Raising a Man

As this year closes, the news has been full of reports of allegations of men abusing and mistreating women.  I’ve been reading these headlines, while also spending the month of December fundraising and bringing awareness to the global money-making shame of human trafficking.  And it all has me thinking a lot about the kind of man I want my son to become, the hopes that I have for his character.  I have been praying for my son since the day he was born.  My prayers have been very specific for him as a male.  I pray for strength, a heart for the Lord, a heart for justice, a kind spirit and most of all, integrity.  This is a personal trait that is becoming more precious, more valuable, and rarer every day.  It’s defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.  And almost every time I check the headlines I see men lying about their actions, making excuses for their misdeeds and expecting people to serve their whims instead of recognizing when their whims subject others to abuse.

And I look at my son, who is now only three, but who will soon have desires which will be admirable and gracious on some days, yet embarrassing and selfish on others.  How do I begin to teach him to care about his choices and the impact they have on other people?  How do I begin to explain to him that girls outside his family will always deserve the same respect and kindness that he shows to his sisters?  How will he learn to sacrifice his creature comforts for the legitimate needs of those less fortunate in his path?  How will he figure out how to use his strength to fight injustice?  How will I coach his behavior so that he doesn’t become another woman’s disgraceful memory or headline?

Much of this he will learn from his father, who is a kind and generous man.  He teaches our son that his job is to protect and never to harm.  Much of it he will learn from me, as I demand that he minds his manners.  I require him to say “please” and “thank you,” to ask me nicely for things instead of expecting me to get what he wants.  Much of it he will learn from his female siblings as they ask for his help and show him familial love.

But there’s a message passing through our culture that I don’t want him to hear: and that message is that there is nothing special about him as a male.  Because when women start emasculating men, men stop caring about women.  When we tell them they don’t matter, that we can live without them, they don’t see the need to practice integrity.  Why would we as women expect kindness and respect from men we don’t respect ourselves?

I want my son to know that his God-given strengths and tendencies are valuable.  I want him to see his maleness as the other half of the beautiful design God created in humanity.  When he notices the differences between himself and girls, I hope that the mystery produces a sense of awe and wonder in his mind, and not lust or greed.

I will continue to lift him up in my prayers even when I can no longer lift him in my arms.  I will speak for him until, God willing, my prayers become his own.

Bigger Clothes, Bigger Problems: Hot-Button Issues with My Daughters

girlsIn the very first days after my eldest daughter was born, I remember grieving my loss of sleep and discussing my exhaustion with my mom.  She empathized with me and then said something that has stuck with me as I’ve navigated the twisted roads of motherhood.  It went a little like this: “When your kids are very young they need your energy and constant attention because their problems are frequent but small.  They are easy to fix but they happen repeatedly.  When they’re older, your kids need your wisdom and your heart because their problems are fewer, but they’re bigger and there is less you can do on your own to fix them.”

Vivienne turned seven this month and her younger sister Georgia recently turned five, and although they still have many years head of them, I’m astounded at the depth of our conversations at this point in their lives.  I’m always a little sad when I realize they are old enough to comprehend that the world isn’t perfect, that some people are mean or that I can’t give them every answer to soothe their tender emotions or settle their confused minds.

All moms are familiar with the gut-sinking-bitter-sweetness that comes when you discover that your kids have outgrown their clothes and need an entirely new wardrobe.  There’s a double-whammy that hits while weeding out old clothes and buying new ones for our children.  The first punch goes to our checking account—time to budget for clothing this month!  The second punch goes to our hearts—our babies are getting bigger.  And bigger.  And as their bodies grow so do their minds.  Their brains fill with new information, new concepts.  Their eyes notice behavior and social structures.  Pretty soon these children start to ask very good questions, very challenging questions that make us stop and consider, “Hmm, how am I going to answer/handle this?”

And what complicates this for me even more is that my girls are SO different.  They have shared a room since my younger daughter was five-months-old, a bed since she was two, and they are the best of friends.  But they could not be more opposite if they were characters in a story.  Often a tactic or method or even tone of voice that I use with one does not go over well with the other.  I must get creative with tailoring much of my mothering-methods to each of my three children (because my youngest is a boy—talk about different!) and their personalities, while maintaining the convictions and ideologies that my husband and I feel are important for our family.

