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The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen

The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen I am a lover of words, Jesus, and His church. I am also a wife, a mom, and a friend. I hope you'll consider me yours...

Family Night

"Sometimes you have to go back to boot camp."  My friends words were spoken with a laugh, but the truth of them rang in my ears. 

She was speaking about her children.  About their tendency to drift from the family's boundaries and push the envelope.  About the need to come back to basics and remind children what we do, what we don't do, and why.  We love each other.  We speak kindly to each other.  We use our manners.  We don't eat things that come from our nose.  The real basics. 

That's boot camp.  And we just had one of those seasons in our house.

I felt it coming on for a while.  With a move to a new city this summer, there was just so much that was new and different that it was easy to lose sight of those basics.  Except my kids are old enough not to need the nose talk.  It was basics of a different sort, and it was probably more for the parents than the kids.

Because if you're not diligent, not careful to guard the state of your flock, you can look up and realize that all the things you put in place when your kids were young to help them grow spiritually and emotionally have slipped into the busyness of the details of life.  And the protective boundaries you had set to guard your family from the parasites that eat away at the health of your relationships have given way to too much technology, too much noise, and just too much.

So, it was time to go back to boot camp.  And for us, that meant reinstating family night.  A sacred weekly tradition we had held for many years, but had slowly let fade to monthly and then occasionally and then we can't remember when.

But, it's back, and it's back so good.  It's not fancy.  It's not complicated.  It's not overly spiritual.  It's just time together that is absolutely set in stone and doesn't get moved by anything on mom's schedule, dad's schedule, or the school's schedule.  Everyone in the house has been informed that this is going to happen, and anything that needs to be planned for in advance or changed or moved or deleted in order for it to happen, that better happen, too.

There may have been some expectation on the parents' end that this proclamation would be met with some resistance, but it wasn't.  We are three months in to family night boot camp and haven't missed a single week.  Every one of our teenagers have made the shift, and now Fridays may be my favorite day, but Tuesday is my favorite night.

Tuesday night is tacos around the table.  It's a new board game.  It's a walk to our favorite custard shop.  It's jammies and s'mores on the back patio.  It's watching a food network show while we eat frozen pizza.  It's a round of charades or hide and seek in the dark.  It's a bike ride. 

It's just time.  Whatever it takes to have time to look each other in the eye and laugh and remember why we are each other's best friends.

Three months in, and this is by far the best boot camp this family has ever had.  Especially since we haven't had a single nose discussion.





What To Do When You Disagree With A Fellow Believer

"MOM!!!!" 

I always knew that particular sound.  The one that said someone was angry.  It might be that someone stepped on his feelings, it might just be that someone stepped on his cookie, but he wasn't happy.  It was an angry brother.

And when my boys were young and prone to disagreements, I was hearing that angry cry far too often and became a little desperate in looking for a way to help them move past their differences and celebrate the sheer fact that they were brothers.  I often tried lecturing, but I knew they really didn't need to hear a lot of preaching.  They knew everything I was trying to tell them already, they just didn't want to do it in the heat of being wronged.  I needed something else.

And that's how it was born.  A simple tactic, really, but it seemed like it was magic in how effective it was.  First, I would make them stop. 

"Just stop what you're doing and look at each other."  This was usually followed by unhappy stares, but also silence, so that was a win.

"Now, put your arms around each other."  This would be followed by grumpy grunts, with chubby arms stretching to circle around someone's midsection.

"Okay, repeat after me."  Silence.

"I like you."  Sometimes a pause, but eventually two voices in unison, "I like you."

"I love you."  Another pause, followed by, "I love you."

"I highly respect you."  Getting faster now.  "I highly respect you."

"I greatly esteem you."  I'm not sure they even knew what this word meant when we started, but they figured out by context it wasn't the slam they were wanting to give.  "I greatly esteem you."

"And I think you smell good."  And that's where it worked.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Because when you're a pre-school boy, you just instinctively know that not only does your brother decidedly not smell good, you don't either.  So somehow, saying those words produced giggles and guffaws and sheepish faces.  And after the shared laughter, there was some kind of bond, some grubby little olive branch that helped them move past the offense.

