Author Archive : Amy Fenton Lee

The Lesson of the Ringing Bell

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I’ll admit it. I battled a cynical attitude for the ringing bell. I would purposefully walk to a door on the far end of a store’s entrance just to avoid the clanking kettle and eager face petitioning my contribution. Internally, I wrestled both annoyance and guilt on seemingly every shopping trip through the holiday season. About three years ago it dawned on me that I would have some explaining to do if I kept the same attitude and avoidance. Nearing age four, my son’s social awareness and inquiries seemed endless.

Anticipating his potential questions on our weekly visit to the super store, I made the conscious decision to approach every bell ringer all season long with a smile and a donation. Almost immediately my son was excitedly asking for money when we pulled into a parking lot where he saw a bell-ringer ahead. Invariably the short exchange between the charity volunteer and my young son brought a smile to all three of us and spurred a follow-up teachable moment as my son pondered how his small offering may help someone in need. I found myself more joyous during the holiday season and throughout the otherwise inconvenient and laborious shopping excursions. It seemed ironic that these once annoying bell-ringers were now opportunities for happy moments for my son and me.

There is something contagious and counterintuitive during Christmas time. It is the fiscal period we require the most financially to cover costs associated with gifts, expensive meals, and a rising heat bill. Yet it is also the season we naturally turn to remember those less fortunate. What compels us to provide the food and presents for the family who otherwise would have little? What draws us to the toy we purchase and place in the fire station’s collection box? For me the answer is clear after seeing my son’s reaction to the bell-ringers. Infused in our DNA is the desire for both grace and giving. Any mother of a misbehaving child can attest to the innate and natural desire for grace. And the same is true for giving.

It took little explanation for my young son to develop an enthusiastic spirit to contribute when passing a bell-ringer. Similarly, he took great pride and delight in selecting a toy not for himself, but for a child whose name was posted on the church angel tree. Teaching my child to give wasn’t like teaching him to like asparagus! Indeed we are hard-wired to offer acts of goodwill and kindness. Our spirits often respond to our virtuous deeds with natural feelings of warmth and pleasure. This holiday season, may we all experience the joy in doing good.

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA.  For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.comand www.theinclusivechurch.com.

Beauty: Reshaping our View

Monday, September 26th, 2011

No one has to be reminded when it’s swimsuit season. Imperfections become obsessions and the pressure to look photo-shop perfect is almost unbearable. It is tough to instill a “character counts” mindset in our children when they are surrounded by the societal message “looks matter.” Unfortunately and often unknowingly, we (parents) play into a culture placing great value on beauty and sex appeal.

Recently I was visiting older relatives in another state. As a child, I vacationed many summers and holidays with these same family members. Wandering through the home of a now aging great aunt, I noticed the particular family pictures she chose to display. One wall showcased the formal portrait of an exceptionally photogenic cousin. Another room exhibited a well-framed press photo of an aunt winning a local beauty pageant. As I perused the house, I pondered the pictures my great aunt had chosen to keep through the years and the ones retired. Sadly, photos of her less camera-friendly sister and nieces who physically care for her were missing.

Suddenly, I understood why I had struggled with a life-long unhealthy preoccupation with my own appearance. Early on, I subconsciously processed the idea that being pretty generated recognition and self-worth.

I left my family trip sorting through rekindled memories with a fresh view. Now the parent of a young child, I felt compelled to make a conscious effort to instill strong self esteem and reward character over camera appeal. While it is wise to maintain appearances for a good first impression, there is a fine line between taking pride in oneself and idolizing beauty.

I will be the first to admit that this is a struggle for me. Several years ago a close friend pointed out that I was quick to share facts about someone’s appearance or social status, rather than personality or character.  While their insight stung at the time, thankfully it spawned much needed personal growth. As we seek to create an accepting and encouraging environment for our children it is important to reflect on our own value of appearance. Making deliberate choices in our relationships and outward expressions ultimately defines the message we send others.

Look Inward:

  • Ask yourself, do the people in my life represent a variety of color, shapes and sizes?
  • Reflect on personal self worth when around others of varying looks.  Is there a difference in pride or embarrassment?

Express Outward:

  • Resist making negative side comments about anyone’s appearance, even if they are out of earshot.
  • Initiate interest in a person that drives at discovering his or her passions, dreams, and desires for personal contribution.
  • Affirm friends who wisely lose weight however make sure comments would not be received as an indication of how they are valued.
  • Express genuine admiration for someone’s appearance, while regularly praising their less superficial qualities (especially for young girls – when both appealing and wholesome presentation choices are made.)
  • Avoid communicating critical remarks regarding appearance. If a recurring issue of immodesty emerges, pray before a warranted conversation and approach the young person with an abundance of respect and love.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead it should be that of our inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”  – 1 Peter 3:3 – 4

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA.  For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.comand www.theinclusivechurch.com.

