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

Little Saints in Worship

There have been more than a few times in my life where I have been truly humbled by someone at church asking me how in the world I do it, getting my kids to “sit still and be quiet” for an entire worship service. I usually respond with it’s definitely God’s grace, and we work hard at it right from birth. They certainly are not born this way!

But then the next thought in my head is usually something along the lines of recalling how I do not instruct them to simply sit still and be quiet for ninety minutes every Sunday morning. Nope, not at all. That is not what I am training them to do. And if there are certain moments where I fall into that ditch (and there are), I ask that God would open my eyes and remind me of who I am, who my children are, and what we are doing!

And what are we doing? In what am I instructing them?
We are worshiping. I am instructing them in worship.
I am teaching & training them to worship their King.

My children have just as much standing before the Lord as I do. Christ died for all of us. I have no more right to be worshipping and receiving communion than they do. My own quiet reflection, focused singing, note-taking, etc. should not take precedence over that of my child.

But how do the children learn to worship?
Just like I teach my children to self-soothe, to drink from a cup, to fold their hands for prayers, to hold a pencil, to sound out words, to recite catechisms, to ride a bike, to memorize verses put to song… I also teach them to worship.

Both through direction and example, my husband and I (but as the mama, I tend to do 80% or more of it) teach our children from their earliest days to participate in worship. They make noise when we make noise (singing, responsive reading, prayer responses, the creed, etc), they are quiet when we are quiet (prayer, Scriptures being read, sermon), they stand and kneel and sit and pass the peace when we do.
Little by little, they grow up worshiping.
The worship service is not something that is for the adults.
It is for God’s people.
All of His people.
For His glory.

Does that mean my children worship perfectly?
Nope! And neither do I.

But what it does mean is that they belong in the worship service.
They, as part of Christ’s body, are called to worship Him.
They need to enter His gates with thanksgiving, making joyful noise!
They learn reverence by participating in it.
They learn from the get-go that man does not live by bread alone.
They know that the bread & wine they receive at communion is a mystery but that it’s vital.
They know that they belong to Christ, and that He is theirs.

But what we all must remember (the children, the parents, the clergy, and the other parishioners as well) is that worship, like all other aspects of our life, is something that must be learned, practiced, implemented, worked on.
Worship is not so much about the ones worshiping, but rather it is about the One who is worshiped.

Since this involves training, that implies that it isn’t something that you wake up knowing how to do one day.
Like training for a marathon. It is hard work for the long haul, with a big end goal in mind.
My child doesn’t reach three years old and suddenly have the ability to participate seamlessly.
There are times when I too have a hard time not fidgeting, not making noises, keeping up with the liturgy.
I need to remind myself, too, to go potty before the service and get a drink too.
I don’t have it down pat, and I’ve been at this for over thirty years already!
It’s simply my job to bring my children along on the journey with me.

As a friend of mine said yesterday, “it’s training. Which can be bumpy.”
Yes.
Bumpy.
But these little saints are not to be hindered from coming to Jesus.
He loves them, He lays His blessing on their heads, He longs for their joyful noises.
Jesus taught us that we need to become like little children, to have faith like theirs.

Who are we, that we think we have more clout in the Kingdom (or simply in the church pew) than they?
Oh that God would give me eyes to see and a heart to understand,
so that I can more beautifully reflect Him, show a worshipful heart to my children, exemplify faith in action, and ooze grace through our pew that seeps throughout the nave.

He is the faithful One. These little saints are His.
It’s simply my job to train them by His grace to work out their faith with fear and trembling,
and to worship Him on the Lord’s Day in spirit and in truth.
(And I seriously love Mr & Mrs Piper’s expression on the subject here, and this article too, if you’d like to keep reading…)

Being Real

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I don’t do social media. I am trying to be better about not spending much time every day even on emails or blogging.
I think my personal biggest temptation is to look sideways and play the comparison game, especially with other mommies. Other moms (either celebrity or personal friends) seem to have it all together. They are thinner, stronger, prettier. They have better complexions and fewer grey hairs. They have kids with perfect table manners and “yes ma’am” down pat. They craft with their kids with the best of the Pinterest folks without getting glue and glitter all over the house… or at least the other mamas don’t seem to care about the messes and have magic fairies who tidy up. Their kids can cook, clean, and organize circles around even the most put-together Rubbermaid-queen mamas.

