Treasured

Psalm 30:2, 4-5, 11-12
O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints,
and give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
and His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing,
You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

There are few things God has entrusted to me which I treasure more than my children.
In fact, I can not think of a single tangible thing more treasured.
Even my husband, because the children God used us to create are part of him.
So in my treasuring and cherishing of them, he is included at least in a large part & portion.
I guess you could say they are, in fact, my treasured possession (in the vein of Deut 7:6).

Perhaps the largest struggle of my life is contained in my pursuit of motherhood.
Those who know me well, or even those who know me much at all past the truly superficial, know this.
But it isn’t easily contained in something like a sentiment or photograph.

It is such a big part of me that it takes a lot of time, conversation, and heart to deeply know this part of me. I realize and recognize that. I have grown enough through this that I now understand that not everybody is equipped or desirous to take part in that. And that is okay. In fact, that’s probably good and healthy. It is a huge part of who I am and what my life has included, but it is not all there is.

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All of this notwithstanding, I’ve long yearned for an opportunity to capture an aspect of all thirteen of my children in a family photograph. And recently, a friend of mine from church offered to take family portraits for us, and asked what kind of creative aspects we could bring to the table (or the field, as it so happened). I mentioned wanting to do something in honor of my babies in heaven, and Sarah embraced the idea. She so kindly and gently photographed my family with nine white balloons to represent our nine children beyond the veil. My treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20-21).

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And she also photographed me with my nine treasure boxes cradled on my lap. Little wooden boxes my father devotedly created for nine of his grandchildren, most of them cradling the wee bodies left behind from the souls that were escorted by angels to the heavens; all of them waiting to be buried with their mama so we can burst forth from our graves together at the final trumpet sound when our King returns.

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These are sacred moments which perhaps only my own heart could treasure in such a tangible, tactile way. But here I share them with you, because so many of you have watched me walk these roads of tears and terror. It is my honor and my joy to share with you that there are treasures for me along this journey as well.

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Revelation 21:3-4

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Rest & Adventure

A couple weeks ago during communion, where the pastor prayed over my children, he included a phrase asking God to be their rest and be their adventure.

I can not tell you how that has stuck with me.
It has been repeated in my own prayers and in my discussions with my children, and it informs my outlook frequently as we face day to day scenarios as a Christian family.
It is even reflected in how I hope my children look back on their own childhoods: that it was both restful and adventurous.

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Oh God, even in Your 23rd Psalm I can see both Your rest and Your adventure. You take us on daring journeys, through all types of landscape, You show us both darkness and light, shadow and glory. You provide for us with strength, yet You carry us when we are void of it. Thank You for proving Your faithfulness. In the calm and in the storm, in the peace and in the drama.

Isaiah 26:3
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Exodus 33:14
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Psalm 4:8
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 16:11
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession,
and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
1 Timothy 6:12 / 2 Timothy 4:7
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called
and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Thank You, Father, for Your Word. For how You meet us at every time and in every place.
Thank You, Lord, that my children are Your children; that they belong to You, that You have numbered their days, formed their intellects, nuanced their delights. Thank You for giving them Your love. Thank You for giving them a love for You. Thank You for knitting their hearts in faithfulness.
Do, oh my God, do be their rest. Do be their adventure. Both now and forever. Amen.

Beautiful crying forth

As I contemplate my thirteen precious children today, on PAIL (pregnancy and infant loss) Remembrance Day, I am praising God for His beautiful crying forth of ideas which created each one of them.

I still daily get to set my eyes on four of them, and I am daily blown away by His imagination in how He formed each one. They are absolutely spoken magic, woven into flesh.

But there are nine other ideas of His which were spoken into creation by His Words. Although my eyes do not see them, nor my hands get to hold theirs, and my days are not filled with teaching & instructing them; and although their beautifully cried forth souls have flown from their woven bodies of flesh; they are still spoken magic. Fully alive. Glorifying God.

How stunning.

God, thank You for giving me so many children.
Thank You for lending some to me for such a long time.
Thank You for balming my heart when You took so many of them to Your heavenly places.
Thank You for crying forth such beauty even through my broken womb.
Thank You for showing Yourself faithful to me in grief.
Thank You for hearing my prayers.
Help me to show my children how beautifully & imaginatively spoken they are by You.
I believe Lord, help Thou my unbelief.

Teach Them Diligently

This week, I participated in a conversation about how to keep a Bible routine with the children in your home. It seems both super simple and overwhelmingly complicated at the same time. God granted me four precious children to train for His Kingdom. What an immense responsibility! In some sense, I’ve only got one shot at this parenting gig. In another sense, the Lord’s mercies are new each morning so I’ve got an endless amount of shots at this parenting gig. It is seeking to live a life of balance by His grace, with faith in Him, where I need to focus my eyes as I work day in and day out training & educating & discipling these children of His.

