Creating a Family Culture of Grace and Love: Life Gifts

IMG_4738Now, as adults, they are "besties."

Sitting late into the night on squishy warm blankets, giggling and holding fast to each other's secrets, my girls love spending time together. And I love seeing the light seeping under the closed bedroom door late into the night. I always wanted my kids to be each others' best friends. It just took a half-lifetime! :)

Each of us has a deep longing to be loved, to have our lives validated, to know that we matter and have a purpose--a place to belong.

It is a longing in our hearts because God put it there.

Yet, mature love that grows and gives is something that has to be nurtured and trained.

As we passed on the GIFTS mentioned in this series of podcasts, as a map of discipleship for me each day, I had to have a long term vision for what I wanted to accomplish and move slowly in that direction, through training, modeling and instruction.

Unconditional love is not common to all families because it takes a lot of work--and often it is the heart or relationships that is neglected. Anger is allowed to fester, blame is a constant habit, and loneliness and neglect of people's needs create more anger and depression.

So many moms write to me and say, "My kids fight all the time--they are so selfish, they run over me!" as though this is unusual. Truth is, we are all selfish, self-absorbed, petty and shallow by nature--sinful nature, that is! All of us are seemingly surrounded at times with conflict from egos running into each other. No family is immune. But for families to grow in grace and to learn to become mature in love is something that is trained, practiced, instructed and developed over a long period of time.

Family is supposed to give roots, strength, security, stability and direction--but this only happens where moms do the hard work of training, correcting, modeling and enduring years of immaturity as children grow through all the stages of childhood.

God also gave mothers the ability to build a strong  home culture,, so that these deep needs would be met. Proverbs--the whole Bible--is filled with wisdom about relationships. If this wisdom is neglected or ignored, families  and individuals will become unhealthy and exhibit the fruit of their untrained or immature hearts.

Building an environment of love, grace, belonging, so that each child who is welcomed into her home, will provide a well spring in their hearts that says, "I have a history. I am a Clarkson (or Smith, or Martinez, or Krasaski), and we love each other, we belong to each other, we will always have stability because we are a part of this family and circle of love, spiritual strength and grace."

Shaping a Family culture like this takes time and intention and does not just happen by chance.

A child who is given a place to build roots, foundations of moral strength, affection and unconditional love and forgiveness, a safe haven in which to grow, will carry stability in their souls their whole lives and will find strength to face the trials of life and the challenges.

This summer, I had the privilege of having all of our kids home together for 8 days. (Clay and I fly everyone home 3 times a year to be together because we want to continue to cultivate, honor and develop deeper relationships.) This kind of intentionality and planning is part of what has built a family strength.

It is so very precious to hear my children sharing deeply, playing basketball, going for long walks, watching movies together while munching popcorn--and say over and over again--"These are my best friends. I don't know what I would do without our family."

As adults, my children have chosen very challenging, secular arenas in which to bring the light of Christ--Hollywood, Oxford, New York, --and these places can be quite lonely for a young Christian seeking to hold fast to ideals. Yet, part of the strength they hold fast to, are the strong bonds of loyalty, a sense of self by belonging to each other, and a refreshment to be together to remember what the "Clarksons" are all about.

Joy got her very first brand new bed set for her 19th birthday this summer--2 single beds. Yet, the sweetest thing is that Sarah and Joy have slept together in her bedroom every night they have been home together, (Sarah leaving her bedroom vacant) because they have become such chums--even though 11 years apart.

Yet, personality differences, friction, age differences, bickering and selfishness have all had to be trained away, one day at a time, for them to reach this kind of friendship. Still all of us are in process. And even when everyone is home together, now, I know we will have a couple of family fusses.

But the desire for peace is so strong, because we all need each other, that grace covers fusses and love binds our hearts together. But where there is no vision or training towards love, there will be no peace or maturity. It is a seed that must be planted, watered, cultivated. The weeds of sin must be cleared on a regular basis.

I have always said to my children,

"It is natural, fleshly, carnal to argue and to be petty. It is supernatural to extend love to live in the grace of accepting each other's flaws."

"In our flesh we are all self-centered and self-absorbed, but when we yield our hearts to the Spirit of God, we extend His grace and show His love through our words and actions."

I will never, ever be loving on my own. Anger, impatience, criticism is all a natural response to irritating people--especially those in my home. It is only the Spirit living through me that will stretch me and my children toward deep, abiding love.

I have learned to say, "Lord, I am so irritated right now. Would you please love through me--I bow my knee in my heart recognizing my need for you and I will choose to love and be patient. Love through me."

As a mama, I felt I had to continually be a model of what I wanted my children to live--and I will not be perfect in this until I look into the eyes of Jesus, after I have left this world.

How is this developed? Through personal time, correction, forgiveness, grace, serving---all very intentional goals. Love does not grow without a plan.

Parents would rather occupy their children's time, give them experiences or more "things" just to buy themselves free time and to pacify their children than to have to take the time to invest personal, eye to eye, voice to voice time. However, a child can be given all the experiences or "things" the world has to offer, but if his soul is starving or empty or filled with the anger of rejection or even passivity, which communicates worthlessness to him, will have difficulty filling this cavernous hole the rest of his life.

When children feel empty, they will look for love and validation in all the wrong places. 

A mother's love and legacy is one of the most powerful influences in the world and will indeed determine the strength and history of our future culture.

But to provide such a work in the lives of children, requires a choice.

The choice is to serve, give, train, instruct, provide, encourage and this choice will have eternal consequences because the souls of the children raised in such a home will be strong, beautiful, spiritual, healthy and formed. Choices have consequences.

Here is a passage our family has memorized and continues to uphold as the foundation of relationships. Romans  12:9-21 (As a matter of fact, we are re-memorizing it this summer and reviewing it a little bit at at time--and again--it is transforming our lives.)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Hope you enjoy the podcast about this very subject today!