Friday, February 1, 2013

The anti-blog post

Doing my best to create the 'perfect'' picture on a recent
trip to Frinton-on-Sea.
Sometimes I feel like writing a blog amounts to a big bragging session. Of course, I’d like to think that’s never been our intention. And at our core, I think that’s true. But I also know that it’s certainly much more fun to blog about cool stuff, and show the fun, heartwarming, impressive or interesting things that happen to our family than to write about the shortcomings, failures, arguments, doubts, times where we’ve lost our temper with our kids, or any of a wide assortment of things that are just as much a part of our lives as the good stuff, and unfortunately are probably a bigger portion of our actual lives. Anyway, I got to thinking about this lately so thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.

Because of the nature of my job with EMI and the fact that we are supported by a team of very generous people who believe in our mission and ministry with EMI, it’s important that we keep people up to date with what’s going on. If people are going to invest in our family and the work we’re involved with, then we need (and want) to keep people informed with how things are going. But the down side of this is, sharing ‘highlights’ from our family and ministry can tend to portray things in a manner that is a bit out of whack with reality. It’s weird, and in some cases makes me cringe to think about, but I’m pretty sure that many who have read our blog have at one time or another probably had thoughts similar to one or more of the following:

1) Wow, their family life seems so perfect. I wish our family could be so happy and great.
2) Boy, Brad and Alisha sure are great parents. From all of those happy, smiling pictures, they must really have parenting figured out.
3) The Crawford boys look so happy and well behaved. Why do my children fight so much and why do I have to spend so much of my time ‘parenting’?
4) What an exciting life the Crawford’s have, living in England and Brad traveling and experiencing the world.
5) Seeing all the experiences they’re having in other countries makes me wish my life was like the Crawford’s.
And the kicker: 6) I don’t really want to read this blog or look at the pictures anymore because it makes me feel bad about myself and our family’s life in comparison.
I sure hope this isn’t the case, but I have a nagging suspicion that it might be in some instances. Why do I think this? Because I have had some of these very same thoughts after reading other people’s blogs or Facebook postings about their life! In fact, it’s only after years of feeling that way did it finally dawn on me that it was very likely that this was happening with people who read our blog. Yikes! The mere thought of it made me repulsed. And actually, this realization is one reason why my blogging frequency has dropped off the last couple of months. I’ve just been very hesitant to share anything lest it be taken in that way.
So, I’ve decided that it was time to make an attempt at changing things. And I couldn’t really do that without first apologizing, so let me say that I am sorry if that impression has ever been helped by anything I’ve written or shared. We don’t want to portray our lives as anything other than what they are. And yet, looking back I think we could do a better job of showing some of the good things that happen while including more of the ‘real’ stuff too. Because if I get one point across in this blog, let it be this:  we are far from perfect, and we have a far from perfect family (thinking mostly of myself here - Alisha is pretty close to perfect in my book ;).
Many a night, Alisha and I crash onto the bed after finally getting the boys in bed (an hour and a half late) and lay there staring at the ceiling, wondering why we feel so negative. It sometimes seems like it takes every ounce of our energy to get the boys to bed, using every parenting ‘trick’ in the book from threats, warnings, counting, taking away privileges, yelling, nagging – all the great ‘tools’ that pretty much every book out there counsels against using these days! We usually lay there for a while until we’ve decompressed, and only get up to carry on with our evening after having ‘sworn’ to a new ‘oath’ of not stooping to such ineffective and desperate parenting techniques the following day.  Experience has shown that these new oaths can actually last as long as 36 hours, but oftentimes - more often than not, sadly - they don’t survive the following 3 minutes! It’s not the most effective parenting strategy, but honestly, it’s about what we’re capable of in the face of unrelenting ‘childhood’. J

One quote that I recently heard about parenting that was really encouraging was this: a sign of a good parent is one who, at the end of the day, self reflects and realizes they’ve made a lot of mistakes that day, and truly desires to do better in those areas the following day. That’s it - just self-reflection and an honest desire to do better the next time. Well, I suppose by that simple standard, we’re at least decent parents, because we are always evaluating and reevaluating our methods and failures, and trying (oftentimes unsuccessfully) to do better the next time.
Lovely, but not perfect boys during a recent snowstorm here.
...and their happy, but not perfect parents!
So let me address the (6) misstatements I mentioned above:

1)  Wow, they’re family life seems so perfect. I wish our family could be so happy and great.
Let me assure you, our family is very far from perfect. Alisha and I are blessed to have a very strong marriage, but we are put to the test many times each day to fight our own selfishness and stubbornness in dealing with each other (mostly me!) and the boys. While we do have fun and joke a lot, there are plenty of times when we would be humiliated to have cameras up in our house recording our lives! At the end of the day, we do try hard to first acknowledge our mistakes, and then work on getting better in those areas. But that is a very slow process!