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As a stay at home, full time homeschooling mama, I don’t have to rush out of the door in the mornings, so I aim to do Bible time with my kids around the breakfast table. Steven and I were recently discussing how we can get him incorporated into it more (which is super tricky with his long work days), so we are thinking of having him lead that on Saturday mornings after breakfast (although Saturdays have been crazy because of rushing out for bowling league & ballet lessons right after breakfast… so we will need to do some planning before that starts up again next month), and then also on Sunday afternoon just before we start our weekly “family fun night” (which includes board games, a movie, special snacks, etc).

Part of me misses the old bedtime routine we used to have with our older boys (in the quieter days pre “real” homeschooling, with fewer rascals bouncing around), which involved rocking and reading books, singing as many songs as they would beg for, etc. Now it has turned totally different, because our evenings are spent more in the family room or playing soccer outside or something. And then the “bedtime routine” is just a rush of necessities rather than a special time of bonding. And that’s okay! We tidy up, we get in jams, we brush teeth, sometimes there are baths… and with four young kids to take through the routine of basic necessities, it draws things out and has resulted in needing to cut short the snuggly part of the bedtime routine. It’s just a different season now, and I’m slowly learning how to embrace that. But I also don’t mind admitting that I miss the old bedtime snuggle phase.

Anyway.
During our morning time together each day, I read from Scripture (we always do something from Psalms and Proverbs, and then I am reading straight through the Bible with the kids – we are currently in Ecclesiastes), I read from a picture storybook Bible, we sing “psalms & hymns & spiritual songs” (it varies day to day… we are working on memorizing a couple Psalms right now, and also the old hymn Praise To The Lord, The Almighty), I quiz the kids on their catechism (Gabriel is through Q68 in this Westminster Shorter, & I the one my 3 little guys do is called The Small Child’s Catechism – Simeon knows three Qs, Evangeline knows 27, and Asher just about has all 50 down pat), we pray together, I read a page from The Boy’s Devotional, and then I read a chapter of an allegory (we did Pilgrim’s Progress, Basket Of Flowers, Hedge Of Thorns, Hind’s Feet On High Places, and are now in Mountains Of Spices – I love the Lamplighter books for this, and when I purchased the Boys of Grit collection this week I also might have just signed up for the 4-book-per-month book club!).

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Honestly, our “Bible time” really sounds more intense and complicated than it actually is, now that I’ve typed it out. :blink:

It only “needs” to take about ten minutes, and sometimes on days when we have places to rush to, I just pick and choose two or three of those things. On “at home/school days” we do the whole routine and it takes about an hour. It’s the kids’ favorite hour of the day, though, pretty much. I try to start it while they are eating breakfast, and then while they are still sitting in their seats at the table, I give them copywork to do (I give them a verse each day that they copy… Evangeline is just now barely beginning to copy them properly into the actual words/sentences in a readable way, mostly now that she knows how to read so she can tell the actual difference), coloring (especially Bible themed coloring books that you can even get from the Dollar Store!), and my nine-year-old does some Bible word searches and Scripture/catechism copywork, and then both of my big boys (ages 9 and 5) have sketchbooks they draw in. So I keep their hands busy as much as I can so they pay attention. It’s my own attitude that sometimes gets most in the way because I get sick of being interrupted every three sentences with someone needing something or the kids just get noisy.

But I am trying hard to humbly realize that the important thing is just to cover them in Scripture, and make it a normal part of their life. It honestly doesn’t matter so much how I do it, or how much I do it, or how well I do it!!! It’s just that we seek to live a life that is saturated with Scripture. It’s all over our walls in pictures and on chalkboards. We have cds playing nonstop all day, and about 90% of the music I play is Christian music or straight up Scripture set to music. We are currently on an Indelible Grace streak. ;)

My little ones (ages 5 and under for sure) looooooove the Jesus Storybook Bible. They also love the old Children’s Illustrated Bible that I picked up for fifty cents at Goodwill! And the Lindvall series of Read-Aloud Bible Stories (there are five volumes I think). We have others we read at a variety of times also: The Garden, the Curtain, and the CrossThe Biggest StoryRead Aloud NTRead Aloud OT. They love the app on my phone, too, Bible For Kids, which they really only rarely get to play, but they get totally addicted to it and into it! My big boys (especially the 9 year old) love The Action Bible. When it comes to reading the Bible storybooks, sometimes I do add my own little commentary to include things that I  might notice missing/incomplete. But I am constantly emphasizing to my kids (even from before they understand, like my 21 month old) that these are Bible storybooks, not Scripture. When I read the Bible with my kids, I read them a real translation of Scripture (usually ESV or NKJV because those are what I have handy). But we make sure to train their sensibilities to know that there is a difference between Bible stories and Scripture. Both are good, so we use both! But making that distinction is one of my key points even with the littlest. After I read Scripture to them, I say “the Word of the Lord” and all four of my kids strongly respond “thanks be to God” – but we don’t do that after reading stories out of the Bible storybooks. That is just one way we practice reiterating that and putting teeth to it, so to speak.

