I Gave Them to my Children

I had some treasured toy friends when I was a child: a couple of baby dolls, little plastic animals, and an armful of stuffed animals.  I managed to keep these in vintage condition despite having loved them for a couple of decades.  Some of them were used as nursery decor when my son was born but not as play things. But not long ago I took them all out and made them available for my little ones to enjoy.  What prompted this change of heart? I realized that I valued their joy and delight over my material possessions.  Sure, they’re not going to maintain their vintage condition and they probably won’t be passed down to my grandkids but that doesn’t matter to me anymore.  What matters more to me is seeing my little girls rocking the dolls I adored and to see my son’s imagination turn plastic animals into real ones. This is a season of giving.

Whenever I see my children playing with the toys I gave them, I am prompted to consider what else I am giving to them. What habits are being passed from me to them? What skills are they picking up? What values are being instilled deep into their hearts? What memories are filling their minds? What attitudes of the heart are being affirmed?  In years to come I want to see my children:

  • In love with the Word of God
  • Filled with compassion and kindness
  • Not afraid to work
  • Inquisitive, imaginative, and creative
  • Ready to have fun
  • Always ready to learn
  • Loyal to family and friends
  • As keepers of their word
  • Respected by all who know them
  • More ready to rejoice than complain

A mother has great influence on her children; hers is not a role that can be taken lightly nor prone to shortcuts. It’s a position that shapes lives, molds character, and instills integrity.  Her approval and comfort will always be sought after by her children, no matter how old they are or how ready they are to admit it. She is one of only two people who can view the values that govern their descendants’ lives and say, “I gave them to my children.”

 

 

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“Look at Me.”

“Look at me, Mama, look at me!” The delighted cry reverberated across the playground as my happy children enjoyed the swings with my mom. For some reason, hearing their voices request my attention gripped my heart in a fresh way; it was poignant because they wanted me to share in their joy and to validate their experience. I also realized that it is the cry of my heart and that of every human on this planet called Earth. It’s not a desire to be on center stage, but rather a desire to be seen, heard, and known.

As humans created in the image of God, we crave community. In fact, it is pivotal to our survival and the shaping of our identity. We determine our norms and set our standards according to the reaction of those around us – good or bad.  And so, when we go unnoticed we often feel invisible at worst, directionless at best. From the newest newborn to the oldest adult, our voices ever cry, “Look at me!”

“Look at me!” squeals the young child who has just figured out how to zip zippers and button buttons.

“Look at me!” screams the purple hair and pierced nostril of the lonely teenager.

“Look at me!” pleads the exhausted mother trying to hold in the tears and hold together the home.

“Look at me!” says the work-weary husband who is trying to give his best to home, work, family, and marriage.

“Look at me!” whispers the frail nursing home resident waiting for a visitor who never comes.

“Look at me!” declares the Creator God.

This longing cry to be noticed and affirmed echoes our Creator’s heart.  He beckons us to look to him for hope, joy, meaning, purpose, and salvation.  We were designed to look to Him first and foremost and until we do, no matter how few or many people recognize and affirm our existence, we will always be longing for more.

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Judging Tomorrow

I don’t know about you, but my default is to fret and fear…especially about the future, ESPECIALLY now that I have 4 children.  There’s something about the unknown, or the element of uncertainty about what I do know (or am pretty sure of), that can send chills down my spine, put beads of sweat on my brow, and squeeze my gut with an iron fist.  And come to think of it, I think I fear tomorrow more than I fear anything else.  Maybe there’s something about just having had a baby that makes me a bit more anxious about life (the reduced sleep might have something to do with that) or perhaps I’m just being a bit OCD these days, but it feels like my mind has been spinning nonstop about all that awaits me tomorrow…and the tomorrow after that…and the tomorrow after that.  I know that’s how I was  certainly feeling yesterday, but I learned a couple of refreshing things today that I would like to share with you regarding this fear.

