Category: Relationships

The power of a table

I have always had a dining room or kitchen table. Even in our first home, which was small, we had a table. I loved having a table. It was good to rest my elbows when I was reading or studying.

As our kids came, we sat around our table for meals and talked. It was a gathering place, a homework place, my sewing space when the need arose. We used our table a lot.

Then ten years ago, when our daughter’s family and we decided to share space, I gave up my table. We lived in a basement apartment of our daughter’s home with lovely big windows. We had a kitchen and living room. However, there wasn’t a dining area. The kitchen was narrow and had a bar. I thought the bar would be enough.

But it was high and required stools. Don and I were in our sixties, and so we never used it. No resting elbows while reading. Fewer conversations. That’s because we used TV trays. They work but don’t lend themselves to the same intimacy one feels at a table.

Then we moved again. We have the south side of this beautiful home with lots of sunshine. We have a new kitchen which we built. We have a nice sized living room. But again, no place for a table. We have been in this space for three years, and my need for a table has grown.

This spring inside, I was screaming, “I NEED a table.” I couldn’t put into words why I felt such a need for a table. We had our TV trays, and since the space is not large, it seemed the thing to do. BUT something was missing, and I knew it in my heart.

Finally, I decided I HAD to have a table. I bought one for $40, used. But it was too large and felt overbearing in the room. I thought about it a lot. I NEEDED a table. So, I did what I do. I prayed, and within a couple of days, someone gave me the perfect table. It was the right color and size. It came with chairs, and I was ecstatic.

We have had the table for a few months now. Has it made a difference? YES! And here is how. I can finally explain, in words, what was missing. There is something ‘connecting’ about sitting face to face around a table. There is something ‘family’ about it. Many times, over the last few months, my husband has said, “I like sitting here and looking at your face.” That doesn’t happen when you’re seated at TV trays. My mother talks more while we eat. Because she has Alzheimer’s, I guess she felt a bit isolated in her chair in front of her tray unless asked a direct question.

Our conversations are better, more intimate, more interesting. Frankly, the temptation to turn on the TV is less. Last night we played music while we ate. It was awesome!!

And when we aren’t all sitting at the table, I study there. I rest my elbows, and I read. I am aware of the life going on around me, and I like feeling my family’s pulse. A table, well used, creates a sense of ‘family.’

You probably have a table. My questions to you are:

  • Do know what a gift it is?
  • Do you use it?
  • Are you taking the opportunity to connect your family at least once a day?
  • Are you developing that ‘family’ feeling?

Reasons to gather at your table at least once a day:

A. It will help you get what you want—Eating together goes a long way in helping you create the family culture you see in your mind or have written down.

B. It will unify your family—During the years our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least gather once a day and eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we disagreed with, but it kept our children bonded to us. It kept us unified as a family.

C. You can de-stress—If you determine that spilled milk and children falling off chairs are not interruptions and catastrophes but significant family life moments, then the dinner hour will bring you joy. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos. Remember, they think and see like kids and not as adults. And you, as you watch and listen to them, can breathe. You can let down your guard. You can relax. There is research that supports this. : )

D. You can build close relationships—Family meals are opportunities to develop more intimate family relationships. Although families live together, we each go about our business of living independently of one another. We aren’t all doing the same things each day. When we eat together, we have a few moments to reconnect, talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. Meals are a prime time for communication and understanding as we each live our individual lives.

E. You’ll have an improved sense of well-being—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

F. You can practice Being Present—Eating together allows you to implement Present strategies. You can discuss a book the family’s reading together. You can memorize scripture or quotes you like. You can tell jokes and laugh. You can share what happened in the community or thoughts you had during the day. When having a conversation, include everyone. Keep it positive. Avoid nagging, complaining, or controlling the discussion. Listen more than you talk.

What If No One Talks?

If up until now, dinner hasn’t been a productive time to connect and build relationships with your kids, try playing the Conversation Game. This game can get the flow going. Go around the table and have each person share a high point of the day and a low point. Eventually, when done consistently over time, it will begin to feel safe, and your family members will open up more. This game is fun, and you can practice seeing and hearing your children.