Granted, we still sat down and hashed things out when they needed to be, but this simple act put it all in perspective.  We are family.  We don't just love each other because we have to, we like each other and we respect each other.  We speak to each other with honor.

And in this tense political season, with harsh words flying all around our culture's airwaves, I find myself wanting to have a family meeting with other followers of Jesus Christ.  Because we are family.  And even when we disagree, we shouldn't be grudging with our affection.  Jesus calls us to a much higher level of accountability than that.

In fact, his words were "love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12)  And I am so grateful that my Jesus didn't love me begrudgingly, holding out his affection and respect for me until I towed the line in every aspect.  If He had waited until my thoughts were in perfect alignment with His before He allowed Himself to esteem me, or even like me, I would still be lonely and afraid apart from Him.

But, instead, He took me as I was.  And He loved me in the most honoring way any person could love another.  He gave His life for me.

And so, if I could call that huge family meeting for Christ's brothers and sisters, I'd make them put their arms around each other and look each other in the eye.  I'd remind them that no one group has it all figured out.  There's always places where we don't yet smell so great.  But, it doesn't mean we won't.  And it doesn't mean we should be treated without honor while we search for the bubble bath.

"I like you.  I love you.  I highly respect you.  I greatly esteem you.  And I think you smell good---it must be the fragrance of Christ."  (2 Corinthians 2:15)



Next

My son is home from college on his fall break.  He brought a friend home with him who needed a place to stay, since he lives across the globe and can't fly back for the few short days of break in the school routine.  It's been good to have them here, sleeping until almost noon and eating all of our food.  Evidently it's really exhausting being a college freshman.


But, what I've loved most is listening to these guys talk and plan for the future.  Next semester's classes.  Next summer's mission trips.  What comes next, after college.


They're in such an exciting time in life.  The time where "next" is wide open and could contain anything.  Nothing is set in stone and nothing is impossible.  And yes, "next" is a little scary, too, since it's wide open and could contain anything.  But, judging from these men's faces, it's more exciting than scary.


And that's where I pause.  Because somewhere in life, excitement for next has a habit of turning into playing it safe.  And playing it safe makes a cozy nest of comfort that becomes hard to leave when it's time to climb the next mountain of next.  And if you choose not to climb the mountain, you become a settler in the village of almost and maybe later.  And if you stay too long in a village like that, you lose it all.  You lose all sense of zest and wonder over what's on the other side of the mountain.  You lose your joy for the journey itself.


If that's where you are right now, I wish I could box up that tangible sense of next that's been permeating my kitchen table between the hours of noon and midnight this last week.  I wish I could  wrap it, add a shiny gift tag, and ship it to you today.  But, that's the thing, isn't it?  Next can't come from someone else.  It can only come from the deep places.  The places that make you who you are.  The places you dream about and share only with those you feel safe.  The places you long for, but sometimes can't even find language to give them shape.


Yet, longings have a way of making themselves known, and so they come out in expressions of joy, bursts of happy that rise up when we see our feet leaving the village and heading toward the mountain trail.  The deep satisfaction that occurs when our lives intersect with purpose that is bigger than the running of errands and writing of checks.  


Frederick Buechner writes, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." 


And in the very reading of those words, there is a stirring, isn't there?  A sense of beckoning to find the trail that leads over the mountain to the place of your gladness.  To the place where you can pioneer a new village, one that will be a refuge for the weary travelers who come behind you, filling their hunger with good things and helping them find their own deep gladness. 


A place where regret for the years of settling in the village fades away with one question.


What's next?







Revolutionary

More than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people were waiting and watching for their war hero.  The one who would redeem them from Roman rule and free them to be a nation unto themselves.  They were looking for a revolutionary. 

And they got Him.  Just not the one they were expecting.

Because Jesus didn't come to fight wars against flesh and blood.  He came to break His flesh and spill His blood so that all men can be free from the rule of sin.