2)  Boy, Brad and Alisha sure are great parents. From all of those happy, smiling pictures, they must really have parenting figured out.
We’ve often thought how funny it would be to snap our family pictures 3 seconds before the cameraman starts counting to the ‘flash’. It quite often is very near a brawl between the boys, and often they are under threat of death and dismemberment to look happy by-gum for 2 seconds so the picture can be taken! Our boys are energetic and opinionated little chaps, so calmly reasoning with them that we would like a nice family picture is like training your dog to not devour the treat as soon as you hold out your hand – eventually we can get there but it takes a lot of effort and repetition and coaxing…and if need be blackmail and bribery! Ok, maybe not blackmail, but you get the point.

3)  The Crawford boys look so happy and well behaved. Why do my children fight so much and why do I have to spend so much of my time ‘parenting’ them? 
Our boys are generally happy, but this characterization’s accuracy ends there. Our boys fight and complain and nag and whine as much as anyone’s, and sometime’s (I dare say most days) Alisha and I feel like we’ve done little else than deal with those very basic things that day. Or, we’ll do one of these fun activities that we end up posting on the blog or Facebook, and yet most of the time was spent solving arguments, getting them to obey us so they wouldn’t kill themselves, or breaking up fights! Sometimes the only smiling part of the ‘fun’ activity is the 2 seconds before the flash of the camera captures the moment! Ha!

4)  What an exciting life the Crawford’s have, living in England and Brad traveling the world.
Most of the time, living far from home (either Africa or now England), our biggest struggle is boredom. We don’t know many people or places, and have been stripped of many of the things that we use to occupy our time when living back home – namely, planning and organizing the next hangout or visit with family and friends. And as far as traveling the world, though I do love meeting people from other cultures and value that experience, if it were up to me, I would probably choose to stay home. I hate to leave Alisha and the boys. And while I do love what EMI does and feel honored to work with such amazing people doing work that I truly believe in and believe is helping people, the primary reason I work with EMI is that Alisha and I both feel strongly that this is what God wants for us, at least at this time in our lives. We hold on loosely to that though, as we realize it could last only a few more months, or it could be the rest of my career. Regardless, rest assured that traveling around to these places where I do projects is a challenge for me, and that apart from feeling that God called me to do it, I wouldn’t go.

5)  Seeing all the experiences they’re having in other countries makes me wish my life was like the Crawford’s
You may think we’re crazy, but sometimes we see pictures of all of you back home doing stuff in our former home towns and we wish we could trade places with you! We very much miss our friends, family and even the places we’ve lived, and we often fantasize about what it would be like to be living a ‘normal’ life again back home. So while seeing new places in other countries is a very cool experience, after a day of sightseeing, we're often left with a feeling of being outsiders far from home. For me, it’s fun to see something in a new or obscure part of the world, but after looking at ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is – statue, building, landmark, African village or safari animal, etc.) for a minute or so, I’m usually done (yeah I know, not really good at relishing the finer things in life, am I?! I fully admit I'm a home body at heart!).

6)  I don’t really want to read this blog or look at the pictures anymore because it makes me feel bad about myself and our family’s life in comparison.
For whatever part we’ve played in making you feel that way – either by over-glamorizing our life or cherry picking highlights that serve to portray us as in too positive of a light – I apologize. I can assure you that we are a very normal family, with lots of highs and lows. And on most days, the things we’ve failed at or opportunities we’ve missed as parents occupy more of our thoughts in the evening than do the thoughts of how great we did. We do love our boys with all of our hearts, and thus are always trying to assess and correct, but oftentimes it feels like that is a fruitless process, and we end up struggling with the same things over and over again. In short, we’re normal…I think?! Yikes, does anyone else struggle with any of this stuff? Maybe in truth, we’re way more whacked out than any of you are!
Anyway, please know that we see ourselves as no different from any of you. We try and fail and try and fail, and then finally pray about it, and then make some modest but often temporary gains. J Life is a process, and because we’re both naturally more goal-oriented and pragmatic people, we’re trying our best to learn to enjoy the process of life along the way. Fortunately, God is merciful and extends grace to those who seek it, and he continues to help us work on ourselves even as we're attempting to guide these young lives. At the end of the day, we just hope that through both our fun and failings, they'll see the need for God in their own life journeys and seek after his ways above all else. That's our number one prayer request as parents.
I really feel like I should end this in an appropriate manner, but right now I’m being a terrible dad because the boys are bored and Alisha needs to cook dinner and they are just pestering her to be allowed to play a computer game or some other mindless activity that we hate, and thus they really need someone to help occupy their time (i.e. go play with them). Therefore, I must excuse myself here, so I can go take a nap to get away from all the noise. ;)