Letters to Ivan

On Raising Extroverts

A lot of life and love wonderfully fill my house. The older kids imagine, experience, and articulate continually. Looking at a brontosaurus toy, little girl named it, “Giraffe-y Dinosaur.” She learns words and then cherishes the objects: “milk-y bottle,” “blankie,” “Mama-y.” Everything ends in an -y. When she cannot talk to me about her things, she sings at the top of her voice or babbles to her baby doll-y. She takes after her older brothers, who seem to never stop talking. They tell silly stories, plot their next adventure or building project, disagree and try to persuade or out-talk the other. For example, yesterday second son was giving “tickets” to eldest son for some imaginary infraction. “I am sending them all to your mail box,” he announced. Without missing a beat, eldest son replied, ” I guess I have a bunch of junk mail, then.” Even baby boy has added to his repertoire of brilliant smiles and coos, since he now waves with big arm sweeps and finger movements that bring joy to us all. A recent visitor noted the kids’ talkative disposition and ease in interacting with adults. Looking at my quietly-disposed husband and me, he said, “you are raising a gang of extroverts.” Indeed, it does feel that way!

Two days ago, second son excitedly told my husband of a time in the future when they would be in a “Daddy’s Club” together. Naming his two brothers, his dad, and himself, he rejoiced that they could all one day be daddies. He made a side note that little girl and Mama could have their own “Mama’s Club.” His love for family makes me think I am doing something right.

Alongside my many mothering failures, I also learn how to walk my precious little ones through challenges. One saying goes something like, “Give a hungry man a fish, and he will be hungry tomorrow. Teach him how to fish, and he will never be hungry again.” I apply this to mothering, making my primary role “enabler.” I would rather my kids learn and choose wisdom, than they act well or play nice when I am present to enforce it. I would rather they make little mistakes now and learn their limitations (sleep is a necessary evil!). Yes, I do give them the “materials” with which to encounter reality. This means providing basic facts, explaining how to live out Judeo-Christian morality and the reasons for it, and inculcating logic. But a lot of learning results from their own discovery or thinking. In their quest for the good, the true, and the beautiful, then, I suppose it is no surprise that so much life happens within these four walls.

Questions

1,929 days

1,929 days. That equates to 275 weeks or 63 months. 1,929 days into this job, with only ten days and nights’ break in that entire period, and I am tired.

The walls of my home are my castle and my prison. A haven that I cultivate and a drain of physical energy and mental acuity. I glory in being at home. I long to escape its confinement.

So where do I go from here? How do relax enough to sleep, rise early for personal quiet time, and wake my four gifts from God with all the love that I feel alongside a multitude of other emotions? How do I continue in this marathon of epic proportions and eternal ramifications?

God, please help me.

Uncategorized

On Free Speech: Reasoning Together, Allowing Much, and Loving Always

Weeks have passed since my last post. What has happened between then and now? Lots of listening and talking, but mostly listening.

Listening to the screaming political rhetoric in our country. Watching people attribute evil motives to their opponents, accuse each other of stupidity, and, like little children, put hands over their ears to shut out explanations. These subjects seem too weighty for a mama-blog, but after encountering the same questions again and again this week, I share my thoughts and questions anyway.

At the week’s beginning, I participated in a conversation that alarmed me. People whom I admire and respect advocated for 1) restricting the free speech of a group whose message they found de-humanizing and hateful, and 2) explaining to the community why the message was shut-down. These Christians advocated this censure because they want the best for both each individual and the community as a whole. With love and compassion, they want to take action against ideas that limit the glorious life often experienced when we live the way God made us to live. They want to exhibit “tough love,” the kind of love that restricts a child’s freedom to run in the street precisely because that action could bring harm or death. The problem with the previous situation is that we are talking about adults – people who have the ability to reason, make choices, and experience the consequences of those choices. I believe that the truly compassionate action to take would involve speaking the truth in love to someone (even at the risk of being offensive), and to try and persuade them to a different idea or course of action. This is what the people in the conversation wanted to do. Yet in the public square, we must go a step further and allow people to disagree and act accordingly.*

In our First Amendment, we are guaranteed freedom of speech. As Tyson Langhofer said in the Colson Center Short Course on Freedom, “the only type of speech that needs protecting is offensive speech.” Yes! I find this statement compelling because it is the people in power that define offensiveness. Since one cannot know who will be in power, this amendment provides protection for Americans who disagree with the reigning authorities to speak anyway. The Christian message often seems offensive and hateful to those who reject Christ’s Lordship, yet with our right to free speech we can still have a place at the discussion table when people disagree with the Gospel. In a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington wrote that America’s “enlarged and liberal policy” meant that citizens should neither persecute nor begrudgingly tolerate notions they find offensive, but instead respect each other’s “inherent natural rights.” To recognize and uphold these rights, it seems important to allow much and hope that reality and conversations about the truth knock out today’s more bizarre, self-harmful, and untrue beliefs from common practice.