That’s what I see anyway. I see other lives through filters. Rosy glasses. Carefully selected snapshots. Snippets of seeming perfection.

What I see here without filters, through my dirty & scratched old glasses is every moment of my life. I don’t take time to put on makeup every day. I don’t remember to wash my hair every week. I can’t remember the last time I exercised on purpose. There are occasional foodie moments (like my loaves of sourdough I’m trying to perfect) or crafting successes that may make me want to take pictures and sign up for an Instagram so I too can show off my domestic prowess!

But I’m too busy wiping bums, sorting laundry, stoking the fire, reading history books and Bible stories with the children, finding lost mittens, feeding mouths that never seem satiated, and doling out new school assignments by the hour.

No time for blogging.
No time for taking pictures, even though I have both my Nikon and my iPhone on my desk. Right here in the kitchen. Center of the chaos.

But this is reality.
It’s my life.

This is the MOST WONDERFUL JOB IN THE WORLD.
I do not want to trade it for anything!!
(And yes, if you happen to see my tear-stained face, it’s true: I still struggle with the desire to add more crazy kids to the already-chaotic mix, and it is a real heartache to the depths of my soul that I can not.)
I love my job as Senior Domestic Engineer and Vice President of Clan Development.

And simultaneously, this is the HARDEST, MOST EXHAUSTING JOB IN THE WORLD.
I daily feel unfit for the position.
I am unworthy of the privilege and overwhelmed by the responsibility.
How often I have to take deep breaths, cry ugly tears, and grab a handful of CheezIts… I won’t actually admit.

I want to be real.
I want to share the ups and the downs.
I want to let people know that I love my work, and that I am sometimes overwhelmed by it.
I also want my friends to know that I am not overwhelmed because I am ungodly, not spiritual enough, don’t pray long enough, or am a less-than mommy.
I am a specifically created woman, with a unique frame and a highly sensitive nature (click here if you want to know what that means).
I am (in the words of a dear friend) a recovering people-pleaser.
I am a truly imperfect perfectionist.

So I’m seeking to find opportunity where I can carve out more moments to be real.
To share the real.
To give glimpses into the incredibly amazing, joy-filled, beautiful, chaotic, messy life I have.
Out in the country. In the home I designed with my husband. Balancing work and play, grief and joy. Raising the children we created together. Homeschooling these sweet brains that are way too intelligent for my good. Discipling these incredible hearts & souls for the Kingdom of God.
I cook good food here to feed real people. I (try to) clean and organize this home. I fill it with books by the dozens (thank you Goodwill for shelves full of 49-cent page turners!!).
This is where mistakes and messes happen. This is where Grace and Forgiveness takes on flesh. This is where we need Lysol wipes and plenty of Bath & Bodyworks soap pumps. This is where I fall into bed at night feeling like I can not bear another moment with sounds and lights and people and demands… but where I also do not want to miss a moment with these delightful beings in this precious place.
I am sad when another day ends. But also relieved.
I am delighted when another day begins. But also overwhelmed.

There’s not much more real than that.

Here’s hoping God grants me occasional moments to continue being real with you.
I long for my words to capture where the joy, the grace, and the freedom really is.
So I can embrace my calling, my life, my messes & my beauties, my joys, and my struggles ~ and not feel like I have to hide.
I don’t have to cast sidelong glances elsewhere, and crawl back into my hole.

God made me. For His glory.
And that’s got to be totally enough.
Really.

Perspective on Loving My Children

A friend of mine from our homeschool co op shared this sweet little take on 1 Corinthians 13… it made me smile and brought courage to my heart. It is a day where I needed this strong reminder: all else (including freezing rain, cranky hearts, fussing siblings, sick kids, and halfhearted schoolwork) will fade away, but faith, hope, & love will remain. May the Lord grant me perspective and give me grace to daily show love-in-action to my family.

“Though I teach my children how to multiply, divide, and diagram a sentence, but fail to show them LOVE, I have taught them nothing!

And though I take them on numerous field trips, to swim practice and flute lessons; and though I involve them in every church activity, but fail to give them LOVE, I profit nothing!

And though I scrub my house relentlessly, run countless errands, and serve three nutritious meals every day but fail to be an example of LOVE, I have done nothing!

LOVE is patient with misspelled words and is kind to young interrupters.