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We pray a lot during the day, so they are constantly bathed in prayer being a normal part of life as well.
Before each meal, when we do “Bible time”, when we arrive somewhere (while kids are still buckled in, after I’ve turned off the car, we usually quickly pray for all of us to have self control and joy etc while we are doing whatever it is we are about to do), before bed, and just at random times throughout the day like if someone gets an owie or needs a prayer for self-control or faithfulness or diligence, we pray during our discipline routines, we pray when we get a parking spot right next to the cart return, we pray when we see an emergency vehicle rushing by us…

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As I seek to prioritize the education of my children to line up with what I most see in Scripture, these are just some the things I am personally doing at this current time with my kids. It’s the most structured and formal it has ever been yet in our family, largely because I am homeschooling fulltime so it works out well in that way (which is one of the reasons we wanted to homeschool, actually). But I do not think it has to be super structured. I do not want my children growing up in at atmosphere of legalism, emphasizing works over faith, or being pressured into “spiritual disciplines” as though our entire lives were not an act of worship & spiritual discipline. I honestly firmly believe that if you just spend your hours with your children loving Jesus, it will happen naturally.

Praying for my children, I think, is hands down the biggest and best blessing for them and their souls. Both in the short term and in the longterm. I am seeking to grow in that area. I love praying for them when they are listening, because I think it feeds their souls as well as helps to shape their own prayers. But I also need to be truly purposed about praying for them when I am alone with God as well. I got Andrew Case’s book “Setting Their Hope in God” as a springboard for praying for my children, largely because I am lazy about it. :blush: But I know that… and acknowledging that and humbling myself should be the first step in growing in that area and asking God to gird my resolve to pray more frequently and more passionately for my children.

Also, back to that idea of seeking to find balance & grace without slipping into the ditch of legalism, I have learned to realize and & embrace that it doesn’t have to be every day.

Seriously. Are you shocked that I would say that publicly? Hah!

If you pour into them little bits at a time, even if it only feels like you’re “doing adequately” once a week (or whatever), God does not turn that away void.
Give what you can give to your children in faith.
Offer up those bits of time as loaves and fishes to Him, and let Him multiply it for your children.
Be gracious with yourself.
God is not constrained by our work schedules, our noisy & silly kids, our wiggly or consistent prayer times.
He gathered the children onto His lap and blessed them.

Honestly. It’s enough.
It’s enough because He takes what you offer in faith, and He multiplies it, makes it fruitful, and brings the increase.

We end every day with singing Numbers 6:24 over the kids, and saying “God bless you, I love you, peace be with you.”
Even if that is all I manage to sneak into the day, God knows my heart. He knows the hearts of my kids. He is at work. :happytears:

 

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Busy Bookworms

Our summer has continued to be busy, busy, busy!
But one constant has remained despite the crazy schedules: namely, busy bookworms.

My bookworms do not take summer break.
(nor would I want them to!)

We have three library cards for the county library, and we can check out fifty items at a time on each card… and would it shock you if I told you that I am constantly maxing out how many things we can bring home at a time?! It is kind of hilarious, but also incredibly beautiful. We do not have a lack of imagination around here, let me tell you.

I am thinking I need to start some kind of document where I keep track of the books each of the kids have read, and some kind of rating system so we know what books we absolutely adored and which ones we wouldn’t bother checking out again.

Personally speaking, I have been devouring all kinds of information (from booklists to podcasts to my new canvas bookbag…) from the Read Aloud Revival (check it out if it’s new to you, especially if there are children anywhere in your life), the Story Warren, and CiRCE Institute.

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I’ve been absolutely amazed at the results that come from spending so many hours indulging in books on my own and with the children. Gabriel is starting to write poetry and short stories, and you can tell from his sentence structure that he has been reading a lot lately! Good writers tend to be good readers. In order to pour out, you must be filled up somehow. It’s true in so many areas, and my nine year old son shows me how true it is even in reading & writing. When he is constantly reading and hearing beautiful language and imaginative themes and redemptive storylines, those things are what begin to come out of his own mind and fingertips too.

So what are some of our current reads that are fast becoming favorites??
How many of these books we keep checking out do we actually remember??
Let me poll the people in my home for you!

Simeon
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?
Doggies
The Jesus Storybook Bible
Pat the Bunny
Animal Alphabet
(and also pretty much any other book he gets his fingers on…
but he is currently obsessed with those)

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Evangeline
The Seven Silly Eaters
This Is My Home This Is My School
Angelina Ballerina
Roxaboxen
Little Red Writing
The Princess in Black series
Little Drummer Boy
My Goodnight Book
The Going To Bed Book
Jabari Jumps
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

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Asher
Green Ember series
Leepike Ridge
The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Motor Miles
Miss Maple’s Seeds
Mercy Watson series
Balloons Over Broadway
Shel Silverstein books
Nate the Great series
Calvin & Hobbes
Billy & Blaze

Gabriel
Wing & Claw series
Tom Swift series
Rump
100 Cupboards series
TinTin books
Guys Read series (Heroes & Villians and True Stories so far)
Flora & Ulysses
Father Brown Readers
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
Encyclopedia Brown series
Magic Treehouse series
Edge of Extinction series
The Wilderking Trilogy
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes
Harry Potter I & II