Dinner’s the perfect time to turn away from your technology. Turn off cell phones while at the table—mute your landline. Even the ringing can be a significant distraction. Turn off the TV! Having the TV on negates many of the benefits of a family meal and prevents you and your family from being Present with each other. The comfort of the food will make practicing this less painful. : )

Eating together is an opportunity to empty your mind of your endless to-do list and focus on your children. What are they saying? How do they look? What’s their body language? What did you miss during the rush to get out the door in the morning? Mealtime is a perfect time to practice being Present.

G. If you need one more reason to eat together as a family, ponder this: in a nationally representative Internet-based survey of 1,037 teens (ages 12 to 17), 71 percent said that they consider talking/catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. These comments come from kids, just like your kids. They want and need time with you. They want your Presence, and one of the easiest ways to give it to the whole family at once is at the dinner table (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners”)!

I have loved finally having a table again. I enjoy looking at my mom and my husband. I savor the conversations and laughter. It has felt whole!

One time I asked my kids about their favorite memories. I’ll never forget Kates. It wasn’t about sitting at the table together but under it.

Kate—”I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day, and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together.
Whatever works right. Being around or under your table, unifies families! Use yours!

This ‘table message’ is for all your friends who have families.

Let them know about it : ) 

The Great Key!

When you fall in love and marry, there’s no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there.

Don and I were deeply and passionately in love over fifty years ago. We raised seven kids, and they are great people, but it wasn’t easy. We had some significant bumps in our marital bliss road. It shakes you up a bit. But we weathered those years, and with a dollop of joy, laughter, and forgiveness, we all came out OK. Don and I were still intact as a couple and we still deeply and passionately loved each other.

The years passed, and the things that you can’t know till you get there sneaked up on us – financial worries, adult kids and their issues, aging, health, energy differences, stress. They all took their toll. One night I was grieving a bit because we’re not the same. Our relationship cannot be the same. Sometimes it feels like two people who care about each other living independently in the same house, sort of like roommates. I talked to God about it because I want to remain deeply and passionately in love with this man even if we’re here together for 60 or 70 years. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this place and gone to God for help, and I suspect it won’t be the last time. Then a miracle happened.

I got an Echo dot three years ago. I tried everything I knew how to do, but I couldn’t get it to work. It sat in a cupboard. This week my sister came, we got it out, and she tried to get it going. No luck. The next morning there it was on the counter, my daughter saw it, and after an hour of figuring out the kinks, it worked.

As we ate breakfast, we listened to the music of our time- Neil Diamond, John Denver, The Mama’s and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Monkeys, Barbra Streisand. I was having a hard time getting stuff done because I kept stopping to dance. We laughed a lot. Smiles just seemed to happen over nothing. During lunch, Don and I gazed across the table at each other. I sang the lyrics, and he cracked old jokes. It was fun.

Later, as I was cutting kale for the dehydrator, he gathered me up, and we danced around the kitchen for a short moment, as Don’s ability to move is compromised. Wow! That felt so wonderful. We haven’t been able to dance for some time. Then I returned to washing kale. As I worked, I thought about Don, how funny he is. How handsome he is. What a great question asker and problem solver. An all-around good guy. A keeper, as we used to say.

Then in a moment, I was overcome with such a feeling of love I began weeping. It’s all still there; deep and passionate love. It will always be there, but sometimes it disappears inside life, illness, work, stress. But if we focus and ask God for a small miracle, it resurfaces to save us. God is good. He loves Don and me, and we love each other. Such a gift. Such a blessing. Such a life!

Is That the End of the Story?

I know you think this is the end of the story, but this is where it gets real! You probably think it was the music and the dancing that brought the spark to the surface. But it wasn’t. Remember that talk I had with God? I didn’t just complain about loss, age, passing time, etc. I asked what I could do to feel ‘in love.’ Not only “I care” or “I love you,” but ‘in love.” If you’ve been there, then you know what I am talking about.

