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As For Me and My House: A Home of Music

April 26, 2010

Music has always played a significant role in my life. My dad was the song leader at several of my first churches and always sang in the shower and made up little diddies around the house. They encouraged me to explore music from a young age–I was in choir at the age of 6–and accompanied me to concerts and recitals throughout grade school. My love for music is largely due to my parents’ encouragement.

Dad said that he always wanted a son who loved music. Likewise, Katie (quite the musician herself) and I dream of our own home of music.

I’m in month four of teaching myself guitar, and whenever I get a full-time job, we’ll pursue getting a piano. I hope to become proficient in both instruments by the age of 30 for professional reasons (I’d like to pursue a PhD in music therapy) and familial reasons. I envision our children taking naps or playing and exploring while I sing and play over them. We hope our children will be attracted to corporate worship for some of the same reasons we are: communal song and praise. Katie and I visited one of her housemates in Cardiff in 2008 and spent about two hours with her family playing piano, bongo, and singing; we dream of having similar musical nights with our family.

I don’t necessarily believe that introducing our children will make them smarter or more mature; there’s conflicting research regarding the correlation between early musical exposure and accelerated intelligence in children. On the one hand, according to Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music, musical training increases efficiency and functionality in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain (shown neurologically through larger frontal sections of the corpus callosum) and are able to process information better due to stronger axons and dendrites in their cerebellums. On the other hand, some researchers hypothesize a connection to extended exposure of audio/visual-centered media (such as Baby Einstein) and ADHD. Even if there was a connection between early exposure to music in infants and children and intelligence, I would deem that a poor reason to have a musical home.

Katie and I dream of a musical home because that’s who we are. Musical involvement has taught us about dedication and hard work; we obtained our level of musicianship through hours of practicing and studying. Music allows us to express ourselves emotionally through performing and listening. Music invites us to create, either by adding a variation to a theme or by constructing something completely new and undiscovered. We dream of giving our children the ability to experience a gamut of emotions, imagine and process their evolving reality, and create community (both with us and with like-minded friends) by providing a house of music.

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As For Me and My House: A Home of Memories

April 26, 2010

In her New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes, “One piece of wisdom that didn’t resonate with me initially was the importance of keeping happy memories vivid. But as I mulled over this principle, I realized the tremendous value of mementos that help prompt positive memories. Studies show that recalling happy times helps boost happiness in the present. When people reminisce, they focus on positive memories, with the result that recalling the past amplifies the positive and minimizes the negative. However, because people remember events better when they fit with their present mood, happy people remember happy events better, and depressed people remember sad events better. Depressed people have as many nice expressions as other people–they just don’t recall them as well” (p. 101).

Second, Katie and I dream of creating a house of memories.

We’ve utilized the digital age to transcribe significant events and people in previous aspects of our lives. Katie has thousands of photos from her study abroad semester in 2004 and her Masters program at Oxford in 2007-08, and has made several scrapbooks documenting the verdant scenery and her incredible students and housemates. I’ve made several amateur films for my MFT cohort, including hilarious skits, random goofiness in the office, and parting words and blessings from each classmate. We hope to bless our children by taking pictures of their first steps, home videos of their first words and songs, and collages and scrapbooks of family vacations, sporting events, concerts, prom dates, and other significant events in the lives of our children.

Although I promised Katie I wouldn’t be like this father with my film-making exploits.

Gretchen also discusses the importance of family rituals and traditions. I’ve mentioned on this blog some of the rituals that Katie and I have, such as giving hugs and blowing kisses before leaving for work and after arriving at home. We dream of sharing some of those daily rituals and reminders of love with our children. We hope to come to the table each evening to share a meal and talk about our days. We want to synchronize family rituals with the religious and societal calendar; I’m curious to see how we participate with our children in Lent and Advent and how our children understand and take joy from Christmas (both in receiving/giving gifts and welcoming our Savior) and Easter. We dream of teaching our children our favorite games and pray that we have the awareness and flexibility to create and imagine new games with our children.

