The Unapologetic Apology

Using the word “But,” in an apology makes it null and void. When we use the word BUT, we’re not really apologizing.

Giving a true apology doesn’t come naturally. Politicians are not the only ones who are good at avoiding issues and deflecting blame on others. This practice is old – 6,000-plus years old. Even when Adam and Eve were confronted with their wrongdoing and they acknowledged that they had disobeyed God’s instruction, they shifted the blame to someone else.

That’s what we do when we apologize without apologizing. We say the words necessary to apologize, but we deflect those words onto the person to whom we apologize, thereby not taking the blame for our failure. Did you get that?

We say things like, “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, but I still think what you did was wrong.”

We comment, “I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you, but when you act like that, I can’t help getting mad, especially when I’m tired.”

We acknowledge, “I wish I hadn’t gotten so upset and yelled at you,” then we deplete the apology by saying, “but you shouldn’t be acting like that.”

Each of these quotes begins with an apology of sorts – and ends with an accusation.

apology-not-sorry

When we conclude our apology with a “but”, we are accusing instead of apologizing. Tell me it ain’t so!

While it’s true that sometimes people do things that punch our buttons, there is no excuse for responding with poor behavior.  Anger and frustration are normal emotional reactions to offensive words or actions, but they do not give us license to retaliate in like fashion. Likewise, it is natural to deflect the blame for our actions to someone else rather than accepting responsibility for our wrongs, even when another’s fault may be greater than our own. Oh, how well I know.

There’s a right way and there is a wrong way to give an apology. Actually, there isn’t a wrong way to give an apology, for giving it the wrong way isn’t even an apology.

apology-sorry

There is only one way to say “I’m sorry.” That’s to say it without making any excuses. When we apologize, we need only  apologize for what we did wrong. There should be no focus or deflection on the other party.

Saying “I was wrong” is embarrassing – because no one wants to be wrong. Admitting to a wrong is admitting failure, and who wants to be a failure?

Admitting we’ve messed up isn’t easy, especially depending on the other party.  We want others to feel good about us, to respect us, and to admire us. Admitting we’ve been wrong – it seems to us – will diminish our successes in the eyes of others.

Yet, we fail to recognize that apologizing while deflecting blame actually challenges the respect the other party has for us. As hard as it is to not immediately retort, it’s a good idea to consider what we say before we actually say the words. A genuine apology will have a greater chance of being received.

Really, when we say the words of an apology and then use the word but we are not apologizing at all.  There’s no other way to truly apologize than to keep that but word out of our apology vocabulary.

apology-sorry-2-22

To learn more about true apologies, and to learn from the example of the prodigal son in giving an apology, you can read this article.  It’s called, “Saying I’m Sorry – No Ifs, ands or Buts.” To read this article, click here.

 

Family in Six-Part Harmony

For the moms out there who wonder some days if their kids will ever be good friends, it happens. This article was first published in 2007.  A lot has happened in those nine years.  My kids have grown up and are moving out on their own.  Family times together are much less frequent.  The pecking order changes from time to time, depending on who is home.  Yet this remains true: we are still friends as well as family.

six-part-harmony-shoe-house

♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥          ♥         ♥          ♥          ♥  

The house is quieter now, and things are finally getting put back to order. Ah, how I love the sense of serenity that is here following chaotic no-school days. After the kids have headed off to school and my hubby is at work, I tidy my haven and inhale the quiet.

The bedrooms upstairs are back in order (well, let’s just say you can walk through the rooms and covers are pulled up on the beds). We’re settling back into our daily routine, and the diastolic number of my blood pressure is going back down where it belongs. Ah, what cadence!

Yet, in the midst of the stillness, phrases and episodes permeate my thoughts. I wanted a Norman Rockwell home life and all participants in sync with the rhythm of family. I wanted a sonata of pleasant memories and positive experiences. I envisioned happy tunes and get-along-ability and “all hands on deck” when I called for assistance in the kitchen or with the laundry. I dreamed of grand crescendos of conflict resolution. I longed for days on end of perfect harmony and evenings with majestic symphony.

It doesn’t happen that way. Our kids argue over whose turn it isn’t to empty the dishwasher. They fight for the best seat on the sofa when we’re watching a video or having family devotions. They disagree over playing Monopoly or Dominos or playing anything at all. Some days it seems there is nothing but discord in our home.

I remember a trip to Williamsburg for a mini-vacation that began with sibling warfare when it came to choosing bedrooms. We, the parents, decided the girls would get to choose first. We had our reasons and we knew they were good ones.

When it came time to packing and loading for this trip, the girls had helped the most. In fact, they were practically the only ones who helped at all. Most importantly, in eight years of visiting this spot, the girls had not once had the room with the king-sized bed, master bath, and Jacuzzi.