Can we please allow our interlocutors a place at the conversation table? Can we listen to them because we are confident of the truth, and not frightened by what they might say? Can we listen to people out of respect for their being creations of God? Can we then appeal to them with the Truth because we want their best? And then turn around and love them no matter what way these same people choose?

 

* I admit that there seems to be a fuzzy area where one asks how far can a person go without censure on their words or actions, and I have not yet worked out my own ideas of those boundaries. The “do not harm” principle is a great one, but the question of where harm begins looms large. Setting this question of detail aside for another day, the basic point is that laws and regulations should be the least restrictive possible, and that people should be able to do what they want as long as they do not harm others.

 

Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

On Suffering, Part 2

During one particularly difficult period in my life, I woke three successive mornings with the phrase “Fine china is more beautiful when broken and put back together again” on my lips. “What?!” I thought, “my treasured tea cups would be prettier broken and patched up with some glue?” In that season of life, God demonstrated how Icould become prettier when broken and put together again, not with glue but with grace.

Years later I participated in a Bible study that offered the following reflection. You can imagine what I felt as I read the first line.

The Japanese art of kintsukuroi (pronounced kint-sook-er-oy) is the repair of broken pottery through the use of a gold lacquer to fill and bind the cracks. The practice originated, according to one Japanese legend, when a servant inadvertently broke his master’s prized vase during a party. Fortunately for the servant, one of the guests assuaged the master’s anger by devising a humorous poem about the vase. Seen in this new light – that the vase now had new character and a richer story – it took on greater significance. Its brokenness became the occasion for a deeper beauty. And so for centuries, Japanese craftsmen have restored cracked vessels with gold, in order to accentuate the beauty that emerges from the scars.

One way to look at the book of Romans is as the story of a Craftsman who relentlessly brings his beauty to every kind of brokenness. In his cosmic plan, wherever there is deformity, God sculpts a new loveliness; wherever there is sorrow, God creates a new bliss; wherever there is loss, God produces gain. And it is not just that God responds with beauty wherever there is hideousness. No, the truly breathtaking nature of his work is that it is through the cracks that God brings the beauty. He does not need to scrap what is broken; he does not lose what he has already made. On the contrary, he gathers the broken shards and conceives a new glory, a better future for every part of his creation.1

Before my own season of breaking, I mostly depended on my own merit, my own effort, my own plans. I loved God and trusted in Him for salvation, but I trusted in myself to define my life. When circumstances showed me that I was not in control, when I understood that my goodness fell far short of God’s perfection, when I saw that I was a creature subject to the Creator who had plans beyond my own, my perspective changed. I learned that I had limitations. I began to recognize how much I needed grace, and this all helped me in turn share grace with the people I encountered.

So when I catch myself worrying about suffering, pain, or sorrow, I remember that the Lord God can sculpt something from the shards of brokenness, and that He is big enough to use the brokenness in my life to create something beautiful for His eternal glory.

 

1 Palmer, Steve. Romans Devotional. St. Stephen’s Church, 2018. E-mail.

Letters to Ivan

Stories

A glimpse of our life

Tired after two nights of little sleep, I napped for 2 hours instead of making dinner and completing other chores. This means that the late afternoon looked rather comical. Amidst carpet cleaning Little Girl’s latest accident, flattening a child’s treasured piece of now-crumpled paper, rescuing a miniature dinosaur from inside a pop-up toy, and reading a riveting chapter in The Silver Chair (the beautiful lady is about to reveal her true, ugly character!), I need to make dinner. This life is crazy beautiful.

*

Recent quotes and conversations

Eldest Son: “Were you ever President?”

Mama: “No, I was not ever President.”

Second Son: “Yes, yes you were. I remember when you were Pregnant.”

*

A plane flies by and I hear the questions, “Are jets faster than planes?” and “Why are they faster?” and “What is the fastest object?” Oh, for that physics class I never took!