What are some of your family traditions/rituals that have created positive, happy, nurturing memories?

As For Me and My House: A Home of Stories

April 24, 2010

Starting today and continuing until Wednesday, in response to the April chapter in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I wanted to share some of the dreams that Katie and I have for our family in ten years; specifically, these next five posts will discuss five characteristics and themes we desire for our household.

First, we want our house to be a home of stories.

Stories encapsulate a sense of identity. One of my fondest memories at home was the “Jeremiah story”, where Mom and Dad would tell me about the circumstances leading to my adoption and the first time they laid eyes on me and brought me home. This story taught me that I was loved and cherished immensely; I learned that I was special through this story, and we hope to impress upon our children their importance, uniqueness, and value through similar, personal stories.

I took the title of this series from Joshua 24. The book of Joshua describes the difficulties that the Israelites had in fully serving and trusting God despite God’s efforts to establish Israel as a nation. Shortly before his death, Joshua brings the Israelites to Shechem and tells stories of God’s selection of Abraham, deliverance of Israel through Moses, and protection of Israel as they wandered in the desert. These stories connect the Israelites with God, and in verse 15, he gives the Israelites the option of identifying with God’s story. God says, “This is who you are. Choose me, and this is who I will make you into.” We want our children to identify with God through the stories we tell.

Stories spark creativity and imagination. We want to invite our children into the imaginative works, visualizations, and styles of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. We want our children to explore the fascinating, complex worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. We dream of our children placing themselves in first century Israel or early 20th century Prince Edward Island and interacting with the characters in those settings. We look forward to our children reading books about science that motivate them to test and experiment with their understandings of the world. We envision our children using stories we read and introduce to them as foundations for their own stories and replications of creativity.

Stories guide us through life. They represent internal conflicts that we face every day; we hope that our children find comfort reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and asking us to tell stories of trying times in our own lives. They represent the people we long to be and characteristics we long to have; we hope that our children are influenced by the love and perseverance of Meg in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Triology and generosity of The Giving Tree as well as stories of people who have loved, formed, and shaped me and Katie.

What stories (literary or personal) have been influential in your home?

As For Me and My House: Prologue

April 23, 2010

I’m continuing to read Gretchen Rubin’s New York Times best-seller, The Happiness Project, and reflect on Gretchen’s thoughts and suggestions on my blog. This month, Gretchen writes about stress-reducing activities and cognitions to bring additional happiness to parenthood.

There were several difficulties I had while processing this chapter. First, it’s incredibly difficult to conceptualize happiness when it coexists with a concoction of anxiety, fear, and sadness (and a wealth of other emotions parents experience). Parenting appears to be a difficult, tiring, conflict-producing, stressful task; it’s no coincidence that more couples divorce between years 6-8 of their marriage (generally, the beginning of parenthood) than any other time period.

Gretchen evaluates the tension of increasing happiness through a stressful process with the following (from pg. 91-92):

“In many ways, the happiness of having children falls into the kind of happiness that could be called fog happiness. Fog is elusive. Fog surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere, but when you try to examine it, it vanishes. Fog happiness is the kind of happiness you get from activities that, closely examined, don’t really seem to bring much happiness at all–yet somehow they do.

Many activities that I consider enjoyable aren’t much fun while they’re happening–or ahead of time of afterward. Throwing a party. Giving a performance. Writing. When I stop to analyze my emotions during the various stages of these activities, I see procrastination, dread, anxiety, annoyance at having to do errands and busywork, etc. Yet these activities undoubtedly make me ‘happy’. And so it is with raising children. At any one time, the negative may swamp the positive, and I might wish I were doing something else. Nevertheless, the experience of having children gives me tremendous fog happiness. It surrounds me; I see it everywhere, despite the fact that when I zoom in on any particular moment, it can be hard to identify.”

This metaphor brought hope and peace, and allowed me to ask, in any situation (parenting or otherwise), “How do I recognize and identify happiness in the fog?”

