What is home anyway?

Home Again, Home Again

BY: Starr Cliff

I have a really great life. A perfect life? No. I have certainly had heartache and loss; but I know God as healer and redeemer probably better than I know him in any other way, and he has been good to oversee my pain and certainly never waste it. Bumps in the road not withstanding, I really do get way down in my gut that my life is enviable. It humbles me. A good, good man who loves me.  Healthy kids.  Never missed a meal.  A family in Oklahoma who would do anything for me.

The one “hang up” and pity-party I keep revisiting in my adulthood, in spite of a full and joy-filled life, is my kids not being able t0 experience a strong sense of “hometown.” The crazy hometown pride, here’s where I from, it defines me in so many ways, I love it in spite of it’s flaws, yes please dress me in my high school colors 20 years later, that kind of home.  They may never feel about anywhere the way I feel about Oklahoma, because they’ve never been anywhere long enough.   And yes, that’s our bad. We did it. We keep moving them around the country.  Sometimes planned and exciting, sometimes unplanned and heartbreaking, but always landing somewhere where we eventually say, “Oh.  Yeah.  We get it now.  We trust you, Lord, with our whole lives. Thank you.”

So, my kids not having a home town, it’s a small grievance in an otherwise pretty charmed life.

I think I’m finally ready to let go of that heartache.  Here’s this burden Lord, I don’t want to carry it anymore. It’s time.  Now is the time partly because, let’s face it, my kids are age 13, 11, and 9. The one-hometown-for-their-whole-life ship has sailed. It ain’t happenin’ honey.

But also because the Lord has seen fit that now is the time for him to shine a gentle but very bright spotlight on my heart, and reveal the discontent there.  In short…he moved me to a military town.  So I have been given the precious chance of watching a handful of  families be moved, uprooted, have plans changed and changed again, all at the mercy of some higher up in an office somewhere sending them off to wherever the paperwork says to go.  They do it with joy and peace. They do it accepting the heartache that comes with saying goodbye, but without bitterness. If they feel a sense of loss over “home”, it’s not in a way that steals their joy.

So, this life of never being in one place long enough to lay down roots? It’s not the script we would have written.  But it’s okay.  Better than okay.  As I give up that wish and just go ahead and try and accept with joy that I didn’t get my way, I can more clearly see all the benefits of this life we’ve lived.

A friend once told me that my kids were “well on their way to becoming unflappable.”  It makes me tear up as I realize how true that is, and that I couldn’t have given them that gift with the life I would have planned had I been in charge. They’ve earned their grit the same way we have.  I’m grateful.

And I hope for them that someday they can process whatever heartache and unfulfilled wished-for-things they encounter in their own lives, and find the beauty in it.

So, you are all my witnesses that I am fully accepting this life of ours with joy: Dallas.  Lubbock.  Georgia.  And now, Lord willing for a good long while, Tennessee. I’m glad for the lessons, love, and beauty found in all of those places.

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“Home is wherever I’m with you.”  A cliche by now, but also the God’s honest truth.  Home is the place that’s safe.  Home is where you are known, loved, celebrated, and accepted.  And we’ve always, always had that.  Always will.

Rethinking Behavior Modification

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By: Starr Cliff

It has hit me in a new way recently,  that of the four people in that photo right there,  I can only modify the behavior of exactly one of them. Me. I can shape,  nudge,  model,  correct and discipline those other three,  but ultimately it’s up to each of those human hearts how they will act and what words they will say.

I’m trying to be ever mindful of the following: When I start to feel like there is not enough gentleness in this house,  rather than trying to figure out how to make my kids lose a bad attitude… maybe I just need to spend that energy on myself. On the self-control and prayer and consistency that it takes to be gentle in the midst of harshness. When I worry my kids are being selfish,  with their time,  their energy, their stuff – maybe instead of discussions and lectures about self sacrifice, maybe they just need to see me get up off the couch and serve with a happy heart. Choose a game with them over Facebook. Read a book with them instead of watch TV. That’s so much harder for me than just having a conversation (let’s be honest, lecture) about behavior, but so much more effective.

To teach my children kindness, I must use kind words. Not lectures about being kind. To teach them gentleness, I must actually be gentle. Not nag them to stop being hard on each other. And some days that seems like an impossibility. With a day full of “that’s my spot”, “you took my glass “, “it’s my turn”……… I finally explode “ENOUGH! WE WILL NOT YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THIS HOUSE!”

Modeling behavior really is everything, isn’t it? I know, intellectually I mean, that to speak harshly and loudly to my kids when they are being disrespectful to each other makes zero sense.To rant and rail at how horrified I am at the level of disrespect in our home does not bring down the tension level. Not even a teeny bit.And yet…. Sigh.

I’m grateful that my kids are quick to forgive, and we can even laugh about those ironic outbursts later, but I’m ready for them to happen a whole lot less.

Creating a peaceful, happy home.  It really does begin and end with a peaceful, happy mama.

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NYC Christmas Day 2014

When They See That Image

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By: Starr Cliff

This is a post about when your children see porn on the Internet. Or receive text messages on their phones of people they may or may not know, naked. Let’s be honest with ourselves and go ahead plan for “when” not “if”.

I read stories like this about the absolute pervasiveness of explicit photos and videos being shared among teens, and I know we have to talk about it. So I take a deep breath, and I say to my children (at the dinner table no less) that when they receive a picture on their phone of someone naked,  they need to tell me or their Dad. I tell them chances are likely that it will happen, and when it does they are not in trouble, nor have they done anything wrong. But they do need to tell us. We can talk about it,  and help make a plan to limit  it happening again.