“Hmm,” I respond, “Maybe there is a supersonic something, or maybe a missile (???), or maybe we should do some research at the library.”

“Oh! I know!” my eldest exclaims, “Jesus is the fastest!” The perennial “correct” Sunday school answer 🙂

*

My three-year-old son is a maturing protector who schemes to place fire ants and thistles around our home so that any robbers would be first deterred and then found out by their cries of pain. “What do fire ants do?” one interested listener inquired. “Spit fire,” my son replied.

*

Eldest son: “Mama, are we rich because there are four of us kids?”

Mama: “Yes, son, we are rich.”

Ponderings

Breaths of Life

“Man shall not live by bread alone.” Deuteronomy 8:3, Luke 4:4

Baby Boy had a fever on and off the last couple days. It spiked last night, giving the kids and me a reason to visit the medical clinic this morning. After shepherding everyone into their car seats, I walk inside and hastily write, “Not things to do but breaths to breathe,” lest I forget this thought amidst talking with the doctor and quietly entertaining four energetic children.

While I feel initially tempted to see all the things left undone as urgent to dos – studying the Bible, preparing food, lessons with the kids, serving dinner, washing dishes – these are all things not “to dos,” but rather daily rhythms that bring about a full, beautiful life. They are breaths breathed for the sake of continuing both physical and spiritual life.

In this season of feeling less-than-adequate for the mountain of good and wondrous responsibilities before me, I cannot live upon bread alone any more than I can rely upon my efforts alone. I must depend on God for wisdom, patience, perspective, and grace to share with the Littles around me. And when I place my trust in Him and walk in obedience, He carries me through the day in His strength.

Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

Revisiting Identity

Today I revisit the topic of identity partly because there are so many things to say and so many ways to say it. Another reason stems from my own continuing struggles with contentment and identity. I write to remind myself and others who may question similarly.

Many people have a deep desire to make a name for themselves, to be “the best” in something, or be recognized. This desire drives us to action. Growing up I was not brilliant, but I could work hard. So I did. Graduating high school early, I married in college a man who exceeded all my dreams, and then moved to a far-away land. I had a degree, I had passion, and I also had no job prospects. Making use of the time, I began my masters and then welcomed my first child. Meanwhile siblings, peers, and my husband all graduated, began working, and earned accolades. I remained at home. No title, no awards, nothing to show the world outside my door.

The desire for external recognition and success runs deep in me and deep in our culture, even spilling over onto the precious and vulnerable people in our lives, people we should be protecting and nurturing and loving for who they are, rather than what they do. In a sermon on parenting, a pastor once mentioned that many parents would rather discover that their child had a learning challenge than accept that their child was, simply, average.

What drives these comparisons? One reason is the craving for fulfillment, and the direct relationship between fulfillment and identity. Fulfillment is a real desire and a real need! As a recent sermon titled Thirsty perfectly articulates, we satisfy this fulfillment desire with something or someone that we worship or value most. The strength of our sense of self depends on the power of what we worship. Whether I situate my worth and find contentment in what is temporary and finite, or eternal and endless, affects who I believe myself to be and how I relate myself to my surroundings.

With an identity and worth grounded in the Almighty God, how people perceive me does not matter. I can be okay bagging groceries. I can be okay with thinking my hardest and earning only “B” grades. I can be okay mothering at home, and doing “nothing else” (though we could have a rich debate over whether that description even remotely fits reality!). I might not be the best according to the world’s standards, but that does not matter.

This confidence happens when I know whose I am. Everything external – good and bad – falls away like water off a duck’s back because I know who defines me. Timothy Keller writes,

What, then, would the effect be if we were to dive even more deeply into Jesus’s teaching and life and work? What if we were to be so immersed in his promises and summonses, his counsels and encouragements, that they dominated our inner life, capturing our imagination, and simply bubbled out spontaneously when we faced some challenge?….When you received criticism, you would never be crushed, because Jesus’s love and acceptance of you is so deeply “in there.”1            

I can be okay with who I am, where I am, and what I am doing (or not doing) when I live for an audience of One, when I worship God and allow Him to define me and my worth.2

The question to ask and answer today: will I choose to be fulfilled by Him?

 

***

1 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. Riverhead Books, 2011. Print.