The second difficulty I had while conceptualizing this chapter stems from the fact that I am not a parent. Amusingly, I’ve taught a parenting class before, using material used in positive reinforcement practicums such as 123 Magic. I could lead deep philosophical conversations about setting boundaries and rules for the house, rewarding, and punishing your child. But my knowledge of parenting is strictly theoretical. At this point, all Katie and I can do is dream.

We aren’t ready to have kids, but we want them at some point in the future. Over the next week, I wanted to share some of our dreams of what our home will look like in ten years. These thoughts won’t be parenting skills that we’ll employ, such as whether or not we’ll spank our kids; rather, I want to imagine how our home will be. I want to think about the gifts and characteristics that Katie and I share and those that are unique to us and dream about designing a household according to those passions and unique traits.

In helping to kick off this series, I want to ask this question: “What are some important themes, symbols, and/or unifying activities that identify/represent your household?”

Rules and Identity: Part II–The Church

April 21, 2010

Yesterday, I discussed an article from K. Gillett and company in April 2009’s Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (p. 159-174); Gillett and his colleagues suggest that implicit family rules, messages that form from the ethics that the family unit and family members strive to accomplish, help create the identities of children. Generally speaking, families who express love and compassion towards one another shape secure, hospitable identities in their children, and families who express hostility and criticism towards one another shape confused, wounded identities. The authors explore the population of eating-disordered clients and determine that most of their families of origin had implicit rules of controlled, restricted, and/or critical patterns of communication, helping to create identities of self-doubt, which manifested in all-or-nothing behaviors such as extreme levels of conformity and perfection.

I want to juxtapose this article with Sunday’s discussion at Highland. We’re in a series about communicating with culture, and Richard Beck asked, using the second and third chapters of Revelation, “What would the angel to the Highland church say?”

Richard explains that one of the manifestations of spiritual warfare is how we respond to the implicit rules of society. For example, he discussed Highland’s response to its leadership’s study on women’s roles in the church; by the way, short version, between 6-8 years ago, Highland’s elders underwent an intensive study on the roles of women in the church assembly and concluded that they should have a more expanded role in corporate worship. Highland lost several hundred people within the next 12-18 months after that decision was made. Richard talked a bit about our nation’s consumer mentality and how that manifests itself in church shopping. He then noted, quite a few people who were opposed to this decision stayed at Highland anyway because they were committed to this family and its vision. “How un-American is that?” Richard pondered.

Richard’s wife, Jana, then spoke about a conversation she had with several people at last weekend’s family retreat. Jana talked about how often we is that we forget or don’t know people’s names and how that restricts us from creating community. We fear that people will perceive us as insensitive or arrogant, so instead of risking that, we avoid people whose names we don’t know/have forgotten all together. We also fear (sometimes justifiably) that someone will be offended if we say the wrong name or admit that we don’t know their name. Jana challenged us to boldly approach those whose names we don’t know and say some equivalent of, “I’m sorry, I’m absolutely terrible with names, please remind me yours,” and also to be gracious towards those who have forgotten/mis-said our names.

This may seem like a little thing, as Jana kept reminding us, but it’s not. For one thing, our names are a microcosm of our identity; a host of descriptors and traits (good and bad) accompany my name when it’s said. But more importantly, our church environment seems to place an expectation of personal holiness and perfection so that it’s taboo to make a mistake in church. I mean, we’re already evaluating the performance of the preacher, the quality of the praise team’s/worship band’s sound, right? (And let me say that there’s a difference between admitting past mistakes, through testimonies and whatnot, and making mistakes during corporate worship.) Going to someone and admit that you are currently forgetting a part of their identity, their name, and asking graciously for it is humbling. It’s counter-cultural. It goes against the implicit rules of the church and creates openness and community. It forms you spiritually.

So, in following yesterday’s questions, what are some implicit rules of the church that inhibits family communication and understanding?

