I Want Cards and Flowers!

Mother's DayI do want cards and flowers for Mother’s Day.

Let me just put that out there.  I recently read a blog that began with “Yeah — if you’re being gut honest here — you don’t really want the cards or the flowers [on Mother’s Day].”  My gut response was actually, “Yes, yes I do!”

While she went on to say many wonderful and insightful things about motherhood, the bottom line being that we as moms really want grace, I have to admit I’m struggling with her assumption about Mother’s Day.

Maybe I’m being shallow here, because when push comes to shove, I’ll be okay if I don’t get these things on Mother’s Day.  But I won’t back down on my gut response.  I would absolutely love some tokens of my family’s love and appreciation for me on Mother’s day.

But I don’t want to completely throw this fellow mom under the bus.  I actually love what she wrote about being a mom and what we need as moms, and couldn’t agree more with so much of what she said.

She hit the nail on the head about mothering.  We want to be good mothers.  We wanted to be the best.  We want to be more than we are.  To have more patience, to be more calm.  We want to not lose it and to have more wisdom in those little moments that catch us by surprise.  We want more time…to be with our children, play with them, plan more fun surprises with them.  Many of us want a do-over.

With all the failures we see in ourselves as mothers, we want our kids to remember the good.  We want them to know how hard we’ve tried.  We want them to feel safe and to feel loved.

And so this author writes that what we all really want for Mother’s Day is a truckload of grace.  Graces that buries our fears and tells us we don’t have to measure up.  Grace that embraces us and holds us and loves us…amidst our insecurities and feelings of failure.  Grace that loves us when we feel like we’re at our worst.

And so here is where I beg to differ.  I want that stuff ALL YEAR LONG!  Not just on Mother’s Day.  And not from my kids.  As she wrote, I need to be reminded of that from the One who loves me most.  The One who created me.  The One who chose me to be the imperfectly perfect mother of my kids.  This is an ongoing gift that I need.  Not one to be wrapped up on Mother’s Day.

On Mother’s Day, I would love for my kids to make me a card.  A bouquet of flowers would be wonderful.  I’d even take a box of chocolates.  I want to feel loved and appreciated as a mom on that day.

We need these little encouragements as a mom.  Our “mommy paychecks” come in the form of little-people hugs and sloppy kisses.  They come in the form of “I wuv you’s” and “You’re the best mommy I’ve ever had.”  As my children get older, they sometimes come in more subtle ways:  my teenage daughter greeting me on the porch steps after I had been gone all day and saying, “I missed you, Mom.”  Or my ten-year old telling me he sometimes thinks about me while he’s at school.  Or my thirteen-year-old son smiling and waving at me when he sees me when he’s with his friends – like he’s not embarrassed to acknowledge me!

But these moments are often fleeting and lost in the midst of tantrums and frustration and sighs of exasperation when they are told “no” to something they would like to do.

And so that’s why I like to get something on Mother’s Day.  That’s why I have absolutely no problem that there has been a day set aside just to recognize us moms.  Because we need that.  And I, maybe selfishly, want something tangible to remind me that I am loved and appreciated.  I want to be able to say to a friend who asks me what I got for Mother’s Day, “I got flowers and some cards.”  I don’t want to say, “I got Grace.”

But here’s the funny thing.  Even if I don’t get those things.  Even if my day is forgotten.  Even if I just get a verbal “Happy Mother’s Day” from my children and a hug and a kiss, it will be okay.

Us moms have learned what it means to soldier on.  Us moms will keep on loving our kids, even when we wonder if they even realize how much we love them.  Us moms will keep attempting to do those special things for our children to make their lives special, even when we don’t expect the same in return.  We will love them, even if our hearts break with how we have failed so miserably in showing them how much we love them.  We will love them, even if our hearts break because we wonder if they even love us in return.

And maybe that’s why we need Grace.  Because we may have to accept that Mother’s Day won’t be all that I hope it to be.  Because maybe I won’t get the cards or the flowers.

Ultimately, our biggest gifts from them come at the most surprising times in the most surprising ways. Sometimes our biggest gifts are just little glimpses of their love.   But a little something on Mother’s Day sure wouldn’t hurt.  In fact, a little something on Mother’s Day would be wonderful!

 

 

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Posted in Children and Family, Mothering | Leave a comment

Journey of Authenticity

authenticity-quote

“What about you?” one of my students asked me in the Freshman Seminar class I was teaching at Ivy Tech Community College, “What’s one of your top five values?”

We had just completed a class activity in which I had asked them to look over a list of one hundred values.  They were to mark the ones that resonated with them – it could be as few as five or as many as fifty.  Then, I wanted to them to pick just one to share with the class.

“Pick one,” I explained, “that would be in your top five.”

Dutifully, each of them shared their value and their reason for choosing that value.  I loved this activity because it gave me a peek into what’s important to them.  So many of them often had great explanations about why they picked that value.

But never before had a student asked me to share mine. . .

“Hmmm,” I responded to my student’s request, “I wasn’t prepared to answer this.”  I quickly looked at the list of one hundred and the thirty or so that I had circled when I originally looked over the list myself.

“Now you know how we feel,” she smiled.

I smiled back.  “That’s completely fair.  I love it that you asked.”  And I did.  But my mind was racing.  What value would I share?  I could only pick one.

On the one hand, I wanted to say faith/spirituality.  I wanted them to know that my faith in God was huge to me.  At the same time, I didn’t want to give a Christian “Sunday school” answer.  Sometimes it’s a little too easy to throw “faith in God” out there as an important value.

Was there something else that was important to me?  The first word on the list of values was honesty.  That triggered something.  I knew what it was that I wanted to share.

“Honesty,” I said.  “Actually, more than that.  Authenticity.  Being Real.”

I continued on, knowing that I was required to explain my answer, just as I had required them.

“It’s tempting to act like we have it all-together.  But I’ve learned over the years the value of being real and authentic.  It allows others to relate to us.  It hopefully breaks down walls.  I want to be real with others.  To be vulnerable and willing to share my weaknesses.  And when I sense that someone is being authentic, vulnerable, or transparent with me, I’m drawn to them.  I admire that in someone else.”

Of course, that may not have been the exact wording I used.  Remember, I didn’t have this answer scripted!  But I think that was the essence of what I said.

“But,” I continued, “since I’m the instructor, I’m going to give myself permission to share another value that’s of equal importance to me.”  Pause.

“Faith.  God is important to me.  My relationship with Him affects every decision I make.  And, for me, authenticity and faith go hand in hand.”

I’m not always good at sharing things on the spot.  I’m a thinker.  A planner.  I like to make sure it’s “just right” before verbalizing.  Many times, when forced to share in the moment, I kick myself later, wishing I had said this.  Or that.