The thought that came to my mind was to look for every good thing I could see about this man I have spent over fifty years with and then tell him. I did that, many times because his gifts and good qualities aren’t hard to find. But they are easy to take for granted and let pass by unappreciated.

The Great key.

With every kind word and compliment, my heart softened towards this man I care for and love. I changed. Not him and not our relationship. Me! When you add that kind of heart softening to a bit of music and a quick dance around the kitchen, well, you can’t help but get magic.

When we look for the good, when we speak the good, when kindness is at the top of our mind, it makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a crazy day with kids or a day between two aging souls. The result is the same. Magic and miracles!

When you have children, there is no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there. If you have a day that isn’t going well with your family, give it a try. Pick the one person you’re feeling the most annoyed or frustrated with or that you feel the most distant from. Look for every good thing and then mention it to them. I can just about guarantee that by the end of the day, your heart will swell with tenderness for this soul that only a few hours before was causing you grief.

Their behavior might not change, but you will. Your heart will soften. Your way of being with that one person will be kinder. You will see differently. It will make a difference.

It’s all about gratitude. Gratitude is the great key to overcoming what is bugging you right now. I have this saying on my bedroom/office wall: “When you complain, you will remain. When you praise, you will be raised.” I know this is true, as I experience it regularly. I experienced it this week in my kitchen while chopping kale. : ) You can experience it too, and practicing this little exercise will not only change you, but it will also improve your whole family. Give it a try.

Addendum

It has been a few days since the miracle and Don, and I are still connecting in small ways. We are talking more softly and listening more intently. Saturday afternoon, while our granddaughter Maggie watched Mother Goose Playhouse, we held hands and danced in place for just a moment. : ) If I keep focusing on his strengths and gifts and keep thanking him for them, it will last.

But life is busy, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming. We will probably find ourselves moving apart again, but when that happens, I will pull out the ‘practice of gratitude for this one soul’ and have another miracle.

Gratitude is a practice, and so it requires ‘practice.’ Practice it in your home and then let me know what differences it makes. : )

Give this article as a gift to someone else who needs a Gratitude Practice. : ) 

Do You Grant Others Space to Breathe and Regroup?

Everyone can become overwhelmed.

At some time in our life, we will do less than our best. The ability to love and serve without judgment or recrimination is one thing that stands out to me about the ministry of Jesus Christ. He spent time with those who were overwhelmed, who were managing less than their best.

One of the things that I have been privileged to do over a thirty-year span is to help older people and families with their homes. Sometimes I clean inside, sometimes outside. I have tiled and painted. It is just one way that I have been able to serve.

As I have offered this service to people, I have noticed something interesting. After I have been helping for a few weeks, they might rearrange a closet or a cupboard. There might be a pile ready for Goodwill. Maybe a packet of seeds shows up that they plan to plant. A family member will rearrange the living room.

After a few years of noticing this phenomenon, I wondered what it was all about. Then I was reminded of an experience that I had a few decades earlier. It has been over 45 years now, and it is something I keep in my mind because it helps me to serve the way the Savior did – no judgment, no recrimination, just love, and care.

A Life-Changing Experience

My husband decided he needed to go back to school and finish his degree. We had two children, one a newborn. We moved to Greely, CO., where I had spent the last year of high school and where my parents lived for a few years longer. It was far away from family and friends.

Don went to school full time and worked full time. He went to school all day, came home late afternoon, ate, and then slept until he had to go to work at 11 pm. In the morning, he would get home at about 7 am and sleep until he had to be in class at 9 am. It was grueling. He studied between classes and on Saturday.

I watched other people’s children, as well as my own. I kept them quiet in the morning when Don needed to sleep, and I kept them calmed in the late afternoon when he needed to sleep. I made meals, kept the house, did the laundry, took care of the yard, and taught a Sunday school class for 5-year olds. I rarely got away from home. I rarely saw other adults because we had just moved, knew no one, and on Sunday, I taught a children’s class.