LOVE does not envy the high SAT scores of other Homeschool families. LOVE does not claim to have better teaching methods than anyone else, is not rude to the fourth telephone caller during a science lesson, does not seek perfectly behaved geniuses, does not turn into a drill sergeant, thinks no evil about friends’ educational choices!

LOVE bears all my children’s challenges, believes all my children are God’s precious gifts, hopes all my children establish permanent relationships with Christ, and endures all things to demonstrate God’s love!

LOVE never fails!

Where there are college degrees, they will fail; where there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

For we know in part and we teach in part. But when the trials of life come to our children, the history, math, and science will be done away and faith, hope, and love will remain;

But the greatest of these is love.”

~Author Unknown~

Big Kid Joys

I love babies. My mom might smile and tell you that’s largely because I’ve had “easy babies.” But let’s be honest: to at least a certain extent, babies are babies, and babies are also honed by the hard work of their mama. So while God definitely did give my babies their blessed personalities and natures, He also has used the hard work of my hands, my time, my tears, my discipline, my prayers, my tactics… It’s not like they have grown up into “easy kids” in a lot of ways. So I think it might be safe to say that I’m GOOD at babies. I’m not quite so good at the preschool season. Not yet anyway. I am praying for grace to get there! 🙂

There are lots of joys that I can easily place my fingers on when it comes to my baby. Each one of my four children has brought me immense joy, and there is nothing I have loved (yet!) more than their babyhoods.

Perhaps that is one reason that I struggle emotionally with having the baby years closing behind me. In another couple of weeks, my baby will be a year old. That is, officially speaking, the end of infancy and the beginning of toddlerhood. This is the first time I’ve come upon a child’s first birthday without being/having been pregnant again. It will be the first time I have celebrated a child’s first birthday without the huge shadows of grief & fear. (I was pregnant with Promise on Gabriel’s 1st birthday, and had just miscarried Glory shortly prior; I was pregnant with Evangeline on Asher’s 1st birthday, and utterly terrified; I miscarried Heritage just two days before Evangeline’s 1st birthday, and was grieving immensely the death of her baby sister.)

Now the only shadow I sit under is the unique heaviness I feel upon knowing that this is the last time I will celebrate my child’s first birthday. (Praise the Lord for the hope of grandchildren!) I have had so much joy with my babies.

But here’s the thing I want to emphasize: there are going to be so many big kid joys in the future.
And this is one of the things I am just now discovering.
Perhaps it is because my friends’s kids, and my nieces & nephews are largely younger kids too. With a couple of rare exceptions, the folks we tend to hang out with on an intimate level are either in the same season of life we are, or are even a step or two behind us on the path.

And I need to know that the biggest joys of motherhood are not exclusively behind me.
Because, in all honesty, that is one of my big temptations, one of my big fears.
The baby years are familiar to me, they are joyful and comforting and deliciously sweet.

I am only barely beginning to see what some of the future joys may be.
The challenges of the older years seem to express themselves more easily.
I know there are hard times ahead. (Oh boy. It looks like menopause may intersect with puberty… that will be fun.)

So I need to start writing down the big kid joys as they come.
I need to look ahead with happy hope.
I need to laugh at, rather than fear, the future.

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I need to remember that resurrection follows death, in God’s economy.

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. Put their value ahead of yours. Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. Lay down pettiness. Lay down fussiness. Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.

Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone.

~Rachel Jankovic~

Yesterday, my 8 1/2 year old (who is, by the way, beginning now to show me lots of big kid joys!) came grocery shopping with me. Now, that’s not unusual. But the unusual factor is that we did not have the 4 & 3 year olds with us. Simeon rode around the store strapped to my chest, I led the way with list in hand, and Gabriel took the initiative to choose a cart & push it along behind me. He was very intentional about letting others go first, about being a gentleman, and about jumping in when he saw an area to help. We talked about math a lot while we were shopping; figuring out which were the best mozzarella and parmesan purchases to make, based upon price per ounce, for instance. We did a good bit of math in our heads but also pulled out the calculator on my phone to help us with minutia.
But the biggest joy to this mama’s heart yesterday hit hard when he pushed the cart into the checkout line for me, while I ran back to the baking aisle to pick up a bag of powdered sugar. When I came back to him, he explained that he did not want to load the groceries onto the conveyor until the older woman in front of him was out of the way, because he wanted to give her space; but then he did not want me to lift a finger (except for the 17lb pumpkin…) because he wanted to do the heavy lifting. 🙂

He did not wait to be asked to help. In fact, he did not even ask if I wanted him to help.
He simply saw an area where he could help, and his servant-heart jumped into gear.

