The Joy of Cousins

The Joy of Cousins

Planning vacations has always been an optimization exercise of some sort: how can you see the most places on a modest budget? Is the extra cost of flying pay worth it for the extra time you might have spent driving? Which route will allow you to see the most National Parks/countries/restaurants with Michelin-stars? Dozens of hours and hundreds of internet searches are devoted to discerning the good from the best.

These days, I have a new criterion in planning holidays: which option will give us the most time with cousins? Because, dear friends, more and more I’m appreciating that cousins can be solid gold in the treasure bank of childhood memories.

Since they share a common ancestor, cousins are close enough to share some common stories, common interests, and (quite possibly) some common eccentricities (You can also curl your tongue? Cool! Your mother also makes you drink kefir? Awesome! You also know the words to going-gang-goolly-goolly-goolly-whatsit-ging-gang-goo? I thought that was my Dad’s own personal cup of crazy.)

But, unlike a sibling who shares all these things, a cousin is also far enough removed to have the thrill of some novelty: know a game you haven’t learned, go to a school you don’t go to, or—in our case—be able to sing Happy Birthday in a different language. Cousins, at their best, are an exquisite blend of both familiar and exotic.

Cousins can be a tribe you belong to without having had to try out.

Cousins nestle in that space where they can be both family and friends.

And cousins come attached to grown-ups: aunts and uncles (or cousins once-removed), who know all about your parents’ crazy quirks, and have a built-in love for you already. Aunts and uncles can often tell you silly story about what your mom or dad were like when they were a kid: blowing holes in that serious-parent guise that moms and dads sometimes like to hide behind. Aunts and uncles remember your parents as children, and tell fantastical stories about that time Daddy got a carrot stuck up his nose, and Mommy went up and down the street selling raffle tickets to the neighbors with her sisters’ birthday gifts as the prizes (true story).

And of course, this mommy has her own set of stories to tell the cousins about their parents as revenge.

Our kids have no cousins nearby: in fact, they have no cousins on the same continent. But every now and then, a family wedding or a big birthday will allow us a couple of days with cousins. The days are hectic and loud and meal times are crazy: too many food preferences and not enough chairs. Travel is exhausting and sleeping arrangements are always cramped. All of this is…. less than optimal.

But, no matter where we are in the world, I need only look up to see a herd of children—a clutch of cousins—running laps in the yard, planning mayhem or trading secrets and finding the best hiding spots, and it is all worth it.

And so we sit, with our calendars open, and dream of vacations in the years to come: places we’d like to go, things we’d like to do. We wonder when we should go, and how we should budget for it. And, as the years go by, we find ourselves asking one extra question: will there be cousins?

 

 

Fear Not!

I am thrilled to introduce my friend and fellow Redbud writer Dorothy Greco to you. I love Dorothy’s thoughtful and thought-provoking writing, and her photos are just… well…. breath-taking. She is a regular contributor at Gifted for Leadership, and her work has appeared at RELEVANT, Christianity Today, Abingdon Women and more . You can visit her online at dorothygreco.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

angel fear not

Americans generally don’t associate fear with Christmas. We tend to sanitize and commercialize the holiday, throwing in omniscient Santas and schmaltzy music for good measure. Even when we dramatize the Nativity, it’s safe and tidy with the generous magi showing up like long forgotten uncles. But there’s more to this narrative–and that more is far from safe.

The back story could easily earn an R rating and instill fear in the most courageous of souls: angelic visitations, high risk pregnancies, a last minute escape, a jealous king, and the infanticide of baby boys. Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah were not the only ones who needed to hear, Gabriel’s word, “Do not be afraid!”

Two things strike me about the angel’s exhortation. First, God understands humanity’s innate tendency to gravitate toward fear. And second, there’s an unspoken implication that choosing not to fear is an actual option.

I haven’t always felt like I’ve had a choice in this matter. Raised in a home with an alcoholic parent, there was a notable lack of predictability which left me grasping for control. As a coping mechanism, I developed the sensitivity of a deer grazing in broad daylight–ever poised to retreat at the slightest indication of a coming storm. Eventually, that hyper-vigilance became as much a part of me as my dimples and brown hair.

Regardless of our upbringing, few of us have entered adulthood without witnessing or experiencing at least a few frightening events. Accidents, health crises, and large scale tragedies (such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing), all leave fault lines. For some of us, fear gets normalized due to years spent living in crime-ridden neighborhoods or being in abusive relationships.

Though each of us has unique histories with fear, our bodies respond in a similar fashion. Adrenaline surges, the heart goes into overdrive, muscles contract, body temperature drops, and organs deemed unnecessary for fight or flight (like the stomach) essentially shut down. And if fear persists, it impacts far more than our adrenal systems; it seeps into our souls and conditions our expectations. For some veterans, the simple sound of a car’s backfire can send them into a reflexive drop and roll.

So, was Gabriel onto something? Do we have a choice or is fear simply a chemical chain reaction–a byproduct of evolution–and therefore beyond our control? Based on my own life experiences and my understanding of Scripture, I think we can actually take back some of the territory lost to fear.

We first have to learn to recognize what fear looks like in our lives. For most of us, fear is connected to everyday worries. In contrast, many of the 40 million American adults who suffer from diagnosed anxiety disorders can recognize fear with their eyes closed because the anxiety they experience is far more acute. Understandably, some of these individuals organize their days to keep a safe distance from their personal cliffs.

But fear has many manifestations, some of which are difficult to identify. Sometimes it’s connected to a specific place (the dentist’s office) or activity (flying), but not always. In our current culture, most of us unreflectively say we’re “stressed” without piecing together that stress is little more than a euphemism for fear. In my own life, I’ve done some risky things (like sleeping under a highway overpass with runaway teens) and regularly enjoy the #1 fear on most people’s lists: public speaking. However, I continue to do hand to hand combat with fear on a routine basis.

Take last summer’s vacation. While in Zion National Park, our sons wanted to do the Angel’s Landing hike which has multiple dire warnings; “Not recommended for anyone fearful of heights. This hike has sheer drop offs.” My fear based imagination envisioned a sudden gust of wind pushing them over the edge. I tried to dissuade them but when that failed, I prayed non-stop until they re-appeared over the ridge.

This tendency to catastrophize, to expect the worst case scenario, has been with me as long as I can remember. While it’s impossible to discern exactly where it came from, I am convinced it has spiritual dimensions. It’s as if the enemy notices my moments of vulnerability, sidles up to me, and tries to convince me that my Father is not who He claims to be and is therefore, not to be trusted. Isn’t this the same tactic Satan took with Adam and Eve?

Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” For us to walk in that power, love, and self-discipline, we need to ruthlessly part company with fear. In my own life, this has meant confessing any and all faulty theology. If I begin to doubt God’s advocacy or love for me, I recall Jesus’s willingness to come to earth and die on my behalf. If the fear persists, I’ll address it directly; “In Jesus name, I rebuke you spirit of fear. Go to the cross.”(It’s counter cultural and won’t necessarily endear you to the random person standing next to you in the elevator, but trust me, it’s effective.)

While we all need some measure of healthy fear to keep us from stepping in front of a moving train, I believe that God wants us to appropriate Christ’s resurrection power whenever we feel limited or constrained by fear. If that’s the case, Gabriel’s exhortation to “Fear not!” is just as relevant–and comforting–for us today as it was for Joseph, Mary, and Zechariah two thousand years ago.

Please Note: For those of you who have diagnosed anxiety disorders, this does not mean that battling in the spiritual realm will erase the valid benefits you receive from your therapeutic work and/or prescribed medications.