But the smiles on their faces and the nodding of heads was a wonderful initial reassurance that the words that had come out of my mouth made sense, at the very least.  Maybe even resonated with them, or encouraged them, at the most.

And throughout the rest of the day, I found myself pondering over my responses.  What if I had had more time?  Would my answers have been different?

Amazingly, the more I thought about it, the more confident I became about my answers.

I’ve been on a journey of being real.  I’m a people pleaser by nature.  I’m an optimist; the cup is always half full (if not completely full!).  Even in moments of discouragement, I’ve tended to always look on the bright side and act like all is well.  Never thinking that anything was wrong with this, I was surprisingly challenged one day by my “Pollyanna” attitude.

It was seventeen or eighteen years ago.  I was teaching at a small Christian school in Orlando.  It was my first year there (my fourth year as a teacher).  And it was hard.  I was teaching six different classes (regular English 12, honors English 12, AP English 12, yearbook, newspaper, and regular 9th grade English).  And I was coaching the boys and girls tennis teams.  I was stressed.  I was spread thin.  I was overwhelmed.  But I felt like I needed to remain positive.  It was supposedly a blessing to be teaching there.  I was trying to convince myself that everything was great.  And apparently, I was trying to convince others.  Honestly, it never even crossed my mind to admit how overwhelmed I was.  Maybe I thought others would think something was wrong with me.  Or that I was weak.

During lunch one day, while sitting in the teachers’ lounge, one of my fellow teachers asked me how my year was going.  Without giving it much thought, I replied “great!”  With a smile on my face, I’m sure.

“Everything is always great for you,” he replied.  He almost sounded like he didn’t believe me.

And for the first time ever, I was struck by the disconnect between what I said and how I felt.  For the first time, I actually felt like maybe people didn’t necessarily want to always hear that everything was great.  His response jolted me.

And I actually thought of my husband.  The counselor.  Randy knew how to be vulnerable.  Randy was always encouraging me to share how I really felt about something.  I had always been afraid to be vulnerable.  In that moment, I finally got a glimpse of what Randy had been trying to tell me all along.  People want you to be real.  That’s how we connect.  That’s how we relate.

That was a turning point for me.  Slowly, I began to be aware of opportunities to be real.  Really, I started by trying to catch myself in those moments that I “covered” myself.  Because it was a habit.  It was a habit to share only the good.  A habit to say everything was great.  A habit to say, “No, I don’t need your help.”  When really, I did.

My other moment that changed the way I viewed authenticity came about five or six years later.  At this time, I was no longer teaching.  I was a mom. Kiersten, my oldest, was only two years old and I was pregnant with Micah.  I was a leader in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers – a group for moms) and one of my responsibilities was to emcee our bi-monthly meetings.  I would welcome the moms, share some announcements, and often introduce the speaker.  To add a personal touch to the announcements and introductions, I would often share a story from my own mothering experience.

Intimidated by the fact that I felt young and inexperienced (who was I to be leading this group of moms…filled with moms who had more children than me, had been doing this mothering thing longer than me?), I think I subconsciously shared only the cute stories that also made me appear to be a good mom who knew what she was doing (ha!).  I don’t think I was trying to elevate myself, I think I just avoided sharing any mistakes I made or struggles I had because of my own feelings of insecurity about them.  It was too vulnerable.  What would they think?  Plus, shouldn’t I be encouraging them?

But then part way through that year, I attended a MOPS conference.  At one of the sessions I attended, the speaker encouraged us to be vulnerable.  To be real and to share our mistakes.  Our weaknesses.  Our insecurities.  She told us that that was what other moms wanted to hear.  They needed to know they were not alone.  Like me, they were probably sitting there thinking that they were the only one who messed up or the only one who wasn’t doing this mothering thing right.

I remember the first MOPS meeting where I was real.  It was scary.  I had had an incident with Kiersten earlier that week that I was not proud of.  She had pushed my buttons.  And I did not respond patiently or graciously.  In fact, I was mean.  I shared this story…and I was nervous.  What would they think of me?  Would someone come up and tell me what I should have done or how I could have handled the situation better?  Would they all secretly think I was a bad mom?

What happened was shocking to me.  For the first time ever, I actually had moms come up to me afterwards and thank me.  Thank me!  Moms came up and told me stories of how they had lost it that week.  I remember someone telling me she so appreciated my vulnerability – for the first time she felt like she was not the only one who responded to her children in ways in which she was not proud.

I was floored.  I couldn’t believe that it was my mistake story that connected me most with my fellow moms.  They didn’t want to hear how cute and perfect my daughter was (or that I pretended she was).  They didn’t want to hear how well I handled situations.  They didn’t want to feel inferior.  They wanted me to be real.  This was life changing for me.

And I know it was these two incidents – and the years of soul-searching, struggling, failing in my attempts to be real – that impacted my on-the-spot response to my students that day at Ivy Tech.

Being real has enabled me to connect better with others.  It has caused me to search my soul and be more in tune with myself.  It has required risk (what are others going to think about me?), but has resulted in deeper relationships.  It has deepened my relationship with God as I slowly learn that He doesn’t intend for us to look good to others and do all the right things (or act like we’re doing all the right things!).

I think authenticity is at the core of who God created us to be: relational beings.  Relational beings who want to be loved.  And we want to be loved for who we are – not who we pretend to be.

As I think back to that day in the classroom at Ivy Tech, I almost went with the unauthentic textbook answer of Faith.  That’s a respected value for those of us who have a faith in God.  But the authentic answer for me was a little more off the beaten track.  It required me to share my soul a bit more with my students. Who knows how it impacted them, but it definitely impacted me.  It was one more step in my journey of authenticity.

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Self-Discovery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Waiting

Waiting Blog picture

“I can’t wait until I’m in college!” fourteen-year-old Kiersten recently proclaimed.  Considering she is only in ninth grade, she has a long wait ahead of her!

Kiersten, of course, is looking forward to all the fun that college seems to be:  dorm life, classes strewn throughout the day as opposed to seven hours straight day after day after day, and the fun of being on her own.

Micah, on the other hand, responds with “I can’t wait until I’m out of college…”  Quite fitting for my active and athletic child to whom school seems like prison and homework feels like torture.  As a mere seventh grader, life after college must feel like light years away!

I’ve been thinking about waiting quite a bit lately.  Not the waiting represented in the above statements made by my children.  Not the normal life cycles of waiting that we all experience:  waiting for summer, for our next birthday, for Christmas, for a new phone (or a first phone in the case of my kids!), for an event we are looking forward to…

But the waiting for something that may or may not happen.

Waiting on the child who is going through a phase.  Waiting to see if it really is just a phase.  Waiting on a difficult situation, not knowing the outcome.  Waiting on someone else’s difficult situation, and feeling helpless.  Waiting for something you desire greatly, and wondering if it will ever really happen.  Waiting on an opportunity that may never come your way.  Waiting on the pain or the struggle to go away, and wondering if it ever will.  Waiting in the midst of uncertainty.  Waiting on anything that may not have the outcome you want, or that may take years to come to fruition, or that may never come to fruition.

