Posts Tagged ‘family’

The Prodigal Son

August 10, 2009

The story of the prodigal son is so famous in our culture, even people who don’t know the origin of the story know the word “prodigal” to mean someone who is rebellious and estranged from family.  The original story told by Jesus has many different lessons contained in it,and to fully understand, it has to be looked at through the prism of ancient Hebrew culture.

The son who asked for his inheritance committed a sin, which in that culture deserved the death sentence.  He not only denied his father any respect, he as much as said “I wish you were dead because I only care about the wealth I will get.”  His father, unbelievably, gave him his inheritance, and further disrespect followed.  The prodigal son sold his portion of the land.  In Hebrew culture, the land was a gift from God, never to be sold.  With the money he got from the sale, he left his father, his country, his culture and in all that as well as spending his money in “wild living” he trashed every one of his father’s values.

When the money ran out, he found himself friendless and starving.  He hired himself out to a pig farmer.  The pig was considered filthy in his native culture, yet he was so hungry he wanted to eat with the pigs and was denied even that.  The story says “he came to his senses”.  There’s hope in that little phrase.  God often brings people to a place where they see the light.  God gave this young man such a longing for home, he was willing to risk throwing himself on his father’s mercy.  He recognized being a slave in his father’s house was better than his present situation.

When he comes home, the story shows the father seeing him “from afar”, meaning the father has been watching the horizon.  When he recognizes his son, he runs to him.  This was unheard of in this culture.  This son had wronged the father, and the father’s running to the son was the height of indignity.  Then he threw himself on the son, hugging the young man who probably reeked of pigs.  The father bestows all the symbols of sonship on his son once again, the ring, the robe and the sandals.  There was no earning of this favor.  It was sheer mercy.  Then the father throws a party.

This is a picture of God.  God is a father who so loves his errant children, there should be no fear, ever, in returning home to him.

Another interesting part of the story is the reaction of the older son, who is jealous of all the attention being paid to his treasonous brother.  He had, after all, been the perfect son, staying behind, caring for the father’s interests, and doing a double share of the work.  However, it is clear he also wants something from his father.  He wants recognition and reward.  He wants to be considered better than his brother.  He is a model of the religious person who hopes to earn reward from God by “being good enough”.  He hopes to earn through works what the father gives through grace.  He has no understanding of his father’s heart, nor does he truly love his father.

The summary of the whole story is this father has two sons who neither love him nor appreciate him for who he is.  None of their actions show a care for the father or a putting of the Father’s interests first.  In that way, neither of the sons is truly the better son.  Both are in the relationship for what they can get out of it.  One is just more socially acceptable.

Again, we see the father who loves both his sons when neither has earned the father’s love.  How like God and his human children.  Who of us can say we truly put God first.  Who of us can say we truly love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  Thank God, through his grace and revelation of himself, some of us are beginning to come to our senses.  He has a long way to take us yet, before we understand His heart, appreciate Him and begin to become like Him.

Grace and the Lamp

July 16, 2009

This story was told to me by an old man when I was a young mother. 

 When he was a young boy, his mother had a treasured antique lamp that had been in her family for several generations.  It was always a house rule there was to be no rowdy playing in the house.  While alone in the house, the boy entertained himself by playing “fetch” with his dog by throwing a slipper.  One throw went astray, the lamp tipped, and ended up in pieces on the floor.  His heart sank, and he waited in dread for his mother’s return.

His mother came in, assessed the situation, and looked at the boy.  ” I did it”, he admitted, and cringed as he awaited her anger and his punishment.  “I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget” she said.  He cringed again.  “I could tell you about God’s grace” she said, “or I could show you how it works.  I forgive you.”  And she explained that grace costs the giver, and love doesn’t count the cost.  She hugged him then.  It was a lesson he would never forget.

Cultural Disintegration

March 25, 2009

I haven’t written a blog in weeks.  I’ve just been the literary equivalent of “struck speechless”.  I was summoned for jury duty early this month, and selected for a jury to hear a murder trial.  The defendant was charged with second degree murder in the death of a girlfriend’s 22 month old son.  It was the most eye-opening, horrible, horrific case I’ve ever heard, and I’m still having dreams about it.  Its one thing to read about our society’s pathology and quite another to see it up close and personal.

The defendant was a 28 year old man who has four illegitimate children by four different mothers.  He hasn’t been the ideal father.  His oldest daughter has been raised by his mother because the baby’s mother was only 14 at the time she gave birth.  That child is now with her natural mother, who has finished school and is able to support her.  His second child has been raised partly by his mother and partly by the baby’s natural mother.  The third child is with its natural mother.  The fourth child is being raised by relatives because its mother is in jail.  According to the defendant, “I don’t pay bills, I don’t do housework, I don’t take care of kids.  Its not my responsibility.”