I tell them that if they happen to know the girl (or boy) in the pictures,  that they might be afraid to tell us. I explain that a fear reaction is completely normal. I tell them that they might worry that I will judge that person who sent or is in the picture,  or get that person in trouble,  or say they can’t be friends with them anymore. I tell them that this isn’t true – that in this house we do not believe in shame or condemnation. We will not love their friend any less, but we will try to help them by loving their friend well. Loving them well means speaking up and getting an adult in their life involved in the situation. So I tell my kids to feel that fear of telling us, know it’s a normal feeling, and tell us anyway in spite of the fear.  They can be brave.

I tell my kids that when they land somewhere on the Internet that isn’t appropriate (*here we talk in detail about what “appropriate” means in our house), that whether they got to that site sorta-kinda-accidentally-on purpose, or truly  by accident, or truly on purpose,  they need to talk to us about that. Again,  so we can talk about it, **remind them why that kind of imagery isn’t best for them,  and help make a plan to limit  it  happening again.

My 9 year old daughter did an image search recently for something totally innocuous,  but in spite of the best of filters on our computers,  something mildly trashy (is that a category?) got through. As I was talking to the kids at the table recently on these topics – of fear and shame and openness and forgiveness –  she teared up,  told us what she saw,  and then said “I feel so, so much better. I don’t know why I kept it a secret.” I know why. Because shame. Shame tells us we must keep silent.

If we’re at fault,  if we’re not at fault…shame doesn’t care.  Shame is not a valuable parenting tool. If our kids are feeling it, we have to give them tools to get free from shame.  It starts with being a safe place for them to unload their burdens.  The good news is that you get to give those burdens right back to Jesus, and He is strong enough to carry them.

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You know the lyrics to that incredible song that say “Come out of hiding,  you’re safe here with me…” Isn’t that a beautiful lyric? I so want to model that place of safety for my children. Where they can come out of the darkness of confusing and scary situations like seeing images they aren’t ready for yet,  and just be loved. Comforted. Forgiven if needed,  time and time again.

Talk to your kids about when they see porn. Be a safe place.

*I feel like I should just add here that I’m no prude. I’m a big fan of sex. (Also, after proofreading this, my husband asked me to make “I’m a big fan of sex” my twitter bio.  I didn’t.) But I want my children to know the difference between what is good and pure, and what is a cheap counterfeit. And friends there is just so,  so much counterfeit available.  They won’t know that the counterfeit is a cheap fake if we don’t tell them.

**If you are one of those “there’s nothing wrong with porn” and “boys will be boys” sorta parents who have thrown up their hands on the matter,  I would implore you to check out this website and reconsider. It’s not okay for our children to see these things.  It damages them in real ways. Let’s all do a better job.

I hope this post isn’t just adding to the noise and increasing the fear that mamas already feel about this stuff.  My heart is that it’s helpful, and gives you a starting place to begin these needed discussions. 

Protecting Marriage

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Often the most overlooked parts of our unique parenting style, is the marriage aspect. We read books on parenting, we talk to other parents about our kids, and we laugh together about all of our parenting misadventures. However, we don’t often put an equal amount of energy into our marriage.

We’d all agree that we want our kids to see a good marriage. Nobody wants their kids to see an eventual divorce, broken homes, constant bickering, and angry conversations. But, what does it look like for kids to see a good marriage? Is it public displays of affection? A little kissing, and a dad that does the dishes?

I believe it’s much more than any of that.

It’s conflict resolution. Spouses will argue, and if they are really passionate arguers it will be loud. All couples have disagreements, frustrations with each other, and even an occasional misunderstanding. We should limit how much a part of our lives are described by the previous reasons, but we all know those things will happen. The solution to making conflict work in your families is to let your kids see the compromises made, the apologies given, and the grace applied.

It’s serving even when it’s not  convenient. It’s as easy as getting that second glass of iced tea before they ask for it, and as difficult as taking an entire weekend to help the family accomplish a task that your wife is asking for. Serve your spouse in front of your kids, and the less convenient it is…the more of an impact it can have on them when they see it!

It’s spoken words of love. Sure, show your love with some actions, but fill the cup with overflowing in the words department. Say it. Tell her you love her. Tell him he’s awesome. Let the words between you and your spouse be words of life and love. You should also let the words of love flow, even when your only audience is the kids!

It’s including them in the love story. Once upon a time…I met my wife. There is a lot of story there, but the story really takes off when my little ones starting arriving. My 3 kids are one of the best parts of the love story that Starr and I are writing together. I let my kids know, that each time one of them entered the world…my love for their mother increased yet again. I love her more, because I have them in my family.

It’s putting them 2nd. Here is the importance ranking in my house. Starr is #1. Kids are scattered in somewhere at #2. Then everyone else is a distant #3. But the #2 ranked kids aren’t even close to their #1 ranked mother. It’s not #1a and #1b. It’s her first, always first, never last, and the one that will be with me forever. She’s the only person in the house that makes it all work for me. This doesn’t hurt my kids self-esteem, it builds it up.

Anything you’d add to the list? How do we protect our marriage in front of our kids?

Making Parents Look Good

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I’m a small group leader and a parent. Actually I’m a parent first.

Maybe I should rewrite that first statement.

As a parent, I love nothing more than to see my kid receive attention from adults that mean them well and want to see them succeed. But selfishly, I love a small group leader that can do that while making me look good in front of my kids.

I don’t want a small group leader that is a “better voice” for my kids, I want one that is “another voice” for my kids. As small group leaders learn to embrace the role as an accompanying voice in the life of my kid, the more value my own voice has in my kids life.

Read the rest of my contribution at the Lead Small blog at: http://leadsmall.org/elementary/making-a-parent-look-good/