My night-and-day daughters have tested me lately in my ability to succinctly yet thoroughly answer their concerns in a way that will assuage their fears, teach truth and be considerate of their immature emotions.  My oldest daughter is very into science and dinosaurs.  She has just learned to read and will devour any text about dinosaurs that she can find.  But not all these books agree about exactly when dinosaurs existed, how long they lived and how they became extinct.  My husband and I are Christians and believe in Creation, but we are old-Earth Christians, so we tend to agree with scientists who maintain that the earth is much older than the 6,000 years that the new-Earthers claim.  We happen to own a book about dinosaurs by one of these new-Earth apologists, Ken Hamm, that we picked up from our local consignment store before we realized its angle.  He claims that dinosaurs were roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  But just last week, Vivienne came home with a book about dinosaurs from her school library which supports the traditional scientific view that dinosaurs predated humans and even evolved into birds!  (An entire blog-post could be derived from this example about different schooling options for Christian families, but I’m not going to go there right now).

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You can imagine Vivi’s confusion when she read these two conflicting accounts.  I pointed out to her that the school library book was aging the earth at millions of years old, whereas Ken Hamm’s account ages it at around 6,000 years.  I asked her what she thought.  She said she agreed with the library book from the school because: “There’s no way people and dinosaurs could have lived at the same time because the dinos would have crushed or eaten the people!”

(Amazing the logic of little kids sometimes.)

So, I ended up encouraging her to take a faith-filled posture on this one.  I explained to her that there are some things we will never know this side of heaven.  But what we do know is that everything comes from something.  Every creation has a Creator, and the timing is mostly irrelevant.  We believe that God created all things for His glory and purpose, and that science helps us to learn about His creation and to reveal Him within it.  She seemed satisfied with that.  I believe her very words were, “I know that Mommy.”  And then she waved me away so she could continue reading her book on her own.

Georgia’s interests are not in science.  They are in performance, dancing, play-acting and looking pretty.  I think that this is a confusing are for girls and women in our current climate.  On one hand, people spend way too much money and time worrying about being beautiful.  Just the number of YouTube make-up tutorials, Pinterest pins and beauty products is overwhelming.  On the other hand, there is a growing movement among feminists which is telling females that beauty is shallow and unnecessary.  This perspective suggests that beautiful women who take care of themselves are enslaved to some patriarchal system, and that they are brainwashed ignorant bimbos.

I believe both groups are wrong.  I believe that my God loves beauty—it’s all around us in the animals we admire, the gardens that we cultivate, the mountains upon which we gaze, and yes, the diverse patchwork of humanity across this globe.  So, my task with Georgia is not to squelch her interest in beauty and the pleasure she takes in looking pretty.  My task is to put beauty in its proper place, to encourage her to focus more on cultivating a beautiful spirit and heart than on wearing an outfit or a hairstyle that others will notice.

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She threw a fit the other day when I would not allow her to wear her play make-up to school.  Now, the child is five, so it’s not like she was going to be in full super-model make-up anyway.  But I know that she sees me wearing make-up most days, and she has asked me why I do it.  I must be very careful about my answers because I don’t want her to ever think that her value lies in her beauty.  And she is lovely—she has creamy white skin, big blue eyes and light blonde hair.  She is blessed with a lean, muscular frame and her muscles are well-defined without that much physical effort.  But I know that God created us in His image, and all beauty is ultimately there to point to Him.  It’s nothing we can claim on our own because it was given to us.  I also know that nothing spoils beauty in a person like an ungrateful and selfish heart.

More questions and explanations are sure to come.  I hope that God gives me enough wisdom to communicate what He’s taught me, and that He’ll help me to tap into His grace when I get things wrong.  Please pray for me as I continue to nurture these feminine souls, knowing the struggles and expectations that are waiting for my girls as they grow.  Now my son, Roman, well…he’ll be an entirely different ball of wax!

What Entertains Us? Thoughts on Weinstein and Pornography.

