Bearing with one another

Last week I was honored to speak at a Mother/Daughter Tea at a church in town. It was a lovely event with tea and coffee and cupcakes and lavender sachets. I came away believing that we really should institute a regular afternoon tea time.

 

I shared a story with these dear women about my dental struggles.Several years ago my dental hygienist pointed out some worn down spots and asked me if I grind my teeth. I’d been having ear aches that weren’t infections, and once I started thinking about it I realized that my jaw was always sore. She asked me if I was under any particular stress. At the time, we were in year three of what would eventually be four years of trying to bring our adopted son home from Africa, so yeah…I was stressed.

 

During that time, I had unknowingly directed my stress and frustration and worry on my poor mouth. I was clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth, causing damage to my gums. I would go on to have gum graph surgery and my dentist recommended I use clear plastic aligners (instead of braces) to correct my misshapen bite.

 

I’ve been through dozens of this plastic teeth movers now and from one aligner to the next, you can hardly tell there’s any change. It’s a tiny tweak, slight modification. But over the many months, the minor modifications add up to a new bite that will cause less stress on my gums and help me keep my teeth.

 

At this point in my talk, the women I shared this with were probably beginning to regret inviting me to their Tea. But I went on to explain that in relationships with each other, we can create bad habits. Dysfunction doesn’t usually happen overnight. It’s a slow teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching process. And this can be the case with mother/daughter relationships. An irritation or misunderstanding becomes a habit of slamming doors and shouting names. It’s hard when these habits become formed, but they don’t have to remain forever. That kind of stubbornness is a sin and God will always be on the side of breaking those sinful patterns, especially when they disrupt our families.

 

So we must look to Scripture for guidance. In the book of Ephesians, we see what the Apostle Paul thought was most important to say to fellow Christians while he was in prison in Rome. Ephesians 4:2-3 gives us some essential truths.

 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (NIV)

 

In other words, be humble and gentle as Jesus was when he washed his disciples’ feet, choosing the posture of a servant over the attitude of a bully. Tolerate the differences you see in each other because you choose to love in an unconditional way. Then work diligently, with expectations of restoration, to become one as you join together in harmony to sing a beautiful hymn of goodwill.

 

If we can do these things in our relationships with each other, we can take those small steps toward healing. It will take patience, and sometimes there will be setbacks, but the sweetest fruit often take the longest to ripen.

Self Help

I’m not a self-help book kind of reader (I’m more of a help-myself-to-some-fiction kind of a reader!), but I know there are a lot of people who love self-help books. And, in a way, it’s admirable because to fully digest and practice what you read in a book from this genre, you are saying, “I need help!” That takes some level of humility.

 

There are self-help books devoted to study in a wide field of topics, such as dealing with change, getting rich, understanding your spouse and being a better parent. Many of the more popular ones have names which grab your attention, like Who Moved My Cheese?and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

 

Instead of reading what I assume are really helpful books full of strategies and personal anecdotes, I often choose the less glamorous path of on the job training. For a lot of scenarios, I prefer to get in there and decide as I go. I like to pretend that I have an extremely potent power of intuition, and I am better equipped to read the situation and judge how to act instead of relying on what I remember from a book I read a couple of years ago.

 

But this approach is far from foolproof. There are some lessons I have a hard time truly learning. (Like how many times do I have to learn the hard way that I should always check to see if there’s toilet paper before starting my business in a public restroom?) This is why I am more and more impressed by people with true wisdom—not tricks and systems, but rooted-in-their-core understanding.

 

If I were going to read a self-help book, I’d probably stick to the Book of Proverbs which was mostly composed by King Solomon. It’s interesting that Solomon, the greatest and wealthiest man of his time, would work into his busy schedule the writing of basic instructions like how to act while dining with an important person. (Proverbs 23:1-3) It’s as if Solomon understands that the way we conduct ourselves here on earth, even in the most mundane circumstances, can have lasting effects on our health, our family and our future. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, said “Wisdom is the biblical term for this on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven everyday living. Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.”

 

There’s a great summary of wise traits and advice in Proverbs 22. In just 29 verses, you can learn about good reputations, greed, humility, parenting, generosity, laziness, and hard work. I love Proverbs 22:3, “A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.” (The Message) That pretty much sums it up. That’s good advice!

Otter moms

My family visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium over Spring Break. It is a beautiful facility right on the bay with a big emphasis on conservation and protecting waterways and wildlife. One of its biggest attractions is the sea otters, and for good reason! They are ridiculously cute!

 

While there, we listened to a talk about how the aquarium is involved in rescuing and rehabilitating sea otters. We learned that they have to clean their fur nearly all day long to keep it water-repellant and to make sure they stay warm and insulated in the chilly water. We also learned that they use rocks to crack open clams. Such smart little fur balls!

 

The presenter told us a story about a baby sea otter who was found in the bay without her mother. He said that she was squealing and calling for her, but no one came. He said this sometimes occurs after a storm when animals can be separated from their families.

 

They took the baby otter back to their facility to see if another otter, an adult female named Toola, would adopt this baby. They weren’t sure if it would work but hoped that since Toola had just given birth to a stillborn pup, she had the right hormones to make mothering this orphan pup an appealing idea. It worked and the baby—later named Luna for Half Moon Bay, the location of the beach where she was discovered—survived. Toola went on to be a surrogate mother to 13 pups over the years until her death in 2012.

 

Beyond the fact that otters are so adorable (please stop what you’re doing and watch a video of them right now), it was moving to hear how they care for their own babies or the babies they are given. As an adoptive mom with a son who is celebrating 3 years as a part of our family, I identified with Toola in a special way. Something as unbreakable and supernatural as a mother/child connection becomes even more miraculous when the mother is given a child to care for who she never carried inside her. But that connection is definitely there.

 

When we were called to be a family to our youngest son, we became more important to him than anyone else on earth, just as Toola was to all her pups. The aquarium employees and veterinary specialists who worked with Toola over the years gave her a lot of credit for the success of the aquarium’s sea otter program and even for the passing of legislation which protects sea otters in the wild. And all because she welcomed a vulnerable baby into her arms.

Sea Otter Cam!!