The defendant really lives everywhere and nowhere.  He has usually had more than one girlfriend at a time, friends, and always the fallback of his mother’s home.  He might show up at a girlfriend’s house at midnight and stay the night, or stay over with a friend, or sleep at his mother’s house.  He truly has no address.  Sometimes he has a job, and sometimes he doesn’t.  He has been arrested several times for assault against a girlfriend.

The child who was murdered belonged to one of his girlfriends.  The baby had been reported to Child Protective Services twice before, and the cases were closed for “invalid report.”  There is currently a lawsuit against CPS, who truly let this baby down.  By the time of the second report, the child had broken ribs, cigarette burns, numerous bruises and welt marks.  At the time of the second report, the defendant was “in a relationship” with the baby’s mother…whatever that meant, as his relationships were clearly not monogamous.  It was reported, however, that he disciplined the baby by hitting it with a belt–as young as 18 months!!

The baby’s mother hasn’t exactly a stellar record, either.  She was involved in slugging matches with the baby’s natural father when the baby was newborn, and he moved out by the time the baby was a couple months old.  Mom worked at various times and at various jobs, and whenever she was at work she had multiple backup babysitters–neighbors of all ages and backgrounds, relatives, numerous cousins, friends, etc.  Some of the homes appeared ok, some were “trap houses” where various illegal activities were taking place.  The only stability was the paternal grandma who took the baby for 48-72 hours whenever she had days off from her job.  She kept the baby with her overnight during those times.  She was one of the reporters of the child abuse.   It appeared that the baby’s mom took him off milk at 5 months of age and he had rickets, as well as all the evidences of overt abuse noted above.

The morning the baby’s mom left her baby with the defendant, she was going to a doctor’s appointment because she believed she was pregnant with the defendant’s baby.  According to the medical examiner, the baby died of either a massive blow or crushing injury to the abdomen, a couple of hours after the mother left.  What the jury couldn’t know was whether the defendant was simply angry at being left with the baby and manhandled it, or if he was engaged in deliberate child abuse.  The baby had all the usual marks seen before as well as some recent head traums and cerebral edema.  There was confusion about who was abusing the baby, exactly when the abuse took place  and the possibility that  more than one person had been abusing it.  Anyway, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter, the baby’s mom was convicted earlier of child abuse and serving a five year sentence, and the baby, of course, is dead.

What still haunts my dreams is the unconcern expressed by both the baby’s mother, and the defendant.  They were like hollow, unfeeling people.  As a fellow juror noted, she had also grown up in poverty, but this was a culture shock to her, because in her day poor people loved their kids.

Both the defendant and the baby’s mother grew up without knowing their father, and indeed lived in homes where the male influence was either absent or revolving.  In the case of the baby’s mother, she didn’t know either of her parents, and was very much the same kind of  “village child” her dead baby had been.

When I was in college I studied sociology, psychology and criminal justice.  What we learned over and over was that children need stability and two parents.  The face of poverty is most often a female headed household.  Children with no dad are lower achievers, and children who grow up in homes with revolving men are more likely to experience violence, and be violent themselves.  I doubt this information is any less true today.

Soon after the trial was over, I saw a headline stating for the first time the majority of babies born in America are born to unwed mothers.  God help us!!!!

Dysfunctional Families part 5

July 23, 2008

I was reading the book of Proverbs the other day, and never cease to be amazed at the wisdom in there.  I also love the fact that this was a book Jesus read.  There is a tremendous amount in it which relates to families and relationships.  Here are just a few:

He who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left.  proverbs 11:29

A wise man stays cool when insulted.  prov 12:16

A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.  prov 15:1

A quick tempered man starts fights; a cool tempered man tries to stop them.  prov 15:18

He who covers over an offense promotes love.  prov 17:9

Its hard to stop a quarrel once it starts, so don’t let it begin.  prov 17:14

A fool gets into constant fights.   prov 18:6

Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.  prov 18:17

It is harder to win back the friendship of an offended brother than to capture a fortified city.  prov 18:19

A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults.  This is to his credit.   prov 19:11

It is an honor for a man to stay out of a fight.  Only fools insist on quarreling.   prov 20:3

Throw out the  mocker and you will be rid of tension, fighting and quarrels.   prov 22:10 