There’s a type of waiting that comes with an ache.  That’s the waiting I’ve been thinking about lately.

When I think about this type of waiting, I often remember the story of a Sunday school teacher from when I was a child.

I don’t remember her name.  I don’t remember her age. And I don’t remember many details.  I just remember that she shared a story about prayer with us one time.  I remember her telling us that she prayed for thirty years that her husband would become a Christian.  Every day she would pray. Thirty years of praying.  Finally, after thirty years of waiting and praying, her husband became a Christian.  I remember that she told us that God doesn’t always answer our prayers right away, and that it may take years. And she shared that story.  And now, more than thirty years later, I still remember that story.  And her patience.

And I’m reminded that some of the things I’m praying for, that I want to happen NOW, may not happen right away.  It may take years…if ever.  Because I also realize that MY prayers, may not be the best way.  God may or may not answer my prayers the way I want Him to.  And I really don’t like that.

At the same time, I trust that if He does not answer my prayers the way I want Him to, or in the timely manner in which I would prefer, it is probably because He has a better plan.  Or that maybe the waiting is part of His plan.  Because sometimes it’s in the waiting that we grow.  It’s in the waiting that we learn to trust Him.  It’s in the waiting that we have to relinquish our plans and be open to His plans.

And I still don’t like it.  Yet, in a strange sort of way I do.  Because I want to rest in Him.  I want Him to be the comforting all-knowing parent who says to me, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

This past Christmas, I was struck in a new way by a fact I’m sure I’ve heard multiple times over the course of my life.  During a Christmas presentation in church, one of the readings mentioned the 400 year wait between the last prophecy about the Messiah and the actual birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The topic of waiting had already been on my mind.  So the reality of a “400-year wait” caught my attention.

And it was thought-provoking.

Four hundred years is a very long time.  I wonder how many people had given up on the hope of a Messiah.  I find myself marveling at the reality that God made promises – very clear promises – and then did nothing for 400 years.  If God could wait 400 years to fulfill a promise, then I guess He could wait years to answer my prayers.  And I guess I must accept the reality that I must wait.  And not know.  And wonder.  And be frustrated.  And be impatient, discouraged, disappointed, uncomfortable, unhappy.  Or…hopeful.

The Israelites had to wait 40 years in the desert.  Forty years of wandering.  FORTY!  They left Egypt, heading to the Promised Land.  And they waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And I’m sure they wondered, “Will this ever really happen?  Will we ever go to the Promised Land?”

So I have to wonder what the waiting is about.  God could answer any of our prayers immediately.  He could have sent baby Jesus soon after the prophecies of the Old Testament.  He could have led the Israelites straight into the Promised Land.  He could answer my prayers NOW.

He must want us to wait.

I try to grasp this reasoning through the eyes of a parent, recognizing that God is my heavenly Father.  I don’t always answer their requests right away.  Although, sometimes answering them immediately may be easier for me, I know it’s not always best for them.

“Mom, I’m bored.  What can I do?”  When I’m patient and don’t give them answers or easy ways out of boredom, such as watching t.v. or playing with electronics, they often eventually figure something creative out on their own.  Which is often way better than anything I could have suggested.  And required them to think and stretch themselves.

“Mom, I want that new toy NOW!”  Often if I wait, it is much more enjoyable and exciting for them to receive it later for a birthday or a special surprise.  The waiting brought more enjoyment and appreciation when they finally received it.

“Mom, I can’t figure out the answer to this homework question.  Can you just tell me?”  If I allow them to figure it out on their own, or even just slowly guide them, they feel a bigger sense of accomplishment by working it through themselves.  And they actually learn it better.

“Mom, why can’t I have an Istagram/snapchat (fill in the blank) account right now?”  From my parental perspective, I want to wait until I feel like they are mature enough to handle navigating life on the web.  Whether they realize it or not, I am protecting them from things they aren’t ready for and posts/pictures they may later regret posting.  They may not grasp or understand this reasoning until they are older (if ever at all!).

I’m learning to trust God in the waiting.  I’m learning to be open to new ways of being and living, while I wait.  I’m learning that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, even unhappy, with the waiting.  Because in that place of uncertainty, I have to trust in the One who knows all things.  I have to look to Him with hope and anticipation and wonder and be ever-ready to hear His voice and see His handiwork, as I wait for Him to unveil His plan.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.           Psalm 130:5-6 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Struggles and Sorrows | 4 Comments

Being Real

“I have a good security guard in my head,” nine-year-old Brennan told me recently as we walked into Subway together, just the two of us.

“Really?” I responded.  “That’s interesting.”

“Yep,” he continued, “He tells me not to say bad things.”

“Well, that’s good,” I responded.  “It’s nice that you have your own little security guard reminding you of that.”

“I also have a bad security guard in my head,” Brennan informed me.  “He likes to say bad words.”

It took every restraint within me not to laugh;  he was speaking with such sincerity.

Fast forward a few days.  It was Tuesday morning and I was sitting with Brennan in the living room after Kiersten and Micah had left for school.

“Mom,” Brennan broached, “I called you sh@* in my head last night because I was mad at you.”

Um…gulp…I wasn’t expecting that (again, stifle the laughter, Kim)!  He had been pretty mad at me the night before – first for not letting him watch t.v. and then for reprimanding him for not being ready for bed after he had been given plenty of time to be ready and in bed.

I could have gotten mad at him for even thinking that word.  Instead, I decided to connect with him on what he was really telling me.

“You were pretty mad, weren’t you, Buddy?” I responded gently as I pulled him in for a hug.  He nodded his head.

“Thanks for telling me how you felt.  I’m glad you told me.”  We embraced and I kissed him.  His little body relaxed a bit as he returned my hug.

“That’s good, though, that you kept that word in your head,” I said with a smile, “It would definitely have been inappropriate for you to say that out loud.  But I’m glad you told me about it now.”

Fast forward a few more days. It’s before school and Brennan is singing a song:

Everybody tries to tell you what to do… but I just listen to what God says…

“Where did you learn that song?” I inquired.  It was actually kind of catchy, but I had never heard it before.

“I made it up,” he said.

“Wow!” I replied, “Can I hear it again?”

With a smile on his face, he sang it again.  Pleased, I think, by my response.

I just love this kid.  His transparency is inspiring to me as a person.  His willingness to admit his ugly thoughts is challenging and convicting.  His little heart, that even though he struggles with bad thoughts and bad words, feels the freedom to sing out praises to God.  And not for an audience.  He was singing just because.