2 Guinness, Os. The Call. Word Publishing, 1998. Print.

Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

On Suffering, Part 1

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible. It is also, I think, one of the scariest. For, if God can work all things together for good, then He could allow me to experience all things, including my worst nightmares. I fear losing what I hold dearest. What if’s buzz through my brain, drowning out what is real. Yet I ought to think about what is true, what is real. So here goes an exercise in training my mind, putting my thoughts where I want them to be. Borrowing heavily from Timothy Keller’s response to the question of evil and suffering in The Reason for God, today I will outline three responses to the problem of pain. A second post with further thoughts on this subject will hopefully come soon after.

Christian life is one that involves suffering. Where is God in this inevitable and unhappy aspect of life? How does He work all things together for good? For a first point, just because I cannot understand the reason for my suffering now does not mean that there is not one. Looking back in my own life on times of intense pain, insecurity, or betrayal, I see how I grew through them. Remember Joseph in the Bible and how his trials actually saved his life and that of a whole people from starvation?

For another point, as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ, God Himself, experienced suffering and death. Timothy Keller elaborates, “God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.”1God understands our pain. When we more fully grasp the reality and extent of Christ’s sufferings, the following verses take on new meaning. Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?

For a third point, Timothy Keller, reflecting on Revelation 21 wrote, Heaven is not just consolation for the hurts experienced in life but a “restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.”2

Or as one of my favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoevesky, wrote,

“Like a babe, I trust that the wounds will heal, the scars will vanish, that the sorry and ridiculous spectacle of man’s disagreements and clashes will disappear like a pitiful mirage, like the sordid invention of a puny, microscopic, Euclidean, human brain, and that, in the end, in the universal finale, at the moment universal harmony is achieved, something so magnificent will take place that it will satisfy every human heart, allay all indignation, pay for all human crimes, for all the blood shed by men, and enable everyone not only to forgive everything but also to justify everything that has happened to men.”3

The God that I read about in the Bible, encounter in prayer, and witness at work in people’s lives is big enough to transform all things, even the hardest and darkest things, for good. He knows, He sympathizes, He redeems.

 

1 Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. Riverhead Books, 2008. Print.

2 IBID.

3 Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Bantam Books, 1970. Print.

Uncategorized

Goodness Lite?

Having tried to live on diet foods – light versions of dairy products, sweet sensations without calories, and air-filled versions of breads – I can testify that such foods do not satisfy. Instead of eliminating hunger, these diet foods seem to fuel it. While I can eat a greater volume of diet foods, pursuing delightful tastes without the heavy consequences, the satisfaction, in my experience, is far less. In divorcing a taste from its corresponding nutritional value, I am trying to experience a good without its natural consequences and am not fulfilling the need that made me hungry in the first place.

This is the same with other goods. In our times, people pursue intercourse without the possibility of children or the lifelong ties of relationship, standards of living built on credit, and Sparknotes® versions of books or a Dummies® treatment of topics. We substitute in lesser goods or avoid bearing the whole weight of the good itself. In pursuing the taste of something while avoiding its costs, we lose the contentment that comes from experiencing the whole goodness of that thing – the good in its natural order, how it was intended to be received.

Conversely, if I accept the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, I find myself made rich in relationship – the essence of humanity and eternity. If I accept the hard work necessary to earn an income, I receive satisfaction from the result of my labor and appreciate what I buy all the more. If I spend the time to read and understand a book, I experience the richness of linguistic nuances, plots and subplots, foreshadowing and character development, and so much more. In receiving a good and the time, effort, and consequences inherently part of that good, I experience its fullness.

I can attempt to consume a good on my own terms, immediately gratifying desires. Yet rather than fulfilling my needs, I only appease them. Alternatively, I can cultivate delight in something on itsterms. This means smaller portions, marriage and kids, fewer books read, and no jack-of-all trades label for me. Yet when I accept goods for what they are, my needs are satisfied. Life is full, and I give thanks.

 

 

Ponderings · Questions · Reorienting Myself

Who am I?

The question “Who are you when no one is watching?” helps a person gauge their honesty and integrity. Everyone could benefit from this self-reflection from time to time. A more pressing and important question for mothers could be, “Who are you when you are not loving your husband and children, tending the house, or preparing the next meal?”

“I do not know,” has many times been my puzzled response since I cannot think of a time in the last five years when I did not have an immediate responsibility or obligation. I make the time to read a little every day, and sincerely wish that I could play the piano, but who am I apart from a mother?

Motherhood involves a lot of emptying out of ourselves, consumes massive amounts of time and energy, and is a daily struggle against selfishness. So when I am at the end of myself or the end of long day, how do I fill my empty soul?