Sarah Beth said she didn’t care (only because she didn’t want to hear about it for the rest of the week).  But Rebekah drew out her sword and dared anyone to defy her choice of the master bedroom with the king-size bed, TV, and Jacuzzi.

The brothers begged and coddled, trying to convince their sisters that they’d never use the bathroom and the girls could have it anytime they wanted. They didn’t want the Jacuzzi. They just wanted the larger room with their own TV so they could watch Virginia Tech play that weekend. Rebekah stood her ground and won. Indeed, she also won a new name from her brothers: Jacuzzi.

harmony-jacuzzi

Sarah Beth, sporting first-time glasses, wanted only to stay out of the fray and tried to diffuse the tension by not taking sides. She detested wearing glasses and her brothers knew she was wearing them for one reason: to be able to get contact lenses later. Because she wouldn’t defend them in having first choice of a bedroom, she was dubbed her own name: Catfish.

harmony-catfish

That evening the guys played Monopoly while the girls watched a video. Tension was still high because the guys had lost the battle of the bedrooms. Aaron was upset with one of his brothers who wouldn’t help him complete a set by selling St. Charles Place to him. Jerking his head back and placing his hands on his hips with specific emphasis, he spouted, “Well, fine, then!”

For the remainder of the game and for the rest of our vacation, anyone who didn’t “get his way” would respond in kind. Hands on hips and a toss of the head corresponded in sync to that one word: “Fine!”

For days on end, the brothers called their sisters by their new names: Catfish and Jacuzzi. Sarah Beth, who saw the situation as it was, handled it well most of the time, ignoring the obvious attempts of her brothers to rankle her.

Our girls are as different as the sun and the moon. After a few days of her name change, Rebekah responded with volcanic anger anytime someone called her Jacuzzi. The littlest guy grew weary of folks imitating his “Fine!” There was frustration and yes, some tears. The older brothers laughed at the tears and kept saying, “Fine!” until their father grew weary of the dissonance and decided enough was simply enough. He brought the clamor to an abrupt halt when he promised repercussions if the ruckus didn’t stop.

I have never been able to figure out what it is that makes a child want to continue teasing to the point of tears. I suspect that the culprit does not understand the pain he inflicts. My guys thought it was time for little brother (who had just turned eleven) to “grow up and be a man.” They thought the girls should be able to handle their nicknames because they were only joking. I suppose that teasing continues more because children, as well as adults, enjoy the power they experience as they inflict pain on someone else. Perhaps they think inflicting wounds on someone else will lessen their own pain.

Just as a cat continues to play with its prey, so some kids will torment and tease. There’s another name for that cat-and-mouse game, and it’s called sin nature. I can’t rid my kids of their sin nature, but I can help them rise above human nature and become an advocate for “being bigger” than that. I can encourage them to keep tuning so the notes they play as siblings will bring less discord and more harmony with each other.

I tried to coach my daughters to laugh at their brothers and play along with them. I encouraged the littlest guy to join in the laughter and use the same phrase on his brothers in fun. It worked when they followed the notes intended for harmony.

harmony-orchestra

“They’re only doing it because they know it makes you mad,” I told my kids. “They love to know they can control your emotions by making you angry. If you laugh at their foolishness, it will take the wind right out of their sails. If you laugh with them, they won’t be controlling you. Make it a challenge to see who can best whom,” I advised.

Now, in the quiet and calm of our house, I walk through the empty rooms, remembering. There is strewn luggage, a stash of laundry, and an assortment of books scattered over the floors of their rooms. I wonder how I managed to raise kids who will not pick up their clothes, and who don’t care if the shirts they wear are wrinkled from being buried under several layers of clothing.

I wonder what we did wrong to raise kids who still fuss and fight and make snide remarks to each other. I wonder why they don’t want to lend a hand in the kitchen or with the laundry—and why they complain if they do help. I wonder why it is easier to begin a war and continue the combat than end a conflict by laying down swords and improvising peace.

I wonder why, when the beauty of harmony can be so complete, anyone would want to continue playing off-key. I suppose it’s because the one causing the greatest discord is unable to hear other chords since he is intent on strumming his own rhythm. It seems easier to think someone else should match my chords than to make the effort to change my tune so we can all be in key. Why is it that we insist on singing our songs above everyone else’s?!

Then I remember the night we stayed up until one o’clock in the morning to play a complete set of Mexican Train Dominos. I recall that the next evening, we started the game earlier because everyone was eager to finish a complete set and bedtime needed to be earlier that night.

Or the evening Ben, Jason, and Tim played keyboard and guitar, singing together for hours. I remember the evening Sarah Beth made quesadillas-to-order for each person in the family, just because she wanted to please. Nor can I forget the day I came home from work and found that Rebekah had completed all the laundry (no small feat for a family of eight) by herself. I recall the day Aaron and Ben emptied the dishwasher together, talking about their favorite sports teams while putting half the things away in the wrong places.