I don’t think we have to tell very bad thought that we have, but I believe it’s important to admit we struggle.  And I think it’s equally important to recognize that even though we mess up, we still have good within us. We sometimes think bad thoughts,  yet we can still sing praises to God.  That’s not hypocritical.  It’s real.

In fact, it would be more hypocritical to pretend like we have it all together.  To only share the good thoughts.  To only sing praises and only tell about the times that we made good choices.

I want to be more like Brennan.  I want to be aware of both the bad and the good within me.  I want to confess and admit those things that I know were wrong, when appropriate.  I want to know that I am still loved when I do – not judged.  I want to be happy when my conscious (or, God’s still small voice?) keeps me in check and helps me not to do bad things.  I want to sing praises because I love Him, not as a way to look good, or a way to cover up the bad.  But to praise Him just because that’s something within me.

My prayer for Brennan (and for all my children!) is that they will come to me (and/or Randy) with the realness of who they are.  That they will not be afraid to be vulnerable and admit their mistakes or even share their darkest thoughts.  That they will know that my love for them does not stem from them being good or obedient or making all the right choices.  I want those things for them because I want what is best for them.  I want them to know that I will love them in the midst of the messiness of this life.  Randy and I can handle their ugliness.

Because the minute that they feel we are unsafe is the minute that the bad will begin to harm them.  They’ll hide the bad.  The bad might begin to consume them.  They might find other places to express their bad and act out on it.  They’ll only show us what they think we want to see.

This life isn’t about being good.  This life is going to be hard.  None of us is immune.

I want my kids to know that.  And to know that that is why God is here.  To be with us through it all.  I want them to know that to be a Christian is to be real, not perfect.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Children and Family, Faith and God, Heart Ponderings | 1 Comment

Building Sand Castles with Words

You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words… This is what separates artists from ordinary people:  the belief deep down in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away.  I think this a wonderful kind of person to be.  ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

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My last blog entry was written over a year ago.  The entry before that was a year before that.  I stopped writing in my blog regularly over two years ago.

And I miss it.

I didn’t have a huge following.  I was lucky if I had thirty people read what I wrote, and just a handful of people (if any) would comment.  But that’s not why I wrote (see this entry, my first ever blog post, for more about that idea).

As I recently have been skimming through and re-reading some of my posts, I realize that my writing is more for me than anyone else.  I’m building sand castles in hopes that the waves of life won’t wash my memories away.

I also write to capture and grasp thoughts and ideas that are swirling around within my head.  These thoughts are grains of sand.  I take a handful here, a scoop there – carefully chosen and sifted.  I add some water and sculpt and craft until I somehow make sense of my ponderings.  These sand castles I’m building are made from more than just memories, they are made with little pieces of me:  my thoughts, my ponderings, my soul.  I need to grasp them while I can, turn them into words, and sculpt them into sand castles.

Anne Lamott also writes in her book, Bird by Bird:

Even if you never publish a word, you have something important to pour yourself into.  Writing and reading…deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.

After a two-plus year hiatus in regularly writing and capturing my thoughts and ponderings, I realize how much writing reflectively has been good for my soul.  When I wrote here on this blog, I had something to pour myself into.  It expanded my sense of life and gave me a place to notice, ponder, and remember.  It fed my soul.  And though I do it mainly for me, I have to admit that having a handful of visitors was nice.  And the occasional comment was so encouraging.  It’s like having passersby on a beach who stop and admire the sand castle you’ve created; the one you would have made whether anyone stopped to admire it or not.

…writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say ‘This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.’ (Lamott)

This blog was my nest.  It’s where I lived for a while.  I was a woodpecker, hollowing out my hole, finding my niche. And so, slowly, I’m going to attempt to return here to my hollow and peck away a bit.

I’m going to build some more sand castles.  Because my soul needs it.

Posted in Heart Ponderings, Self-Discovery | 4 Comments

Untold Glories

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You can never tell to what untold glories a little humble path may lead if you follow far enough.”  ~ Lilias Trotter

Nearly thirty years ago, my mom stumbled upon “a humble little path.”  Really, it was just a name, a person, that she stumbled upon.  Lilias Trotter.

Two retired missionary sisters happened to be wintering in the small town of Lake Wales, Florida.  They happened to visit the local Presbyterian Church, which happened to be the church at which my father was pastor.  They recognized his last name as being the same last name of a friend of their sister.  Grace Rockness (my grandmother), had befriended their older sister many years ago while she was teaching English in Singapore.  These two sisters, Jane and Betty Barbour, made their introductions and scheduled a dinner engagement with my parents, thrilled to make a connection with their dear sister’s friend’s son and daughter-in-law (did you follow that?!).  It was at this dinner engagement, that Jane and Betty introduced my parents to Lilias Trotter, “a woman” (as my mother writes in her book A Blossom in the Desert) “the sisters knew only through the beautifully illustrated devotional books she began publishing in the 1890s.”

Lilias was a missionary to Algeria from 1888-1928.  During her years there, she wrote and illustrated several books and leaflets, most of them devotional in nature and geared towards ministering to the Muslims.  All of her writings were out of print, but the Barbour sisters had a copy of many of them.  Fearing that their collection of Lilias’s work might eventually be lost, Jane and Betty slowly began to send my mom copies of Lilias’s writings over the years.  As my mom wrote in her book, A Passion for the Impossible, each new addition of Lilias’s, “penetrated my soul, each one exuding a rare blend of earthiness and holiness.”

And thus began my mom’s journey down this “humble little path.”  The path of Lilias Trotter.  Little did any of us know where this path would take her.  All she knew was that she wanted to follow this path:  “Over time, a passion grew in me to find everything written by or about Lilias Trotter and then to make those works known to others” (A Passion for the Impossible).

Those of us closest to my mom became first-hand witnesses to this passion.  Her love and admiration for this woman – her writings, her paintings, her life – was obvious.  She photocopied sketches and paintings of Lilias’s and place them strategically around our home, often accompanied by a Lilias quote.  She bought small decorative camels (representing Lilias’s life in Algeria) and placed them in our dining room.  She talked about Lilias, she wrote about Lilias, she read about Lilias.  At times, we teased her that she was Lilias. . . or at least she wished she was!

As she was surrounding herself with all things Lilias, my mom’s desire to make Lilias known led to some exciting things.  Encouraged by Lyle Dorsett and Marjorie Mead, both of Wheaton College (Illinois), Mom wrote a biography of Lilias Trotter.  That biography led to several magazine articles (one of them being in the beautiful Victoria magazine).  The book and articles led to speaking engagements – not only at churches, but even at two John Ruskin symposiums in England and Venice (part of Mom’s discovery was that the renowned art critic, John Ruskin, believed that Lilias could become one of the nation’s finest artists if she put all of her efforts, time, and energy into that pursuit).  Mom’s first book eventually led to the compilation and publication of another Lilias-based book, A Blossom in the Desert, which is filled with color copies of Lilias’s paintings, along with Lilias quotes and excerpts from her books and journals.  This book led to greeting cards, each with a painting and a quote by Lilias.