Podcasts, clothing, exercise, job or volunteer-related recognition, Netflix, blogging and more sit easily within reach to help me define or distract myself. What about God? I go to Him and must quietly concentrate to read His Word. I go to Him and am convicted by the anger I felt the previous day. I go to God, and this is not easy.

***

I become what I think I about. Reliving a frustrating situation does not help me “vent,” it instead strengthens neural pathways. Following my heart does not automatically bring happiness or fulfillment, for “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). No, I must put my thoughts where I want them to be. Sometimes this feels as if I am stooping down, scooping up the turbulent waters of my thoughts and feelings, and turning around 180 degrees before I set them down with a determined “plop.”

When I am not in the present moment with my husband and children, where I “go” really matters. Where I put my thoughts is not akin to choosing which pair of shoes to wear or what meal to order. Where my thoughts dwell is a choice about how I will live and interact with my world. In Philippians 4:8 we read, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Last year I extensively studied God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Really grasping that it is by grace I have been saved, I was able to see and love people who hurt me with abundant grace. What is deep inside spills out when we are “squeezed” by life.

Similarly, choosing who or what defines me is a decision made daily, and sometimes more often than that. Am I the things that I do, the position that I hold, or am I a creation defined by my Creator? Does my worth come from myself or from the fact that I am made in the image of God? Like the dandelions that perennially poke their heads through my cultivated lawn, again and again I tend towards trying to define myself and my worth. But oh!, the peace, comfort, and security that comes in knowing that I am simply because He made me and loves me. I do not have to struggle or strive to earn His love or be a self-made woman. I can freely live and abundantly love, unthreatened by what others think of me, unashamed by what I could not accomplish this day, and undaunted by my shriveling resume.

Today I loved God by seeking Him first. I loved my neighbors – the little people living in the bedrooms lining my hallway, the people across the street and next door, and the people in my inbox. I simply “was” today. And I “am” right now. And that is enough.

Uncategorized

That you may shine like the stars

My dear child,

You are soon off to school. Out of my loving care, going beyond my reach where you may be influenced by others and where you will encounter the world’s brokenness – a brokenness from which I wish I could shield you. But I cannot. Sooner or later you will experience it. You have already, in little bits and pieces. But the selfishness we experience at home, the trouble interrupting each other, and little upsets throughout the day do not begin to compare with the real havoc that Satan is wrecking in this world. Bad things, really bad things, happen. Sometimes we will be the recipients of those bad things, and sometimes we will, sadly, participate.

Yesterday you asked me to describe how big God is. Remember I said that He is like the numbers, continuing on forever to infinity? He is so big, that I can trust Him with you. When I am scared for you, I will choose to trust God and let Him be the perfect Father that only He can be to His children. When you seek Him, He will give you wisdom and everything that you need for life and godliness. Your eternal soul is safe in Him.

So as you leave the shelter that is our home, I pray that you will shine like the stars to bring God glory wherever your steps bring you. I pray that you learn what is good, true, and beautiful, and use your mind and heart for Him. Finally I pray that God enables me to give you a framework that helps you interpret what you encounter according to God’s great redemption story.

With love,

Mama

P.S. When you are hurt, remember that it is an opportunity to see God:

From One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

            I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

            To see through to God.

            That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God we endlessly crave.

P.P.S. The “stars” quote:

From Philippians, Chapter 2

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey His own purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life.

Letters to Ivan

A little girl with open arms

Little girl speaks more everyday, the latest being, “eat birthday cake!” She very recently progressed from repeating individual words, my favorite being “tea cup,” to four and five-word sentences. Her favorite phrase, however, consists of two words, “Oh, dear!” Yogurt on her finger evokes an “Oh, dear!” She knocks a bottle to the ground and with crocodile tears welling up and overflowing her eyes, exclaims “Oh, dear!”

She remains extremely particular. Before the night’s adieu, animal friends, water bottle, and any book that she can spy must assume their “proper” places on the bed. Seeing the closet door ajar, she points and says “shut it,” and then worriedly stares at her two baby dolls who have slid a few inches down from their placement on the rocking chair. I tie a blanket seat belt around them. “Safe!” she sighs and settles under her blanket, with curls framing her head on the pillow. A farewell wave looks akin to a royal dismissal. Oh dear, indeed!

The next day she said “Hug, Mama, hug?” with arms stretched open as I knelt on the floor. “Yes, Sweetie, Mama wants a hug.” “Daddy?” “Yes! Daddy too.” She runs to him shyly and embraces his calves.