Melissa
***   favorites:
Anne of Green Gables series
The One Year Book of Hope
Brave New Family
Supper of the Lamb
Bread & Wine
Streams in the Desert
Mom Enough
Loving the Little Years
Fit to Burst
Mere Motherhood
***    recent reads
:
Different
Desperate
Teaching From Rest (again!)
The Unhurried Homeschooler
Virtuous
Present Over Perfect
Uninvited
Good Girl’s Guide
The Rise & Fall of Mount Majestic (aloud to my children)
The Green Ember series (aloud to my children)
Pilgrim’s Progress (aloud to my children)
Basket of Flowers (aloud to my children)
Hedge of Thorns (aloud to my children)
Hind’s Feet on High Places (aloud to my children)
***    current reads:
The Meaning of Marriage
The Life-Giving Home
Missional Motherhood
Educating the Whole-Hearted Child
Intended for Pleasure
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series (aloud to my children)
Mountains of Spices (aloud to my children)
Illustrated Shakespeare (aloud to my children)
Shakespeare for Children (aloud to my children)
Shakespeare Sonnets (aloud to my children)
Some Writer

Steven
***    favorites:
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
The Hobbit
Good to Great
The Narnia series
***    recent reads:
The Anglican Way
100 Cupboards (aloud to the children)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child
The Way of Kings
Built to Last
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
***    current reads:
Theology of the Family
Hebrews
Dandelion Fire (for the second or third time, to the children)
Words of Radiance

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So as you can see, we are quite the bookish bunch of gingers around here.
When I asked the children to tell me the best books they have read so far this year, they were all clamoring and proclaiming titles simultaneously, begging one another to “let me say that one!” and vying for my earshot.
They literally had to go around and around taking turns, and letting me make sure I heard each of them correctly… and eventually I just had to put a cap on it, because they probably would never have stopped telling me book after book!

Excuse me, please… I have a stack of books and snuggly children waiting for me on the couch… this is the good stuff of life, people. This is the white cream of the Oreo, smashed between all the other (also good) parts of life.
We are people of story.
And this is very good.

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(…and about ten minutes after I hit publish on this post, I ordered $223 of books for our upcoming school year because I found a coupon code for a discount & free shipping! Yay! More books coming our way! These will primarily be about Church history, classical composers, inventors, math (hello Sir Cumference!), and men from the Renaissance & Reformation eras… I love buying books as school supplies that are not consumable, so the initial financial investment is much higher than the longterm because all of the kids will cycle through the books as the years go on…)

Walking in the Way

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Come, sweetheart… come for a walk with your mama. It was not long ago that I carried you every time I went walking, but then you grew a bit and began to stretch your legs. Another little one came along then, and I carried him in my arms while holding your hand tightly in my grasp. Keep you from tripping, stumbling, sidling into the ditch or losing your boot in a puddle.

But today my arms are swinging, my palms holding nothing but the breeze. You are walking on your own, but not too far away. The little brother is having his first ride in the stroller. Big sister pushing. Mama’s eyes constantly on you both, giving direction and correction, gently guiding without grasping.

Parts of the path are smoother than others. When you walk along the smooth parts without the dips, the bumps, the stray gravel, things feel more carefree. The burden of the stroller is easier to push. Isn’t it fun to run and laugh and feel that sunshine all around?

Other parts of the path are muddy… watch out, don’t get stuck there… dig your heels in, really use those muscles, push through. If you go helterskelter through the muck, it is going to splash onto you, stick to your boots, cling to the hem of your dress… better to have diligence and self control and constancy as you work through the muddy puddly parts. Keep the little one protected from the muck. If you get too messy, it’s likely that it will slosh onto him too. Get that burden through the puddle and onto the other side.

Yes, I will help you… take it? okay, this time I will… I can see you are weary. I’ve done this before, I know this walk and I recognize the muddy puddle to. Take my hand, I’ve got you. Let me push the stroller for a little while as you catch your breath. It’s good to know you don’t walk alone, isn’t it? I love to feel your hand in mine, see you smile up at me, little image of who I once was, the one urging me on toward who I am becoming. We go together along this path, at the same time, hand in hand, yet in different places. I started along it sooner, I will stop before you do. Until then, let’s keep walking.

Oh yes, sure, you may have the stroller back. I’ll let your hand go again and keep my eyes on you as you continue pushing that burden ahead.
I love to see you delighting in the world around you, my girl. I love watching you take it all in, observe, indulge, taste and discern.

Why do you keep looking backward, glancing behind you with a look of fear? No, there is no car coming on our little path. No, there are no mountain lions here. How do I know?… oh… um… I just do.
Things are getting a bit wobbly now, sweetie, keep going forward and watch where you are walking. I know it’s fun to make zigzags and loopy lines along the way, but you must be careful not to stray. Mommy is not holding your hand… oh sweetheart, can I take the stroller now? Can I hold your hand? Will you stay closer and walk more carefully with me? I worry you may trip… don’t stumble… what if I can’t catch you?