A couple of years ago, my mom received word that there was a husband and wife, Brian and Sally Oxley, who had stumbled across her book and that the they wanted to pursue making a short documentary on the life of Lilias.  This, of course, was a dream of my mom’s.  To get Lilias on film.  A dream that seemed out of reach.  Upon connecting with the Oxleys, a Lilias Trotter Board was formed.  This board began the process of pursuing this dream.  Of deciding exactly how they would like to portray Lilias through film.  Of finding that “right person” to produce and direct this film.  Many months of planning, praying, searching. . .

Although there have multiple “untold glories” along the way of this Lilias Trotter path, I believe that I have recently had the privilege of viewing one of the biggest glories of this path:  the film.  Just a few weeks ago, over Christmas break, my husband, brother, and sister-in-law, along with my parents, watched the “rough draft” of this Lilias Trotter documentary. In the truest sense of the phrase, it was a spiritual experience.  The award-winning film director Laura Hinson, amazingly took 30 years of my mom “living Lilias” and masterfully brought Lilias to life on screen.  The imagery, the scenery, the well-placed quotes strewn throughout, Lilias’s artwork coming to life through tasteful animation, Lilias’s struggle over the opportunity to pursue fame as an artist under the tutelage of John Ruskin versus her heartbeat to live a life of ministry, the pulsating question that drove my mom to understand Lilias: was it worth it?  the life she “gave up” for the life she lived. . . in the midst of this, my mom’s own journey of discovering Lilias unfolding as well.  Somehow, Laura has taken all the pieces, captured the key ones artistically and strategically, and created a work of art that captures the person of Lilias, the journey and soul of Lilias, the art of Lilias…along with the journey and soul of my mom…along with a thought-provoking perspective of Faith.  A faith that is captivating, challenging, and inspiring.  A life that anyone, whether a Christ-follower or not, cannot help but admire.

As I watched it all unfold before me on “the big screen,” I was watching more than just the life and person of Lilias.  I was watching more than the average viewer will ever grasp or understand.  I was watching the end result of a dream.  A dream my mom probably never really thought would happen.  I dream my mom could have never fathomed as she innocently began to fall in love with the writings, the artwork, and the person of Lilias.  As I watched the film, I remembered years and years of “Lilias this” and “Lilias that.”  I remembered the hours and hours Mom spent taking the pieces of Lilias’s life and pulling them all together – pieces of her life that Mom had lovingly and painstakingly gathered, through trips to England, photocopying journals, sifting through Lilias’s handwritten journals, reading all that she could find, tracking down family members, making timelines and charts, searching John Ruskin resources, placing phone calls to find missing letters.  I can just picture my mom behind her computer, Lilias books and journals and other random Lilias-related notes strewn about her, typing for hours on end.  As I watched the life of Lilias unfold before me, I saw a piece of the life of my mom unfold before me, too.  And even more than that. . . I saw the hand of God.

Knowing what I know, I cannot help but see how God has amazingly woven this all together.  From the Barbour sisters (and the connections that went before) to the creation of this documentary – and all the people, experiences, and love-laborings in between.  “You can never tell to what untold glories a little humble path may lead if you follow far enough.”  Mom followed far enough.  And this movie, in my mind, is the epitome of all the “untold glories” of this Lilias Trotter path.  I cannot wait for others to see it!

In the final interview with my mom (in the film), she says this about Lilias:

What I saw in Lilias was just the idea of being faithful.  Being faithful to what you believe is right.  Being faithful to what you believe God wants you to do.  And to not be concerned about the results.

This strikes me as true for my mom.  She was faithful.  She didn’t know the results.  She had no idea where this path would lead.  She was merely faithful to what she believed was right.  She was faithful to pursuing a God-given interest and passion.

As I reflect upon the movie, and about both Lilias and my mom, it’s Mom’s words about Lilias, combined with Lilias’s quote about paths, that best capture the entire film and propel me forward as I attempt to live my life:  Be faithful.  Be faithful to who I am.  To what I believe. To the passions, skills, and interests within my soul.  To what I believe God wants me to do.  I want to follow my humble path (whatever it may be).  And to keep my eyes and my heart open for glimpses (or blasts!) of untold glories!

Posted in Faith and God | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

When God Seems “Mean”

“God is so mean,” Brennan pronounces as I hold him on the rocking-recliner in his bedroom.

“Why?” I inquire.  A bit take-aback, to be honest.  I never know how to respond to these type of statements.  I realize my response can be pivotal to his understanding and relationship with God.  As much as I like my kids to be real, I also often wish they just compliantly accepted what I consider to be Truth and never asked difficult questions or struggled with faith-issues.  That would be so much easier!

“Because He’s not helping me fall back asleep!” Brennan says with frustration.

It’s 11:30 p.m., the night before his first day of first grade.  Though he fell asleep almost immediately upon putting him to bed early at 7:45 (my desperate attempt to make up for weeks of late nights and our crazily quick turn-around from summer vacation to first day of school), he has been awake again since 9:45 p.m.  He desperately wants to go back to sleep, but his little sleep-deprived and excited body won’t let him.

My mind thinks a thousand thoughts as I hear his reason for thinking God is mean: How cute that he would be turning to God during this time of trying to fall asleep.  I remember that I prayed with him earlier in the evening and asked God to help him fall back asleep.  I wonder if I’m teaching him to think prayer is a “magical pill.”  I want him to know he can turn to God for everything, but wonder how to help him understand everything we ask for we may not “get.”  I wonder why that is so myself!  I’m glad that he feels the freedom to be mad at God.  I’m scared that he is mad at God.  I want him to know it’s okay to be mad at God.

“I understand, Brennan,” I say as I hold and comfort him.

Pause.  I’m not sure what to say next…if anything.

“God gave you a mommy who can hold you until you fall asleep,” I hear my voice say softly.  I’m not sure where those words came from, and I’m not convinced they were what Brennan needed in that moment.

“Hmph…” he responds, as he snuggles in closer, “I wish I were asleep right now.  I still think He’s mean.”

I rub his back and give him a kiss on the top of his head.

My thoughts continue to wander as I hold my frustrated boy.  In the midst of wondering what to say to Brennan and processing what I think about how he feels, I realize I’m kind of mad at God, too!

It’s the night before the first day of school.  We just returned home from two weeks in Florida less than 24 hours ago.  I’m tired, I’m coming down with a sore throat, and things haven’t gone as smoothly as I like today.  My day was filled with unexpected errand-running (despite my best efforts to have everything ready before we left for vacation) and a whirlwind of activity.  Though I got the kids to bed early, my evening has been interrupted by Brennan’s inability to fall asleep.  I had hoped to have laundry put away, the breakfast table set, and lunch boxes packed by now.  Not to mention, I had also hoped to be in bed sound asleep.  Instead, not only was I not in bed sleeping, none of those other things had happened.  This sick momma needed a good night of sleep before an early school morning, and it wasn’t happening!  Yes, I must admit, I’m a bit frustrated at God myself for not helping Brennan fall back asleep!