Yes. Me too.  I was abducted at gun point, robbed and sexually assaulted when I was 21.  I can assure you that being assaulted changes your life in a heartbeat.  Those are the testimonies that we’re hearing from these women who were bullied and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein.  Listening to the now infamous audio tape, it seems that he liked scaring them, wielding his power in the business over them, threatening their future.  And many of them walked away from “the industry” at that point.  They realized that they couldn’t participate in a game where their success depended on their willingness to surrender their morals.  As Weinstein said in the audio, “everybody does it.”

And apparently everyone knew about it.  From the jokes about Weinstein on shows like 30 Rock, to jabs at award shows, it truly seems as though this behavior had been happening for quite some time.  As one person was quoted as saying, “it was the most open secret in Hollywood.”  Yet the Weinstein Company and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are just now expelling Weinstein to distance themselves from his soiled reputation.

This tells me one thing, and I think we need to be reminded of this:  Hollywood, powerful people, entertainers—they did not care about those women or their futures or they would have stepped in long ago.  And guess what?  They don’t care about you, or me, or our kids.  They care about us insofar as we pay their bills, and that’s all.

So what can we do to stop sexual assault and harassment from happening in America alone?  I believe that sin and selfishness are going to drive this sort of mistreatment until the end of time, but there is one thing that I do believe could help in stopping the endless flow of damaging sexual images, ideals, and practices into our own homes and minds.

If people really want to see a better future, I think we need to start asking ourselves some tough questions: Although we may tell our children how to treat others, how to respect them, give them space, are we following that up with what we allow to pass from our eyes or ears to our brains as “entertainment?” Weinstein is a movie producer after all–how did he get so powerful? His very pockets were lined by us! He has produced some 80 films, and many of them are blockbusters.

What we pass off as entertainment is damaging business and relationships and teaching our children harmful messages about intimacy.  What music, TV shows, and films are we hooked on which promote casual, dangerous, selfish physical indulgence? It has been proven that pornography rewires the brain and viewing it releases dopamine which satisfies that “seeker” habit, however, after a while just watching isn’t enough, and the viewer must act out their fantasies. I wonder if this is what happened to Weinstein? And did you know that the pornography industry made $4 billion last year alone? That is symptomatic of a serious problem because it reveals a “need” that is feeding this business, and also because real people don’t respond to sexual advances the same way that actors do.  It is not “normal” for people to watch porn–it’s destructive, plain and simple, and I don’t know a single man who has had a problem with pornography and is recovering from it who has ever been proud that he was exposed to it.

Here’s something pretty pornographic (and I apologize in advance but I felt this was important).  A billboard hit about three summers ago contained these lines:

“You’re the hottest bitch in this place…”

“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.”

The song?  Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharrell.  And it was featured on Jimmy Kimmel, The Voice, So You Can Think You Can Dance, played over the radio all summer (we heard it over and over again while living in Luxembourg), and who knows what other TV shows.  Teens were listening to this for months and months.  They were being taught, through music, that it’s appropriate for men to tease women in this way.

I was going to post a photo of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus when they performed the song together on MTV in 2013, but it was just too gross.  Perhaps the most disturbing part of those images is while Miley is twerking all over Robin Thicke, young fans are reaching up worshipfully, in complete support of the perverse mess happening right in front of them.  It’s no wonder Thicke’s wife Paula Patton divorced him after that.

Mainstream TV and movies, Netflix and Amazon originals are not much better. What people defend as artistic license appeals to the most carnal instincts in a person and is inherently damaging. When our children are little we want them watching educational television that will stimulate their brains, but as adults we entertain ourselves with tawdry trash that feeds perversion in people like Harvey Weinstein.  I’m not blaming the public for his indiscretions. He of course is responsible for his actions, but I can’t help but think that the growing obsession with sex and self-gratification and lack of accountability in this country largely contributes to the twisted reasoning of people like Weinstein, and helped keep his secret quiet for a long time.

I think that it’s time we back up our words with our choices.  This may require us to give up our favorite shows, to walk out of movie theaters or be a little less cool.  So be it.  Let’s stop lining Hollywood’s pockets when they don’t care enough about us to stop abuse.