There also was not a bagger at our checkout line, so Gabriel helped bag things and placed every single bag into the cart.
By the time we reached the car, and it was time to buckle in his baby brother and help me put all the bags in the back of the Pilot, I was bubbling over with happy, humble thankfulness. To God and to my big boy.
I told him so.
And then when given the option of two “rewards” of a sort (two different reward systems we’ve got going on currently), he chose the option that would also affect his siblings, rather than the option that would only affect himself.

These are good things. They are big deals in the moment. (Sure, I understand they are not huge in the grand scheme, but my prayer and hope is that they will lead to huge good things in the bigger picture of our future.)

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There are also big kid joys like bowling league. Ballet class. Kids following their daily activities lists without me needing to micro-manage every hour of their day. Kids who basically fight over who gets to help Mommy set the table or wash the dishes. The joy of being able to play Carcassonne with my son, rather than always needing to play Chutes & Ladders; of being able to play real Monopoly, rather than always the Jr. version. The joy of watching my son both tithe & serve in a worship service with a happy countenance and willing heart.

Oh. And losing teeth. That’s a uniquely big kid joy, too. 😀

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There are definitely joys behind. These moments and memories will remain dear to my heart.
But knowing that there are joys ahead is a huge encouragement & blessing to me.
Experiencing the firstfruits now gives me hope for the future.

I so truly love the season of life where my sweet little branches develop beautiful, strong buds.
But now I am beginning to see the beauty of the buds opening, and the petals beginning to open little by little.
And I have hope that when the blooms are fully open, the true fruit will begin to show itself.
And someday, oh someday… those fruits will come off this tree… and I want to have joy & thankfulness about it…

So cheers to the future! Watch me embrace the next phase, as we move into big kid joys.
May God be my strength and establish my roots,
so that the sap is flowing thick & sweet for nourishment all around.
The roots are deep.
The buds are beautiful.
I can’t wait to taste the fruit.

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He Makes All Things New

Acts 14:15

“…we bring you good news, that you should turn from vain things to the living God
who made the heaven and the earth and the sea
and all that is in them.”

Revelation 21:5

“And He who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar that focused on motherhood & building culture. One of the first things that really struck me in the conversations was when the presenter made the statement that this has never been done before. As a mom, as a homemaker, as a housekeeper ~ I can wonder sometimes why my job description feels so hard, so complicated, so downright daunting. I mean, really: this has been done for centuries. There is nothing new under the sun. Meals have been cooked, houses have been cleaned, homes have been made lovely havens, laundry has been endlessly done, hearts have been trained in the nurture & admonition of the Lord, brains have been educated, skills have been taught, books have been read, catechisms & Scriptures & musical pieces & multiplication tables have all been memorized… over and over and over again, generation upon generation, for centuries.

And living in the modern era of computers, washing machines, microwaves, riding lawn mowers (we do have 10,000 sq of thick grass!), and 2-day delivery of a thousand sundry items from dear old Amazon Prime, I should really have a heck of a lot easier time than many of my predecessors. In fact with reference to homeschooling, I should even have an easier time than my own mama did, who was something of a pioneer in the homeschooling world back in the 1980’s Silicon Valley. There were not the options of tutors, co ops, curriculum abundance, and things like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association were pretty cutting edge.

This can all make me easily wonder, So what’s MY problem?

And this brings me back to a little conversation from the webinar last month, where the idea was posited that this has never been done before.

Hm.

I am doing something new and groundbreaking and fresh and never-been-done-before.

Really???

Well. Yes. In a manner of speaking, with a certain perspective.

I have never done this before.
These particular kids have never done this before.
This specific family with these specific goals & ideals & worldview have never traveled this journey before.

Every day, I face a new phase of my calling.
Each morning when I wake up, not only am I older, but my children are older.
We break new ground every morning.
I have never parented an eight year old before.
I have never taught preschool and ladylike lessons to a daughter before.
I have never taught a child to cook before.
I have never managed a budget for a family of six before.