I treasure the memory of the evening I found out someone wanted to drop in to see our new kitchen the next morning. Everyone pitched in, and in less than half an hour, our place was tidy and presentable.

I remember hearing “Jacuzzi” and “Catfish” and “Fine!” for days on end. I realize we’ve made memories, once again, just by taking the time to be together. Someday we’ll laugh at the memories of our clamor.

Those days when the gang was all together.

Our friendship as a family will have its share of discord and dissension. Even though we wear on each other’s nerves, for the most part, we like each other’s company. Those sour notes of Jacuzzi and Catfish will be a thing of the past.

Our harmony, though off-key at times, will improve with practice, and we’ll still be friends as well as family.

 

Pocket Treasures

pocket-with-pen

One by one I pull out the items I’ve collected through the day.

If these pockets of mine could speak, they’d sure have a lot to say.

I’ve found a little girl’s comb, a safety pin, and the picture someone drew, making me grin.

pocket-collage-comb

There’s a rubber band, a paper airplane, and the grocery receipt still wet from the rain.

pocket-collage-rubber-band

I’ve got a broken pencil, a spool of thread, and the needle I used to sew that button on in red.

pocket-collage-pencil

There’s a Band-Aid wrapper, a crayon that’s blue, a couple of Legos, and a lace from a shoe.

I’ve got some unused tissues, a cap for a pen, and a book of matches that belongs in the den.

There are a half-dozen pennies, a sticker that’s “cool,”

And a couple of markers from the project due for school.

pocket-collage-pen

Throughout the house as I’ve been cleaning and dusting,

I’ve picked up this stuff — sometimes smiling, sometimes fussing.

I look at my treasures lying there on the chair,

And I know I’m far richer than a body can tell.

For the treasures that  I’ve stashed there, before I’ve gone on my way,

Are reminders to me that life has been good today.

Sometimes there are crazy days when time slips by in a whirl,

And looking back, it truly seems that life is a big blur.

Yet emptying my pockets, I must confess,

Is a guarantee that I’ll see how much I am blessed.

That’s because I have another set of pockets.  These I treasure even more.

They’re filled with intangible memories that no one can take from me, for sure.

pocket-eyes-on-shoulder

There’s the gentle memory of brown eyes nestled close to me,

And a little hand patting my back when no one else can see.

I recall those blue eyes sparkling when the sight word test says “Great!”

And I smile because, for once, a kid got up early instead of late.

pocket-children-in-field

I treasure hearing laughter rippling in the afternoon sun,

And watching big brother helping sister’s chores in getting done.

There’s the sense of satisfaction when my kids don’t know I’ve seen,

And they choose to say, “I’m sorry,” before I need to intervene.

I clasp the memory of the secret whispered in my ear,

“I love you so much, Mama!” where no one else can hear.

pocket-holding-hands

I hold the quiet, gentle knowledge that commitment will be strong;

Though marriage sometimes isn’t easy, I know I’ll always belong.

And there’s the warmth and tender feeling lingering through me all day long,

From the hug and kiss he gave me before he put his work clothes on.

There’s the knowledge and experience that accumulates with years

Of a God who really loves me and can handle all my fears.

pocket-leaves

There’s delight in candles burning, the fragrance of the new-mown lawn,

Leaves a-turning, breezes blowing, and the crimson light at dawn.

When the day is drizzly gloomy, when the night seems frigid cold,

I find purpose in my pockets and the treasures that I hold.

When I’m tempted to look around me, to fret and to complain,

I find meaning in recalling, not what I’ve lost, but all that I have gained.

I clutch the promise of tomorrow:  treasures that can’t be bought or sold.

I just reach into my pockets and grasp my riches, worth more than gold.

pocket-brother-sister

This article was first published in October 1999 and later printed in the book Southside Glimmerswhich is available here.

 

A Safe Place and What to Tell Our Kids

Presidential Motorcade replica

November 22, 1963.  The day my safe place was tested.

The door of our classroom opened suddenly and the principal motioned our teacher to come out of the room.  When she returned, my teacher was crying.  Her tears were of sorrow, but not of fear.  Her tears were of remorse, but not of anger.  Something was wrong.  I had never seen my teacher cry. What could be so terrible that it would make my teacher cry in front of us?!

As a third grader, I had seen few adults really cry, and when I did, I experienced no fear.  Tears, yes. Deep, grieving tears at the loss of someone dear. I-will-miss-him-so-much tears.  Sudden-shock from sad news tears.  Yet in all of those times, all of those losses, I was not afraid.