I’d like to leave you with a picture of a man who did care.  He was a champion for a woman who was being harassed and whose very life was being threatened.  She had exercised poor judgment and cheated on her husband.  A group of powerful men laid most of the blame on her and we have no mention of whether her lover was tried at all.  But they dragged her into the street and prepared to throw rocks at her until she died.  That’s when Jesus stepped in front of her and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7).  The crowd, in its shame, dispersed, and the woman presumably learned from her own mistakes and walked away unscathed, her future ahead of her.  So I don’t want to wholesale lay the blame on men and patriarchy.  There are great men who follow Christ’s example in their fair and noble treatment of women.

In contemplating people’s indiscretions and sins, I think we should mourn the pain and loss that one miserable person caused, but we should also pray for them and search our own hearts, ask the Lord to reveal how we can contribute to change.  It will take humility and grace to heal what has been broken.

Until Now: Mothering Moment to Moment

I’ve been ruminating lately on how much of motherhood is moment-to-moment.  When they are very young, our children’s needs are immediate and small, yet they can quickly fill up a day.  From the minute they are born, they start changing rapidly.  Every day brings a new development, a new milestone or challenge.  So much of their questions as they learn to communicate, first with grunts and then single words and then phrases and eventually complex sentences, are about what they want or need from moment to moment.  Mine are always asking what we’re doing.

“Mommy, what can I do NOW?  What are we having for dinner?  What are we doing tomorrow?”

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They see in small slices of time.  There’s no long-term vision for the future in these little minds.  Therefore, I started to think like this not long after becoming a mother.  In these busy moments of mothering, I am often putting one foot in front of the other and thinking of what needs to be done NEXT.  What diaper do I need to change now?  What sticky liquid must I clean off the floor now?  What meal do I need to prep for next?  Who needs to get dressed?  Who needs a ride to school now?

Busy-ness does not provide much space for dreaming or for long term vision.  So as a mother I easily became entrenched in what was happening in my life daily, focusing on the fine details–not so much the beauty and great significance of the fact that my child can NOW hold their own spoon or get themselves dressed, but that it finally happened and freed me from their dependence on me for basic needs.  I was often overcome by these little, immediate needs.  I felt so smothered at times that I inwardly scoffed when older people with independent children would remind me how much I should be appreciating mine…right NOW in THIS moment.

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I brushed their comments aside, knowing they were right and silently acknowledging that one day I will most certainly be in their shoes, feeling compassion and sympathy for a young mom struggling with her tiny brood, while also feeling a pull to make her aware of the treasure that she has in her young family.  I brushed their comments aside because although they are most likely correct, what they said did not change the fact that in those moments, I was the one struggling.  I was the one yearning for a moment alone.  I was the one wondering when I’d get a good night’s rest again.  I was the one wanting to put on a nice outfit and not have it covered in food stains and snot.  I was the one covered up in moments and lacking vision or the hindsight to see how these moments could come together.

Until now.

Just a few days ago I was sitting at the kitchen table with my two-year-old son.  His older sisters have just begun their school year, and I’ve been looking forward to the days that I’m going to have alone with my son, my baby, who has had the least amount of quality time with mommy of all my children.  We were alone at the table and I was kind of focused in on his round cheeks when it hit me.  I am about to begin my final days as a full-time stay-at-home-mom.  Over the last seven years my husband and I added three little people to our family and every day I was swept up in their now needs.  It was hard for me to lift my head up higher than their faces to see the changes on the horizon, to see that the future was not “now”, but it came sooner than I anticipated.  When I was home with all three of them, or even just two of them (when my oldest started kindergarten last year), it was easy for me to see all these moments as an endless stream of my reality.  Like this was going to be my life forever, which is silly, because we all know that children grow up.

So NOW, when I look at my son, I see a boy who just yesterday was an infant, and tomorrow will be a kindergartner.  Every time he kisses my arm or my cheek, every time he tells me he loves me and demands a response, every time he asks me to carry him or runs to me in tears with a boo-boo, I wonder if it will be the last of these moments of childhood urgency.  Because moments have passed with my other two.  I can no longer carry my six-year-old.  My helpful five-year-old won’t be home in the afternoons to assist in putting her brother down for a nap.  There’s less and less need for mommy’s help right NOW, and more that they can do without me.