I began to yell a lot. I felt angry at Don. I frequently found myself at church without a prepared lesson. My house was suffering, and the laundry was piling up. I was suffering from post-partum depression. I was overwhelmed.

One day I was done. I sat on a chair, and I knew that I could not do anything for anyone. I was a failure as a wife, mother, as a person. Tears coursed down my face. Then the doorbell rang. Sister George, a woman from my church, was standing on the porch.

She had been a friend of my mother’s when my family lived here. She had loved my mother, and, as I was to learn by her behavior, she loved me. She said, “Hi, Mary Ann. I’m here to borrow the kids. I want to take them home for the afternoon. Would that be OK?” No judgment. No recriminations about the poor job I was doing in my life.

I was stunned. I had two of my own, one an infant, and I was caring for three others. As they drove off in Sister George’s van, I felt relief. I sat on the porch and stared at the sky. I breathed the air. This one day was a turning point in my life. Sister George had saved my life by giving me space to breathe and regroup.

Space to Breathe and Regroup

That was the answer to what I saw happen to the people I helped; I gave them space to breathe and regroup.

When I visit my daughter’s homes, I clean something, the kitchen fan, the toilet, empty overflowing garbage cans, or wash a pile of laundry. I don’t do it because they are incompetent but to give them space to breathe and regroup.

In my core cannon, there is this question, “Are we not all beggars?” I ask myself, “Do we not all beg for relief somewhere in our lives – self-doubt, children who stray, spouses who leave, school left unfinished, too little income, the trauma of abuse or neglect, old and hidden emotional wounds, fears, failure. The list is long and as varied as the people who live on the earth.

Occasionally we all need space to breathe and regroup. When I am mentoring, I am ministering as Jesus did. No judgment. No recriminations. I allow room to breathe and regroup.

When we suspend judgment, override our desire to recriminate because someone should be doing better; when we extend service because we genuinely love and care about others, we serve as Jesus Christ served. He never judged those who were overwhelmed or failing in some way. He just reached out a hand to help.

It reminds me of the second verse of a song that I sing to remind myself to serve and love the way Jesus and other great teachers of truth have loved and served.

I Have Work Enough to Do

I must speak the loving word,
Ere the sun goes down.
I must let my voice be heard,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry cry of pity heeding,
For the injured interceding,
To the light, the lost ones leading,
Ere the sun goes down.

Let someone else know that they deserve space to breathe and regroup.

Remember, Life is Brief and Tender

“You will miss struggling in church.” WHAT!

A few Sundays ago, in church, a mother was talking to the congregation. She mentioned that at times, in the past, it had been hard to focus on the speaker. This was because kids and church can be a fussy business. As they learn to manage their bodies and acquire the ability to be reverent it can be a struggle. She had lived that struggle.

As she looked out at the congregation her next words caused me some reflection. “You will miss struggling in church.” Is that true? Do we want to be engaged in a struggle with our kids whether at church, in the grocery store or at bedtime? I don’t think so.

So, what was this mother really expressing? I think it was the nostalgia adults feel when children grow up and leave home. We all know it’s going to happen but while we’re in the trenches all we can see is the struggle. It’s one of those, “You can’t know till you get there” things.

It’s that ‘Family Feeling!’

What is it that causes this nostalgia? What is it that’s missed? I’ve not only thought about this, but I’ve lived it. We miss that ‘family feeling’. When our kids leave home, they’re still our kids. They come home for visits and eventually they bring their kids home with them. We have a family. But that’s not what I’m talking about and it isn’t what that mom in church talked about.

You will miss the energy of children. You will miss the hugs and kisses. You will miss the chaos and the quiet moments. You will miss the snuggles. You will miss your little children. You may not miss the laundry, dirty dishes, or cooking. But you will miss the activities that caused the dirty laundry. You will miss sitting down to eat with your children even if they spill the milk. You will miss having small faces to look at as they complain about what you have cooked.

I know, I know. You’re a busy mom or dad. You’re overwhelmed a lot of the time. Hearing this can rankle. I felt the same when I was in the thick of it. It irritated me when an older parent at church looked me in the eye as I was struggling with a crying four-year-old and said, “The time will come when you will miss this.”
But I have gotten there. I get it.