So how do I face this reality?  How do I come to grips with things not going my way?  Especially when a part of me believes God could be a bit more helpful in this situation, if He so chooses.  Isn’t one of the perks of being a Christian the ability to take my requests to God in prayer…and for Him to help me?!

As I hold my frustrated little son, who thinks God is mean for not letting him sleep, I grapple with one of the biggest questions Christians have for God:  Why does it seem like God doesn’t answer our prayers?

And I ponder my response to Brennan, the unplanned words I heard come out of my mouth: “God gave you a mommy to hold you until you fall asleep.”

I worry my response seemed to be avoiding his reality.  Who cares that I’m holding him?!  He’d rather be sleeping.  Yet, at the same time, I hope that reality gives him comfort, comfort in the midst of frustration.  The same God who we feel is allowing something “bad” to happen (not falling asleep), is the same God who has also put many good things in place for us, in the midst of our discomfort and disappointment (a mommy to hold him).

What can I draw comfort from as I hold my child, frustrated that I’m not in bed, sound asleep?  To be honest, in the moment, I couldn’t really find anything.  But a day later, as I’m typing through this experience, I realize God gave me a special time with Brennan, the night before his first day of school.  The night before a big day for me ~ my baby was heading off to all-day school.  All three kids were now in a stage of life that once seemed light-years away.  As much as I’ve looked forward to this day, now that it’s upon me, I’m a bit sad and nostalgic.  The laundry got done, the breakfast table got set, and the lunches were made.  I was a bit tired, I must admit.  But I now have the memory and experience of holding my baby and rocking him to sleep, the night before he officially became a “big boy.”  There are few things I enjoy more than cuddling with my children.

Things will not always go as planned in this world.  God does not promise a smooth road through life.  Trials (much bigger than a lack of sleep!) and struggles will come our way.  Prayers we fervently pray will not always be answered.  But God does promise us this:  He will be with us.  He will comfort us.  He will give us good things in the midst of the bad (a mommy to hold us, a child to snuggle).

As I tucked Brennan in to bed the next night, I read to him from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  We were reading about Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the desert:

So there they all were.  Grannies, granddads, babies, uncles, aunts, children, moms, and dads.  Out there in the middle of the desert.  They had blisters from all the walking.  They were hungry.  And thirsty.  And much, much too hot.

‘We don’t like it!’ they said. ‘It stinks!’

As I read those words and thought of the Israelites reality, it reminded me of me…and Brennan.  We were tired.  We didn’t like it.  We were mad at God.  Just like the Israelites:

‘God doesn’t want us to be happy,’ they said.  It was the same lie that Adam and Eve had heard all those years before.  ‘God has brought us out here to kill us. God doesn’t love us!’  But they didn’t know God well, did they?

I was finding myself impacted by these words, written for children.

Every day of their journey, God kept on showing his people how well he would look after them, if they would trust him, and obey him.  When they were hungry, God made the sky rain with food. . .when they were thirsty and started quarrelling, God made water flow from a rock. . .And still God’s children didn’t trust him or do what he said.  They thought they could do a better job of looking after themselves and making themselves happy.  But God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.

My mind raced with all I knew about the Israelites.  Forty years ~ FORTY! ~ of wandering and waiting on God.  Forty years of tiredness, hunger, sand, struggles.  I’m sure they prayed.  And I’m sure they felt like God didn’t hear or answer their prayers.  Yet, as we look at it in the whole picture, God was always there.  God cared.  God provided.

God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.  That is why we pray.  He won’t take away all the hardships of life.  Those are there whether we know Him or not.  But with him, in the midst of all the struggles of life, He can bring us happiness.  That’s His promise to us.

Somehow, as I grow in this knowledge and this perspective, I hope and pray that my children will grow in the knowledge and perspective as well.  That in the midst of life not going their way, they’ll ultimately recognize that only through God can they find joy in the journey.  That He is there, even when it feels like He isn’t.  And that He gives us other good things, even when the thing we ask for isn’t what we get.

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.    Jeremiah 31:13

Posted in Children and Family, Faith and God, Mothering, Struggles and Sorrows | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Gift of MOPS

MOPS_square[1]I use to take MOPS for granted, not truly aware of the important role it played in my life as a mom. Kind of like a kid with parents. They may not think much of all they have because of having parents in their life: a home, clothes, food, love, care, guidance, and instruction. Security and a safe place to land.

I’ve been attending MOPS for twelve years. Yes, twelve…I was shocked when I realized that’s the equivalent of attending first grade through twelfth grade. That was my entire childhood. How in the world am I old enough to have been doing something, parenting-related, that long? In fact, just as mind-boggling to me is that some of my current fellow MOPS moms were as young as twelve years old when I attended my first MOPS meeting. I’m still in shock as I type these words.

To me, MOPS and being a mom pretty much go hand in hand. I’ve never had one without the other! But as excited as I was to attend my first MOPS meeting (for this I-can’t-wait-to-be-a-mom person, MOPS was on my list of things I couldn’t wait to do), I quickly settled in to the MOPS routine. I loved MOPS, but had no clue as to how important it was to me.

I clearly remember the moment I recognized the significant role MOPS has played in my life. I was talking with a non-MOPS friend several years ago. She was a mother of young children, all pre-school age. She was sharing some of her struggles, insecurities, and concerns related to raising her children. Things such as dealing with tantrums, potty-training, bedtime issues, “losing it” with her kids, wondering if she was messing up her kids, dealing with mommy-guilt, and certain she she was the only one struggling with so many of these things.

As she shared, it struck me that MOPS was a place where I shared all of these things with other moms. And other moms shared these things, too. Because of MOPS, I knew I was not alone. Because of MOPS I had a place to be real and vent and be encouraged by other moms. Because of MOPS I heard from speakers, who not only gave perspective, wisdom, and guidance, but whose experiences also verified that what I was struggling with wasn’t abnormal or uncommon. As I listened to this mom, I realized she needed MOPS. If for no other reason, than to know that she was not alone. And as an added benefit, to receive support, encouragement, and relationship.

I am at the end of this MOPS journey. My baby will be graduating from kindergarten. Today is my last MOPS meeting. Though I’m a bit nostalgic at the thought, I’m also ready. As I’ve attended meetings this year, I’m amazed at how different my life is now. The baby issues and toddler struggles are no longer a part of my life. They are a sweet memory. Yes, the days were long and hard, but because the years did fly by (yes, they really do…it’s just the days that are long!), what I now hold on to is all that was sweet (and am thankful to be through with all that was difficult and draining and hard related to those early years of parenting). Of course, I’m on to new joys and struggles.

