Tag Archives: Family System

Low-Key Birthday Confessions

Birthday Cake
Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’”
Job 3:1 (NIV)

There are always interesting differences that emerge when you marry someone from a different family system. I never expected birthday traditions to be one of them, but life is full of surprises. I come from a family that celebrated birthdays, but did it as a rather low key affair. Mom baked our favorite cake. There were a few small presents from mom and dad, but we never did much of anything between siblings. In the childhood years birthdays meant you could have a sleepover (with a maximum of two friends). It was a special day that I looked forward to as a child, but as the years went by my feelings and expectations around birthdays diminished.

As I progressed into adulthood, the low key birthday traditions of my family evolved into even more low key expectations. If my siblings and I even remember each other birthdays there may, perhaps, be a phone call or voice mail message with kind wishes, though even that is not an expectation. Once in a great while there might be a token gift or a gag gift, but those rare occasions are frosting on the proverbial birthday cake. My family is so bad with remembering birthdays that my siblings and I will occasionally text each other reminders knowing that it’s likely someone forgot.

I’m not proud of this, mind you. It is what it is. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to realize that my low-key traditions and expectations surrounding birthdays are rather offensive to particular friends and loved ones. Wendy finds it appalling, and it only took one memorably disastrous birthday into our marriage to discover that I had better raise the bar for myself when it comes to the annual celebration of her birth. I’m a work in progress.

All of this pondering about birthdays comes as I read Job’s lamentation this morning. His tragic circumstances cause him to rue the day of his birth. Forget being low-key about the date, he curses the day he was born. No matter where you land on the importance of birthdays, there is no doubt that the day of our birth has inherent meaning. It is a special date because it was the date we entered this world. Birthdays, whether low-key or grand affairs, are linked to a celebration of life. To curse the day of our birth is to curse the precious gift of life that God purposed in our being and existence in this world.

I hear in Job’s words the kind of extreme, all-or-nothing thoughts that I have commonly witnessed coming out of despair both in myself and in others. Our life can feel so terrible in this one moment that we are blind to anything worthwhile, life-giving, or redemptive about our lives to this point. Extreme circumstances birth extreme emotions which, in turn, produce extreme thoughts (and sometimes actions). I don’t find anything sinful or improper in this. It is altogether human to experience these thoughts and emotions. The threat that this brings to our lives is to either give in to the extreme thoughts and emotions until it conquers our spirit, or to deny the thoughts and emotions in what will be an unsuccessful attempt to pretend that we are unaffected by our circumstances. Either of these ultimately end in the diminishment of Life.

Today I am thankful for Job and the day of his birth. I am thankful for the example he gives us in the honesty of his grief. This important human emotion, when experienced and processed in healthy ways, can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of life.

I am also thinking today about birthdays and my relative nonchalance surrounding them. Birthdays are a celebration of lives that mean a lot to me, and lives that have deeply impacted me and my own life journey. They are an opportunity to say, “You are important to me.” Lesson noted. I’ve got some work to do.

Make No Mistake… It’s Personal

Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustra...
Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 34

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. Genesis 34:13 (NLT)

Being human is so fascinating. I find it interesting how certain things are common to the human experience. I’ll hear people talk about circumstances in our lives as being “like a Greek tragedy” or “Shakespearean.” Yet the the truth is that we make parallels to these fictional stories because those fictional stories are founded on universal human themes. All good stories are simply a reflection of the Great story God is authoring through us, and that is why they become so much a part of our culture and weave themselves into our thoughts and lives.

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels in today’s story with The Godfather. The strong patriarch with a flock of sons and a thriving family business that is dependent on managing a tenuous peace with other powerful families and power centers around them. When the daughter is defiled (remember Carlo beating Connie?), the hot headed older brothers exact their revenge (remember Sonny starting a war?) against the wisdom of the patriarch (remember Vito waking up to find his family falling apart?). Make no mistake, despite Jacob’s desire to protect the family business, this is all personal and it doesn’t bode well for the long term peace. [cue: Godfather Theme]

One more observation is that right at the moment of crisis the pattern of deceit once again creeps its way through the family system. So it is with the human experience. When faced with supercharged amounts of stress and emotion, our conscious choices tend to give way to base instincts and reactions. We’re now into the third generation down from Abraham and each family story carries the familiar theme of deceit. It’s amazing how certain tragic flaws or sinful behaviors can perpetuate themselves in a family system for generations. It takes a person of wisdom and strength to break those kind of cycles and the result can be chaotic for both the individual and the family system.

In fact, get ready. In a few chapters we take up the story of the truth teller: Joseph.