  • Do not judge tomorrow with today’s energy. I am usually frightened about all that I must do: the lives depending upon me, the long list of essential tasks that must be done, the errands that must be run, the schooling that must be accomplished (even though we are still a couple of years away from that, I still think about it), the meals that must be prepared, the potty-training and shoe-tying and sleep training that are resting on my shoulders…this endless list spins like a tornado through my mind continuously.  However,  I noticed that I am more aware of tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of the day when I am the most tired.  In the mornings, no matter how rough my night has been, I find that I have the energy to start my new day and take on the challenges that come with it. The Bible assures me that God provides me with my daily bread, and I have concluded that that includes a daily energy supply as well. Today’s energy will meet today’s needs.
  • Do not judge tomorrow by today’s experiences. When I have had a very bad day, it is easy to assume that tomorrow will only be worse. If I’ve learned of some tragedy on the news, I brace myself for the terrible thing that will happen tomorrow. If there’s been a falling out with a friend or family member, I wait for everyone else to hate me tomorrow. It sounds silly, I know, but wait – it gets even sillier: If I’ve had an amazing day, I assume that tomorrow can never be as good or wonderful and I still dread the brand new day waiting for me. The fact is that today is today and tomorrow needs a chance to be all God designed it to be.  The Bible says that Christ’s mercies are new every morning; that means that tomorrow is the fresh start I need every day.
  • Do not judge tomorrow with today’s emotions. Those fickle fiends called emotions! How they send all of us on roller coaster rides of immense happiness and sorrow! They whisper confidence or doubt in my ear according to their whim in the moment and much of what I expect out of tomorrow is based on how I am feeling today. Emotions are the antithesis of stability, the antonym of constancy.  When facing the future, I cannot look to myself or my feelings; I must look to the only Being who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Bible says that God is the great I AM. He is just as present tomorrow as He is today.

These little lessons can be summarized in a basic but profound truth: the one thing I do know about tomorrow is that God is there. All of my fears and frets are me-focused: “How will I feel?” “How will I respond?” “How will I manage?”  They cause me anxiety because I know that I am weak and inconsistent; but God is not.  As the hymn declares, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow” and that is really all I need to know about the future.

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Falling Asleep on my Shoulder

This morning I cut nearly 40 tiny fingernails (give or take a few newborn ones). It’s random facts like that which open my eyes to life right now. Every day there’s the feeding, changing, potty training, cleaning up after, playing, teaching, bathing and putting to bed that can overshadow the growth that is occurring without pause: growth in them and in me. More times in a day than I can count it seems that I blink and suddenly see my children with wonder. When did she begin to articulate her feelings in words? When did he develop such initiative? When did she become so brave? When did he get so big in my arms?

I snuggled my newborn on my shoulder while he fussed. I instinctively knew that in just a few minutes he would be asleep. I patted his back, absorbed his sounds and scents, and pondered. In the midst of postpartum tears, frayed nerves from having my heart pulled in so many different directions, and a decent amount of anxiety over how I actually will manage the care and nurturing of these four tiny people and still manage to keep us well-rounded individuals, it’s easy for me to miss my own personal growth.  My 9-day old spring baby has inspired me to reflect on the growth that has come with each season’s baby.

My summer baby took me into uncharted waters. His pregnancy gave me every symptom in the What to Expect When You are Expecting  book. Miserable was an understatement in describing how I felt during those 10 months of carrying him. His birth was nearly as difficult but oh! the joy his entrance into this world brought to my heart! And that joy has only multiplied as I discover the world through his eyes. He is noble, caring, spontaneous, steady, funny, and straightforward. I rarely have cause to doubt his words because truth is something he already values at the tender age of three and a half years old.  He is my continual introduction to motherhood and my inspiration for creativity and discovery.

My fall baby introduced me to the delight of having a daughter. I had longed for a daughter and she brought out a level of nurturing in me that I never knew existed. Her pregnancy and birth were easy compared to my previous experience and her personality matches. Through her example I am increasing my efforts to nurture the already established relationships in my family; I am seeking to practice tenderness as I observe her observing me; I recognize my significance in the lives of my children as I set the standard for what it means to be a wife and mom in their minds.  With her entrance into my life, I became a mother of children and discovered that it is possible to love more than one.