You are running forward while looking behind… you are forgetting to care well over the burden you are pushing… look out! a ditch!
Silly little girl I love, look at the wheels, stuck in the stones, baby nearly toppled over, you slightly scraped your knee.
Do not run from Mommy, do not fear what is behind you, you do not have to fret so.

There we are, let me help you back onto the path. Let me settle the stroller wheels for you in the right direction. Hold firmly to the burden while you are moving forward, and keep your eyes focused mostly on where you are going. There, that’s it. Good job… much better! Doesn’t it feel good to keep set on the right way?

Oh, do you see those puddles up ahead? How will you prepare to meet them? Is there a wise way around them? Is the only way through them, with steady step and a firm grip on the burden you are pushing along? What did you say? Oh, yes of course I can help you push it through this set of puddles. That was a wise way to work through them. You saw the trouble coming and knew to ask for someone with a firmer grip and more experience with the puddles and the path and the burden. Well done. Keep your hands on it and your gaze fixed where you need to go… I will simply add my hands to yours and give you the confidence that you don’t have to do it alone. Together, we have more strength, more solidity, more stalwart tenacity. Companionship does ease the burden. I would rather laugh with you and cry with you than do either one alone.

You did well, my sweet. Look at you, smiling in the sun and making your own breeze with your speed. Yes, your eyes are facing where you should be going, I see the skip in your step, your face to the sun, your hair blowing like a veil. Yes, I see those beautiful little flowers growing there beside the path. You’re right, they are lovely. Would you like to stop for a moment to enjoy this expression of beauty? Shall we pick one to tuck behind your ear, carrying with you a token of delight? You are bringing some mud along the way, it would be a nice counterpart to have a sweet violet also.

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What’s that you say? Why yes, I do see that patch of bumpy gravel. Yes, you may try to push through it on your own. Remember, I am here if you need me. I will encourage you with my words unless and until you need me to give you a boost with my hands. I think you’re prepared for this. Your eyes are focused on what is coming, your hands are gripping the burden. You have traces of both past difficulty and past ease… on your hem, tucked behind your ear… determination in your eyes, fire in your soul.

Don’t forget the little one you are caring for! It’s not just about you anymore. Be watchful and take care over that which has been entrusted to you.
Yes, you came across the bumps without falling to the side nor losing a handle on the burden you carry. You were watchful, careful, alert. Continue steadily on, yes, you are doing fine. I’m watching you, the same path beneath our feet… I am slowing down, you are moving on ahead…

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Oh my sweet little girl, yes… yes, I am proud of you… we made it to the end of our walk for today. You did well. You proved true. You did faithfully.

And tomorrow, let’s walk along the way again, shall we? I’ll stay near to you again. We will face the same walk with possibly different terrain. Perhaps there will be rain, with more mud and deeper puddles and sticky ruts. Perhaps the sun will burn our necks, and the path will be so dusty we can’t help but cough. The violets? Hmm, I don’t know… keep your eyes open for whatever beauty pops up along the way, because often there are different beautiful flowers at different times in different places… simply watch for them, and when you find them, recognize them and delight in them… and yes of course, do remember to carry some of that fresh beauty with you.

We will continue walking together as the days go on. I will enjoy it while we have it. Each other. And the way to walk. Together.
I no longer carry you, but I walk beside you. I’ll still be near.
The day is coming all too soon when you will be making the walk on your own.

Because

I just put my one year old down for a nap. He went kicking and screaming, quite literally. He did not want to go down for his nap, very clearly. But he also had not wanted to color, had not wanted a snack (without feeding it to the dog), and had not wanted to nurse. Changed, full, and fussy, it was naptime. I kissed him, snuggled him in my arms, and whispered to his teary little face, I’m sorry you aren’t happy. You may not fuss at Mommy. It’s time for night-night, but I love you.

And it struck me, that it really should have been …because I love you.

Just before putting the baby down for his overdue nap, my five year old had read 1 Peter 5:7 to us at the table.
“…casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you.”

Do you notice that the text doesn’t say, “cast your cares on Him, but He cares for you”?

It’s the because that seals the deal, isn’t it?
Because I love Simeon, I was putting him down for his much needed nap (and need I add that he was sound asleep within forty seconds?).
Because God cares for me, I can confidently cast my cares on Him.

Because!!
Not but.
Not in spite of it all.
Rather, due to the foundational truth of agape.

Oh that I would live my life and accept my hardships with open hands, not only knowing intellectually but also embracing organically, in light of the fact that God gives me what He does, and carries my anxieties FOR me when I have cast them onto Him because He cares for me.
I can quickly think so highly of myself sometimes, patting myself on the back for knowing my baby well enough that I know what he needs even when he is kicking tooth & nail against the goads. And then I remember Matthew 7:11. How much more will my Father be good to me!! I am simply an evil-hearted human (saved by the grace of God), and He is the Perfect Creator of all. Talk about giving myself a humility check.

