should be thankful for what you have, content to have, and content to do without. When your heart is right, it wont matter what you eat, but you will be thankful that you actually got to eat at all ... a heart issue." I have asserted for years that everything is ostensibly a heart issue. As the kids grow older, they start to see it. I feel vindicated, even proud ... and yes, that, too, is my heart issue. :(
Secrets are relationship killers. Sure, there are things we can't tell each other and things it isn't appropriate to tell each other, but by and large we are very open in our conversations about things. Not to mention we make it a practice to share each other's struggles and shortcomings, often in open forum, sometimes for accountability, sometimes for reassurance that we are in this together. If the kids ask a question, if it is permissible and age-appropriate, we answer it.
Having been in the ministry so long, we have weathered some serious storms. I mean the kind where you aren't sure you can even continue. Our kids have seen and endured alot. People are sometimes mean. This has brought about serious discussions with the kids about people, their motives, the nature of what was going on, and how to handle it.
Honesty at all costs
We are also very honest with our kids regarding things like their future and their gifts. Our kids aren't going to the NBA. In fact, your kids probably aren't either. They probably aren't even playing sports in college. They might, and that would be awesome, but probably not. It's OK to talk about that, too. We believe that honesty is the best policy, so we try to speak truth in love and deal with the consequences of what He does to our hearts as a result.
We have learned over the years this level of transparency makes others uncomfortable. People sometimes think we are being rude or disrespectful, but we aren't. We are being truthful ... lovingly truthful. One of the main reasons adults refuse to have hard conversations as grownups is because it was never modeled for them as childre. I want my kids to grow up and be able to step into the leadership roles of the church and be able to reprove, rebuke, and exhort if needed. That takes a level of transparency most people don't like.
That means us, too
Transparency also means Tammy and I say "I'm sorry" fairly often. Me more than her. Transparency means when we mess up as adults, we have to own it, call it out, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. You might couple this with vulnerability. If you want a healthy family, talk about hard things. Say you are sorry and don't be afraid to answer hard questions. If they are asking, they might need to know.
I'm always so nervous when writing about race. People are very sensitive and the culture seems to shift frequently to protect anyone from getting their feelings hurt, but we strive to go counter to what the culture is doing in this area.
I love the fact our family is interracial. It brings a vitality and authenticity to the mix that can't be orchestrated. In a world that wants everyone to be the same, we try to celebrate our differences as God's grace in unity. The fact remains we aren't all the same, and that's perfectly fine. The scriptures tell us in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 we are all given gifts by the Spirit to use in the body; hands do handy thing, feet do feetly (Yes, dear, I made that up) things, and so forth and so on. We are supposed to celebrate our unique gifts and welcome the unique gifts of others. The same is true with race in our family.
If our kids think we look like a giant Smore walking through WalMart with graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate, so be it. It warms my heart to see three races sit down at the family table and no one cares that we are all different races ... except for the well-placed playful remark. See above.
What the kids meant by inclusive is that kids, and sometimes other adults, just get thrown in the mix here. There isn't too much of a warm-up period. If you are in the house, you're family as long as you are here and you will be initiated quickly as best we can. My favorite story of this was the first night Eli came to be with us.
It was the night before Christmas Eve and there was a need to take a picture of all the kids. It was put on a gift for me that hangs in my office that reads, "Why I love being a Dad." They lined up and Tammy tried to take the shot. When you are doing things like this with an autistic child who has serious cognitive dysfunction you need to be fast. She gets upset easily sometimes and apparently she is a ninja with reflexes that make Bruce Lee look like he is in slow motion.
She can grab something off of the table, poke you in the eye, or snatch your sunglasses before your eyes can detect the movement. It truly is amazing. As everyone lined up for the picture, Eli was standing next to Austin who was holding Brynna. What Eli didn't know is he had breached the no fly zone ... he was in Brynna's bubble and the Ninja Master knew how to address it. With cat-like speed and precision, she reached out and snagged Eli across the face in protest to his encroachment. Welcome to the family, son.
