Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I am not in control!

I'm back. I was out of commission. A bit shaken up by some recent news. News that shifted my gears. Gears I had been grinding for a few months now. There is nothing more revelatory than receiving news that makes you stop. Stop. Pause. Take stock of your life. I'm still taking stock, so to speak.

I am grappling with many things. But probably the most difficult has been the acute awareness of my weaknesses. Yes! My weakness. God has regard for my weakness and for this, I thank Him. I am blessed beyond measure. I have riches to speak of that go far beyond the material kind. And still, I am weak. Very weak. I am like the son kneeling before the Father in this Rembrandt painting, Return of the Prodigal Son.

Why do I chose to speak of weakness. Perhaps it is all providential. I feel it is. The opening of the "Year of Mercy", declared by Pope Francis officially began a week ago. Why the Year of Mercy? Well, if we take a look at our world at the present moment, we cannot help but think how much mercy is needed. Every human being longs for mercy. Mercy is the willingness to help those in need, especially those in need of pardon or reconciliation. Mercy is healing. Mercy is restorative. Mercy is the essence of love.

God is merciful. That is who He is, not what He does. God is mercy. In my weakness I recognize that I am in need of mercy. I am in need of God. He is in control of everything. When we stop and take stock of our lives, we may very well come to realize that we are not in control of our lives. Being in control is but an illusion.

Yes, we wake up every morning and get ready for our day. We go about our chores, studies or whatever it is that we have to do. We systematically organize our lives the way we choose to; the way we need things to be done. But, what if we hadn't woken up? What if, for some reason, we were unable to "do" the things we normally do; unable to do things for ourselves? What if the loved ones we share our lives with were no longer around? We control none of these things. And yet, they are so intricately connected to everything that we do, everything we are. None of it can be changed by us. None!

We may think we are in control. Yet, if we look at the bigger picture, we really aren't.

My weakness? My weakness is in fact this: I believe I control it all. However, the only thing I truly control is love. How I love. Whom I love. Surrendering to love. Surrendering is love. Surrender is required of love. Surrendering to the Creator, who loves us so much, is a testament of our trust in Him. We ultimately trust that what He does for us, is what is best for us. Even in times of difficulty. This is love.

Here too is true freedom. Like a child who allows their parent to lead, freedom lies in surrendering and trusting.  Furthermore, in all of this we encounter authentic beauty. There is beauty in recognizing our own weaknesses. Beauty shines forth when in seeing our weakness we recognize the goodness of God. God's goodness is that in our very poverty, weakness and even, yes, ugliness, He can work. It is in our weakness that He can be our strength. (2 Cor. 12:9)

In facing and surrendering my weakness I have found that it is precisely here that God can transform me into a vessel so that I may receive His love and mercy. The love and mercy I so long for. In becoming a vessel I also can be poured out for others. Just as Christ did. He was poured out for the Salvation of the world. Through my weakness I am able to give love and mercy to those around me. Through His wounds, we were saved. (Isaiah 53:5)

Lest I forget to take stock of my weakness, I may forget, yet again, that I am not in control. May God remind me of my weakness each day. May this daily inventory of my weakness make me humble so that I may recognize that I am in need of His mercy, a mercy to be given away.

Please pray for me. Pray for my conversion of heart so that my weaknesses may belong completely to God rather than become a project of vain improvement that will only reflect self pride.

Symbolism of Rembrandt's painting, Return of the Prodigal Son:

  • Son is poor and desperate. Clothes tattered and torn, representing our weaknesses and poverty. 
  • Kneeling before the father in search of his mercy.
  • Light cast upon father and son as they embrace shows the grace of the relationship.
  • Although the son has no shoes he still has his sword (on the right) which symbolizes that his dignity remains. Son of a nobleman. 
  • The father's cloak is rich in color and seems to embrace the son. 
  • The father is elderly and only loves and welcomes his son.
  • The left hand of father is strong and masculine and the right is soft and tender showing the fathers strong masculine side and the motherly tender side of God the Father. 
  • The characters off to the side are more in darkness because they are unable to bring themselves to step into the father's grace. By their own choice they remain off to the side. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

10 reasons we choose not to have a television

My husband and I initially both lived abroad at separate times in our lives before we lived abroad together. If that makes any sense. We each lived in Italy to be specific. We both had the same experience in that, during our time in Italy, we completely stopped watching television. It is no secret that Italian television is terrible. Even many Italians would agree with this.

During my first four years sans television I took on many other hobbies...more reading, writing, drawing and just plain, being with my friends.

Here are our top ten reasons why we chose to no longer watch television and why we have chosen to raise our children without television.

 1. There are plenty of other screens. This is probably one of the most obvious reasons. What with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Itunes and all the news sources online you can still get plenty of what you think you may be missing. Albeit, there are some shows you do have to pay for if you want to watch them online. But hey, you can't have everything for free. So in the end, you are not totally screen free. This could actually be a downfall in that you think you've escaped screen time, but it's still really there only in other forms.