My winter baby impressed on me the reality of full-time motherhood. When I had only two children, I still had some wiggle room in my free time. My newest little girl prompted me to readjust my priorities and give more time and attention to simply being available for my growing flock. She also stretched my time management abilities as I worked out a routine that flowed with all three.  This little one’s personality has traits quite unlike her siblings which have broadened my understanding of mothering. She needs me in unique ways that cause me to slow down and tune in a little more than I am used to doing.  This addition to our family helped me to overcome my fear of my parenting comfort zone being challenged.

My spring baby is the zenith of my life at this time. His birth is an answer to my prayer for a home delivery: what an incredibly powerful experience and a bulwark memory that I can recall whenever I feel like I am facing an insurmountable task or difficulty. At only 9 days of age, his presence in my life has been peaceful and filled with endless snuggles. I think this is because his birth celebrated and trusted my maternal instinct in a way that was neglected with the other three. I do not feel like an old hat at being his mom; I just feel like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I am filled with excitement about discovering him as an individual and seeing what fresh dimensions he will add to our family.

All in all, these seasons of motherhood have grown me as a mom, obviously, but I think I am also growing in understanding the essentials of life. One of these is simplicity: a non-negotiable in this new season of parenting four under the age of four. However, I think simplicity is valuable for everybody. When routines, desires, goals, and schedules are overly complicated, we tend to miss the point of all that we are doing. But I digress.  Not only will I be simplifying out of necessity, I am already simplifying out of desire – a desire to be present when my kids excitedly say “Good morning!” when they wake up, when they regale me with random stories in which they conquered alligators, sharks and iguanas, when I am cutting 40 tiny fingernails, and when my littlest person is falling asleep on my shoulder.

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Easy

I recently finished reading through the eleventh chapter of the biblical book of Hebrews. I kept on reading through verse three of chapter twelve.  The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is known as the Hall of Faith because it honors the great men and women who clung to their faith in God through great persecution and trials, despite the fact that they did not yet know about Jesus as we have the privilege of knowing Him.  And then verses one through three of chapter twelve challenge the ones who do know Jesus to be encouraged by those heroes of the faith who have gone before: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…”  This was not my first time of reading these verses, but they did resonate with me in a fresh way.

These verses confronted me with the fact that a life of ease should not be my ultimate desire. In our present society “easy” is getting easier to obtain; a simple scroll through your social media news feed is evidence of that. What “crises” usually make the status headlines these days? Today I read posts from moms bemoaning the fact that they cannot program Netflix to play continuously all day for their kids; instead, they have to interrupt their sleep or personal time in order to make sure the shows haven’t stopped streaming. Our culture has a low tolerance for discomfort and a quick inclination to complain, withdraw, or roll over and give up trying when life is “hard.” I can honestly say that this tendency is strong in myself, and I want that fact to change.

Lack of sleep makes me irritable; aches and pains are excuses for not doing all that can be done; interrupted routines sends me into a stressed frenzy; extended durations of whining make me impatient and frustrated. These are the usual woes of my day and when listed they seem petty compared to those ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship for the same faith that I claim  to hold: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated…wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” 

Chapter eleven begins with the definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  It may seem like a stretch to be comparing my stay-at-home mom’s life with the lives of those described in the great Hall of Faith, but I am doing so because our faith is the same. What good is my faith if I don’t live it out in the middle of my calling as a wife, mom, and individual? I may not be able to control the ins and outs of my day, but I can certainly control my attitude in the midst of them – and my attitude should be driven by my faith in Christ Jesus. The Hebrews challenge that spoke to my heart was not that I should minimizethe hardships in my life but that I should recognize the ability I have been given to do what is right in the midst of them.  Trust me, living for Jesus during an ordinary day is anything but easy, but it is worth every bit of the struggle.