After thinking about these things for a few minutes, I read this, and feel even more convicted and encouraged now.
God is good.
It is good to be humbled, because He does it with a purpose.
It is good to have anxieties so I can give them to Him.
It is good to know that, underneath and above and around it all, it’s because the King of the universe cares for me.

The One who conquered the grave and gained the victory over death cares for me.

 

Family Loves

I said a few days ago that in my journey of teaching people, one of the main things I am doing is teaching my children what to love and how to love. Over the last few days I have thought numerous times about my children someday no longer being children. It’s happening right before my eyes. Every day, I’m one day closer to my empty nest, to their wings carrying them off, to my grandbaby birds peeping around. There are times I can get so downright caught up in the daily living of life and training of my little people that I can honestly lose sight of the bigger picture.

When I am up to my elbows in crockpot meals, dirty dishes, laundry to fold, books to read, worksheets to check, diapers to change, bills to pay, phone calls to return, appointments to keep, seasons & holidays to embrace… I can forget the big rocks in the jar. How in the world it can be so easy to overlook those… it’s beyond me… but I get so buried in all the little pebbles that I no longer see the cornerstones.

So it’s helpful to ask myself occasionally, when my children fly the coop, what are those cornerstones I want them to see when they look back over their shoulders toward childhood? What solid rocks do I want them to carry on their own journeys forward?

I suppose the biggest answer is a pretty obvious one. I want my children to have their Triune God as the absolute overriding pillar of their childhood. I want joy to be the feeling they recall. I want their memories plastered with family and the family loves.

So since y’all know I come from a Christian background and am seeking to do my utmost for the Kingdom in the raising of these little saints for Him, I’m going to just skip over the first two points, assuming that you would nod in agreement with me and think, well duh.

But when it comes to the memories plastered with family and the loves of our family… I think that is where our own little family cultures start to take their unique beauties and precious forms. No two quite exactly alike.
Some families have football and classical education at the top of their Family Loves list.
Some families have speech club and farm-to-table gardening in first place on their Family Loves list.
Some give precedence to family birthday parties, Sabbath meals, and Winnebago journeys across the country.

I have been evaluating the Family Loves of my home.
What Loves do I emphasize for my children to embrace, so that they know God and feel joy through the Loves?
I feel like I can somewhat confidently narrow it down to three:
Food, Music, & Books.

When I expressed this to someone recently, I was met with a hearty laugh, a hand clapped on my shoulder, and an encouraging word: “well, then I can see you are on the right path. It’s pretty clear that those are the loves in this home.”

Maybe it’s the excitement the kids have three times a day about gathering around our table for food & fellowship. Maybe it’s the almost incessant cycle of making sourdough bread in our home. Maybe it’s the freezer full of muffins, scones, cookies, and bread. Maybe it’s the beef, the balsamic covered salads, the homemade pesto on al denta pasta. Maybe it’s the ice cream every Sunday night with the family movie. Maybe it’s the dinners at Grandmama’s house with all the cousins, and the heaps of food that fill bellies & fatten souls.

Maybe it’s the grand piano and two harps that take a bit of center stage in our family room. Maybe it’s the fact that we start almost every day with singing around the breakfast table. Maybe it’s that the kids have music instruments at their disposal from the time they know how to blow a whistle or shake a tambourine. Maybe it’s the fact that they have a mother with a degree in music. Maybe it’s the fact that their mother believes music should be a foundational pillar in a Christian home. Maybe it’s the fact that these little redheads honestly just can’t stop singing. All day long. They sing about everything. Maybe it’s how they beg me to play piano for them at night after I tuck them in; that is as much a part of our bedtime liturgy as brushing teeth, tucking them in, praying for them, and singing their blessing.

Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t go a week without bringing more books home from somewhere. Maybe it’s because between my husband & me, we have gone to the library every day this week. Maybe because I found an amazing woman on craigslist who literally runs a bookmobile side business out of her minivan, and I brought home 70 books two days ago… and then hit the library sale for another 30 books yesterday… and then decided today that it was time to figure out some of next year’s curriculum for the boys, so of course that involved buying books from Amazon and Veritas. And if you know me very well at all, you know I have an addiction to the 49-cent children’s books on the shelves of Goodwill. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a television in the family room, but we do have a wall of bookshelves, and about five other storage containers for books all in that room (plus more in the schoolroom and every bedroom and Steven’s study). Maybe it’s because we spend about half our waking hours reading books in this house.

But wait.

Are those the causes? or the effects?
Are those the reasons these things are our main Family Loves?
Or are these the outworkings of them being our main Family Loves?
Both, in fact, I should think.

If you were to designate a few main Family Loves in your home, what would they be? And why?
What is it about those specific things that makes you want your children to love them?
And how do you envision creating a culture of loving those things in your home?

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant…

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant,

I saw you cringe, I saw you glare, I saw your chest heave with a sigh. Each time, it coincided with little noises of little people. If I knew how to properly, appropriately address you with the grace and respect I feel you deserve, I would love to share my perspective with you. Maybe if I write down my thoughts, I can find a way to do that which would increase our peace and fellowship in our congregation, rather than sour it or divide it in any way.