 2. You pick up other hobbies. Ever since I stopped watching television, I have discovered a myriad of other things I enjoy doing so much more. I was never a real television addict. I mostly enjoyed watching television in the evenings. Now I read books and make things with my hands or write. To be honest though, if I had a television around, I would probably opt for the television. Let's face it. Television is a more passive activity, and when you are tired, it is the easier choice. If you don't watch television and engage in other things, your children will follow suit.

 3. You save money. Okay so you may not save a whole lot of money, but every penny counts when you are budgeting. The first few months after we moved into our current home local cable companies kept calling us offering us all sorts of deals and bundles. When I would mention that we did not own a television, they resorted to bargaining all the more. It took some of the sales people quite a bit of time to understand that we physically did not have a television. They could not believe it. Some even asked me why I would do such a thing.

 4. Values expressed on television are often hostile to the values of our family. This is a big one. In recent times, as compared to shows my husband and I watched as children/teenagers, there has been a huge change in the values expressed and promoted. The biggest one for me, in raising two boys, is that men are often portrayed as idiots. Just think of a few popular shows and you will see what I mean. The traditional family is no longer respected and often times not even cast for that matter. Our reality is a far cry from life in the 70's and 80's. But morals should not go out of style. Truth remains the same today, tomorrow and always. The average child spends two or more hours in front of a screen daily. We want to avoid competing with the values portrayed on television or online. Values that go against what we are instilling in them. We choose to build a strong foundation first so that they can be ready for the world later and choose what is right.

 5.  Your children will learn to love books. This is a big one. My husband and I LOVE books! I love books for two reasons, I love to read and I love being surrounded by them. There is something cozy and comforting I find in shelves and shelves filled with books. Through our own reading and being surrounded by books I believe our boys are picking up their own love of books. Surely they don't read yet, but they are often asking to be read to. Just the other day our older son sat for over one hour just looking at book after book, quietly. They will learn far more from building a love of reading than from even the most educational of shows.

 6. Your children will learn the value of "finding something to do". My husband and I both agree that we don't need to entertain our children. Yes, we play with them or read books to them but it is not our duty as parents to play with them constantly. It is a joy but not a duty. Today they call what we used to do as children (just play) "unstructured play". Funny that they had to give it a technical name. Our children play by exploring the things around them or just playing with their toys or browsing books without engaging in any screen time at all. None! I truly believe that most children say "I'm bored" because they don't know how to explore or use their imaginations. They are constantly being entertained by gadgets, or television or other electronics that dull down their imagination.

Helping to prepare dinner

Helping to fold laundry
 7. Screen time is not beneficial for children under three. This was repeated to me over and over again by our pediatrician when we first got back home to the U.S. I often found myself resorting to youtube for a plethora of cartoons to show our first born so he would sit quietly when I had to get things done. However, the problem came when I would need to turn it off. A tantrum ensued. Then I found that each day he would ask for more and more screen time. I started doing my own research. Children under three are really unable to process two-dimensional objects on the screen and do not really benefit from screens at all; even from those shows we think will stimulate them. There is zero benefit! Children benefit from exploring around the house. Touching, tasting, hearing and feeling. They benefit from being outside and running around.

 8. Your children are not susceptible to the latest marketing fads and gimmicks. The fact that my older son has no clue about Spiderman or Minecraft or the latest Star War craze is probably odd for some. For me it is really an advantage. When we go to the store, he doesn't really ask for much of anything other than perhaps a shiny toy that may just look attractive. Children are the number one target for marketing schemes. From junk food to movies, to toys and video games, marketers know how to reach into parent's pockets through television, internet and other marketing tactics. Without television or zero screen time, this is never an issue.

 9. Your living room/family room looks nicer. This is a real small benefit but I have never really liked the look of a huge appliance in my living room. Nothing hanging over the mantel. Nothing tucked away in any large piece of furniture; just toys and books. This is just my own personal pet peeve.

10. You get to have conversations with your guests/spouse/children. This is probably the best part of not having a television. We talk. I read somewhere recently that the average parent speaks 3.9 minutes to their child per week. I find it simply absurd. I don't believe it. I must have misread it. However, given the current state of family affairs in this country, where the average family does not sit down for dinner together, you really have to wonder where the real conversations are taking place. I'm not talking about "brush your teeth Jimmy" or "have you finished your homework?" I'm talking real meaningful conversations that take place at home. On the sofa. Around a dinner table. I also mean conversation without a television blaring in the background or a cellphone in one hand. The same thing applies with your spouse or when guests come over. Relationships are what make up real life and are what make life beautiful. You cannot have a relationship with the people on television.

So this has been our decision and it's one of the best decisions we have made thus far. I often get asked if we will consider having a television when our children get older. Although we have replied "we will cross that bridge when we get to it", I really believe that the older children get, the worse television, and other screens for that matter, can be. As mentioned above, there really are so many options for watching movies and even shows when you choose to live without a television. Creating a time for watching movies/shows makes for special moments that can equal to more family time spent together. And the best part is, you get to choose what your children will watch.

I want to note that I sometimes interchange the words screen time for television and vice-versa. Although we have computers and smartphones at home we are very intent on not having our little ones have any screen time at all.  Technology will have to come into play at some point but it will be on our terms and on our time.

Let me know what you think. Have you ever considered getting rid of your television? Do you manage to limit television watching with your children? Let's talk!