Learning to create, learning to unlie

When was the last time you tried something new? Or retried something you had already decided you were bad at? I am just now learning to paint with watercolors. What sparked my interest was a gift of innovative watercolor markers. No mixing paints required. No cup of water. Just jump in and shape bold objects with each colorful stroke. Pretty sappy outcomes at first, by trying to paint the expected–flowers and sunsets, and water reflecting sunsets. Sugary even. I needed to expand my imagination. I started looking through travel magazines and online photos by my favorite floral artists and photographers.

Painting may also involve sketching as a base. Each time I begin, I have to talk myself into trying it “just this once”, into putting pencil to paper “even though.” I’ve often joked about my being able to draw fantastic stick figures. At each pediatric doctor check-up, I would cartoon on the examining table paper for my kids to color while waiting and waiting for the doc–they were sure I only figures I knew how to draw were puppies and rabbits, race cars, and “beautiful girls wearing beautiful dresses.” And I was sure that was my repertoire, too. The stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie. I’m actually not so bad, not so limited. Who knew?

Stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie.

Painting is captivating, all-engrossing for me. I cannot think of one person who bugs me while I sketch and paint. For a high-functioning, always-planning leader, that’s a win–and it helps with COVID anxieties we all carry. Yesterday, even though I was sitting at my favorite lake spot, I was restless, perseverating on what ifs and whethers and whens… until I looked out the window and really saw the view before me. An amazingly, ordinary display of light and shadow, color and shape reflected on a lake. I agreed with myself to “just try” to paint it.

Two hours zipped by. I felt calmer than I had in two days, entering into God’s creation in a fresh way. More aware. Spotting a favorite shade of purple hiding in plain sight in the world. Noticing the play of shapes and sunlight, water pooling, squiggling in the wind and reflecting.

Daughter + lake = the best day!

My physicist niece explained to me recently that water atoms don’t really move across the entire lake one by one. They cohere. I look out in wonder at what I hardly understand. I pay attention to light and shading, pondering how one would impossibly capture it on paper. If I am barely beginning see the world to paint it, how did God create it? Each atom linked in a spectacular design, connected with each other atom in a wonder of purpose.

I had to pull over to watch this sunset! Not able to paint it yet.

I am discovering new ways that I am a creator also, working out of the image of God. This “seeing” leads me to praising and thanking God for the incredible gifts right before me. It leads straight to joy. I “unlie”–I tell a new truth–about who I am as a creator. And I get caught up in possibility.

What about you? What new thing might you try or try again “anyway”? What do you need to “unlie” about?

I’m Only Sorry on Sundays–Lying Part 2

Parents will do almost anything for our kids, but apologizing to them doesn’t come easily to us. Who among us will readily admit when we’ve lied or messed up? Sinned? Our culture rarely models apologizing, confessing our sins, or extending forgiveness. We as parents need to do that for our kids.

And it pinches. That’s why I’m a big fan of prayers of confession during worship. Even silent ones. More often than during quarterly communion. It’s hard to pretend you’re always right and noble when you all confess your sins together each week. It does make us uncomfortable; we aren’t very good at it. Or if we only confess during church, our kids can see right through us. We need to keep short accounts the rest of the week, apologizing and asking for forgiveness when we wrong others, even our families. Especially our families.

Conversely, we may feel so overwhelmed by our sin we skip over God’s forgiveness. I have seen both in the Church. When I first visited a large church and experienced a corporate prayer of confession, I couldn’t believe how incredibly brief the silent confession time was. “What?” I thought, “I’m just getting started here on my sins. Do all these lovely people have it all together? Am I the only one who sins so much?” Nope. I later found out the service was broadcast on the radio and they weren’t allowed dead airtime. But what it unintentionally communicated to me was my inadequacy. I now give a long stretch of quiet time for confession. I do warn church goers that it’ll seem like a long time. And it does. Taking time to confess is good for our souls. It gives the Holy Spirit time to whisper, shout, prompt, or whatever the Holy One needs to do in our case.

At one church when I taught adult an Sunday school class on confession during Lent, a woman turned to her neighbor in all seriousness and said, “What’s all this talk about sin? I don’t sin, do you?”  He replied, “Nope, I just mess up sometimes.” This is the same church that changed the words to Amazing Grace from “that saved a wretch like me” to the more pleasant “that saved someone like me.” But it’s hard to confess and be forgiven by God if you never face your sinfulness.

In a recent Sunday school class, I had kids play confession pictionary and charades. They acted out the things which we often do which are wrong, which require confession and apology. They had fun with the charades, from fighting over a toy, to hitting a sibling, to lying, to not sharing the last apple. They got carried away and soon were acting out murdering people and burgling houses. We then got back on track and practiced a prayer of confession, repeating a spoken prayer and adding some silent time, then saying, “Jesus, please forgive me.” At the end, they looked each other in the eye and assured each other of their forgiveness, “Jesus loves you no matter what.”