“Brothers?” she then asks with a twinkle in her eye that bespeaks the delight of giving. “Yes, your brothers would like a hug.” A beautiful bundle of particularity, emotion, and love runs down the hall with arms flung wide, ready to give, and receive, her brothers.

Her unfettered affection and my memories collide, reminding me that giving and sharing require open hands and open arms that make one vulnerable and create the possibility of rejection. I remember Jesus, who through His great love for us stretched out his arms on the cross. Not everyone accepts His offer of the forgiveness of sin; not everyone wants Him.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

We can choose to be safe, denying our need for love and rejecting the greatest act of love. Or, we can open ourselves to life’s biggest joys and greatest hurts, and humbly accept Christ’s work on our behalf. I choose to be vulnerable, for God is powerful enough to work all things, even hard and hurtful things, together for good.

Ponderings

Everything I needed to know about parenting, I learned from breaking my horse (almost)

When I was 11 years old, I spent a summer breaking my horse. In that process, I learned that there is no substitute for time. To train her into submission to my commands, I needed to show her again, and again, and again that following my directions brought treats, relief, and rest, while ignoring them did not. When my husband and I adopted a dog, we watched dog-training videos and read books on dog-obedience. The same theme emerged: there are no fast tricks to well-trained animals. Training takes huge amounts of invested time in regular teaching sessions, consistent consequences, and persistent reminders. There are no viable shortcuts.

The same is true with children (and ourselves, actually). In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell concluded that people reach proficiency or mastery of a subject after devoting 10,000 hours to that particular discipline. As a lover of statistics and the multivariate regression, I know that there are other factors affecting success or mastery. I agree with Gladwell, though, that 10,000 hours is a good starting point.

So what does that look like? 10,000 hours is more than 27 years when broken into an hour a day, or 18 years for an hour and a half a day.

When it comes to my kids, what virtues do I want to impart and how much time do I spend teaching them? I want my kids to extend mercy to people – not giving people what they earn or deserve. Imagine how many times I need to show mercy to them to teach this lesson. How many times do I give my three-year-old son stickers on the responsibility chart for simply attempting to be kind? How many times do I give hugs and sympathy to a hurting child who disobeys my warning about danger? (I reference small situations here, as I would always intervene in a situation if my child or someone else would be seriously hurt.)

One wise mother, who raised five successful adults, once encouraged me to imagine the type of person I wanted my then eight-month-old to be when he turned 18 years old, and do now what was necessary for him to be that person in the future. I am not talking about brainwashing or programming children here. As any mother will attest, free will is alive and well; there are no guarantees when raising children, who will choose for themselves. But think about how the life we make for our children predisposes them to certain habits or actions, particular enjoyments, and their view of the world.

What habits and character traits am I nurturing? If imagination and play are important (and I believe that they are), do I give my kids opportunities to imagine and play? If service is important, am I modeling that and inviting my children to take part with our time, talents, and resources? If I value knowledge of God, does how we invest our time every day reflect that priority?

As I write this at the end of a day, I am physically and mentally aware of how exhausted one becomes after a day of “playing.” Yet I urge us all to run the daily race with all the strength and resolve within us. Effective parenting requires lots of time, and quality time results from quantities of time. How we spend our time matters. What changes do you need to make to spend yours without regrets?

Things I Like

Unusual Advice

The following excerpt from a graduation speech delivered at Cardigan Mountain Middle School in 2017, by Chief Justice John Roberts, recently caught my attention.

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.1

A mother living 237 year earlier wrote similar advice to her son, who was around the same age as the middle-school audience addressed above.

These are time in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by the scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.2

These two exhortations strike me similarly by acknowledging how difficulties can uniquely and powerfully form good, virtuous character. No one wishes for hardship, but when it comes, you can remember that it is an opportunity. Here at Give Me Joy, we look for the beautiful extraordinary in the difficult ordinary. We make lemonade from lemons on hard days. We take obstacles blocking our path and turn them into stepping stones to something new.

When Frodo faced was with extraordinary difficulties, Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” advice that both Chief Justice John Roberts and First Lady Abigail Adams express is various ways.3

So, when hard times come or the unexpected arises, what will you do?

 

1 Eicher, Nick. “Legal Docket: Unusual advice from Chief Justice John Roberts.” The World and Everything in It, WNG, 23 July 2018, worldandeverything.org

2 McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster, 2002. Print.

3 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Books, 1994. Print.