All men. 

And all women.

Because if there was any area in which Jesus revolutionized the culture He lived in, it was in the way He interacted with women.  When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her she had been chosen to carry the Son of God, that slip of a girl didn't have a voice in her own culture.  She had virtually no rights in the eyes of the law and very few in the eyes of her spiritual leaders.  She was a small piece of the lowest class in her world, not just because of the financial status she was born into, but simply because she was born a woman.

And yet, she was the first person God invited to the baby shower of His only child.

And there were many others.  So many women who got an invitation.  Wealthy women like Mary and Martha and Joanna.  Demon possessed women like Mary Magdalene.  Poor women like the widows of Nain and Zerapheth, the woman with the issue of blood, a crippled woman bent double, and a forgotten woman holding two pennies.  Little girls like Jairus' daughter.  And old women like Peter's mother in law.  Even women the world passionately despised, like the one caught in adultery who was drug to the town square to be stoned until Jesus stepped in.

Women from all walks of life.  He saw them all.  And His eyes saw past their physical appearance to their needs and to their worth. 

For thirty-three years, He showed the world how a man is to treat a woman.  He never shamed them.  He never demeaned them.  He never treated them with anything other than honor.

My Jesus, a revolutionary.  The One who is still issuing invitations to every woman in the world.  The One who hears and the One who sees every single little girl, the ones known and the ones forgotten, the ones who are treasured and the ones thrown away.

My Jesus, a healer.  The One who has taken the sin of mankind upon His shoulders, so that the wounds of women and the wounds of men can be healed.

My Jesus, a king.  The One who will make all things new.







My Favorite Day


After 20 years of marriage, my husband and I have recently had a new experience.   A weekly day all to ourselves.  Technically, I guess it’s not completely new.  There were those 16 months we had alone before our first baby was born.  But, that’s been so long ago, we can’t remember much about them.  And after years of pre-schoolers and homeschoolers, we now have all of our kids in school and also have the same day off from work. 

Fridays.  Fridays are the new Christmas.

Because that’s what it feels like.  A gift!  Every single week.  An entire day of coffee, gym time, errands, lunch, laundry, naps, yard work.  It doesn’t really matter what we do.  It’s just a gift to have an entire day to be together.   To talk if we want to talk.  To not talk if we want silence.  To just be, even if we need to get things done.  To be together.

And I believe we consider it a gift because those moments have been rare while raising four kids.  Not that I begrudge one moment of the crazy and the chaos of a big family.  I just appreciate the stillness when it comes, and appreciate it even more when the man I fell in love with is in the same room with me.

And the most joyful part of Fridays?  Realizing we still love being in the same room.  Even after all these years of working in the same office and growing the kids in the same house, I like having him around.  Another gift.  Being alone with someone and still liking them.

Every Monday, I already look forward to Friday.

And it occurred to me sometime today that there is someone who feels that same way about me.  Someone who loves our alone time.  Someone who counts down the days until we can be together, just me and Him.  Someone who still likes me, even though He’s known me for forty years.  Someone who hasn’t even once gotten bored with me.

In this moment, I could listen to the guilty musings that I don’t return His affection properly.  I could meditate on all the time wasted on trivial distractions instead of in His presence.  And I could try to fix it with checklists and schedules.

Or I could just let Him woo me.  Like a wife responding to the husband who adores her and wants to spend the day with her.  I could turn from the crazy and the chaos and enter into the place where He is.  And the place where He is waiting to be. 

To be with me.


 A list of discussion topics for your time alone with your spouse, or maybe even for your time alone with the One who loves you most:

* What is a dream you have for you?

* What is a dream you have for us?

* What is your favorite memory of us?

* What is the most beautiful place we’ve ever been together?

* Where would you most like to go together in the future?

* Why do you like me?

* Who do I remind you of?

* How would you most like to spend a day together, if money or location was not an obstacle?  (Then make plans to get as close as you can to your dream, even if it means substituting a local landmark for the Eiffel Tower.)





