Family as a Formation Center for Human Relationships – Post 4 of 10

Gracias Edith! It has been challenging to read through your thoughts on family and community and life.

Human relationships are taking place whether or not anyone stops to label them. Good or bad human relationships and constructive or destructive human relationships take place at every level of life. Whether people treat people as human beings or machines, people are treating people in some way. Whether people treat everyone as having importance, dignity, significance, or whether people treat others on a sliding scale of importance – everyone is reacting to other people in some way. Human relationships start at birth and continue to death, whether or not anyone consciously thinks about it. Adults have been teaching children lessons of how to treat people, in devastatingly horrible ways or in biblically right ways, whether or not they have ever thought of themselves as teachers. Teaching takes place by example, every minute of every day for every new human being, by whoever is with that baby human being – hour after hour, day after day, month after month…..If families were even partially what they should be, dotted all over the world would be some very effective centers for the formation of good human relationships. The drive for restoring families which have continuity through generations of togetherness is a drive for doing something basic about the whole problem of human relationships. Edith Schaeffer, What is a Family?

So family is shaped by the network of relationships that exist there – hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Family is formed. Family is not perfect, family is about love and forgiveness, patience and frustration, laughter and tears. Family is absorbed. Always, always, always we are teaching family and community – how to hug, how to share a meal, how to wake up in the morning, how to fall asleep, how to play, how to learn, how to share feelings, how to resolve conflict.

Children need family, they need to learn the ways of relationship, they need to observe and interact with marriages, siblings, extended family, neighbors. In my observations of recent years, I would say that existing families have an edge here when we’re looking to care for children in need. The formation centers of families in the neighborhood are already a work in progress, their textured particularities create experiences for children that are unparalleled.

“Formation center” brings to mind working with bread dough – the stretch and pull of kneading the masa – the rolling and patting and shaping and forming of what will bring delight. The forming or kneading activates the yeast, releases its power – set in the sunlight of a window, the dough expands, fills, widens. I think that’s what families are supposed to do within society. They present authentic life, they aren’t perfect, but the formation center is critically important for children. A solid family life fills society, it expands and widens and protects us all.

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Be Creative – Post 3.5 of 10

This morning I came upon the chapter entitled Free to Create in Traveling Light by Eugene Peterson, and it was such a delightful reminder of our common call to be creative with our lives.

I believe that we were not put here to copy someone else’s drawing. I believe that our highest function is not to fill in the colors of someone else’s outline. I believe that we are made in the image of God and that because God is a creator, we are creators.

And then later, he makes a very interesting point.

Creative work requires materials. A painter needs canvas and a palette of paints. A sculptor needs clay and marble and chisels. A potter needs a wheel and clay. A conductor needs instruments and musicians to play them. What do persons need to create new forms of life in and around them? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We do not, like God, create ex nihilo, out of nothing. we need materials to work with. And we have them.

We have what is necessary to be creative. Look at the world around you and it’s obvious this fruit given to us by the Spirit has the color and texture and pattern that the world desperately needs.

It’s quite easy to be cynical, judgmental, pious and afraid. It takes far more courage to live in love, joy, and peace, to grow in patience, kindness, and goodness, to respond with faith, gentleness, and self-control.

May this creativity born of the Creator be unleashed.

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The Family as a Birthplace of Creativity – Post 3 of 10

We’re walking deep into “family theory”, are we not? Family as an ecosystem, family as a mobile, and now today, family as a creative space.

This chapter jolted me into unearthing our art supplies and setting a blank canvas before my son while he listened to Greek history on Friday. Such a delightful morning that was – the smells of paint, the delights of the brushes, the work in progress.