I leave this wonderful MOPS stage of my life, thankful for all that I received, and not wanting to take any of it for granted. As a reminder to myself, these are the gifts I have received from MOPS, each of them symbolically wrapped up and tied with bows:

  • Encouragement
  • Support
  • Perspective
  • Sweet friendships
  • Instruction and guidance
  • A place to be real
  • Love in the midst of being real and admitting where I had messed up
  • Laughter and fun interaction
  • A needed break from my children!
  • A place to encourage others, as I moved farther and farther along the motherhood road
  • Connection with other moms throughout the community, some who are very much like me and others who are not, but all of us bonded together through this thing called motherhood
  • Biblical perspective, guidance and encouragement
  • A place to be reminded of the joys of being a mom
  • A place where I know I am not alone
  • A place to grow not only as a mom, but as a person and a woman
  • Leadership skills and experience, as I served on steering and led table groups for most of my years at MOPS
  • A wonderful MOPPETS program for my children (with wonderful loving teachers)
  • Memories of meetings, experiences, and people
  • A strong base in which to move forward into this next phase of motherhood

The prophet Isaiah shares these comforting and encouraging words in Isaiah 40:11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

MOPS has been one of the many ways in which Christ has gently led me. I am a better mother, person, friend, wife, leader, and Christian because of MOPS. MOPS has been, even when I didn’t realize it, a gift to me on this journey as a mom. A gift from Him, as He gently leads me.

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Confessions of a People-Pleasing, Recognition-Desiring Momma

“I think I might get the Sunshine Award tomorrow,” Micah, my third-grader, informs me one evening recently.

My heart sinks. I happen to know that if he was the recipient of this award, I would already have been contacted by his teacher. I’ve received no such phone call or email.

“Really?” I respond with interest to Micah, “why do you think you might get it?”

“Because I’m nice to people. And I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll get it this year,” he responds confidently.

Little does Micah know how much my heart has been hoping (for four years now!) that he would receive this award. And that year after year, when he has not been the recipient, I’ve had to do my own soul-searching: Why hasn’t anyone noticed Micah? Have I failed as a mother? Why is this award so important to me?

“What do you have to do to receive the award?” I ask him, knowing the answer, but curious as to how he perceives the Sunshine Award.

“Be nice to others and do kind things.”

“And are you nice to others? Do you do kind things?” I ask.

“Yep,” he replies, not even feeling the need to further explain.

“Like what?” I probe.

“I don’t know,” he says, “I’m just nice to other kids.”

I prod him for some examples, so he shares a few.

“Those are great, Buddy,” I respond. And I take the conversation a step further: “What’s more important,” I ask, “being nice or winning an award for being nice?”

“Being nice,” he responds, casually.

“You’re right,” I said (as much to myself as to him!). “And you know what?” I continue, “sometimes we do nice things that others may not even see. What’s important is that you know that you are kind and loving to others. Even if teachers don’t always notice. Even if you don’t win the Sunshine Award. I hope you win the award, Micah, because I know that you’ve been kind to your friends. But you know what, Buddy, even if you don’t, I love you. Even if you don’t, you can be proud of the nice kind things you’ve done for others.”

Honestly, this speech is as much for myself, as it is for him. I struggle with these things. With wanting to be recognized, admired, thought highly of. I’ve had to work through these issues personally, and now I find myself working through them in connection with my children. Not just for their sake, but for mine. It’s easy for me to feel like a good mother if my kids do well, succeed, win awards, and are recognized.

I’m all the more aware of this tendency in relation to this award because Kiersten was a Sunshine Award recipient in kindergarten. I was proud…too much so, I’m afraid (quietly proud, but proud nonetheless). Not just proud of my daughter, but proud of myself as her mother. Clearly, her kindness was due to my great parenting skills. Silly, silly me.

Of course, this set the stage for my hopes for Micah. Kindergarten came and went for him. No Sunshine Award. First grade…nope. Second grade. Once again, no award for Micah. He has to get it in third grade, I told myself (the final year it is given). I had done the calculations. Each class in each grade has two recipients (a boy and a girl). No one child can receive the award more than once. So, if there are seven classes in each grade, that means that by third grade, twenty-one boys in Micah’s grade have already received this honor. And by the end of third grade, twenty-eight boys altogether will have been Sunshine Award recipients. Surely Micah is one of the twenty-eight “nicest” boys in his class!

So when I realized that Micah will never receive this coveted award (coveted in my mind), I had some real soul-work to do. Part of me wanted to proclaim that is is unfair to give out such awards. Part of me wanted to promote my own son to his teachers. A big part of me ached for him (and, quite frankly, for me).

But I must step away from the award, from the outward recognition of an inner quality. I must remind myself what I told Micah. What matters is who you are, even if others don’t see it. I know Micah to be tender-hearted and kind. He loves his friends. I know he’s not perfect, either. He talks when he’s not supposed to. He’s active and struggles to sit still. He’s shy around teachers and adults and engages in minimal conversation with them. This is my child, for good and for bad, and I know where he shines and where he struggles. And I (along with Randy) am working on these areas of weakness.

Recognition is part of life. Awards will be given and awards will be received. How wonderful it is to receive them! How heartbreaking it is to not! My job as parent is to help keep my kids grounded, both when they receive awards and when they don’t. To not allow the winning or not-winning of awards to dictate one’s sense of goodness and character.

I want my children to make choices based on who they are, what is right, and the values Randy and I are (hopefully) instilling in them. And to do these things, whether they are honored for them or not.  And when it comes to the Sunshine Award, I want them “to love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).  That’s reason enough.

A few days after the Sunshine Award incident had come and gone (and Micah handled his not-receiving-the-award amazingly well. He barely seemed phased by it!), I observed Micah with a group of friends. This group of  eight boys were picking teams for a football game. Micah was one of the team captains.

On his second pick, Micah picked a boy who was not very athletic. I took note of that. When it came down to the final two boys, and it was Micah’s turn to pick again…I saw him hesitate. Then, he did “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” to make his choice. Again, I took note. I wondered if Micah did both of these things out of kindness. Sensitive to the fact that the non-athletic boy wouldn’t normally be picked early in a “draft.” Careful at the end to not leave one boy as the “last one chosen.”

Later, I commented on my observation to Micah. I asked him why he did both of those things. He shrugged and said he didn’t know. I pressed him a little more (why did you pick the non-athletic one? Why eeny-meeny-miney-mo?). Finally, he admitted he didn’t want anyone to feel bad.