Staying on Task: Creating a Family Plan

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Just seeing the word “schedule” may evoke feelings of anxiety for many parents. It’s a struggle to create, let alone maintain, a systematic routine for our household. However, with devotion and inspiration, the investment can yield great benefits for a family.

Creating a visible chore list and mentally sorting through the logistics of their completion, force us to prioritize. And by realistically distinguishing between the “must haves” and the “bonus” accomplishments in a given period, we allow participating family members to develop a healthy sense of what’s important and what’s not.

Set Aside Time for Schedule Development
Set an appointment with a scratch pad and pencil or in front of an Excel spreadsheet. List all chores that need to be accomplished in any given period, assigning family members various tasks. Whereas every family member may be assigned a similar task (making their own bed), split other household responsibilities according to ability and availability. Incorporate developmental goals into a child’s chores.

The five year old may be charged with cutting coupons from a presorted stack of flyers, simultaneously allowing them to improve their fine motor skills.

And the seven year old may load the dishwasher, learning how to sort and arrange items.

The bigger weekly chores may be assigned to the busy teenager, developing their own time management skills.

And for the tween or teen exhibiting leadership capability and desire, appoint them to select and share the weekly scripture for family devotion.

Think Big Picture
When my husband and I were going through pre-marital counseling, our pastor proposed that we develop a family mission statement. He explained that our mission would ultimately shape our reaction to a number of anticipated life situations. And while having a pre-defined purpose wouldn’t make life easier, it would remove some ambiguity amidst hard decisions.

A similar parallel exists in how we budget our time. When we step back and ask “is this time investment in line with our family mission?” we become more purposed in our daily life. Creating a master plan allows us to naturally weave the family mission into the family schedule.

Whether earmarking a period for our own personal renewal or arranging for the family’s participation in an outside service project, without any pre-planning, those things typically don’t happen. Giving the forethought to creating a family schedule allows us to live each day with greater confidence and purpose.

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA. For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.com and www.theinclusivechurch.com.

Staying on Schedule: Survivor v. Servant

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Recently my husband treated me to a weekend free of wife and motherhood duties. I only had myself to pack before I flew off to another U.S. city for a brief retreat from regular life.

On the morning of my flight, I slept a few extra minutes past the alarm’s first ring. I leisurely arose and caved in to the urge to check email and Facebook. I proceeded with my unhurried approach until I stepped out of the shower and saw a clock.

Reality hit as less than 30 minutes remained to finish getting ready. Immediately, I felt the crunch to complete what now seemed a lengthy list of final chores. As my anxiety elevated, I began barking instruction to my husband, delegating my outstanding wrap-up.

By the time I bid my husband good bye, he was eager for my exit and resistant to a parting kiss. Understandably he was frustrated with the stress he was forced to absorb amidst my panicked race to get out the door.

I stayed in this unpleasant mode after I arrived at the Atlanta airport. I sprinted to security, aggressively passing some laid back travelers in order to get ahead in the security line. I then dashed to the tram, rattling the nerves of a young mother I gently swiped as I passed.

Once inside the terminal, I looked up to see a famous Atlanta family waiting at a nearby gate. A tad bit star-struck, I caught myself wanting to observe their interactions but was quickly reminded of an impending plane-door closing.

Yes, I made my plane. But, there was so much lost. As I found my seat on the plane I reflected (and repented) of a morning lost. This should have been my perfect opportunity to show gratitude toward my husband, patiently wait my turn in the security line, graciously help the mother traveling with two young children, and even people watch amidst a brief brush with fame.

From the minute I realized I was running late until I arrived at my plane I was in survival mode. Behaviors benefiting anyone else were abandoned in my need for self-preservation.

How often do we turn ourselves or our families into survivors by failing to stay on schedule? It is easy and tempting to desert our time budget as we get distracted or extend a moment of enjoyment too far. We dismiss momentary and almost subconscious choices as insignificant. But are they? A child, who arrives late (or at the last minute) to school, arrives stressed. And hurried activities are never quality activities.

Staying on schedule keeps us and our families at their best. Unnecessary stress is avoided. And honoring the time budget may even afford us the few extra moments to serve others in our midst.

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA.  For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.com and www.theinclusivechurch.com.