There is the need to be aware of the conscious preparation of the seedbed for the first seeds of creativity to sprout. Creativity needs the right atmosphere and encouragement…..The knowledge of what talents lie within the seed is hidden, but an atmosphere can be conducive to developing in many directions, until later one or another becomes obvious as some special talent. The environment in a family should be conducive to the commencement of natural creativity, as natural as breathing, eating and sleeping. A balanced, creative person can come forth, developing and branching out in a wide number of areas, if some amounts of imagination and care are used. Edith Schaeffer

So let’s think on this. Certainly the “typical suburban family” has much to consider here, but so do the children’s homes and all of us who regularly minister to children and families.

1. Creativity, art and beauty are important. Color, design, texture, pattern – all these words and more – should define our homes. Art heals. Music heals. Nature heals. We desperately need to care about this because the environments that circle children are filled with messages, let’s make sure we’re communicating depth and truth.

2. Every home should have quality art supplies. If I could trade all the little boxes of cheap Crayolas for a few sets of quality colored pencils and paints, I would.

3. Creativity enjoys time and quiet. If the television is on, children probably aren’t going to do an art project. If children have been running outside and are sweaty and dirty, it’s not the best time to sit and write. Creativity needs to find a place in the rhythm of the family or it won’t happen.

4. Exposure to variety will open up pathways. Lots of books, plenty of projects, a big tub of wooden blocks, bread baking in the oven, multiple hikes outside – these experiences reveal natural giftings. One son loves to build, another likes detailed, precise work, another climbs trees. We continually offer a variety of foods and work and play opportunities and then we watch and observe. As their gifts emerge, we encourage the different pathways.

5. We need to pursue creativity as adults – generating new skills and interests, taking time to learn something new, painting a wall a different color, listening to a new album.

So very much to think about here!


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Ecology and the Care of Children – Post 2.5 of 10

I want to write one more post on this because the idea of “fragile ecosystems” has been spinning in my head for a number of weeks. My youngest son and I are studying USA history this year, and more than once, the issues of Casa Viva have intermingled with lessons from history.

So let’s jump in. Please pardon the dust and chaos, these ideas haven’t fallen into neat rows and compartments, but there’s something here worth the muse.

A family is an ecosystem – a web of relationships interacting with their environment. Some families are so complex they almost require a flow chart to be understood. A neighborhood is an ecosystem as well. At first glance, the corner of my neighborhood lacks texture, it looks like every other corner on this side of town. But then faces emerge, the same man sells strawberries every day. He doesn’t have the prime location, so his frustration is evident. He also walks with a painful limp. He is a living story. Marvin works across the street. He guides cars in and out of their parking spots at the Chinese restaurant. He places people in danger each and every day because he is seldom aware of the actual traffic in the street, but hey, he smiles and waves and actually kissed my cheek a few weeks ago. He is a story as well. The neighborhood is a network of people coming and going, mothers buying bread at the same time every morning, taxi drivers congregating in the same spot to swap stories. Insert the local church and another ecosystem enters the mix. Churches anchor neighborhoods, few would object to their presence. Some churches bring their ecosystem up alongside the neighborhood system, and of course, there is friction. Pastors and drug lords, prostitutes and neighborhood Bible clubs.

So when we seek to address the needs of children at risk, we simply must see the children. We must see the families, the church, the neighborhood. They exist. Healthy or not healthy, barely functioning or thriving, when we decide to “do something”, we enter into multiple ecosystems that already exist.

And here’s the kicker, God is there too – actively working among the poor and disenfranchised. It’s one of His favorite places to be.

One of the privileges of graying hair and years in the work, is that we’re often asked about our experiences. I write here, in part, to respond to the many questions that frequent my email. So here are a few thought on children and fragile ecosystems. Again, pardon the dust.

1. Families are fragile ecosystems by design – they are tender places, intimate and often lonely. My own system bid farewell to a vital member this year, he is off on new adventures, building life in new and different communities. His absence is palpable and real, and we’re all navigating a new and different system. I’m not sure fragility and weakness are the exact same thing. I’m also not sure we should always try to “fix” fragility. Let’s be better at listening and understanding and owning the reality of family as the heart of society.