Embracing It All

I define the words "hopeless romantic."  It doesn't matter how much real life I experience, there is a part of me that clings to the beautiful side.  The side that thinks fresh flowers should be on my counter every day, even though I have a black thumb.  The side that expects the throw pillows to stay artfully arranged on the couch, even though they share a home with people who use them as weapons and fort building material.  The side that believes my hair should look beautifully unkempt when I wake up, even though I've lived through the daily jolt of seeing only unkempt and not beautiful locks looking back at me every morning for forty years.  It's just who I am.  The one who longs for beauty and romance every day.

It's probably why I wrote it.  The one book I've ever completed.  A hopeless romantic kind of story, with not a ton of theological insight, but an abundance of sweet sentiment.

But, I'm also a little embarrassed by that part of myself.  I've never wanted people to know my favorite movie is not some deep war documentary, but instead it's...anything adapted from Jane Austen.  I've also never advertised my favorite author is not Dietrich Bonhoeffer (God bless his profound heart), but instead it's...Jan Karon.

But, it's the truth.  I'm a hopeless romantic, and I can't help it.  There are parts of me that are simply satisfied with a sweet story where the boy gets the girl, whose hair looks beautifully unkempt in the morning. 

And I'm learning that I don't have to be ashamed of any part of how God made me.  The assertive and bold parts?  The ones that got me labeled "bossy" when I was growing up?  They've been His way of developing leadership skills in me that have been needed in every season I've faced in adulthood.  The introverted quiet parts?  The ones that made me label myself "awkward" as I was maturing?  They've been His gifts to place me in a position to listen to what He was doing inside of me, rather than only being able to see the work He's doing through me.

There's not a part of me that He didn't design.  Not a part of me He can't use.

So, I've decided to go with Him.  Just go with Him.  Even if it means confessing something I fear might make me be labeled as silly or sentimental.  Even the hopeless romantic parts.  Because if He put it in me, then it has to be somewhere in Him.  And I think the God I love with my whole soul is hopelessly romantic about me.  It's in Him, so it's in me.  And if He put it in me, it's meant to be shared.








Memories

My wedding ring went to the shop a few weeks ago.  It just needed a small repair, but it was going to take up to a month, and I didn't want to be without a ring for that long.  I'm pretty proud of the man whose name I share and I'd prefer the whole world knows I belong to him, which meant I needed to rummage around in a closet and find my grandmother's ring to wear in the meantime.

My grandmother's ring.  The ring I used to watch her twist around and around her finger.  The ring she would let me try on when I played "wedding."  The ring she left for me in a box lined with blue velvet, my name written in her wild cursive on a torn piece of notebook paper and stuffed in the lid.  My grandmother's ring.

By the time I inherited it, I was much more mature than the little girl who used to pretend she was getting married.  I was in fact married with a ring of my own.  I also thought it was a little funny looking, not trendy at all.  I put it in a safe place and didn't think about it again.

But, something happened when I took it out of the box lined with blue velvet.  It wasn't funny looking at all.  In fact, it was a tad bit trendy.  And what's more, it was beautiful.  It was still small and worn and not a bit shiny.  But, it was beautiful.  Because it was hers. 

And for the last few weeks, I've caught myself staring at her ring on my hand.  Staring and remembering.  My grandmother has been gone for fifteen years, but I can still hear her laugh when she told one of her funny stories.  I can still taste her cherry cheese pie.  I can still smell her powder.  I can still see that ring, twisting round and round on her finger.

Today, I got the call that my own ring is repaired and ready for me to pick up.  I'll be glad to see it on my finger again.  But, I'll put my grandmother's ring away differently this time.  Because the older I get and the more I stand in one place and feel time rushing past me at a rate I can't control, the more I treasure my memories and the people I thought would be in my life forever, but rushed right past me to a place I can't see.

So the memories in a box lined with blue velvet will be waiting.  Maybe for my daughter.  Maybe a granddaughter.  But, they'll be waiting.  For someone to hear the stories of the laugh and the cherry pie and the powder and the ring.  The ring twisting round and round and round.