When the picture came out I had to laugh. I still laugh every time I see it. The family is smiling, happy, even Brynna (she thinks it is hilarious when there is physical pain involved) ... then there is Eli. He is standing a bit to the right, now giving plenty of room to avoid further physical assault and the look on his face only conveys confusion ... you can see his mind saying, "What just happened? This family is crazy!" We aren't sure he was wrong.
In our house respect is both given and earned. We've taught our kids from early on that everyone deserves respect. Whether or not they are in a place of authority is irrelevant, everyone deserves it and we work hard to make sure everyone gets it.
No matter the situation Mom deserves, and gets, respect. Period. It's a non-negotiable. If you don't like it, get a job and get your own place. It's that big of a deal. Her self-sacrifice is legendary and seems to be endless. That isn't to say she wouldn't deserve the same respect if she had never done a thing for us. She gets it because it is the right thing to do to show honor to your mother. Our kids learn quickly the fast track to my bad side is paved with disrespect for mom.
We all make them. All of us. One motto heard echoing through our house is "It's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them." No one is perfect and mistakes are expected, but so are lessons learned from them. I struggle with this sometimes as my expectations are high because I believe children can reach the expectations you set for them. That means I have to be reminded sometimes that they aren't perfect, and neither am I.
Just like sharing and being transparent, we must join the fight in modeling repentance and sanctification. There's no reason to pretend we don't make mistakes, only space to own them and show what it looks like to keep moving. I'm grateful they realized it's OK to not be OK, but it's not OK to stay that way.
This quote has a special place in my heart, maybe because it is one of the cornerstone principles we always hoped would come through to our children, good times and bad. The child wrote, "It doesn't matter the time or place, Mom and Dad got your back." It's true.
We've never sought to be "those parents", you know the ones, constantly rescuing their children at every hint of discipline, but we aren't afraid to jump in the fight when we believe there to be injustice. Sometimes at the end of the day it simply means we look them in the eye and tell them we tried, but it wasn't in God's will for us to prevail and now they have to live respectfully with the consequences. Life isn't fair, but we still love you and support you.
Another thing we've learned is to support them differently. If you think you can treat all your children exactly the same, you must only have one child. Some need more support, others less. Some need it in some areas, while others need it in completely different things, but they all need it in something.
Do your best
Our expectations of our kids sometimes feel heavy to them, so they say, but they have learned that what we really expect is simple: their best. We say, "You don't have to be the best just do your best." This applies to grades, basketball, soccer, folding clothes, doing dishes, yard work, literally everything. Just do your best and we are happy and proud (though we also have veto power on the definition of your best). We couldn't care less if you don't make the top whatever in the state for this or that if you've done your best ... although, if you do, we will celebrate like it's the greatest thing that ever happened. If you lose miserably, but did your best, we still celebrate. We don't celebrate the loss, but the effort. Some of the greatest eternal lessons to be learned are taught in the ashes of defeat. There are those that view this as an attitude of losers. They are wrong, plain and simple. It's even biblical, look it up and see.
12. Freedom and trust are rewards not necessities
Freedom and trust are not terribly dissimilar to respect. Freedom is earned, but trust is often given until violated. This is tricky business for sure. It means we get burned sometimes, but it seems to work for us. Trust is hard to earn back once lost, but a path to redemption must be available. Repentance may be the start, but transformation is the goal.
Freedom, on the other hand, is not given until earned. Freedom given without proof of responsibility can be a death sentence to well-meaning adolescents. Too much too early can be the demise of a potentially well-rounded child. Too little at the appropriate time can lead to an inability to function as adults or even appropriate young adults. It's certainly a continuing work, but work worth doing. I'm glad they realized this from their perspective. Maybe they were listening after all.
Our little family is unique, and so is yours. Celebrate that. Be you, Boo!