2. Let’s also be better about calling forth what already exists. My husband went to pick up a crib from a Casa Viva home in a tiny neighborhood. The Casa Viva child had moved on to a permanent solution, and we needed the crib for a different situation. He found a neighborhood still grieving the loss of their little girl. The entire community had embraced her, loved on her, cared for her in her time of need. Her presence there brought forth the existing seeds of love and hospitality and helped them to grow. The community is stronger and better for having loved and loved well.

3. Let’s be better about sending out scouts to listen and watch and observe. It’s taken me almost ten years to learn and understand the ecosystem of my municipal pool, and I’m still surprised from time to time. Let’s not drop into a small community on a work team and then decide to return and build an orphanage, having never done our research. Let’s never assume that we know what is needed because we probably have no idea. Read. Listen. Walk the streets. Listen some more. Learn the language. Laugh. Share meals together. Listen. Observe. See what is already there.

4. Let’s be oh so careful of the “unwitting” impact of outside influences. Unwitting is defined as inadvertent, unintentional, accidental. Yep. Here’s an interesting story – explorers and pilgrims used dirt as ballast in their boats. They unwittingly forever changed the ecosystems of the eastern seaboard because they brought seeds and compost right up onto the beach. They used the ballast to build the ramps that would allow them to empty their ships. It’s a solid reminder that dirt travels, we carry our mud around wherever we go.

5. And we’ll end with a tough one. History doesn’t often speak to beautifully merged ecosystems, quite the opposite. Power and dominance usually win. If two systems are competing with each other, the one without resistance or immunity will often die off. When a mother comes to us and asks us to take her child, one system is winning over the other. It sounds harsh to write that, but I think it’s true. I think it’s the greatest danger we’re facing right now in this work.

Families must believe in family. We simply must go deeper and wider to the beauty and art of a society built around family and community and faith. I’m not so sure we need more strength, power and dominance. I think hurting children need to be tucked in, bandaged, fed, held, loved. Their needs are somehow smaller, more intimate, rather simple  in comparison to the blazing initiatives and campaigns in our midst.

And perhaps, we will spark a revolution. Living real life out on the frontier brought about an independence and strength that most people didn’t know they had. It started to seem silly to be governed by royalty across the sea.

These are loosely framed ideas to be sure, but there is something to be studied and embraced here.


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The Family as a Fragile Ecosystem – Post 2 of 10

The study of ecosystems is fascinating. Interestingly enough, the dictionary has a variety of definitions for the word ecosystem – one can consider it from a medical, scientific or cultural viewpoint. We’re studying it in US history this year – the vast networks of life along the eastern seaboard that collided with world exploration and colonialism.

In reading Edith’s chapter on An Ecologically Balanced Environment, it’s amazing to see how prophetic many of her words were. She recognized that shifts in the ecosystem would set the family off balance, and if multiple family networks encountered disease and destruction, then the whole of society would sense that pain.

The important thing to notice, I believe, is that there is an environment which is crucial to the well-being of human beings. There is an ecological balance that is essential to life. Disease-ridden rats, seed-destroying insects, polluted water in which fish cannot live, are a threat to human life, but there is something even more basic to human beings – and that is the proper ecological balance and natural environment for the life and production of truly significant, balanced human personalities. Human beings sicken and die emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually if they don’t have the right environment or balance in which to grow…..You see, if the family is meant to be the basic atmosphere for people, then a whole community of families and a whole state of families and a whole nation of families is important also – in many far-reaching ways. Something is going to go wrong with people if the scale is tipped so that the majority of them are born into a setting, an atmosphere, an environment which is completely out of whack with what they need…..

Edith writes for many paragraphs on what she believes to be the critical components of the family system, and quite frankly, many of her thoughts would land her right in the middle of multiple culture wars. We have to walk so carefully here, and not get lost in bitter feuds while children suffer.

So two more thoughts on this today.

