It’s just one week from Christmas! Have you read the Polar Express? Can you still hear the bell? We can at our house! We have our 24-7 Christmas radio station set, and Bob has checked out enough Christmas story picture books (we’re newly called Nursery leaders!) to read one morning and night. This year we have no fewer than six Christmas trees … oh well, better too many Christmas trees than too many cookies!
While the sights and sounds of the season continue to delight, our hearts are broken as pictures of the darling children at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut begin to emerge. Their precious lives, ended too soon at the hand of 20-year old Adam Lanza at the height of the Christmas season, will help us forever to understand the meaning of Christmas and cherish it all the more.
Christmas by sheer definition is a time we especially treasure children and their mothers. This stems, of course, from our great love for the Baby Jesus and Mary. When terrible things like this happen, my heart immediately goes to the mother of the killer and how her life is changed forever. Unlike mothers of other shooters, however, Nancy Lanza was also killed and will mercifully not have to witness the suffering of these families affected by her son’s actions, the prosecution of her child, or our nation and the world as we grieve at what should be the happiest season of all.
Perhaps we will learn that, as with the Colorado movie theatre shootings earlier this year, Adam Lanza was mentally ill. Two of my dearest friends have sons with serious genetically related mental illnesses that leave these choice mothers in constant fear of what their sons could do when they are not on their medicines.
If he is not mentally ill, what went so horribly wrong? What kind of boiling rage, hate and anger could possibly produce the emotions that would allow this type of action? What kind of relationships did he have with his family and friends that allowed him to turn a blind eye to these horrific consequences?
Was anybody helping or listening to Adam Lanza? One thing is for sure: Nancy Lanza loved her son and did her best, as do all parents. The sadness is that these things happen, even when there is great love. The gifts of understanding, true communication and the ability to truly help each other are, sadly, not something that can be purchased and gift-wrapped. Even at Christmas.
Or are they???
A number of years ago we found ourselves at a cross roads with one of our teenagers. Nothing we said seemed to penetrate very deeply. The poor choices were adding up and we knew we all needed help. There were many prayers for guidance and one day a book at an LDS Bookstore leaped off the shelf into my hands. The comforting title, “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better: Six Practical Principles That Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Relationships” (by Gary and Joy Lundberg) had me perusing the chapter headings. We quickly bought the book and as we drove home, I started reading out loud to Bob. My little brain felt like a pinball as the “A Ha!” moments lit up new ways of looking at things and how to respond.
The fundamental principle of the book is that we all have the capability of solving our own problems. We usually don’t need someone to tell us what to do, but to LISTEN and respectfully, lovingly step back as we work things out for ourselves … much like our Heavenly Father usually does. The book is extremely effective in teaching validation –a simple yet profound communication tool that is essential to any healthy relationship.
The book is easy to read with many examples. The principles seem overly-obvious, and most will be inclined to dismiss them due to their simplicity. Yet, they work! Immediately! From toddlers to senior parents! The hardest part (and still is for someone who loves to talk as much as I do) is to let go of responding too soon with too many ideas in order to “fix” things ASAP.
We learned how to bite our tongues (sometimes almost literally) and found that not just our teens, but our younger children and our own relationship blossomed as we talked less and validated more. (Comforting sounds like “Ooooooohhhhh and short phrases like “Really? That’s gotta be tough!” are little miracle makers.)
Our children started confiding in us more as we said less. It was remarkable (and still is) to find them coming up with answers on their own that were identical or better than ours! When the solution was their idea rather than ours, they were empowered to take action and found increasing strength in their own abilities and autonomy. (As a happy side note, we gratefully bid adieu to our own feelings of hurt and confusion when they didn’t follow our suggestions.)
As the months passed, we read and re-read the book, finding new ways to improve and implement these validating skills and cherishing the results. We wished that we had had it from the first years of our own marriage and began giving it as a wedding gift. At this point, more than ten years after discovering this golden treasure, our five children (ranging in age from 19 to 31) are incredibly self-sufficient and we have beautiful relationships with all of them and their spouses.
We have often said this priceless tome should be required reading for every family! So last year, our Christmas gift to each of our children, instead of anything for their homes or personal interests was a new gift wrapped copy of the book and $50, enough for a quiet, fun dinner with their sibling or husband/wife (not us) and a request to prayerfully start the book and give it a chance.
Would this book and its principles have made a difference to Adam Lanza and his family?
Several years ago I watched a mother and her young adult daughter on Oprah. Some terrible things had happened in their lives. During the interview the daughter broke down and sobbed, “All I ever wanted was for you to JUST LISTEN! And hear me! And believe in me! Why did you always have to make all my problems yours ???? Why were you always trying to fix things????
While it is too late for the Lanza family, (the parents were divorced several years ago) it is NOT too late for yours. As a Christmas gift for yourself and your eternal family, this book is a must. If you already have it, a quick refresher may make the holidays that much brighter for you!
As a little end note, a friend recently told me after a lengthy phone conversation, “You know why I just LOVE talking to you, Carolyn? You just listen to me talk and talk! At the end, I feel better and often know just what to do. As the cherry on top, I know you’ll be just fine after dumping on you and I haven’t burdened you a bit! How do you do that?”
I urged her to get a copy of the book – and repeat it here: “I Don’t Have To Make Everything All Better” by Joy and Gary Lundberg, available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.
Merry Christmas! May we celebrate it by listening to the Christmas bells, the music, and the hearts and words of those we love.
Carolyn Allen has been providing weight loss inspiration since 1999 both online and in community venues in the Washington, D.C. area. Her favourite food is steamed broccoli (lots of it!) with a little butter and lemon-pepper. Her book, “60 seconds to Weight Loss Success”, is available at her site, or Amazon.com. Learn more about her herbal health tonic and colon cleanse at www.MyMiracleTea.com