Why am I sharing this with you? I hope that my words will lodge in your mind and that they will come to you when you’re irritated, angry, frustrated, over the top. I hope they help you be a bit kinder, gentler, more forgiving, more joyous even in the mess. I hope they encourage you to smile more and hug more.

“Before I die I want to . . . ”

In a recent TED talk by Candy Chang, she shared a moving experience. Chang asked the question “Before I die I want to . . . ” She asked the question by turning the side of an abandoned building into a huge chalkboard for people to write their responses on. In one day, the whole side of the building was filled with chalked in answers and it grew from there. Some of the responses were humorous and fun but most were poignant, and many were related to the need we all have to matter and to connect with those around us. At the end of her talk, she expressed, “Two of the most valuable things we have in life are our time and our relationships with other people. In our age of increasing distractions, it’s more important than ever to find ways to maintain perspective and remember life is brief and tender”.

Don’t let the challenges of parenting make you lose sight of the beauty of it. Don’t let busyness take away your desire to hear and see. Don’t let childish learning and error harden your heart.

When you’re older, thinking back on those earlier days when your children lived in your home will cause you very tender feelings. You’re going to want to be able to call to mind moments when you held your child one more time for a little longer; when you were patient; when you allowed them to be themselves and grow; when despite the chaos or mess, you smiled and meant it.

I love this verse of scripture. Matthew 13:16: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” This verse of scripture is about seeing and hearing things that cannot be seen with our temporal eyes or heard with our temporal ears. If we remember that despite the challenges, life with our children is brief and tender, we will be blessed to see and hear in an extraordinary way. We will send the message to those we love most: I see you. I hear you. You matter to me.

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5 Tips To Put Family First in a World of Distractions

I saw an insurance commercial in which the adults (portrayed by kids) were being treated like children by the insurance company. They felt helpless, undervalued, and frustrated. When I saw this commercial, I, like most of you, could relate to those feelings. At the end of the commercial, a rival insurance company helped a woman (portrayed by a child) with her needs. She stood there smiling, feeling good.

Then I had a second thought. Why would they use children to illustrate what all of us have felt as adults? It’s because this IS how children are frequently treated. They are not seen, heard. They don’t feel they matter.

What Does Being on the List Look Like

Let me give you an example of what it looks like when we treat our children in a way that leaves them feeling like the adults in this commercial, helpless, undervalued and frustrated.

One day I was sewing, and the project had a deadline. I’m pretty good but sewing would be on the bottom  of my relaxing and fun things to-do list. I was feeling some pressure. My 3-year-old daughter, Marie, kept coming into the sewing room and interrupting me. This and the sewing were wearing on my nerves. I was ready to spank her. After all, she was bugging me, and she could see perfectly well that I was busy! I decided if she interrupted me again, I was going to swat her.

Of course, you know what happened. She came in again and I was ready to carry out my intention. Then I had a thought, “Why not hug her instead!” It wasn’t my thought! Remember, I had a firm intention to swat her. It took me by such surprise that I STOPPED what I was doing.

I turned my chair away from the sewing machine and I looked at my daughter. I picked her up and I hugged her tight. I hugged her for 15-20 seconds. I said, “Marie I LOVE you!” Then I put her down and off she went as happy as a clam.

She didn’t come back. Why! Think about that insurance commercial I described and it will be clear. When they were being ignored the people in the commercial were frustrated and feeling undervalued. The woman at the end of the commercial was smiling and feeling good because someone cared. She was on the list.  She felt valued.

This is what happened to Marie. All she wanted was to be on the list, to be valued. Our children want to be on our list, and in our busy lives we sometimes erase them off. Oh, we cook meals, clean and maintain order and manage our family, but our children and our relationship with them are not on the list. We often don’t make time to let them know that we see them, hear them, and that they matter.

