Category Archives: Harmony

Kindness

Kindness plateHolding the door open for a stranger

Picking up a piece of trash off the floor and throwing it away as you head into a meeting

Returning a grocery cart to the store for a young mother with toddlers in tow

Reaching an item off of a high shelf for a person in a motorized chair

 

These are all acts of kindness, many of which we do each day out of instinct or because these little gestures were drilled into us as children. Now as parents we encourage our children to be kind to each other — to share, to take turns, to do something nice for a friend or neighbor, to be helpful to their teachers.

When we made our Fruits of the Spirit plates several years ago, my son drew over-sized Helping Hands. In fact, we do typically view Kindness as an action, something we do with our hands.



“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32



What if we take kindness a little deeper?

This verse in Ephesians clearly links kindness and forgiveness. I hadn’t thought about this connection before. Stick with me here…this verse stretches our usual idea of Kindness a bit.

Forgiveness is an internal act of kindness that’s verbally expressed and offered to another person to accept or reject. That has a lot more at stake than offering a helping hand, but potentially can be so beneficial.

As children we’re told  “Say you’re sorry” when we’ve said or done something to hurt someone else, but we weren’t necessarily taught how to respond to an apology or how to forgive that other person (especially if it’s a pesky sibling!) for whatever slight we experienced. It’s awkward. It’s messy. We try to push through and move on without trying to still look grumpy.

Forgive

Forgiveness involves softening our hearts toward someone who has hurt us in some way. We may bristle at a half-hearted apology or one that comes too soon that we aren’t ready to accept yet. Forgiveness involves mutual discomfort and vulnerability. This reciprocity is delicate.

When we have said or done something gut-wrenching that hurts a loved one and then offered a sincere apology, the sweet relief of receiving forgiveness is very healing. Forgiveness restores closeness; it preserves the relationship. Forgiveness puts us back at ease with one another, even offering a deeper connection that we’ve had before. It is kind.

Forgiveness is an Act of Kindness for the soul.

At this point in my life, I think I’ve got the simple acts of kindness pretty well in place and see multiple opportunities to offer kind gestures to others I encounter in my daily activities. Now the challenge is to move Kindness deeper within my relationships. Join me?

snow on pine tree

Faithfulness

During this season of Resolutions, dare we explore the concept of Faithfulness? Can we dust it off a bit and revisit what we’ve learned about it over the years? We’ve probably all heard statements such as:

“Stick to something you’ve started.”

“Hang in there when the going gets rough.”

“Keep focused on your goal.”

“Take baby steps toward a larger goal.”

“Put effort in daily to reach your weekly or monthly goal.”

What does this look like in our daily messy lives?

raindrops on windshieldSticking to something faithfully is hard. Some days are rainy and our energy level is low. We tend to be fickle and change our minds about things. It’s easier to rationalize our way out of something than look at the true motivation underlying our initial intentions.

It’s easy to get tangled up in the definition of Faithfulness. It’s personal for each one of us and changes throughout our lifetime. I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve observed or experienced as Faithfulness:

–a young Mom continuing to say “no” to her pleading child imploring for a treat at the checkout stand

–a daughter showing up over and over again to care for her aging parents

–a husband heading out the door to work each day while the wife and kids are home enjoying winter break

–following through on a workout plan by asking a friend to be an accountability partner because the motivation lapses are real, folks

–hearing the same story over and over, yet making eye contact and nodding at your loved one as they share it again

–a spouse doing an unspoken labor of loveboy mopping

–a stepmom helping her stepdaughter fix her hair even though it will make the family late for church

–a child keeping up with his chores

–saying those bedtime prayers with your squirming child when you feel exhausted to the core

–a parent asking a teenage son, “how was your day?” despite hearing the rote response of “fine” week after week

–a tired Dad helping his child with homework after his grueling day at work

–keeping scheduled appointments and checking in on time

–showing up for field trips and class parties for your younger children when the “all shiny and new” experiences with your firstborn have faded away

–making meals that are family favorites but may require some extra effort on your part or that may not be your favorite

–sending a birthday card to a friend rather than posting a quick one-liner on FB

–allowing friends or family  to have their own way of doing things without being judgy; figuring out what is “your way” and being constant in this

–carving out some Quiet Time in midst of the daily Loud and Busy

–following up with a friend who has shared some recent struggles

–being a cheerful giver

“…the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 117:2

Faithfulness plateGod is faithful and just. He keeps His promises. Our attempts at Faithfulness may seem feeble as we strive to meet our daily purpose, but He is present and watchful of each little step. We inch along, ever so slowly, bit by bit toward His plan for us.

May the New Year provide us with many opportunities to be full of Faith in gestures big and small.