Somebody has to be the nest maker, the artist, the interior decorator, the imaginative person with a dignity born of understanding its importance, as well as a desire to produce a home – as differentiated from merely a house.

Yes, yes and more yes. Somebody has to be the nest maker. I love that. It’s personal, and textured and local. It’s not a mission’s strategic plan, but somebody creating a nest with all the sticks and threads and remnants of real life.

And second, any one family is an oasis.

If ever a “movement” were needed, it is a movement to reestablish real family life. As one can imagine the world becoming a dry desert devoid of plant life because of ecological imbalances, one can also imagine families shriveling up and leaving a desert, too, as far as human personalities are concerned. Any one family is an oasis. a springing up of many green spots in the desert is needed, at the cost of people putting other people before their own search for happiness. The mere existence of a family, even a widely scattered family, is important to people – even from the viewpoint of being aware of what they have not had.

***All quotes above from Edith Schaeffer’s What is a Family?

I’m lost in a stream of thoughts on this today, might have to write one more post on this tomorrow.

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The Family as a Changing Life Mobile – Gracias Edith! – The First of Ten Posts on Family

This is the first in a series of ten posts on family – the family, a family, my family, your family, family in the general sense, family in the particular. We’re returning to a book that has remained one of Casa Viva’s founding documents. It has shaped the heart and soul of what we do, and is worthy of a ten post series. Edith’s pen met us when we were a bit lost, and through her writing, she opened wide the idea of family. She tagged family with ten key descriptors and metaphors, and to those we’re going to turn our attention in the coming days.

So gracias Edith Schaeffer! You slipped from this world not long ago, but your heart and passion live on in the words you left behind. We are grateful.

What is a family? A family is a mobile. A family is the most versatile, ever-changing mobile that exists. A family is a living mobile that is different from the handcraft mobiles and the art museum mobiles, different from the mobiles of lake and trees and from the mobiles of birds, fish, and animals – different from any mobiles of machine, animal, or plant. A family is an intricate mobile made up of human personalities.

In so many ways a family is a mobile – an artwork that takes years, even generations, to produce, but which is never finished…..People need to experience the beauty of being part of a mobile art form, and people who have never known such beauty exists need to see it taking place. If human relationships are to be beautiful on a wider form, in church and state, the individual families making up society have to be really worked on by someone who understands that artists have to work to produce their art. It doesn’t just fall down ready made from the sky.

Edith Schaeffer, What Is a Family?

Do you feel the breeze? Can you see the different lives suspended in the air? Twirling and dancing? Family is movement held by a frame. Each individual life is part of the whole. Family is art.

So let’s take this thought and apply it to the work of Casa Viva and similar projects around the world. When we invite a child into the life of a local family, we’re adding a dimension to an existing mobile, it will tip and sway and cause movement across all the strings and components, but if the frame and basic structure are solid, it will hold. Each new life on the mobile comes bringing gifts, new beauty and art if you will. There’s something very important here – don’t miss it – existing mobiles don’t seem to be the same as built ones. To be sure, a constructed mobile still demonstrates solid function, but already living mobiles have an edge – they bring passion and creativity to the mix. They are unique and textured, and that simply must enter into any discussion on what is best for children.

Age. Youth, childhood, infancy – strung together on tiny threads. Blowing in delicate movement independently, yet together. a family – belonging to each other, affected by each other, compassionate for each other, concerned about each other, interested in each other – a living mobile, never static. A family. Edith Schaeffer

Looking forward to working through these ideas once again.

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A Circle of Quiet

How blessed the man you train, God, the woman you instruct in your Word, Providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil, while a jail is being built for the wicked. God will never walk away from his people, never desert his precious people. Rest assured that justice is on its way and every good heart put right. Psalm 94, The Message

I spent some time yesterday walking and dreaming through our offices. I was working with our new CVCR San Jose East director, and she’s delightful. We talked about “ambiente” or environment, how we wanted the office spaces to feel. We discussed ways to make our rooms more inviting, we want the children who are meeting their Casa Viva families for the very first time to feel safe and protected. We want to encourage quiet play, exploration and creativity.

