an opportunity for love

Next to learning to love God with our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, what is the second most important thing we pass on to our children?

Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

“Who is our neighbor?”

The super obvious answer for so much of our lives is: your family. Your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents. This is neighborhood living at its finest, up close and personal, where all good intentions melt like the sugar facades they are in the heat of real life and all of its friction and need and opportunity.

Here is where love puts on skin, finds an audible voice.

That sounds so obvious. Of course we’re to love one another. We’re a family! But it’s amazing how distracted from that main goal we can become. So busy doing as a group of people, pushing the older ones along, dragging the littles behind, snipping at the spouse as we accomplish school and work and housekeeping and extracurriculars and church. We can forget! Love your neighbor.

This remembering requires a shift in perspective and approach. If building relationships, and teaching how to appreciate differences and resolve conflict and work as a team — if those things really are important, it changes how I see life and how I do things.

I alluded to cookie decorating with the children. As tongues got out of hand and fingers got grabby (and I was already tired and not terribly excited about frosting to clean up), it would have been easy for me to put the kibosh on the whole thing with a harsh lecture about behavior, The End. Instead, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s reminders, I realized that this wasn’t a bad turn of events, but an amazing opportunity. Of course I would love for us to gather together and have there be nothing but laughter and love, but in order to get there someday, we need to practice it now. So, deep breath, I corrected the words. Instructed us to share. Reminded us to affirm. I put on a smile and even scrounged up a laugh. And most of all I refused to feel like the whole event was a flop. God can turn our most human moments into an opportunity to see and repent.

Recently I’ve followed the patterns of a friend and started adding some sibling time into our daily checklists. I’ve found what I’m sure you’ve found: certain siblings connect easily, and others are oil and water. Instead of avoiding the oil and water, I’m determined to put them together as often as possible and see them grow! Sibling conflict doesn’t have to mean failure; we can see it as an opportunity. I recognize that God put us all in one house for a reason, and it’s that we would grow in love, in breadth and depth of appreciation for all sorts of people, and I believe that my children will leave knowing how to work and play and live in love.

Maybe the atmosphere of your home feels overwhelming and a million miles from love. May I encourage you to pray and believe God for some wisdom and strategy? But most of all, believe God. Don’t believe lies of cultural norms where siblings are allowed hate and the future looks like decades of dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners. Press into the will of God for your family and each of your children. This I know: when we ask for help in this area, God will pour out nothing less than the full measure of His power and grace. He is on our side in this endeavor, for sure.

Teach them to love, and they’ll be world changers.

l o v e

Valentine’s Day. Clear, beautiful. Heaps and heaps of fresh snow, beckoning children to play (and their mamas to walk!)

Space made in our week for card making and crafting and cookies. Sometimes we have squeezed it into the cracks, but this year I wanted to take the chance to reflect with our time that people are important, and that appreciation needs to be communicated.

Some children are more creative than others, true, and while one boy had all of his cards made and stashed by Monday at noon, others are using every available minute on unique creations that I marvel over (because of course they have to show me, eager for my smile of affirmation, or to make sure I laugh at the clever joke.)

Cookies baked and frosted, despite my dismal failure with the buttercream. I try so hard to make it about being together, more than anything, and of course, that togetherness means more barbed comments than kindness, grabbing than sharing, laughing at instead of laughing with — and I have to take a deep breath. This is what we are doing: we are learning love. That means we don’t already know it. It means we are lacking. We are un-learning instinctive responses of envy and selfishness and pride, and putting on empathy and gentleness and humility. And I am the mother: I am on duty at all times, and shouldn’t be surprised when a table full of cookies and bowls of pink frosting ends up being an opportunity for me to be gentle in my correction. I am learning, too.

Our littlest love. She spends so much of the day caught up with her siblings, finding me when she’s at last tired, or hungry. Nighttime she nestles in my arms, and I’m glad for those hours when she’s mine. What a sweet treasure.

my hallway and me

I’m sitting in our hallway, afternoon coffee and my current read in hand. It’s become my 2pm routine, as of this week, when I realized I had two options: lose afternoon rest/naptime forever, or commit to making it happen by clear enforcement of my parameters. Within 2 days, a certain willful 3yo had figured out that the sheriff was back in town, and now happily peruses the pages of one book before rolling over, closing her eyes, and drifting to sleep for a bit.