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Two nights ago, my five-year-old daughter was exaggerating about her speed and claiming that she could outrun me.  I told her, “Yeah right, I’m way faster than you!”  Then I thought for a moment and said, “But, there will be a day when you’ll be faster and stronger than me, honey.  Then you really will beat me.”

Sometimes I think that I, and moms in general, could benefit from learning how to procrastinate, just enough to help us put off the trivial tasks that seem like they need to be done right NOW, to savor more of these moments.  Later, our laundry will still be sitting in a pile on the floor, but our children will be running ahead, eventually too fast for us to catch them.  Let’s lace up our shoes, take a swig of caffeine, and chase these moments when we can.

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What I Do And Don’t Know About Motherhood

When my husband and I were talking about becoming parents, man, were we clueless. Especially me, I was the clueless one.  Bryan has always been more of a practical realist; me–I’m more of a dreamer.  I tend to get lost in thought, stare out windows, go way deeper into conversations than people really wanted to.

I’ve learned so much since the quest of motherhood began–mostly that things are never going to go the way that I expect them to go.  That motherhood is full of profound, disgusting, heart-melting, terrifying, glorious, silly, unpredictable surprises.  Beginning with two miscarriages, then two healthy births of two beautiful girls on opposite sides of the country, to an overseas move, to expat life and pregnancy and yet another miscarriage in Europe, to the birth of my baby boy, to a visit to the American Embassy to get his citizenship requirements in the middle of a winter storm when he was ten days old, to another overseas move from hell with a four year old, three year old and ten month old, to staying in two AirBnBs before moving into a house, to beginning kindergarten and first grade….whew, it’s been a hectic eight years.  Eight years since our first attempts at becoming parents!

Somewhere during that pregnancy with Vivienne, our oldest, I decided that I was against pregnancy books–except for the baby development week to week.  The reason was because I was already recovering from fear and anxiety left over from losing two babies in a row before her, and all I found when I read these pregnancy books was more fear, more “what ifs,” and illogical, crippling reasons to suspect that something was wrong with my perfectly formed and developing baby girl.  I decided to trust God because that was the take-away lesson that He’d taught me through my miscarriages anyway.  There was nothing I could do to prevent them, nothing I could do to change what was happening to me, and worry and fear would do nothing but steal the joy I was experiencing during my pregnancy as I felt my baby grow and move inside me.

This aversion to asking for and giving advice as a mom has carried over into my years of mothering infants, toddlers, preschoolers and now elementary-aged children.  There are not many people that I will ask for advice.  Sometimes I ask my own mother because she knows me, she’s completed her journey of motherhood successfully and I know she doesn’t judge me.  Sometimes I ask my sister, and of course, I ask my husband what he thinks.

But mostly I pray, I ask God for help and watch for His answers, His way of leading.  I’m not saying that I’m always a great listener, but I try.  I try this tactic or that one and see which yields success.  You see, each of my children is different and the same approach does not always work for each one in every scenario.  Their moods, likes, dislikes, feelings and fears change around the clock, and if my OWN children are so diverse in their personalities, how in the world can I offer advice to other moms on what they should do when their child won’t eat this, has an allergy to that, doesn’t sleep through the night or has extreme separation anxiety?  Occasionally other women will ask me for advice, but I really do my best to frame my answer as, “this is what we tried” not as “you should do this.”  The word “should” is one I don’t think is good for most moms to hear–it usually brings a lot of guilt.

Another reason that I don’t give a lot of mothering advice is because there is so much I don’t know, and so much that just doesn’t interest me.  I do not care about eating organic food.  I do not craft.  I don’t know how to sew, although I “should.” I don’t garden.  I am not a huge fan of Disney-related stuff.  I don’t send my kids to preschool.  So basically, if you want to know about kale recipes, DIY Halloween costumes, how to grow fist-sized tomatoes, where to get the best Disney passes (I don’t even know if that’s the right way to say that), which preschools in the area are the highest rated, I am not your girl.  I’m aware of the areas where I lack knowledge or skill.