I want you to know that I believe worshiping God corporately on the Lord’s Day is a truly important act of obedience and faith for every Christian. I want you to know that I take it seriously. The joy and the reverence. The duty and the delight.

And in light of the belief that this is one of the most important things I will teach my children and my children’s children, I want you to know what a weighty burden I feel as I bring my children into the presence of the Lord corporately each week. It isn’t easy. I don’t simply have to get myself up, dressed, fed, & out the door. I also have four little people to get up, dress, feed, and buckle into their carseats for our fifty-minute drive to the church. It is a real act of dedication and faith in action just to have this as a top priority for our family’s life. It is rare for me to show up at church feeling well rested and fully charged. I seek to show up with my family joyful, bodies beautifully clad for the special event of worshiping the King, bellies filled, bladders emptied. But I confess, there are some days where simply showing up feels like a morning of hard work.

I only have four children, but I also only have two hands. There are some days where my husband and I are able to each take responsibility for two kids in the pew. In fact, there are some days where my parents are sitting with us, and it essentially works out to a one-to-one adult-to-child ratio. But let me tell you, that does not make my job easy-peasy as the mother who takes responsibility to train my children.
Then there are other days, like yesterday, where my parents were away and my husband & our 8 year old son were serving as acolytes in the service… which left me on my own in the pew with my younger three children (ages 5, 4, and 16 months).
By the time we had gotten through an hour of Sunday School, ninety minutes of worship, and then an hour long church potluck… not to mention the almost-hour-long-drive-each-way… I was well ready for a nap!

But the reason I lay this out to you is because I want you to know that every thread of my being believes that it is worth the sacrifice. As a homeschooling mom, I teach my kids just about everything they need to know. Math, English, handwriting, cooking, money smarts, geography, history, reading, recitation, memorization, habits of homemaking and cleanliness, manners… you name it, I teach it. (At this point! I mean, hey, my 8 year old is not ready for calculus II yet, okay?)

And yet absolutely nothing I teach my kids the other six days of the week is half as important as what I teach them in the pew on Sunday mornings.

I know what you’re thinking: “why can’t you teach them to worship before you get here for the service?”
Well, we do the best we can with that: we train them in worship principles throughout the week. We practice listening reverently when Mommy reads the Scripture every morning. We practice praying, with quiet hands and still bodies so that we can focus on speaking in our spirits with God. We practice singing robustly. We practice confession of sin. We practice reciting the creed and other liturgical parts of the service.
But like in so many other things, we can practice in a separate situation until we’re blue in the face, but it isn’t until actual gametime that it really matters. That is truly when the rubber hits the road.

You won’t have watched me train and prep my kids at home throughout the week.
But you have my word, with God as my witness, that we seek to practice for this good work throughout the week.

You can listen to me pep talk my kids before the worship service begins, in the bathroom after we have made sure that bladders are emptied, hands are freshly washed, whistles are wet and water bottles filled.
You can watch me organize my children in the pew with the best of my wisdom helping not only choose a pew’s location, but also each child’s location in that pew.
You can see my set out my bag of tricks – a diaper bag for myself and the baby, and a “church case” for each of the three older children.
You can watch me hand out liturgy booklets, bulletins, and hymnals… and blankies to the two youngest.
You might even see me pray God’s grace over our pew and take a few deep breaths.

I hope you see me encouraging my kids to participate in the service. I don’t want you to think that my endeavor is to teach my kids how to simply sit down, be quiet, and doodle or dawdle away the worship service.
I tell my kids to speak and sing when I speak and sing.
You can hear their words trailing a beat or so behind the adults.
You might hear my one year old chiming in with a loud amen at all kinds of random points during the service (although he is quite good at paying attention to when he hears others say it, and he follows suit a breath later).
My children don’t always have a good grasp on volume control: so if they know a hymn particularly well, they might belt it out at what nearly seems like a shout if you’re sitting in front of us.
I encourage the baby to make joyful noises during these times too, but I can assure you that in his one year old way, it doesn’t exactly sound recognizable as the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Sanctus.
But the children are doing exactly what I am asking them to do: participate. To the level which they are able, they are participating in the liturgy of our corporate worship service.
And it’s beautiful.

You could very well notice me putting my finger to my lips often during the service. And yes, you might hear me “sssshhhhh” the kids (which, yes, I know is not a silent thing… but sometimes the kid isn’t looking at me with my finger to my lips so I absolutely have to grab their attention so they recognize that they are not being as quiet as they think they are).
You can watch my fingers point to words in hymnals and bulletins to encourage the eyes of my children to follow along, even if two of them can not yet read fluently (or at all).
You can watch me put my hands on little thighs when legs are kicking, or on little hands that are suddenly zooming around like rocketships, or on little knees that are teeter-tottering on the kneeler rather than quietly knelt in confession.
You can see me have my children stand, sit, kneel, turn, raise hands, etc. along with me.
And no, they don’t always do it perfectly or cheerfully. But they are learning. And I’m doing my best.