This is new. Every day. For each one of us.
I need to remember to keep this in my perspective.
Neither I nor my children know what we’re doing, have it all down pat, and know it all by memory.
We learn as we go.
Just like every other woman before me.

And sure, I have amazing modern assistance at my aid (hello, Google!) for everything from laundry scrubbing to coupon clipping to crockpot cooking to finding any answer to just about every question my curious little people could ever ask me (and I don’t even have to drive to the library anymore to figure out the dewey decimal system and pore over volumes to locate mediocre answers).
But I also have modern distractions, and unrealistic levels of comparison & expectations right at my fingertips.

Even when it comes to the grand blessing of living in this modern world and having practically the universe at my fingertips has both its pros and its cons.

It is okay to feel like these things are new.
I am made in God’s image.
And just like He once created the world, and all that therein is,
He continues to make all things new.
So while there was a time of beginning and firsts for me,
I too reflect Him when I realize & acknowledge & embrace
that I am also in the lifelong business of making all things new.

Creating precedes recreating.
And until my King stops time by His ultimate renewal,
this cycle will continue.

This is good.
It glorifies Him.
He continues to create and recreate (to once again make new)
even through my weary hands and often feeble attempts.
And I am thankful that He has chosen me, and my little people, for this good and hard journey.
I am thankful for simple words from other women in the trenches.
Simple reminders of basic truth.
Reminders like, “while it feels like this has been done before, it really hasn’t been.
You are breaking new ground every single day.
And groundbreaking things can sometimes break your back and strain the muscles.
It’s part of your calling.
Simply be faithful.”

Amen.

There are Days…

There are days when I am THAT mom.

When I bring my daughter to storytime at the library even though she is coughing with a bark like a seal. When she sits in the front row, squished between total stranger toddlers, and proceeds to loudly make friends between conversations, giggles, coughs, and interacting with the storytime leader. Not a wall-flower, this one. She made her presence known. Hand on hip. Ponytail flip. Giggle, cough, hack-up-a-lung.
Not only that, though: it’s also a day when I have baby poop on my fingers because I was dumb enough to see if the baby had filled his diaper, checking by feel rather than by sight or smell.

This was one of those days where I kind of felt like half the people, everywhere I went, must have been staring at me with wide eyes, wild cynicism brewing in their heads, stifled giggles behind their hands.

But instead of getting frustrated and focusing on what could be seen as mistakes, oversights, or faux paux… I just embraced it and smiled at myself. I giggled inwardly at my half-baked, tired little crew. Sick and poopy, to boot.

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I’m happy.
I’m blessed.
I have way more goodness and God’s grace in my life than I can describe or deserve. (which is why it is called GRACE, after all)
Nobody fell into a gorilla cage.
Nobody was dragged into a lagoon by an alligator.
I didn’t forget a child, strapped in a hot car while I went shopping.
There was no pickpocket, carjacker, or insane gunman on the scene.

It has been “one of those days.”
Where things are imperfect. And everybody seems to need a nap & an attitude adjustment.
But there are days, like today, where the imperfections just add to my joy and up my daily giggle quota.

There are days where I’m THAT mom.
And I couldn’t be more thankful that God has given me a girl (even when she’s sick), a baby (even when his poop gets all over me), a car to drive us around, provision to fill up the grocery cart again today (even though I already did it yesterday too), two big boys who are exhausted & sun-crisped from soccer camp, and a messy home (laundry room has a mountain in it, and please don’t check the kitchen sink out today)…

There are days where it’s just THAT good.
And I love it when I have the eyes to see it.

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Be Encouraged, Mamas!

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I recorded a little voice memo for myself not long after my husband bought me an iPhone.
“Be encouraged. The work you are doing may be hard, and you’re in the thick of it.
But you are doing GOOD WORK.”