What I do know as a mom is that these years go by so quickly.  I do know that it’s okay to tell your children that you don’t have all the answers to their questions.  I do know that it’s okay to cry and be real in front of them.  It’s okay if you yell and lose your patience, as long as you’re willing and ready to say that you were wrong, ask for their forgiveness and follow it up with a big hug and a heart-felt “I love you,” and try, really try, to do better next time.  I do know that your kids think you are so much more wonderful than you believe or imagine.  I do know that they think you are wicked smart.  I do know that it’s okay to lock your self in your room and cry out to God.  I do know that it’s okay to tell them “no” or “not right now.”  I do know that going for a walk with them, playing “doggies” with them as my kids love to do, or eating popsicles with them on the front porch will make just as big of an impression on their little hearts as a day at Disney World.  I do know that they love the sound of your voice and the feel of your arms.  I know they think that you are an incredible artist.  I know they think you’re pretty.  I know they love to dance with you.  I do know that you’re tired and your brain feels short-circuited, but if you take the time to answer their questions honestly, you have a chance to impact their lives forever.

I know motherhood is probably not exactly what you had in mind.  I know that there are moments that you wish that you could stay in bed, or go on vacation, or be able to finish a mediocre blog-post without a pint-sized person crawling into your lap.  (I know that if you are afforded the opportunity to do any of these things, you actually really miss your kids after a while and just want to go home.)  And when you start to feel guilty about having these escape fantasies, don’t buy into the lie that a “better” mom wouldn’t want to get away.  Instead, recognize that you love your kids enough to care!  That hesitation/elation that you have over an opportunity to go somewhere without your kids (the supermarket, a hotel, the dentist!) is a sign of a devoted and caring mother who is working hard and doing her best.  Accept the things that you DO know about being a mother, the things that have served you and your family well.  Capitalize on your strengths and the knowledge that you have that works.  (Preaching to a one-woman choir here ladies.  Sometimes we ALL need a talk.)

And never forget that there’s One who knows YOU.  When other advice fails, when you’re on your fourth round of trial-and-error, remember that He has limitless patience and all the right answers.  Sometimes we just have to ask the right person.  And put on some make-up–that always makes me feel better. 😉

 

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My 2017 Mommy-Festo

 

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I’m a big believer in GRACE.  In the spirit of that, and acknowledging that I could always improve upon some things, I’ve created this 2017 Mommy-Festo.  Perhaps you ladies out there could tweak it to create your own!

This Year I Will:

-Practice patience with my children, but allow myself to step away when I feel overwhelmed.

-Not try to hide my feelings from my children, but recognize that my feelings are not always an accurate indicator of my circumstances.

-Put on make-up, high-heels, and a pretty dress just for me, just because.  But I will not feel guilty on the occasional days when I don’t get out of my PJs.

-Spend more time kissing and complimenting my husband in the presence of our children instead of fighting with him.

-Not dwell on my thoughts when tempted to sin, but take them captive and be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

-Do a better job of meal-planning, while also realizing that my kids will be okay if they eat macaroni and cheese or hot dogs when I’m just not up to it.

-Forgive myself when I have a melt-down, but not wallow in self-pity to the point of missing out on the awesomeness around me.

-Work-out regularly so that I feel well and strong enough to engage in the activities I enjoy, not just because I want to look good, and not because I want to compete with other women.

-Accept the fact that I am getting older, while embracing the season I’m currently enjoying.  Period.  To borrow a line from Kids, one of my favorite new songs by One Republic, “I refuse to look back thinking days were better just because they’re younger days.” Amen.

-Do things that will help me grow even if they make me uncomfortable, but also recognize when it’s time to say no.

-Be gracious, kind, and tolerant to those who are different from me, yet hold firm to my personal convictions.

-Travel to some place I have never been, yet be able to enjoy the bliss of a lazy day at home.

-Give grace to the difficult people in my life, understanding that God and others have extended unmerited grace to me.

-Give sacrificially, and accept gifts gratefully without the feeling that I need to do something to deserve them.

-Not freak out if my house gets dirty, but not allow it to get to the point that I’m embarrassed if people stop by unexpectedly.

-Enjoy having some drinks with my husband, family and friends, but not rely on alcohol as an escape or coping mechanism.

-Learn something new, but appreciate the things that I already know.

-Give myself grace because I don’t have it all together, but be grateful for what God has already done in my life.