Rules and Identity: Part I–The Individual

April 20, 2010

Sorry that I’ve been away from the blog for awhile. The last few weeks have been an absolute blur, filled with retreats, friends leaving, interviewing and the question of the future location of me and Katie, disengaged students, and so forth.

I’m trying to get back into professional literature, especially as I plan for upcoming interviews. One of the joys of living in Abilene is my access to Abilene’s library consortium, and specifically, the availability of thousands of professional journals. I came across an article this morning from April’s Journal of Marital and Family Therapy concerning implicit family rules and eating-disordered clients and families. (Courtesy to K. Gillett and company for their outstanding research.)

As a postmodern family therapist with interests in social construction, I’m especially intrigued by the messages that children and adolescents receive from their parents; I believe that children create a schema–a set of rules–that helps them construct normalcy for future interactions with groups of people, particularly as they marry and start their own families.

The title of this article suggests a distinction between “implicit” family rules and “explicit” family rules. I would imagine, though I have no research to support this, that few families get together and define a set of family rules. In fact, I would imagine that most of the explicit family rules are created on the fly; for example, I loved to run and play imaginary sports in the house, and in order to protect from injury to self/other things/people, my mom created “No running” and “No throwing balls in the house” rules. Nevertheless, my mom told me what the rules were, and I had the choice of following them or facing consequences.

The authors of this article suggest that unwritten family rules form “as a result of redundant interactions that govern family members’ behaviors” (p. 163).  This isn’t necessarily a critique; parents who speak kindly to each other and express compassion and hospitality to others create a self-perpetuating schema for their children: if love is modeled in the home, chances are children will express similar displays of love to their friends and future families. However, some families are critical, domineering and coercive, and operate out of triangulation, where a family member relies on another family member to release anxiety rather than confronting the third family member, the one with whom the first member has the problem with in the first place. These families have dysfunctional communication patterns, distanced family members, stunted personal growth, and, in time, fractured relationships.

As a result of their research, they focused on two distinct set of constraining implicit rules: implicit rules that control, and implicit rules that perpetuate shame. Implicit rules of control can have two manifestations: coerciveness from the parental hierarchy, where children learn not to express their thoughts at the risk of physical/emotional repercussions, and self-restriction, where children learn to be in control of self at all times, also at the risk of similar repercussions. Children can also perceive rules that promote shame in self and family, such as “Pretend to be someone you’re not,” and “Don’t trust yourself or your abilities,” through constant patterns of criticism and chaos.

Identity is transcribed largely through a child’s interaction with the construction and consequences of following/not following explicit and implicit family rules. For example, I learned to be quite cautious and perfectionistic as a child due to implicit, legalistic rules and fear of consequences for breaking them. The writers suggest that the population of this study, eating-disordered clients, respond to implicit rules by creating their identity and reality in extreme ways, such as high conformity, fear of change and risk-taking, and restricting levels of self-control.

I want to tie some of these thoughts to Sunday’s discussion by Richard and Jana Beck at Highland in my next post. But for now, I want to propose this set of questions:

When you reflect on your family of origin, what was an implicit rule that you observed? Remember, these rules weren’t openly discussed, but they still dictated the pace and level of communication within the family. Also, how was your identity shaped through the construction of and consequence of following/not following this rule?

Easter Thoughts from Bono

April 4, 2010

We had an amazing Easter service today at Highland, made especially touching by Val singing “Arise My Love” in the middle of the service and getting to serve communion to hundreds of familiar and unfamiliar faces at the front of the auditorium.

Easter falls this year on April 4; 42 years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. I couldn’t help juxtaposing these words by one of my favorite theologians, Paul Hewson (aka Bono), this morning as we sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, and “Worthy is the Lamb.”

One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come here to justify
One man to overthrow
In the name of love!
One man in the name of love
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!

One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resists
One man washed on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss

In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!

Nobody like you…there’s nobody like you…

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love…

Jesus, and the equality, justice, and love that He stood for, is risen. He is risen indeed.