I often think about the good works God planned long ago for me to walk in.
Ephesians 2:10
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Good work of doling out cough medicine when little chests are croupy.
Good work of a shopping trip through the grocery store with four little ones in tow right at naptime.
Good work of getting everyone up, dressed, fed, pottied, and out the door by 8am for sports camp or VBS.
Good work of saying yes to park playdates with Auntie & cousins.
Good work of saying no to too many other playdates or too much martial arts practice.
Good work of washing diapers, wiping bums, changing sheets, washing towels, serving Goldfish & blueberries for afternoon snack.
Good work of disciplining little wayward hearts.
Good work of practicing self-denial and self-control on my own part.
Good work of admitting faults and asking forgiveness when I too give in to my own wayward heart.
Good work of planning dinner for tonight, even if fruit salad and tortellini is as far as I’ve gotten so far.
Good work of kissing booboos and covering owies with bandaids.
Good work of providing reading material, piano books, math facts worksheets, and audio books.
Good work of praying with my children, even if I feel like it is a wrestling match just to quiet them for giving thanks.
Good work of running errands, driving kids to events, fellowshipping with others, washing dishes, unloading groceries, and having an afternoon cup of coffee to ensure I make it through playtime, dinnertime, and bedtime with open eyelids.

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I may not be on a short term mission trip in Africa, evangelizing people who have never met King Jesus.
But I am on a long term evangelical mission right here in my own home, discipling little people who do know King Jesus and who desperately want to serve & love Him better.
I am in the business of Good News sharing, Gospel living, Kingdom expanding work.

I am in this for the long haul.
I’m doing my best.
My little disciples spend some days as faltering as Peter
and other days as unassuming as James.
I try not to spend too many days as doubtful as Thomas.

This is the work God has given me to do.
Right now.
Right here.
For this is the time and the season for it.

Oh! It is hard work. But it is GOOD.
And sometimes, I just have to remind myself of that.
God Himself prepared these works for me to walk in.

I spend a lot of time and energy and heart being an encourager.
I write notes of encouragement all the time.
It’s something I am known for, and it’s just because of Jesus’ grace.
Being an encourager-of-others is a good work God has called me to.
Of course my children are one of the main groups where I pour myself out in encouragement.
My husband also needs my encouragement, and I seek to find the ways that best encourage him.
I am continuing to grow in this skill.
I want to hone this good work to which God has called me!

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But I admit that there are too-often times where I feel a lack of encouragement myself.
Where is my report card?
Where is my annual review?
Where is my own to-do list all neatly checked off & squared away?

There are days when nothing is as sweet as a kind word of encouragement while maneuvering a large unwieldy grocery cart…
You know the moment…
The moment when I think the cart is so top-heavy and overloaded that it might topple over at the next aisle corner…
The moment with one on my back, one in the cart seat, and one on either side of me (“at their station” ~ which phrase may only make sense to those other young mamas who have read much Rachel Jankovic!), but all four making conversation with me in a simultaneous cacophony…
The moment where I’m so hungry I might pass out, the baby smells strongly of spit-up, the big kids ask if they can break into the container of blueberries, and suddenly the three year old declares they are in imminent need of a potty break.

That is the moment when, recently in my experience, an older woman with grace and joy and kindness (and smile lines!) simply said to me, “you’re doing a good job, mama.” I thought I heard the angels singing.
She smiled, I said thank you, my kids smiled at her and tried quickly introducing themselves all in the same breath, and we continued on.
Not four aisles over, an older gentleman with life-worn hands and the passage of time spilling from his eyes touched my arm gently with his hand, saying, “you’ve got good kids. They must be loved very much.”
I responded, “oh yes I do and yes they are! I can not even tell you.”

Like a cup of cool water.
The reminder from been-there-done-that perspective of older, wiser folks.
The encouragement that this is good stuff.
It may be hard, it may be heavy, and there may be moments where I wonder if it’s all truly going well.

Weeks later, I am still lifted up and encouraged by the words of those two people that day.
In the interim, I have been able to dip my own ladle in and share some of that cool water with others.
A cranky looking pregnant girl who had that familiar look of large discomfort – I simply told her she was beautiful.
A mom with little children acting like monkeys, who looked like she was about to totally lose her cool – I smiled at her understandingly and said, “I get it. I would offer you some chocolate, but I don’t have any! I’ve got gum!” She didn’t want the gum, but she appreciated the laugh and the moment to catch her breath.

Be encouraged, mamas.
Encourage one another, too.
Walk in the good works God prepared for you.
And when you can’t see the goodness, just believe it.
It takes faith.
But that’s encouraging too.

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Enjoy It

snuggle my bebe

What is one of the first, last, and most common things that an older & wiser woman tells a young mama? Enjoy itEnjoy these days, because they go by all too quickly.

Oh! Don’t we know it!