The world was still good and the world was still right because the adults in my life exhibited their emotions with stability.  I had my family and my community, and all was well. I was secure in the safe place created by the adults in my life.

We didn’t own a television, but my mother listened to the news – and the weather – regularly.  We’d come downstairs on a school morning and knew we’d best be quiet while the news came across the airwaves through the small radio on the kitchen counter.  When the news and the weather were over, we could make all the noise we wanted.

jfk-radio

I never understood my mother’s fascination with the news and the weather because as long as she was there, life would be okay.  During countless presidential elections, I heard talk about the candidates and I gathered that some adults were concerned about who the next president would be. Yet my safe place was secure.  I never worried because the adults in my life did not bleed their worries onto me.

I asked several of my adult kids the other day if they worried about presidential elections or who would be the next president as a child.  They didn’t – because we didn’t talk about it in excess in their presence.  My kids remember that during our family devotions Dave often prayed for our government and its leaders; during election time, he prayed about the elections.  Yet our concerns were never voiced and expressed in such a way that it caused alarm for our kids. Our  minor children could do nothing about what was happening in government at their age – except pray. So why did they need to begin wearing the weight of the world on their young, inexperienced shoulders? They needed a safe place in our home and not one that brought worry and fear to them.

When it comes to “What do we tell our children?”, perhaps it would be best for all of us to take a step back and consider what we’ve told them in the past, and why we’ve told them what we have. Have we allowed them to be children – to play freely and be unafraid of what this world is coming to?!  Does having them worry about tomorrow when there isn’t anything they can do about it today help them feel secure and safe?!  Really?

Certainly, it helps if one is prepared.  My mother listened to the news  and the weather  because she wanted to be informed.  If she was delivering her bread that week, she wanted to know what to expect on the morrow when she’d be heading out with a station wagon full of freshly-baked bread that needed to be delivered to a dozen stores.  Yet to bleed that worry onto us, her children, would have brought no gain.

During the holocaust, Jewish children were aware of the dangers they faced because of their genetic blood line, and well they should have been – if they were old enough to understand and follow directions.  When a hurricane is approaching or there’s a tornado warning, kids need to know what to do.  That’s why there are tornado drills in schools, and why parents tell their children where to go for shelter in that event.

You can be certain that, had the weather forecaster predicted a tornado, our mother would have been prepared.  She would have explained what to do in the event that a tornado was propelling its way toward us.  We would have needed to know because our lives might have depended on being given appropriate information.

So what do we tell our children?

Only what they need to know for their safety and protection.

Only what they ask and nothing more.

No matter the subject, it’s a good rule of thumb.  Kids can only handle so much information, and, really, they aren’t asking about a logarithm  when they ask for an explanation of division or multiplication.

What do we tell our children when President Kennedy’s death leaves two small children without their father?  We tell them the truth without spilling hate, the truth without coloring their view of the world, the truth without painting a picture of gloom and doom for this country, this state, this county, this town, and this home.  Giving them cause to worry does not enable them to grow up, and it only adds to their turmoil.  There is no reason for them to develop hatred toward others based on our personal likes or dislikes.

What do we tell our kids when things happen of which we do not approve?  Do we spill our anger onto them, bleeding our attitudes into their hearts when they are not responsible for any of the things which happened, are not able to effect a change, and should not be burdened with a worry the size for an adult when they are merely children?

Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States. Aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November 22, 1963. JFK’s widow Jackie, still wearing the suit with her husband’s blood, stands beside him. Proof that our country was a safe place.

On November 22 of that year, we went home from school and rushed into the house, wanting to be the first to spill the news.  Of course, our family already knew.

Our country was shaken – of that we were aware.  Yet things remained stable in our world because we were surrounded by adults who protected us by not making us responsible for the wrongs of the world.  The adults in our world might have talked among themselves, but they didn’t convey their worries in front of us.

That’s why, when our kids go to bed at night, we should not be wondering what we should tell them. If we haven’t alarmed them in the past, then there’s no reason to be settling fears now.  If our kids are afraid, we have no one to blame but ourselves – not our neighbor, our community, or our government. If they’ve heard things from others, they will still be able to trust us to put their fears to rest if we have acted as responsible adults.

We only tell them what they must know.  Nothing more, nothing less.

On that fateful November day fifty-three years ago,  my world changed.  A little girl two years younger than me and just a few days shy of turning six lost her father, and life was not fair. I could identify with losing a father, for I had lost mine a few months after turning five.  I remember wondering how this little girl named Caroline was going to face life.

I wasn’t worried about communists taking over our country or our nation not being able to handle what had happened.  I wasn’t afraid because I had a safe place.

That evening and the next day, and the day following that, my mama continued to keep her conversations about the condition of the world and our country out of our hearing.  That evening and the next day, and the day following that, mama listened to the news -and the weather- and we knew everything would be okay.