Tragic Stories Touch Secret Wounds

English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On...
English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On, watercolor by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 27

Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” Genesis 27:37 (NLT)

As an actor, I find it interesting to read the theatrical lengths to which Rebekah and Jacob went to make Jacob convincingly play the part of Esau and deceive Isaac. As  I read today’s chapter, I also thought what a tragic story is revealed in these past few chapters.

  • How twin brothers could be so different
  • The conspiracy of (seemingly) heaven and earth to favor Jacob from birth
  • The parental favoritism that divides the parents and family
  • The deceptive stealing of birthright and blessing
  • The fulfillment of Jacob’s given name (which in Hebrew sounds like both “Heel” & “Deceiver”)

I couldn’t help, as I read, to think of other epic stories told on film such as Legends of the Fall and The Godfather which deal with similar themes of fathers and sons, of favoritism and blessing, and of tragedy and loss. I believe that there is something very compelling in these stories for us because they tap into very human realities from our very own family systems and experiences. These are things which families rarely speak about or even acknowledge, and  their suppression makes the truth and reality of them even more powerful when we read or see similar themes so artfully articulated in story. It’s like scratching at an old wound.

I walk away from some stories and chapters with more questions than answers. Today’s chapter is one of them. Why did God seem to honor the deception of Rebekah and Isaac? How could Isaac so passively allow these things to happen? How and why does God utilize human brokenness and sin to bring about His will?

It’s a good morning for a cup of coffee and a thoughtful conversation around such interesting questions.

When You Marry a Spouse You Marry a Family

2012 07 21 VH Reunion Group 1But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 26:35 (NLT)

Typically, when you marry, you are not just entering into relationship with a person but with an entire family. Your spouse or spouse-to-be is part of a family system with its own traditions, culture, ways and means of doing life. In my experience, people don’t talk much about family of origin when they get married. There might be the passing conversation or even a pre-marital counseling session dedicated to talking about our families, but the conversation is usually covered in the fairy-dust of two people desperately in love with one another and living in the delusion that nothing could possibly diminish the feelings of infatuation they are experiencing at the moment.

Just wait until the holidays.

The brief observation made at the very end of today’s chapter holds a huge lesson for all of us. When we enter into a marriage we enter into our spouse’s family system. Make no mistake: It’s a package deal. We can either be a blessing or a curse to that family. I can’t control whom my family members marry, nor can I control the way they behave or relate to my family. But, I can control how I behave and relate to every one, especially my wife’s family. By speaking and acting in loving kindness towards her family, I am not only honoring my wife but keeping myself from being a source of tension and conflict in her family system (I am blessed that Wendy’s family makes it easy ;-))

Today, I’m thinking about the role and responsibility of being an in-law. The truth of the matter is that part of loving my spouse well is loving spouse’s family well. If/when I dishonor or make life difficult for my spouse as it relates to her family, then I diminish my love for her. When a spouse dishonors your family, it can wound deeply, leave scars that never completely heal over, and continue to itch long after they are made.


Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 27

Image via Wikipedia

Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad. 
      Then I will be able to answer my critics.
Proverbs 27:11 (NLT) 

I happened to be visiting with a farmer and his father yesterday. Finding ourselves sitting there with a little time on our hands, I began asking questions and making some small talk. The family farm had been passed down from his great-grandfather who came to America from the old country around the turn of the 20th century. When I asked if any of his children were going to carry on the family farm, I kicked the pebble which started an avalanche.

A long, sad saga of parental woe flooded from the farmer’s mouth. One son said he wanted to take it on and carry on the family legacy, but he didn’t show any actual ambition to do any actual work or finish the degree he felt short of completing. A second son had attended a year of college here and a year of college there to study this or that but didn’t want to finish and ended up working a low paying job in the area. For reasons the father had not been told, the son lost that job and was currently unemployed. The third son was a similar story. He went to one year of community college and then quit. He apparently had no job and showed no signs of finding one. The father stared blankly out the window as he talked. You could feel the heavy weight of his heart.

I sat and quietly listened as the farmer went down his descriptive checklist of passive, undisciplined, and aimless children. I tried not to be judgmental, but to listen graciously and offer no comment. I realized that I was hearing the father’s perspective and the sons, had they been there to offer testimony, may have shared a very different story. A lone perspective rarely, if ever, offers an accurate picture of the family system.

Nevertheless, I walked away saddened by the tragic story the farmer told of his children and the empty, disappointed look in his eyes as he told it. I suddenly felt a surge of gratitude for my children and for their passion, their ambition, and their heartfelt desire to make a positive mark on their world. I felt the stark contrast between the farmer’s story and the one I get to tell.

Today, I am grateful that I am blessed with children who make my heart glad.