Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Fifth Way to Draw Your Family Together - Cry Together

(This past week I received three emails from this blog announcing new posts including a post from last December. I have no idea what caused it, except that I am working on my iPad mini from Germany where I am helping my daughter with the birth of their first child. If you did as well, I am so sorry.)

Before you click away from this post because you don't want to cry--or what I actually mean, suffer--with your family, give me a second to explain!

Remember that vacation when you missed your flight and your suitcase didn't arrive? The day when your toilet overflowed on your guests in the middle of the night and they couldn't find you because you had changed rooms with your son and his wife? When your car overheated in the middle of the Utah Salt Flats in the days before cellphones? When the four hour hike turned into an eight hour odyssey without a trail? These are all vivid memories in my mind and great bonding experiences I had with family and friends...we just didn't know it at the time that we were drawing closer. That takes about three weeks.

Think about it. Anytime things have gone "wrong" you have special memories and laughs with the people who were with you. 

Then think about true suffering: a broken arm in the wilderness, rushing through the night to the hospital with a parent having a stroke, a doctor saying, "malignant", a miscarried pregnancy, or the loss of a loved one. We have done these as well. If you are willing to go through this with others, to weep with those who weep, you will have a relationship bound in the way no other can be.

I have come to believe that there are (at least) five ways you can draw closer to people and families can become closer to each other. I'm going to talk about the final one in this post, and have four other posts you can read on the others. They are: 

In the first post in this series, Be Together, I told about a sleep over I had when I was about 32 with four other women between 25 and 40 or so. The reason that I did that was I wanted us to have some common suffering. A camping trip is a perfect opportunity for this: uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, collapsing tents, rain, animals, fires that won't start...but as I explained, camping wasn't possible, so we slept together on my living room floor and only endured a little loss of sleep and an uncomfortable hardwood floor.

Other than a camping trip, or an Outward Bound experience, it's hard to plan suffering. And while I don't think you need to intentionally plan to forget your sleeping bags when you are camping at 8000 feet, I don't think we need stress about providing idyllic circumstances for our families either.  Of all my kids' birthday parties, the one we remember most is when it was pouring rain outside so all our games suddenly had to become indoor games, and just as we were about to start one, the gutter suddenly overflowed into the living room, making our wall a waterscape. One of the six year old boys looked at it and said, "Cool!" That was definitely not what I was thinking at that moment! But my husband was there and said, "Take the boys to the patio to play the games and I will work on this." 

Two reasons that is a great memory: A little boy helped me see a different side of things, and we worked together to still make it a fun birthday party rather than reacting in anger. 

When it comes to crying or suffering or things just going wrong I think what we need to work on most is our reaction to the situation. 

Ask God to help you train yourself to:

  • Not Overreact - This includes anger, fear, and panic. So you forgot the sheets at the couples' retreat at a camp that does not provide bedding except blankets. Improvise and do not blame one another, even if it is their fault. This helps no one.  You find yourself in a  potentially dangerous situation, pray out loud, "Lord protect us!" But starting to scream will probably not help anyone.
  • To Make the Best of it - Without sheets at that retreat, we took our bunk beds and rattled them against the wall so everyone would think we were having a great time! We laughed and  then we covered ourselves with the blankets and slept. 
  • See the funny side - Remember Chrystalla and I in the tent sharing a sleeping bag while a Frenchman told us in heavily accented English to please go to sleep? The whole situation struck us as ludicrous and we laughed. We can laugh (now) about our living room waterscape birthday party and the time we rounded a mountain curve in Colombia to be greeted by a band of camophlage wearing, gun-toting men. Military or FARC (a terrorist group)? After the men were patted down we were told to go straight down the mountain by the army who said this was a militarized zone and we had no business being there, our laughter was nervous, but now it is (almost) a fond memory.
Let me tell you about the best trip our family ever took. My husband had a dream of visiting all the Emmaus Course offices in Spanish speaking South bus. We flew to Chile and then over to Argentina and from there came by bus in pieces through Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, the whole length of Peru, and Ecuador before flying home to Colombia. The trip lasted six weeks and our three youngest children were with us and we're 13, 17, and 18. 

We were at turns, fascinated, exhausted, hungry, cold, hot, thrilled, interested, bored, meeting new people, staying with people we'd never met, seeing new sights, dealing with new cultures, always looking out for one another, vigilante for pickpockets, on buses, in cars, walking, on horses, in a 22 hour school-bus-like ride through the freezing Chaco desert, on boats, in ancient taxis, in motto-taxis, in snow, in the Bolivian hot low-lands, on the Ecuadorian Pacific coast, puffing at 11,000 feet in La Paz, and exploring ancient Incan sites in Peru, in a light plane over the Nazca lines, and in meetings, meetings, meetings, until our children could quote along with Dad some of the statistics and illustrations he would use to inspire people to study the Bible with Emmaus courses. 

The best moment for me? After we had been home a couple of weeks we were excitedly telling some friends about the trip and the mother asked, "Didn't you get tired of being together so much?" I held my breath waiting to hear what my kids would say. After a moment of silence they said, almost shocked, "No! It was the best trip ever! It was like us against the world!"

Of course, it is different if your situation is the death, or impending death, of a loved one. But face it and allow your children to face it. Glossing over it, does not help them deal with life when Mom and Dad cannot protect them from the ups and downs that are a part of life. Life can be sad, hard, disappointing, and rigorous. Walk through it together. Even the death of a loved one can turn into a time of fond reminiscing about their life, tears for your loss, and even reconciliation between estranged family and friends who all loved the same person. Seek these things.

All this  will draw your family together in ways you cannot imagine. Don't be afraid to walk through them hand in hand looking for the good.

To read more on this secret to a close family, here is a link to an article by Gary Smalley who got me thinking along these lines and helped me develop my thinking on this whole series of how to draw together. 
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How has suffering drawn your family together?

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  1. Thanks for sharing some "food for thought" at the Healthy Living Link Party!
    Blessings, Leigh

  2. I am trying to wean My kids off their devices and we have a family game night once a week to knit us together as a family



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