Questions

Is This All?

Is this all God intends me to be? All body, creating and bearing, loving and serving? Wiping tears and dirty bottoms, serving meal after meal. Teaching and re-teaching the basic lessons of life: be kind, love your enemies, honor your parents, and worship the Creator. Work so important and so encompassing that I feel overwhelmed by its high demands and yet trapped in claustrophobic tightness by my little audience and limited subject matter.

I dream of directing government policy projects with huge objectives that improve the life of millions, of being somebody and using my mind more than my body. I am light years away from that vision. Yet stopping to reflect, I realize that I do lead according to Biblical principles. My audience of children may be limited, but my influence over them is far greater than I could ever have with any constituents.

The work done here at home really matters – yielding tremendous consequences for all eternity. For what happens here day in and day out – these routines and behaviors that we practice, the books that we read, the conversations that we hold – form who we are and inform what we do when we go into the world. It is in this present, each messy moment of it, that we shape characters, form imaginations, decide to follow Christ, and encourage our children to do the same.

Though the work may seem small, it is not so, for we are entrusted with the care of eternal souls. Whether you find yourself here unexpectedly or on purpose, and whether you really like the work or you really don’t, I encourage you to live in this present moment that touches eternity. May we be faithful in these not-so-little things.

Things I Like

Two Parenting Resources I Recommend

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam teaches parents how to train their baby to sleep. BabyWise also helps parents understand how to take care of a child and when to do what. I used the techniques explained in the book with each of my four babies, beginning the eat-play-sleep routine when they were two days old. One friend began the routine significantly later, when her nine-month-old had trouble sleeping. The techniques helped him to sleep through the night within a week. While each of my own children has responded slightly differently, and I used the routine as a guideline rather than as a strict schedule, it has proved very helpful.

With my first child, I was not familiar with caring for babies. BabyWise helped me more quickly identify my baby’s needs. When my second had a lot of trouble settling into the BabyWise routine, I was able to identify that he had food sensitivities by the time he was six weeks old because I could tell that, despite meeting his need for sleep, milk, and play, something was wrong.

The consistent routine not only highlighted a problem, but it also positively set a rhythm to our life at home. We keep a balance between sleep, play, and food, giving each its particular place. When I meet the kids’ basic needs, they tend to have better attitudes and learn well. Please do not misunderstand – life is far from being perfect. We have rough days and bad days like everyone else. But while every child is different, there are basic principles that make child-raising easier and, I believe, healthier for both parent and child. This book teaches those principles.

Parenting with Love and Logic by Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay also provides many essentials for disciplining and raising children, giving numerous examples of application. It has been around for decades, achieving acclaim in both Christian and secular communities. One of the most convincing testimonials stems from one of the author’s own sons, who, as a teenager, decided not to attend the most significant party of the year because his only ride to the party was his best friend, who had begun to play around with drinking and driving. This son made an unpopular choice but lived to tell about it, while his best friend died the night of the party with everyone else in the car after driving off the road. If applying these principles can help a hormone-raging teenage boy make logical decisions, I will recommend it!

Love and Logic coincides with Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, which provides the Biblical foundations behind many of the ideas described in Love and Logic. It provides some application but mostly answers moral questions about why one teaches a child a certain rule rather than how that rule achieves the desired behavior. It pairs wonderfully with Love and Logic. Beyond helping me parent, this book has taught me much about myself and showed me how to nurture healthy relationships in every area of my own life.

When asked to recommend parenting books, these are the three I mention. Every child is wonderfully unique, but I believe these resources give valuable and timeless suggestions, strategies, and foundations for parenting.

Ponderings

There are Always Things to Do and People to Love

It is four in the morning and I am typing, invigorated by the ideas mulling in my head and apple cider vinegar-honey tea. There are lots of things that I might be doing right now (such as sleeping). When one has four kids and a husband, there are always things that I could do but that would mean that the steeped thoughts would never pour out and life for me would be defined by chaos rather than order.

Life and work for me involves a lot of doing. After rising at 4:45am for some quiet time and a run, I dress and make breakfast before waking the kids. They rise at 7:00am and the day begins in earnest. We are never “busy,” for to me busyness implies that I am caught in the activity without regard for people. If my doing means that I have no time for people, than I lose the purpose of all my work. I “do” to create opportunities to love people – family, friends and neighbors, my husbands’ colleagues, and strangers. We are NOT busy, but we are always doing something. For my kids, there are acorns to gather and bikes to ride, outdoor places to explore, books to read, pages to color, structures to build, and questions to ask. Oh, the questions!