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Faithful in Florida

Passing another birthday and eagerly anticipating the imminent birth of my second son are perfect reasons for reflecting on all that I have learned about Jesus through my recent history. My reflections gave me pause as I recognized that in less than five years I have experienced several of the most recognized life-altering changes a person can have in a lifetime: marriage, children (not once, but four times), and a move that took me out of my home state. And these were only the most notable, highlight-worthy transitions; there were a myriad of significant yet personal ones all along the way. On my birthday I asked myself this: “Is my life worth it? All the efforts to live well, to redeem the time, to reach others- are they all worth it?” And then I considered the Constant through all of my transitions, changes and experiences. Not only has He been there for me in the first 29 years of my life, He has come with me in the most recent four. I cannot refrain from exulting in His faithfulness when I recall how terrified I was to leave my island home and move to Florida. I simply could not begin to picture how I could establish a life as rich and secure in a new state as the one I was leaving behind. And yet I have- not because of my own creativity or social skills but because of Christ’s personal care, attentiveness and faithfulness in walking before us, walking beside us and walking behind us every step of the way. Florida living is a testament to me of what I always knew but had not quite internalized: that Jesus is just as faithful in shepherding me through the inner turmoils of my heart as He is in guiding me through those textbook transitions. Grasping this truth is probably the greatest life change I have made so far because it frees me to embrace all of the challenges yet to come. So the answer is “Yes!” Yes, it is worth it to keep living in a way that draws me closer to Jesus and allows me to testify for His glory.

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Some Thoughts on Marriage

It’s February; this means that we are all a little more focused on love and relationships, right? It was not too long ago that I realized I spend more time pondering and discussing parent-child relationships than I do my marriage relationship. It’s not that I don’t recognize the importance of marriage; it’s just that the demands of parenting seem louder and more persistent. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know?  Needless to say, having my eyes opened to this unbalanced ratio has been a good thing. In the process of reorienting my focus, I have come to a few conclusions which I hope will be of benefit to you as well.

The first is that the Golden Rule does not exclude spouses. There are days when I have been so busy caring for our children that I simply see my husband as someone who is there for my benefit: help me, pamper me, listen to me, serve me.  I have a set of expectations for him that aligns with my personality and I can get impatient or frustrated when he does not meet them.  This tendency of mine is not a righteous one. My husband lavishes me with such grace: rarely suggesting any improvements to my character and encouraging me to flourish in the way my personality is inclined. These are such gifts and are attributes that I would like to cultivate more in how I treat and respond to him. He is a master of the Golden Rule and is truly leading by example.

The second is that spouses are not children. With the bulk of my day being spent providing childcare, there are times when I probably forget to revert to adult mode when my husband gets home. In some ways, it could be easier to just group him in with the kids in how I talk to him, respond to him, and care for him. If and when I do this, it is by no means intentional; however, it is something to which I need to be alert. Not only would treating him like a child disrespect him it would also demean him in front of our children. They need to recognize the pivotal role he has in our home and family and respond to him with utmost respect and adoration.  Again, my husband already leads by example in how he treats me and encourages the children to respond to me. Husbands and wives set the tone of the home and are living models of what children can expect from marriage. Both marriage partners should be loved and respected by one another.

Finally, the marriage must be the center of the God-fearing home. After faith, the marriage must be both spouses’ number one priority. Everything about the family is linked to the health and vibrancy of marriage. Once the honeymoon stage has ended, it is all too simple to slip into a monotonous routine when it comes to one another. Work consumes, children arrive with overwhelming needs, life throws bills, break-downs, and social demands. Pretty soon marriage can be a mere box to check on an insurance form. But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to be that way.  If we can manage to make everything else a priority, we can most certainly make time for the one we once knew we couldn’t live without.  We have become one flesh with this person and, just as our spirit craves that Creator-creation connection, our hearts long for a consistent connection with our soulmate. Time with our spouse is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

Marriage is a God-given gift worth cherishing. It should not be treated lightly. It is upon a healthy marriage that a healthy home is built; within that home new lives are created and nourished. When these lives are fully matured, they leave home of their birth to establish families of their own, and so the cycle of society continues. When marriages disintegrate, society crumbles.

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