Fruits of the Spirit   Make-a-plate project

Thresholds

“…for such a time as this…” Esther 4:14



When presented with a new opportunity, we stand on the threshold of something new. We can cross over or stay where we are. Crossing over creates a sense of anticipation; remaining in place feels familiar and comfortable. A threshold seems like a place of limbo. We stand between two options, looking ahead to whatever is on the other side while retaining a sense of where we’ve just been.

bridge

A threshold gives us a chance to pause, to take a breath and consider our next action. We may linger here a bit, needing to observe the traffic flow and consider who is passing through. Are these footsteps here some that we can follow? Is this the time to pursue this particular path? How will this change of course affect our perspective? How could it impact our family?

rock art

Some thresholds are fairly easy to cross. There aren’t big differences in the landscape. The footing is similar from one side to another, inviting a gentle transition. We can ease our way through at a natural pace. Some thresholds are expected transitions and we are part of a group that is facing the same changes (passing from one grade to another or starting a new semester of classes). We feel comfort in the shared process.

Other opportunities may generate a keen sense of excitement – a new adventure, a risk. These thresholds are more intimidating. You naturally hesitate, feeling the need for more preparation to cross over. Sometimes rushing through may cause you to stumble. You may need a tug from someone ahead of you to steady you, or perhaps a gentle nudge from someone behind you to encourage you forward.

As a parent  it’s extremely helpful to have a mentor a step or two ahead of you, encouraging you to step across the threshold into the next season of parenting. This can provide a sounding board for setting realistic curfews, handling emotional outbursts, or figuring out how to manage playdates when you may not feel a connection with the other parent even though your child is begging to spend time with a new friend.

So, we take a step or two into this new phase, consulting our mentor and getting our feet wet…

pathThese last few days of December seem like a threshold to new beginnings and opportunities, offering us a chance to make some adjustments in different areas of our lives. As the New Year beckons us with a fresh start and many open doors, may you be able to discern which thresholds to step boldly across and may you have a steadfast companion to accompany you on your journey!holding hands


“Commit your way to the lord; trust in Him.”  Psalm 37:5

 


 

 

 

Gentleness

white poinsettiaIt’s the week of Christmas, a time of remembering Christ’s birth and celebrating with one another. Jesus came to us in the most humble and gentle way — as a baby.

Each of us has been around a newborn baby and been enveloped by the gentleness a baby evokes. Our movements slow down. Our voices soften. Our gazes are inevitably drawn in.

This gentleness is what I imagine God wants us to continue using with each other on a daily basis. To meet each other’s gaze and speak softly to one another. To soften our hard edges with one another.



“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Philippians 4:5



Practicing gentleness may be especially difficult if we get too caught up in the stress of this season’s demands. We encounter long lines at the grocery store, post office, and retail stores. Exhibiting gentleness with the cashier or the harried shopper tapping her foot behind you may take extra effort this week, but this simple act can change someone’s day dramatically if we do.

advent boxOur children have been living the hype for the last couple weeks of school. In the myriad of Christmas programs, classroom parties, and family gatherings, how often are we slowing down to help them savor the moment? One of the ways we’ve tried to do this is by using props that are woven into our Christmas decorations and family routine in December.advent box

We’ve been attempting to do our Advent box each evening as a way to refocus on Jesus as the center of Christmas. In each opening there’s a few pieces of candy and a slip of paper with a suggested activity:

— Read a Christmas book together

— Bake some Christmas cookies

— Snuggle and watch a holiday show

— Do something nice for another family

— Wrap presents together

This year we’ve added Advent notecards to facilitate family discussion into a deeper level, incorporating scripture and a thought-provoking question to ponder. Our youngest likes to hang them up by the fireplace as a visual countdown.

advent cardsadvent cardSeveral years ago a friend gave us a cute container filled with conversation prompts. I incorporated this into our table centerpiece and we take turns drawing from it each night. These simple prompts nudge us to share about Christmas memories, to imagine specific things about the real nativity scene, to contemplate what the wise men talked about on their way to the stable, or to identify our favorite holiday food or song. These simple things cause us to linger a little longer with each other around the table and we often are laughing about what’s been shared as we move on to wash the dishes.

As parents we’ve made a more concerted effort to play games and watch holiday shows during winter break. This takes some extra energy because those to-do lists seem never-ending as we prepare for all of the extra holiday activities. Simply putting these ideas onto paper inside the advent box keeps us moving toward our intentions set earlier in the month. It helps us be gentle with ourselves in the midst of the rush, giving us permission to regroup and refocus with our family, slowing down the pace a bit.

During each of these advent activities, we gather together. We snuggle in beside each other on the couch or make eye contact with each other across the dinner table. As parents we try to add a gentle word or gesture to keep the kiddos on track, reconnecting with them in a light-hearted way.