-Put my phone down and be more present in the moments while finding a way to realistically and healthfully manage an increasingly automated lifestyle.

-Not retaliate and enable bitterness to take root in my heart when encountering toxic people.  Instead, I will ask God to help me know when to try or walk away.

-Take risks in business, yet recognize when those risks are poorly timed or unwise.

-Leave some margin for the unexpected moments that take my breath away, whether those moments are good or bad.

-Not gossip about my husband, friends or family, and be honest about my own short-comings.

-Forgive others quickly and apologize even more quickly.

-Set aside more time for focused prayer and Bible reading while accepting that my Father is present and loves me even when I’m distracted.

-Accept help graciously and offer assistance when I have the available resources, without talking myself out of it.

-Honor my commitments but not over-book my calendar.

Which of these resonated with you?  I’d love to hear about it.  Happy New Year everyone–may this year be one of blessing, renewal, forgiveness and joy! Cheers!

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Learning from Little Ones: lessons from children about fear, hope and love.

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Before I had kids I had many great ideas about how I would rear them, what I would teach them and how they were going to obey me ALL of the time.  (Cue the smirks and snorts from my parent readers.) Then my oldest daughter was born, and the first time that my newborn cried for longer than ten minutes for no reason that was obvious to me, I realized that I would never be able to control her or any other children that would come along.  I realized that I had become officially enrolled in the Motherhood School of Sanctification.  (And it turned out that my oldest was the easy child.  The next one…well let’s just say that we call her Hurricane Georgia and let that give you an idea about her tendencies.  And the third is turning two this week, so the jury is still out on him!)

As a Christian mother, the most important idea that I want to communicate to my children is this: that God loves them with an everlasting love that cannot be shaken.  It’s a love so strong that He sent His only perfect Son to Earth to live a humble life, to be ignored, persecuted and then killed so that they, my children, could know freedom from sin, peace in the face of persecution, joy in God’s presence, hope for their promised reward in Heaven, and the love of Christ for the world.  It’s a love that casts out all fear and hopes for what God has promised.  It’s something that, for me, supersedes any other pursuit in their lives: education, financial success, romantic relationships, etc.  Sure those things are important, but I don’t believe that they amount to much or provide sustaining happiness apart from Christ.

So early on, I began to try to teach these things to them.  Most modern Christian moms will visit Pinterest or simply Google to find inspiration for ways to share the Gospel in creative ways with their children.  And I certainly did that a couple of times, but anyone who knows me well knows that I am not likely to laminate or craft a thing, so Pinterest quickly frustrated me and I started thinking about one of the first instructions in the Bible regarding teaching your children about God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (emphasis mine).

This really encourages me because it recommends using the most powerful tool we have in order to teach: our own testimonies of God’s work in our lives.  And I have lots of stories about that!  (And I like to talk).  I decided that I would: a) commit to doing regular devotionals/scripture reading with my children, b) commit to regularly praying with them and for them, c) be very honest about my testimony (age appropriately), my walk with the Lord, and welcome any questions they may have about Jesus.  That’s it–no fancy plan or methodology, just a diligent commitment to sharing my love for my Savior with my kids.

The first few years of doing this with Vivienne were a little disappointing, mostly because of my own unrealistic expectations.  (Many of you moms know that we think that our first children are incredibly mature, and it isn’t until the last child is born that we see them for the babies they truly are).  Sometimes the principles that I was teaching her were repetitive and simple, and I kept wondering when she was going to grasp these faith foundations.  I persevered though, even when I was frustrated and tired of reading about Jonah and the whale or Jesus in the boat with His disciples for the 13th time, because I trusted that God would take these seeds and produce ripe fruit.

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Vivienne recognized Jesus as her Savior and acknowledged His leadership in her life at four years old, but still I was skeptical.  Why?  Because of my own testimony in which I prayed to “accept Jesus as my Savior” at six years of age without any heart commitment or full awareness of my decision, and then proceeded to live a self-centered, lustful, idolatrous life until I was 25.  My husband and I prayed with Vivi, but told her that we were going to be watching and listening to see if her heart had truly yielded to God.  And in the last year I have been stunned, moved, humbled by the deep truths that God has spoken through my six-year-old daughter to me.  I have worshiped the Lord in tears, and with a grateful heart, for the love she now has for Jesus and her desire to share Him with other people.  Here are some of the things that I have heard her say:

-“Today my friend didn’t feel well at school, so I went to a quiet place in my classroom (because I know that it’s best to talk to God in a quiet place) and prayed for her three times, and then God healed her!”