5 tips to help you let your kids know they have a place on your list.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – We all have good things on our calendar. However, are there so many goods that there isn’t room for the best – time with our children? Can you pare down the classes, lessons, team activities, and community and church responsibilities? Time at home matters to kids. Ask yourself, “What happens if I/we don’t do this?” If you’re doing a task out of guilt or habit, take it off your calendar. Figure out what your priorities are and pursue those. Something must give.

2. Involve the kids – I know, I know, it’s simply easier, faster, and more efficient to do things by yourself. But there are advantages to including your children a few times a week. Gardening together, folding laundry as a group, and tidying up the yard as a unit are ways to kill two birds with one stone. If you make it fun it won’t seem like work, it will seem like a family activity.

3. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology-free moments every day. For example, have a TV, computer or no phone hour just before bed or while eating dinner. When you’re willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time, you’ll be surprised at how much time you can open up for the family.

4. Make a date with your family and then keep it. When things are planned, they tend to happen. When they aren’t the world crowds in, and they get put off. If you have a family evening once a week then consider that sacred time. If you decide to have a game night, don’t let anything else interfere. If you plan to walk one evening a week, make sure it happens. It doesn’t have to cost money, take a lot of time or preparation but you do need to be consistent. That will go a long way to saying, “You are on my list.”

5. Realize you won’t get everything done. A to-do list is unending. It will never get done. Laundry is forever, so is cleaning and cooking. The yard always needs to be mowed and snow must be shoveled. So, lighten up a bit. Let some things go, short term, and make space for your family. 

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Would You Turn Back Time?

On a mature dating site commercial, a giddy woman said, “It’s just like being back in high school.” YIKES! I liked high school. It turned out okay. In my yearbook, I’m listed as “The most typical girl”. But I wouldn’t want to go back!

When I got married, I was happy. Our children were born; we loved them and learned a lot of things. Some of it was great and some was hard, but all in all, it evened out and we had fun. I was happy. But I wouldn’t go back!

There isn’t a single point in my past life that I would willingly return to. You know why? Because today I’m a better person. I know more. I’ve learned to value now what I couldn’t value when I was younger. This is the natural course of life; with experience comes wisdom.

Relationships are valuable

Last week I mentioned one of the pivotal moments in my life, playing Emily Gibbs in the play Our Town, when I was sixteen. It was pivotal because Emily learned the hard way that going back isn’t always good. Going back showed her that often we can’t “see” one another because we’re too busy doing all the things that we think matter – laundry, cooking, education, church duties, work, making money, changing the world. Emily understands for the first time that all that matters are the relationships we have.

When I’m making a big decision, I ask myself, “How will this affect my ability to nurture my current relationships?” I recently asked that question as I considered some important life choices, and I ultimately made different decisions than I might otherwise have made.

That’s the great perk of aging. We have a clearer perspective on what really matters. That’s why grandparents can be so great. That’s why they have so much fun with grandchildren. It isn’t really because we don’t have to discipline or manage our grandchildren. It’s because we truly want a relationship with them. We like them. We “see” them.

Maybe it’s because the sand is running out of our hourglass faster and faster. We’re aware that we don’t have all the time in the world. We just have now, today. That’s all. It’s all anyone has. We can fill it with “busy” or we can simplify and make room for relationships. It’s a choice!

Tips to Make Room for Relationships

  • Simplify your calendar.
  • Simplify your activities.
  • Stay home more.
  • Read as a family.
  • Turn off all the electronics and play a game.
  • Fold laundry together.
  • Eat together.
  • Talk and listen.
  • Laugh more.
  • Let stress go.

Ask yourself, “What could I let go of today to have more room for what matters most?”

One day you’ll be older. Your kids will be older. You won’t care how clean your house was, how spectacular your yard, if you homeschooled or public schooled. You won’t value the amount of money you made, how often you went to Disneyland, if your kids got a new bike every year or what college they got in to. You won’t care if they were carpenters or lawyers. You won’t care if you impacted thousands of people. What you will think about more than anything else is the condition of your relationships. That, my friends, is what you’re going to treasure most. Take time now to make them sweet.

I appreciate your shares. Thank you!