As I read this passage this morning, that phrase “circle of quiet” stood out to me, and made me remember my work of the day before. These circles of quiet are desperately important for children who live within the clamor of evil.

Evil is loud, brash. It is often harsh and unrelenting. It can be shouts and screams and tirades. So we don’t respond with more noise, we cultivate quiet. Quiet soothes and gentles and relaxes.

I think we would all do well to talk less and listen more, to make sure that there are empty spaces in our days. Might be fun to take a walk holding hands and saying absolutely nothing. Quiet is a response to the clamor, don’t be afraid of it.

And then the passage ends with rest assured, justice is on its way. There are days we need to pin this up on the wall and proclaim it from the rooftops. Justice is on its way, and while we wait, we minister and care for a world that grows ever dark.

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On blogging and numbers and autumn and writing and “mi hortensia”…..

Take a look around and you will find many blogs just like this one – someone started to write, wrote with a fervor, explored different themes and looks and topics, then they quit. I’m about to do that, but I have a little problem. I have a “thing” about numbers, and 454 is rather unusual way to end. 500 feels better. If I write through the end of the year, I will reach my 500th post, and that will seem worthy of a celebration.

I have another problem as well, and that involves writing and children without a safe place to sleep and the orphan movement and my gray hair. I’m working on some projects that were slated for 2013, and I realized this weekend, that I simply must keep working away on these assignments. This blog helps to shape the discipline of writing, and so we will journey on.

Plus it’s autumn in the states, and I love autumn. Autumn blazes and comforts and invigorates me, I will honor it by not letting the rest of this year slide into Christmas.

And finally, mi hortensia is blooming, and it is MAGNIFICENT – check out the new header on the blog for a photo – each and every day it grows more glorious. It was a gift from a dear heart friend, she planted it herself and told me that every time I looked out my kitchen window I would think of her and the conversations we had on my back porch. And she’s right. Her passion and commitment touched a deep place, and a response is needed.

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Like a tree replanted in Eden…..Summer 2013

Jeremiah 17 is a favorite passage of mine. I’m claiming it again this summer. I landed on a different translation of it in my copy of the Divine Hours, and it nudged my spirit.

I’m going to enter the text here, and as time and energy allow, I will write some thoughts across these weeks of summer.

But let us begin with the rich imagery and words.

Yahweh says this –

Accursed be the one who trusts in human beings, who relies on human strength, and whose heart turns from Yahweh.

Such a person is like a scrub in the wastelands: when good comes, it does not affect her since she lives in the parched places of the desert, uninhabited, salt land.

Blessed is the woman who trusts in Yahweh, with Yahweh for her reliance.

She is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it has nothing to fear, its foliage stays green; untroubled in a year of drought, it never stops bearing fruit.

Jeremiah 17

Eugene Peterson reminds us that we’re meant to “chew” on the Word – bring the Word into our souls and let it penetrate, nourish.

Summer is good for simmering and soaking and basking. Ah yes.

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Trampled Gardens

Deep breath. Long sigh.

Photos of community gardens being planted in a difficult place.

News that many of the fresh, new plants were trampled.

I don’t know the whole story yet, but that’s enough to cause a deep breath and a long sigh.

In the same afternoon, I receive news from a friend caring for children in a lonely place, a difficult place.

The world is growing darker.

I’m comforted by these words from Jesus in John 9 – Look for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.

And in a different version – Jesus said, ‘As long as the day lasts we must carry out the work of the one who sent me, the night will soon be here when no one can work. As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.

The night will soon be here.

For many people all around us, night already is here. They’re banging their toes, hitting their heads. They’re wandering and among other things, trampling gardens. But the Light will make all the difference. So we shine that Light as best as we can. And out of such dirt, such messy and complicated earth, life will grow.

Stay the course my friends, you are doing significant work.

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