Does teaching your kids confession feel tricky to you? The hard part is the confessing our “junk,” especially out loud before our spouse or kids. You can do this; let me help out. Only two lines to memorize: 1) “Jesus, please forgive me.” 2) “Jesus loves you no matter what.” Practicing these simple, yet powerful phrases between Sundays could go a long way toward healing our families. Lord, have mercy.

Would I lie to you, honey? Part 1

With all due respect to Anne Lenox, I would and I do lie. And so do my kids, what feels like dozens of times each day. It’s one of our biggest family issues. Anyone who tells you differently is, well…

Yep, even pastor’s kids. (Mine are double PK’s, after all. Some have said the poor kids don’t stand a chance. But I believe they do!)

So, back to lying. Whether it’s the kids’ “I brushed my teeth,” or the parental “I never promised you that,” or anyone’s “I’ll do it in a minute” doozie, lying impacts how we relate to one another. Trust can be broken quick as a wink, but takes a longer time to restore it. So how do we cope with lying?

In my well-thumbed copy of Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay Foster Cline, the section on lying is dog-eared, most worn of all. It recommends being empathetic first, “Gee, I can see how it’d be tempting to tell a whopper on this one,” then holding your boundary kindly, without anger.* It is amazing how toothbrushes for younger kids and car keys for teens can become powerful teaching tools about lying.

In our house, one with ADHD and impulse control issues admits that lies just pop off the tongue unexpectedly, with ridiculous claims and promises squirting out of the child’s mouth at any given minute. We use a “Whoops. I got that wrong” instant admission option for this one. It still takes courage to admit the lie, but the child has been learning it is way better to admit right away, than to let it snowball.

What about the parental lies we tell? “Sure I’m watching you (for the tenth time in a row).” My son once called me out, “No mommy, watch me with BOTH eyes.” Or the many variations on the parents’ guilt-induced promise, “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll buy you a pony.” My most frequent seems to be, “Yep, I’ll put your clothes in the dryer for you.” But then I don’t bother to set an alarm or take action to make my promise happen.

I’m certain our kids learn more from our keeping or not keeping our promises (and from our often-overheard, white lies) than they learn from our lectures. How do we handle it when caught? Can we swallow our pride? Keep a firm commitment to truth, even to our own discomfort? (Thanks to Steve Hayner, who taught us that.) Apologize when we get it wrong and work to make it right? Have some “fierce conversations” to face reality and reestablish truth and trust?

A few years ago, I went ballistic when a child was only coming clean on the smallest fraction, the tiniest percentage of what they had done. More and more crud kept coming to light. A counselor explained, “Any teenager is only gonna admit to what we catch them on, when we absolutely prove they’ve done it. Maybe that much. It’s self-preservation. Don’t expect anything else.” Wise parents beware kids’ words, “I swear it’s true!”

The Bible addresses this, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NIV). But as always, let’s use Scripture to train and rebuke with gentleness, not as a tool with which to hammer our kids (or ourselves).

One time I asked four-year-old CC why she said ‘that.’ She threw up her hands and replied, “The devil.” She was a Church Lady, long before she saw Dana Carvey in the SNL skit. And apparently a Presbycostal, for she stepped out onto the porch, raised her hands to heaven and prayed loudly, “O Lord, help me to obey my mommy so I can do what’s right.” She stepped back inside, brushing her hands off, “Well, that’s taken care of.”

Funny, but she made a good point. We can also pray with and for each other, asking the Holy Spirit to help us be truthful and to forgive us when we’ve screwed up. But only if we’re ready to keep it real. Kids have incredibly accurate lie detectors.

Can we afford to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” only when we are good and ready to mean it? Do feel free to wait. It may not have taken much time to construct that whopper, but it does take time to repair it. Sometimes we say those loving words first and only THEN do we discover we mean them. Our kids, our spouses, our own selves are in need of more grace, not less. Let’s try to lavish it when we can!

Rev. Steve Weed tells of a man who wrote a note and tucked it into the glovebox of his shiny, new sports car, with the insurance papers, just in case. The note read, “Honey, if you need to use these papers, remember I love you more than this car.” She discovered it the very moment she needed TLC (and a tow truck).

That’s grace. When we offer it unexpectedly, it always arrives with great welcome. It’s the most powerful tool we parents have, along with firm boundaries and toothbrushes. Grace.

*For more details on the Love and Logic approach including the classes which I facilitate, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com, and specifically for dealing with lying, go to http://www.loveandlogic.com/p-661-childhood-lying-stealing-and-cheating-mp3-download.aspx