Creating Summer Memories: Life’s Building Blocks

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Electronic gaming, videos and television privileges have functioned as the discipline currency in my household. We learned a long time ago that both earning and losing time in front of a video monitor molded our young son’s behavior quite effectively.  Recently Watson, my five year old, returned home from school and headed for the television. I gently reminded him that he lost all of his “privileges” due to the previous days’ behavior choices. And indeed he quickly remembered.

The rest of the afternoon was eye-opening for me. Despite the fact my son was still free to occupy himself at his leisure in the toy room; he remained agitated and frustrated, needing constant attention. It was not long before I realized that without electronics involved, my child lacked the ability to self-play! The match box car set, the locking blocks, and the puzzles all sat idle as Watson struggled to find constructive activity for himself.

Like my young son, many children require intentional parenting to develop the ability to self-play. Reflecting on my own growing up and the downtime I spent playing Atari PacMan (yes, I am that old!), video games hold little significance compared to the memories of wading a nearby creek, sponge painting T-shirts, and creating a jar to catch lightening bugs. It was the active play utilizing my imagination and family’s existing resources that I fondly remember: making tents using hollow-stemmed wood poles from our backyard bamboo garden; spending hours exploring the pastures on my grandparents’ farm; searching on scavenger hunts planned by my mother.

As the days of no school and warm weather are here, my husband and I are shifting our child’s reward currency away from electronics and to “popsicle privileges.” In the meantime, I’m planning more activities that better develop my son’s imagination, dexterity, and free-play abilities.

  • Search the web for kid-minded projects and recipes for homemade bubbles, play-dough, and body paint. Children are as much enamored with the process of creating as with the end product.
  • Take a bucket of water and a handful of medium sized paintbrushes and assign children the task of painting the sidewalk (with water!).
  • Don’t under estimate the value of a sandbox. Allowing children to hunt for toys in sand, a bin of dried beans, or dried pasta are good ways to engage a child’s tactile sense.
  • Read bed time stories by flashlight on the back porch or in the backyard and take note of the stars in the sky.
  • Plant seeds in a garden or pot and make it a daily activity to water the growing flowers or vegetation.
  • Find hands-on activities and quiet crafts such as: puzzles, cross word games or beading. Make a daily or weekly schedule that incorporates a few minutes of this same activity as a way of helping your child develop a wind-down hobby.

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA.  For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.com and www.theinclusivechurch.com.

Favorite Things

Monday, July 11th, 2011

For as long as I can remember, I have finished out my day with the exchange of “favorite things.” As the oldest of three sisters covering a five-year age span, we began this tradition when I was in elementary school and while my sisters were very small. My dad’s job often demanded his absence from after school interactions and family dinner.  It was common for him to arrive home just as we were tucking in to read bedtime stories.

Immediately after our last book and before prayers, mom would ask each of us children to recount our favorite thing from that particular day. The best memory of the day was nearly always an otherwise mundane moment that had special meaning to one of us girls. My parents still recall the story of waking near midnight to the whimpers of my preschool-aged sister as she entered their bedroom exclaiming, “We forgot to do favorite things today and I had something I wanted to share!”

Our answers provided a snapshot of the daily events my father may have missed, as well as a bit of insight into our rapidly developing individual personalities. Quite often, an amusing tale would emerge out of this sharing time. Almost always, giggles were exchanged as we recounted our funny experiences. Sometimes we playfully argued over whose event deserved the most laughs, and thus the celebrated status. Even through high school, we looked forward to our nighttime ritual and the opportunity to share a bit of our day with each other.

The tradition was begun nearly thirty years ago, but it remains today. Now a mother myself, my most anticipated part of the day is “favorite things.” I look forward to the revelation of the most impressive event in the mind of my six year old son. I set aside the task list and let the phone go to voicemail so my young son has my undivided attention. It’s during this time that I am so rewarded with his “favorite thing” memory of the day. Sharing snow cones, making a card with glitter or finding caterpillars in the backyard are typical happenings that become notable moments.  Nearly always I walk away from our “favorite things” time learning something new about my son’s personality or his budding world-view.

This daily family practice often functions as the vehicle for my own personal refocus. Recently when my son opted to name the backyard picnic as his top memory rather than the purchase of a new toy the same day, I was reminded that to him, more money does not equate to a better quality of life. Rather, investing a few minutes of inconvenience by packing up lunch and relocating amidst the mosquitoes and hot sun was the currency required for creating that day’s treasured moment.

Along with her husband and young son, Amy Fenton Lee lives in Cumming, GA.  For more on Amy and her writing see www.amyfentonlee.com and www.theinclusivechurch.com.