You can watch me rock back and forth or sway side to side, as I attempt to keep the baby quiet during Scripture readings and prayers.
You will definitely notice me teaching the baby how to quiet the noises his mouth makes.
You may notice sometimes that I give him little flicks to communicate discipline (not in the sense of punishment, but in the sense of training).
And yep, you’re right, there are times where he gets fed up with the little flicks and starts to let out a full-blown howl. When this happens, I sure hope you notice that I do my best to leave my pew swiftly.
But sometimes I need to whisper quick directions to another child (“make sure you stay seated and listen quietly to the sermon”) while I shuffle out of my pew (which is full of little legs, the diaper bag, the kneeler, and other random articles) and make my way out of the nave.

Yes, I know there is a “cry room” on the side of the sanctuary.
Yes, I have used it when I needed a place of privacy for my own sense of modesty.
But it is not sound proof by any means, so I recognize that going in there with a wailing child is not helpful.
So I do have to walk all the way out through the lines of pews to the back of the church and down the hallway. And yes the hallway echoes terribly.
I know this. Trust me, my ears are not numb to these things, but are more accutely tuned in than anyone else’s.
I know your ears are stunned when my children make noise.
I see you turn around with your furrowed brow.
I feel like every pair of eyes in the place is burning a hole into some part of me or my child.

Do you know that I often leave the worship service feeling more tired than when I arrived?
That even if my soul has been fed in some way, that my physical self feels depleted?
Do you know that there are times I’m tempted to wonder if it’s worth it?
Do you know that I can feel jealous of people who think it’s okay to stay in bed and let the kids sleep in rather than go through the hard work and routine of getting to worship put together & on time?
Do you know how self-conscious I feel about bringing my little pew full of redheads into the sanctuary and up to the altar each week?

But what I need to remember (and what I would like to encourage you to think about) is that my children belong in the worship service. I will not hinder them. Of children is the kingdom of heaven. I want faith like theirs.
When my children are here, they contribute to the joyful noise. (And when it isn’t joyful noise, I seek to take their fussing out of the worship service when it gets out of control.)
I love being in a congregation where all ages and stages are present and relevant.
But just like I am so thankful to have grey, white, and balding heads in the pews around us, I also recognize that the little saints filling my pew help to round out the body of Christ present in this worship service.
They are part of His body, too, and they are a visual reminder that Christ came for all peoples.

The corporate worship service is not about individualistic study, contemplation, or introspection. It is about coming together as one body made up of many parts, sharing together as a community in the Word and Sacrament.
When my children are here, it reminds all of us that Jesus loves the children. That we should have faith like the children. That Christianity isn’t just for the adult version of faith.

My children are learning that worship is important. That it is beautiful. That it is a priority. That it is a worthy sacrifice. That it is the high point, the pinnacle, and the start of every week.

My children might make noise with their pencils and papers. Or perhaps you’ll hear a slurp from a water bottle, regardless of our best intentions. Or the baby might make bodily noises that really will eventually be trained out of him. But my prayer is that their loud singing, their bold amens, their enthusiastically raised hands in the Doxology, their energetic passing of the peace to as many pews full of folks as possible, and their skipping up the aisle to receive communion at the altar would be a blessing to you. I pray that you would have the grace to cover their shortcomings… and grace to cover mine. I pray that your heart would look ahead in faith and thankfulness, because if children are filling the pews now, we hope it means that the pews won’t be empty in another ten or twenty years. I pray that you would send me looks of smiling encouragement and joy rather than glares that feel like judgment.

I ask that you pray for my family during the week, as we seek to walk in faithfulness all seven days of the week.
I ask that you pray for my family on Sunday mornings, as we seek to come to worship as a family and as part of this community of our congregation so that our children know that Jesus loves them just as much as He loves the adults (who aren’t perfect either!).
I ask that you pray for me during worship as I direct my reading-capable children to follow along, as I encourage my preschooler to participate with an obedient & joyful countenance, as I bounce my baby on my hip… all the while, as I too am seeking to bring my sacrifice of praise to my Heavenly Father.
I ask that you forgive me when I stumble, because I know I will.
I ask that you embrace each member of my family as part of your Christian family – because, while you have not been tasked with training these specific children in the nurture & admonition of the Lord (in which training in worship belongs), you have been tasked with loving these neighbors as yourself.

My children are your brothers and sisters in Christ ~ I ask that your have their spiritual good in mind, that you put their interests above your own, and that you aim (so far as you are able) to be at peace with them & their little frames.
Like you, I seek these same goals.
Like us, they are but dust.

Thank you for bringing your aged glory to our congregation. Thank you for bringing your aching bones, your walkers and canes, your hearing aids, your grey hair and wrinkles. Thank you for showing my children that God will still love them, value them, and not forsake them in their old age.
Please hear my words here with grace and respect, because I feel both toward you.

May each of us, as Christ’s disciples, know that we are not only tolerated in worship, but that we are embraced, needed, loved, vital. Young and old alike.

With sincere love in our Lord Jesus,
the mommy with arms & pew overflowing with blessings