Never have I been more proud of my little boy. He had made kind choices, simply with the motive of caring for others, and not for the motive of being noticed or recognized. The timing of this observation is just what this people-pleasing, recognition-desiring momma needed.  I realized I was more proud of catching his private acts of genuine kindness than I would have been to observe a ribbon placed around his neck for all to see.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

 

Posted in Children and Family, Heart Ponderings, Mothering, Self-Discovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God at Work in Little Lives

6187141-crown-of-thorns-hung-around-the-easter-cross[1]What do tic tacs, an older sister, a DVD, and a carton of eggs have in common?  They are all accomplices to one of the biggest decisions in each of my children’s lives. The decision to ask Jesus into their hearts.

Each is a story in and of itself, but I will attempt to summarize them briefly.

For Kiersten, it was tic tacs. At age three, she was adamantly against anything to do with asking Jesus into her heart (I know this because as an over-eager mother of my first child, I was trying really hard to get her to!). I finally realized it would be wise to just drop the issue (for fear that I was actually pushing her farther and farther away from ever making that decision!). Several months (or more) later, Kiersten came to me and asked, “Mommy, what is a Christian?”

Surprised at her sudden interest, I gladly (yet cautiously) explained to her what it meant to be a Christian. I was equally surprised when she declared that she would like to become a Christian; she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. So we prayed together. Immediately upon finishing the prayer, I discovered the reason for her sudden interest in Christianity:

“Now I can have some tic tacs,” she gleefully announced, with the “Amen” barely off our tongues. I knew there must be a story behind this.

Apparently, in a very irresponsible moment, my mom informed Kiersten that only Christians could have tic tacs (“Who are those tic tacs for?” Kiersten had asked her, eyeing the ever-so-tempting tiny, colorful pieces of candy. “Christians,” responded my mom, not knowing what she was setting in motion. That’s when Kiersten traipsed off to find me…).

Of course my mom and I, once we had realized what had happened, tried to set things straight. We told Kiersten that Grandma was just being silly; you didn’t have to be a Christian to have a tic tac. Asking Jesus into her heart was a big decision; one we only wanted her to make when she was ready. She could have a tic tac without being a Christian.

She informed us that she was glad she asked Jesus into her heart, she believed everything I had told her, and she wanted to be a Christian. Not just for the tic tac.

Skeptical, I observed her and talked with her throughout the following weeks. It became clear that her decision was sincere. As far as a three-year-old could grasp, she had taken that step of faith. She had begun the journey, and in a way that I could have never conjured up! God had used a tic tac (and a silly Grandma) to soften her little heart towards Him.

With Micah, it was big sister Kiersten. After my experience with Kiersten, I was determined that there was no need to try to push that decision on Micah too early. But apparently Kiersten had other plans.

I may never know (until I get to heaven) what discussion led up to this moment, but I will never forget the day that I overheard my six-year-old daughter leading my three-year-old son in a prayer asking Jesus into his heart, while sitting at the bottom of our stairs. If only I had recorded it!

In the midst of my busy life (baby brother Brennan was only a few weeks old at this time), God used an eager and engaged six-year-old sister to help Micah take the first step in his journey.  To this day (six years later), Micah remembers asking Jesus into his heart at the bottom of the stairs with Kiersten.

An finally, Brennan…and the DVD and carton eggs. Just before Easter, when Brennan was four-years-old, he became quite interested in a children’s DVD about the life of Jesus. He had discovered it amongst the many DVDs in our media drawer. It soon became his favorite movie; he literally watched it every day for weeks.

During this time, Brennan received a box of Resurrection Eggs from his preschool. He was quite intrigued by these eggs and wanted me to tell him all about them. So, we sat down on the floor and began going through the eggs together.

Each egg contained an item and a bible verse. These items and verses each represented an event from the last week of Christ’s life. So, as Brennan pulled the leaf out of egg number one, I told him that it represented the palm branches that people waved on Palm Sunday as Christ entered Jerusalem. Amazingly, I didn’t have to explain too much, because Brennan was quite familiar with each event (from watching the movie). When he pulled out the picture of praying hands (from egg number three) and I told him about Jesus praying in the garden, Brennan immediately remembered it from the DVD, and informed me that that was right before the bad guys got Him.

Towards the end of the Resurrection Eggs (egg number nine, to be exact, the one with a spear in it), I asked Brennan if he knew why Jesus died. It hit me that Brennan knew a lot about the story of Jesus dying, but I wondered if he knew why He had died. His response was that Jesus died because bad guys got Him.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but He really died because He loves you.” And I continued to explain Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth and dying on the cross.

I had no intention of encouraging him to ask Jesus into his heart right then. I just wanted to begin the conversation with him, and explain the why behind the events of the Easter story. And he was an eager audience.

As a way to convey to Brennan that this is something to do when he’s ready, I told him that I have Jesus in my heart, Daddy has Jesus in his heart, and so do Kiersten and Micah. I was about to say, “And some day, when you’re ready, you might decide to ask Jesus into your heart.”

I didn’t get a chance to say that because, just as I was telling him about Kiersten and Micah, he started to cry. Really cry.

“What’s wrong?” I inquired.

“I want Jesus in my heart, too,” he sobbed.

“It’s okay, Brennan,” I reassured him, “you can ask Him when you’re ready. You’re still little.”

“I want to ask him now,” he cried.

So, we prayed. And Brennan asked Jesus into his heart. Once again, God was at work. The timing of the DVD and the Resurrection Eggs. And even a little brother’s desire to not be left out…to be like the rest of his family. God used those things to start the journey in a four-year-old’s life.

I share all of these stories because I am so amazed at how I had nothing to do with the timing of any of them. And I’m so amazed that each child had their own unique angle on what led them to make their decision.

Yes, I had to be able to discuss with them what it means to be a Christian, and how to become a Christian, and answer their questions, but I feel strongly that God gave me the right words.

I am also aware that this decision is only the beginning of a life of learning about God and loving God. They will grow in their knowledge and understanding. And my prayer is that God will become more and more real to them each day. Those initial prayers are not the end of the story, nor are they a guarantee that they will never have doubts or that they will never stray from their beliefs. I believe that a day will come when they will need to embrace this faith in a new way. They will want to recommit their lives to Christ with a new understanding. Not because their childlike prayer wasn’t “real,” but because they will be older. It will be the next major step in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I use to think (before I had kids), that once all my children had accepted Christ as their Saviour (if, indeed they did), that I could breathe a huge sigh of relief. My “job” would be done. I now believe that this is when the real work begins. The story isn’t over; it is just beginning. God is and will be using me, my husband, and others in their lives to live out our faith and to teach and to train. Ultimately, they are His. But He has entrusted them to us.

I love how God works in mysterious ways. How He takes common things, common people, and common events, weaves them together in His perfect timing, and uses them to draw people to Him. To soften hearts. Tic tacs, a big sister, a DVD, and a carton of eggs. Who knew that they would all be key elements in the spiritual journeys of my three children?

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