I do not begrudge the sentiment by a long shot, nor do I hold it against the throngs who have thus sought to encourage me. (And, yes, I too have said it to others!)
But what I would really love to know is HOW ~ how do I enjoy it? What are the secrets to embracing the chaos with joy? Where do I uncover secrets for how to capture the beauty in the mess? When will someone explain to me exactly how to soak up life in its moments rather than being pummeled by its speed?

I know that I should enjoy this.
And in all honesty, there is nothing I enjoy more than motherhood.
Nothing!

But there is also nothing harder.
Nothing challenges me to the extent that motherhood does.
Nothing else pushes me to these limits.
Nothing makes me long for quiet moments lying between cool cotton sheets like the chaos of four children, homeschooled by little old me, in a big house in the country.

I enjoy cooking. And baking (yeah, especially baking).
I enjoy a tidy, ordered home.
I enjoy washing dishes and putting away the laundry.
I enjoy dressing my children.
I enjoy undressing them and bathing them and watching them splash in bubble baths.
I enjoy reading books together and having educational aha moments.
I enjoy being the one my husband comes home to.
I enjoy being the woman who makes his lunches, irons his shirts, listens to his thoughts, and entwines my legs with his at night.
I enjoy waking up to the sound of “moooooooommmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!” through the monitor.
I enjoy answering questions, especially when I know the answer.
I enjoy planning outings and projects and schedules and parties.
I enjoy homemaking.
I enjoy turning chaos into order, mess into beauty, strife into peace.

But in recent weeks, I have wondered: “Do I enjoy MY LIFE?”

What a strange thing. Individually, I can not say that there is honestly any single aspect of my life which I do not enjoy.
I count myself among the blessed few in God’s wide creation that truly enjoy each thing He has called me to do.
But collectively, when it is all shoved together into the short 24-hour windows that He has allotted for me, I find it very hard to enjoy life.

I struggle with feeling like I deserve to enjoy my life.
I feel guilty if I find myself enjoying it fully.
I’m always thinking of twenty other things I should be doing rather than sitting still and enjoying a moment.

(Tell me I’m not alone.)

When I am on my deathbed, if I am coherent at the time, would I say to anyone, “I wish I had vacuumed more regularly? I wish I had cleaned my home on a schedule? I wish I had stuck to a meal plan? I wish I had sent my children away from me each day to be taught by someone else? I wish I had spent more time on the computer?”
I sincerely, highly and deeply, doubt it.

I will, God willing, look around at my descendants and those who I love most, and say, “My only regret is that I did not put aside futile things more to enjoy each human soul God put beside me each day.”

Thirty-two years already into this life, and no clue how many years yet the Lord has written into my story on earth.
But I am trying to get a handle on this thing called life.
Learning how to walk and drink ~ the basics, really.

Does it matter how many dust bunnies are found beneath my couch?
Does it matter what size my jeans are?
When I am older and grayer, will I look back in my memory banks or gaze through photo albums and simply critique the flabby abs of my thirties or the dog hair & country dust on my wood floors?

I should hope not!

These flabby abs were hard to fight for.
Damnit if I allow myself to succumb to peer pressures which make me think I’m less-than because I am no longer a size two.
This body brought thirteen more eternal souls into God’s Kingdom.
I spent nine years giving my body to the work of fattening heaven and earth with children ~ I will not give up my remaining years to agonizing over the evidence they left behind.

These wood floors in my country home are a tool for our life, not the point of our existence.
Phooey on me if I give in to the false assumption that cleanliness is next to godliness because my home doesn’t always sparkle and smell of white vinegar & lemon verbena.
This home is to be used for a blessing, a haven, for those who live here and those who visit here.
Rather than wasting my days scrubbing this place for the sake of appearance, I need to drive Matchbox cars on these floors, crawl alongside my baby through the dust bunnies, and have tea parties on the rugs. Rugs which, by the way, have a clever skill of hiding immeasurable imperfections.

I will enjoy this life.
I will enjoy these children.
Not only the individual events but the collective gathering of people and tasks and weeks.

My personal weakness is to find fault and focus there. To feel guilt over embracing blessings.
But what has God called me to do? To be faithful. To enjoy Him.
May He grant me the daily and hourly strength to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
May the God of heaven and earth reach through my weak flesh and grab hold on my faltering heart, causing me to fully enjoy what He has given me to do in this life He has called me to live.

Amen.