(Hard to do if its a member of your family, but you can certainly throw what he says out of your mind)

Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul.  prov 22:24-25  (Again, keep his “stuff” out of your mind)

Be patient and you will finally win for a soft tongue can break hard bones (heads).   prov 25:15

As surely as a wind from the north brings cold, just as surely a retort causes anger.   prov 25:23

Fools start fights everywhere while wise men try to keep peace.   prov 29:8

Theres no use arguing with a fool.  He only rages and scoffs and tempers flare.   prov 29:9

A rebel shouts in anger; a wise man holds his temper in and cools it.   prov 29:11

A hot tempered man starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble.   prov 29:22

Now I realize the source of my parent’s very Victorian manners.  I used to think their ways were repressed and perhaps psychologically unhealthy.  However, now I wonder.  They left a whole lot of things unsaid, but there was little conflict in family relations.  I wonder how unhealthy that was, really, for as quarrels escalate and feelings are hurt, it certainly raises the stress level.  And, as my mother used to say “the less said, the less regret”.  I wonder if “forgive and forget” isn’t the healthiest way to live after all.  For me its the easiest, for the older I get I’m finding “its harder to hold a grudge when you can’t remember anything”


Dysfunctional Families part 3

July 13, 2008

Well, my daughter Marie “blew it again”.  She decided to go back to her son and his wife and try to renegotiate a few hours on Sunday evening for that family reunion she was hoping for.  She pointed out to her daughter in law that D-in-Law had a week with her family, wasn’t willing to give 3 hours to her husband’s family, or let grandchildren be with husband’s family either.  Knowing Marie, she was probably just stating a fact, and I know she was begging for a reconsideration by her daughter-in-law of the “not at all” approach to the family reunion.  You don’t point out anything to this young woman.  If you do you’re being “accusatory”, “mean”, and “unfair”.  Marie finally got one hour for the family to visit–lunch at a restaurant on the day when her son’s family would be on their way out of town, and not many of the family were going to be able to make it–work schedules etc.  She was supposed to be happy with that, and stop being “accusatory” and “unfair”.  Marie now feels guilty for “once again sabotaging our relationship” (according to the daughter in law), and really guilty for feeling so angry.  Well, I have to be careful how I talk to Marie, after all she’s MY daughter in law, but I feel for her, and I want more than anything to absolve her of her guilt.  Its her daughter in law who is being unfair, and then trying to deflect that fact by criticizing Marie.  I hope Marie will figure out that no one can make you feel guilty–you make yourself feel guilty.  Often, you’re too hard on yourself.  I know Marie was taught it was wrong to be angry.  I wish I could absolve her of that right now.  A person initially feels anger because in some way they have been hurt.  Marie was treated very unfairly, it hurt, and the anger is just a symptom that things are wrong in the situation.  I hope Marie will stand up to D-in-L one day soon, and I REALLY wish Marie’s son would stand up for his mom–just once.  One of these days Nonni will have to speak some elder wisdom into the whole situation, unless they can figure it out on their own.  They should.


Reasons I Believe in God part 2

July 4, 2008

When we were young married people, my husband changed jobs to work for the government.  At the end of the first month, no paycheck arrived.  Fixing the mixup took much longer than expected, and our checkbook balance became critically low.  It was Christmas time, and we longed to travel to visit family for the holiday.  However, we had no money for travel or for gifts.  I asked God if He wouldn’t do something to speed up my husband’s pay so that we could be with family for Christmas.  We got our mail the week before Christmas and one of the envelopes contained a refund on our mortgage–the bank had collected too much for estimated taxes!  It was more than enough to have a Christmas to remember, and upon returning home, the belated paycheck was waiting!

Will We Ever Understand Everything?

July 4, 2008

Someone commented recently, and I can’t remember where I saw it, that this generation feels entitled to answers to everything.  Our scientific progress has been so great we now just expect we should be able to understand it all.  If we don’t understand it today, it just needs more research, and we’ll surely understand it soon.  We think we can get it all figured out, and then we will replicate what is there, and do it even better our way.  We are, as I’ve said before in another post, in our adolescence as a civilization.  Teenagers master electronic gadgetry better than their parents, and then assume they know more than their parents about everything–never mind the wisdom that comes with age and experience.  Humankind is in much the same stage today.  We just assume we will comprehend the what and how of everything, and we’re much smarter than humans have ever been.  What if we’re wrong?  What if our brains are of an eventually limited capacity and we begin to discover things we can’t understand?  We are so arrogant, shaking our fingers at God, and demanding He explain himself to us, or pounding our chests saying everything is explainable without Him, so He probably doesn’t even exist.  As humans, we haven’t yet reached the age and experience level where our wisdom kicks in.  We haven’t yet realized how much we don’t know, don’t understand, and maybe never will understand.