It’s amazing how a gentle word or touch can impact the family’s overall mood. For seeming like a “meek” Fruit of the Spirit,  Gentleness sure is powerful. How might you use it today in your daily tasks or as you gather with your family?Gentleness plate

 

 

 

 

Fruits of the Spirit    Make-a-Plate Project

Self-control

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

Self-control plate

Self-control is last in this list, but perhaps during this busy season it’s one to settle on for a bit. If we get the tough one out of the way, then we can bask in the more “cheerful” Fruits of the Spirit, right?

Like a distant relative that lives in another state, we don’t visit Self-control as often as we probably should. It’s a bit uncomfortable and requires discipline.

We tend to brush up on our Self-Control when the New Year rolls in, but often it’s mired in shame and regret. Not a pleasant place to dwell. No wonder so many “resolutions” get cast aside before the February calendar page is turned. Self-control is hard.

What if we consider Self-Control as being Other-Centered? If we minimize attention on ourselves, then we have more energy and effort to focus on someone else. When we set some limits for ourselves, we have a little more margin to share with those around us. When we’re less self-absorbed, we have a greater capacity to hear the hurt in someone’s voice. When we are less self-focused, we can more clearly see the need someone else has.

clock on organizational bookThis concept of self-control rings true in many areas of our lives:

Money – if we are “good stewards” of our funds, we have more to share with someone with a pressing need

Time – if we manage our time more efficiently, we are more able to say “yes” to a quiet request for help

Food – if we manage our temptations at the holiday cookie table, we are gifting our New Year’s self with a lighter load to bear when we feel pressured with lifestyle resolutions

Devotions – if we’ve given our day over to the Lord and hidden His word in our hearts, we have greater attunement for unspoken pleas we may encounter throughout our day

coffee mugGifts – if we coach our children to consider what someone else may want, then they may have greater appreciation on Christmas morning with a present they receive. They may share more in the joy of a family member opening a gift they helped choose and wrap. It is a bit more complicated to involve the kids at the wrapping station and a lot more tape gets consumed, but they bear witness to the thought and effort involved in the gift selection and presentation process. Gift-giving becomes more meaningful to them.

The more we bless others and include others, the more our self-absorption gets whittled away. Then we can really see the joys and benefits of self-control emerging. Maybe putting this first actually makes the other Fruits of the Spirit that much sweeter? In what area do you want to give it a try?



“Therefore, prepare your minds for action: be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Christ is revealed.” I Peter 1:13

pretzels

Make-a-plate kit  Fruits of the Spirit project

Lost Kindness

Ever lose something that is valuable to you? Your heart rate quickens, your breathing gets shallow, your mind starts racing as you try to figure out when you last had the item. So very quickly your day suddenly seems to be unraveling as you are overcome with the potential consequences of the Lost possession.

lost debit cardThis happened to me recently when I got to the checkout line and realized my debit card was not in my wallet. I retraced my steps, fervently praying “please let me find it here, Lord” yet my mind was already playing the “what if…?” game, wondering who had found it and what they may have done with it. As I turned the corner, there was my debit card laying smack dab in the middle of the aisle where I had inadvertently dropped it.  I said a quick prayer of thanks, then retrieved my purchases and went on my way. Although I had avoided a negative “what if…” scenario,  it still took a while for my anxiety response to simmer down. Sound familiar?

Today I got a message from my sister-in-law who had been called by our dentist’s office that they had received a call about my lost purse and phone that had been found by a stranger. This was news to me since I hadn’t left the house in a few hours and my purse was on my kitchen desk. hmmm…It turned out to be my mom’s purse which had fallen out of her car door while she was on an errand. She didn’t yet know it was missing. It had been found before she even realized it was Lost.

Instead of having all the anxious responses of “what if…” scenarios, we were able to retrace the Kindness trail of the lost item. We were grateful to the stranger who had picked up the purse and turned it in to the storage office. We were thankful for the lady at the storage office who made several phone calls in an attempt to reach the owner of the lost purse, including a call to my dentist office because there was a reminder card in it.  We were grateful for the dental office staff taking the time to call and email. When Mom retrieved her purse, everything was intact, including her wallet and phone.

So many times we have to experience the anxiety of what’s Lost and wrestle with the angst of being in limbo about a missing possession. Today was a nice reminder of the Kindness of strangers to return something Lost to its rightful owner even before she knew it was missing. A few minutes of Kindness made all the difference…we were filled with thoughts of positive actions and gratitude rather than negative worrying.

In this busy holiday season, may each of us invest a few minutes of Kindness in a stranger’s day, reminding each other that Kindness is not Lost.



“For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” II Corinthians 4:6



rainbow in the clouds