-“I know that sometimes bad things happen because there is sin in the world, and that’s why people need to know Jesus.”

-“At my birthday party today, how will I know when it’s a good time to tell my friends about Jesus?”

-(After a family hike in the woods, she stopped to sit on a bench and pray and thank God for the hike.  I asked her about her prayer time.) “I had a GREAT prayer time!  I told God thank you and He said ‘You’re welcome, and I love you and I’m glad that I made you.'”

What touches me deeply about these statements from my precious daughter is that they  demonstrate the Lord’s faithfulness to me and to her.  I have prayed many times that He would speak to her heart, despite my failings and missteps.  I am not a perfect person or mother–far from it.  Often I lose patience with my children, sometimes I yell at them, sometimes I’m too tired or wrapped up in housework to do a devotional with them.  There are even times that I am sick of being mommy and don’t want my kids around–GASP!  I regularly sin in front of them, whether they realize it or not.  But my Father has been faithful–something, some small thing or things that my husband and I said, or did, or read, resonated with Vivienne and impacted her deeply, even at her young age.  And God took that small thing and spoke to her little heart about the grace and love He has for her through Jesus Christ.  And now, she KNOWS Jesus.  She LOVES him, not perfectly, but genuinely.  It is beautiful to witness the relationship that she has with the God of the universe, growing everyday into something authentic and unique to her and Him.  And I have to believe that He will bless it.  Their relationship is something bigger than me, and although God may have used me as an instrument in her learning about Him, He deserves most of the credit for cultivating what was planted.  I know that she will have tough times.  I know that the temptation to sin will one day become a constant struggle for her.  I know that she will make large and small mistakes–that she will hurt people and that people will hurt her. But I have peace because His Spirit rests on her.  I have hope because of what Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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And knowing this also gives me hope for my other two children.  Georgia is very different from her older sister–she doesn’t care about perfection, she acts on her whims, she has a dominant spirit that is self-confident and doesn’t readily admit failure or mistakes. For her, fear is a recurring stronghold.  She is fearful of losing my love and my approval and does not like to come clean when she has messed up.  The other day she did something that she knew was wrong, and when I first asked her about it she tried to change the subject.  I held her gently but firmly and looked into her eyes, asking her again to tell me what happened. Her facade crumbled and she started crying in my lap telling me that she was afraid.  She didn’t want me to be angry with her, and immediately I thought of the scripture about perfect love casting out ALL fear, and how so many of us look just like little Georgia when approaching a righteous God.

We are inherently fearful of being vulnerable before Him, of exposing our weaknesses and failures, so we avoid issues, we blame-shift, we change the subject.  But God perfectly loves us and His reactions are always right, justified and tempered with grace.  We can trust Him, so I tried to communicate that to Georgia, to show her a smidgen of His patience and grace, and after a few minutes she confessed and she seemed to feel relieved to know that my love hadn’t wavered, that I was still there and willing to love her.  Sometimes it is discouraging when she does things like this–when she wants to brush her sin aside, when it seems that she doesn’t really see the need for a Savior, but knowing that God made her too, that He crafted her little persona, and that He will fulfill His plan for her, gives me hope and peace.  I can rest in that and have patience, and continue to tell her about Him until the right seed is planted.  And I see a picture of me in her as well, who I used to be before I met Jesus, and the person I can become when I am tempted and struggle with one problem after another.  I am grateful for Georgia, for her beginner’s walk with the Lord, and how she reminds me to be hopeful.

A recurring thought I’m having this Christmas season is how genius God is, that He would send a baby to kick-start His great rescue plan, to deliver people from fear, to give them hope and to demonstrate His love for mankind and then, in my own life, bring these things full circle in the lessons that I learn daily from Him through my own babies.  Praise the Lord, for He is good.

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