Along a similar train of thought, is the faulting of God for human suffering.  People say “I can’t believe in a God who would allow these things to happen, so I don’t believe in God at all.” When I was young, this was where faith stepped in, and I just stubbornly clung to the idea that God was more vast than I could understand, and somehow He knew what was best even if it looked all wrong to me.  Then I became a parent and two things happened.  One of our children required surgery, and the child was old enough to comprehend there would be pain and to be scared.  And that child said to me “Don’t let them do it if you love me.”  Now this surgery would save the child from future disability, but he couldn’t comprehend that, and it broke my heart.  Another time our baby had to have a procedure done that would be potentially lifesaving, and I cried in the hallway as the baby cried in the room.  I thought I could understand then, something of how a God of love hears these questions of “why”.  When the child suffers and is incapable of understanding the reason, and you are a loving parent, you cry too.  And when your rebellious young adult child who “knows it all” starts climbing “fools hill”, and you just know what they will suffer because they won’t listen–you cry again.


Random Thoughts on Mothers Day

May 11, 2008


I’m so thankful for the great gift of getting to be a mother.  I always wanted children, and could imagine the grief I should feel if I couldn’t have them.  It’s a very strange time we live in, when so many women do not have children, and those that do are not particularly respected.  Incredibly, the privilege of staying home with small children is treated by this society as akin to being some kind of loafer—as though caring for children means spending one’s days on the couch watching television.  As a society, we are so removed from children and their needs, many people spend days and weeks and months without even having close contact with a child. 


In ancient times children were highly desired by women.  A mother’s love was unquestioned.  The Jewish prophet Isaiah asked “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?”  In his time the answer was obviously “no.”  In this culture we see mothers uncaring of their children’s needs, but that is a sign of a dying culture.  Normally, throughout the ages, a mother’s love has been known as the highest, most generous and most trustworthy love.  And so, the prophet goes on to say (speaking for God)  “though even if that should be possible, I won’t forget you.  I have tattooed your name on the palm of my hand.”


I am grateful for the insight that the mothering experience gives me into the heart of God.  I have experienced that feeling of  “lioness” protectiveness toward my children, of concern for their wellbeing, of never being able to forget them, of wanting to know they are safe and well.  I have also experienced the broken-heartedness of letting them go their own way—sometimes because they had to go, and sometimes because they were defiant, self-centered, and totally uncaring toward their mother’s feelings.  I think of the times  I’ve lived life “my way”, totally uncaring toward the God who made me.  Not until I came to be a mother was I able to understand how I could break the heart of God by my callousness towards Him.


Cultures come and cultures go.  Ours is a callous culture for the most part, but mother love will last, and it will come back into vogue.  Otherwise, the human race won’t survive.  One thing in favor of it—the women who really want children will be the ones who have them, and mother love will live on.


May 5, 2008

No one is beyond God’s power to change their life.  Therefore, don’t freeze them where they are right now in your thoughts.  Forgive and never stop seeing them as God intends them to be.  And do the same for yourself.  Stop looking back and continue to hope that God will never stop His work in you until you are complete in all He intended for you.

Secondary Gains

April 15, 2008

Back in the dark ages when I worked in mental health, we didn’t have all the pharmaceuticals we have today, and relied a lot more on inpatient hospitalization and psychotherapy of various kinds.  One of the rather interesting concepts was the concept of “secondary gain”.  Some people, unconsciously, or perhaps consciously had something to gain by being “a mental patient”.  Sometimes the psychiatrists could weed out people who were “playing crazy”.  What were the secondary gains?  Oftentimes it was a release from some intolerable living situation.  It might be huge expectations on a person they felt they could never meet.  It might be a career they had spent many years preparing for and then found they hated.  It might be a wildly dysfunctional family.  It might just be that the expectations for the person’s success in life, (their own or their family’s) was more than they ever felt they could live up to.  It might be the marriage from hell.  In all these cases, being “mentally ill” released the person from the burden of the expectations.  They couldn’t be expected to continue what they were doing, and it wasn’t their fault—they were ill.  I think its still a useful concept in some situations.  When somebody you love is doing something “crazy” or dysfunctional, something that makes no sense, or seems to be self defeating, ask yourself whether there is a secondary gain.  It may help you understand the person better, and perhaps eventually help them find a more rewarding way to deal with life.