It has been good for me to commit to her in a few areas and then see that my wholehearted commitment was all that was required for some changes to transpire.

It has also just been good for me to get back to basics. It’s true that parenting is getting more “frills” as the kids grow older. Life isn’t as small and simple as it once was. But sometimes, I’m realizing, I’m tempted to move too fast too soon in that direction, when in reality, if I focus and commit, there is plenty of time (and need!) for the small and simple disciplines of motherhood.

This little 2pm date with my hallway is bringing shape to my children’s days, but it’s tethering my heart again, too. My task is so simple. Not easy, always, but simple: raise, nurture, train young bodies and hearts and minds.

*****

Is something about your day/life/patterns with your kids bothering you? Ask for wisdom.

Then, be willing to be the answer.

Don’t be surprised when the solution requires sacrifice.

*****


our all-girl outing on this sunny saturday

child-proofing and real life

I’ve been thinking lately about our culture’s attempts at child-proofing life for our kids — how our parental instincts sometimes lead us astray in helping our children navigate the real world.

I’m not much of a child-proofer. I didn’t grow up that way, and I don’t mother that way, either. My kids all know that if you drop a glass it will break, because they’ve all done so, and we get it over with sooner rather than later.

Neither, though, am I much for sugar coating or fancy when it comes to life. And why would I be? The reality is that we live in a fallen world, and to the enemy of our souls, children seem to be fair game. If he’s going to play dirty, I’m certainly not going to blindly insist to my children that life is all magic and fairytales.

As the preacher said in a recent sermon I listened to, “Life is NOT GOOD.” God is good. Life is hard

And I want my children, from their smallest years, in their tiniest awareness, to know that God can be trusted. All else is fragile, fickle, and finite. God is forever-love that they can lean their whole trust into and never be let down.

A few days ago Fiona told me about the bad dream that had awoken her and driven her to my bed for comfort. “I dreamed that you and Daddy left and then you never came back!” Oh, the sweet flow of tears down soft baby cheeks, as her little body collapsed against me in sobs, seeking assurance. She wanted me to make that bad dream go away.

And there’s the temptation to child-proof and sugar coat. To say, “Daddy and Mama will never leave you, baby!” But— But. Life is fragile, fickle, and finite.

So I leave all that false reality behind, the world of plastic cups and baby gates and instead I lead her to the best Reality of all:

“You know that Daddy and Mama will always come back to you, as long as it is in our power to do so. We love you so much. But you know, even I can’t promise you how life is going to go. Sometimes things happen to moms and dads and papas and nanas and friends… things that are hard and sad. But you know what I can absolutely promise you? Jesus will never ever leave you or forsake you, and every sad and scary thing that the devil tries to frighten you with? Jesus is stronger and greater, and He takes away our fear. And someday we’re going to live in His forever-kingdom where there can’t even be bad dreams because there is nothing bad.

Don’t child-proof life for your kids. They’re going to find out soon enough, when trials hit hard and close to home, that in this spiritual war, kids are fair game. But do take every opportunity to lead them to the Rock of truth, the Anchor of their souls, the Overcoming King. Give them Jesus.

life with #6.

This little one! Oh, but she makes us smile. And laugh! So much laughter because of Enid and her antics. So many older siblings who will drop everything to comfort her, do anything to get one more smile from her. Only 8 months old but somehow so fully aware of how she belongs to us, and that we belong to her. She is curious, energetic, happy, playful, and (no surprise) happiest in the middle of a lot of hubbub. No, really. The very middle of everything.

small things, done well.

I took this picture early this morning. Doesn’t the snow look like fluffy eiderdown, wrapped around the post of the mailbox? Just lovely.

And the sight of that mailbox made me smile, because twice in the past couple of weeks, our friendly mailman has stopped his usual routine to congratulate Jameson on his diligent snow removal and rewarded him with a bag of Smarties. Jameson comes in beaming from those encounters, feeling so affirmed and confident.

That same mailman calls out his window on summer afternoons, “Good job having them outside, Mama! I love to see kids playing outside. Not enough of that these days.” And I feel bolstered.

Smiles and waves and a lollipop here and there, delighting my children.

And I thought of those things this morning, as the mailbox grabbed my attention. Delivering mail may not seem grand, spiritual work, but that man leaves encouragement whenever he leaves, and I am reminded: Do small things well. Do all to the glory of God. And see the people you encounter. They are worth your time, investment, and kindness.