On an ideal day, the older kids play quietly or nap in their room from noon to three, while the youngest naps from noon to two. This period is mama’s opportunity to do housework without interruption and maybe spend a few minutes reading or napping herself. It remains far, however, from being a solid two-hour block of time. This weekend provided a typical example. After washing dishes and beginning a load of laundry, breaking to assist two older children with going to the bathroom, I sat down to touch the piano with more than a feather duster. Playing fifteen minutes revealed years’ lack of daily practice, but this felt good nonetheless. Removing to the couch to read, I had turned my first page when my husband entered the room and needed to talk to his best friend. Break again. Minutes later I greeted my precious baby, who nursed and then joined me for dinner preparations. The nature of my “quiet” time made me laugh.

A daily routine brings order to what could otherwise be chaos. It sets a rhythm to life in which my kids can do the unexpected while having a sense of what will happen next. In theory it gives me time too – time that I need to be a human being rather than a human doing.

In a similar way, words bring order to the confusion in my mind. They help me thoughtfully live even in the most mundane of activities (think washing dishes), because words help me bring meaning to what I do. For example, I can remind myself that a house is a tool that is cleaned to be used, not an ornament to showcase. The kids do not “mess up” my tidied house, but use it for play and learning. So when I feel consumed by the doing, when two hours shrinks to two minutes, and my thoughts become muddled, expressing experiences and feelings in words helps me put everything in perspective.  I remember the gift that this life is and I capture its joy.

 

 

Letters to Ivan · Reorienting Myself

Examining the Heart

Last week my eldest very seriously announced to me, “Mama, I have one problem in my life.” “Son,” I said, “Please tell me about your problem.” “Well, I love Jesus a lot. But I love people the same amount.” My son’s awareness of his own heart and the need he felt to love God more without knowing how encouraged my own self-examination. Is my “one problem in life” needing to love God more? Do I prioritize this goal above house projects, mothering goals, and career aspirations? With a sickening feeling, I confess that I do not. Lord, please forgive me and help me to put you first.

 

Questions

In Captivity until Such a Time as This: What I learned from Joseph’s Story

Joseph was a slave and in prison for a total of 13 years until the right moment when God would use circumstance, location, and timing to elevate Joseph to being the Egyptian King’s primary assistant. It took being sold, bought, and imprisoned to place Joseph in the right place at the right time. God did not remove Joseph from his difficulties, but was instead withJoseph in the midst of them. I doubt God’s presence made Joseph any more enthusiastic about his doleful circumstances, but it did create opportunities for Joseph to trust God more and it gave purpose to Joseph’s trials.

Sometimes I feel imprisoned. My motherhood and homemaker responsibilities often leave me exhausted both physically and mentally, and culminate in me not sleeping well at night, which further exacerbates the exhaustion issue. Any breaks or nap times are filled with making dinner, laundry, and cleaning the house. Children need and I give all day long. My time is not ever my own and I feel defined by what I do rather than who I am or desire to be.

All this is not bad. It is, simply, my life at this stage. Many times beautiful moments pop-up in the middle of the mundane like tulips from the snow. Watching my eldest son hold hands with his younger sister and witnessing the dancing delight of my second’s eyes as he makes his little brother laugh are priceless treasures. Teaching moments abound and I rejoice that I get to be there with my kids. I get questions about anything from “Why is a truck not a motorcycle?” and “Do we get to keep our baby brother?” to “What makes lightening?” and “Where do we put used tea bags?”

Despite such wondrous moments, I feel my dreams eliminated by the very beings that I love and would give everything to nurture. I hear Chesterton’s rebuke in the back of my mind (paraphrased), “Why should I want to be something to everybody when I can be everything to these four somebodies?” I do not have an answer. Something inside me dreams so big to do things outside the home even as it just as stubbornly persists in not granting the primary care of my children to anyone besides my husband and myself. And so, I sometimes feel imprisoned by the very good life that God has given me.

When I read about Joseph, I realize that God has a plan for the perceived prison of my present. He has a plan now, and He will have a plan for me when the all-consuming purpose of my present diminishes to the past. Will I trust Him with that future state, to put me in the right place at the right time in the right circumstances to, perhaps not be the right-hand assistant to the president, but to do something else pretty cool? It is a question and challenge that I must ask myself everyday.

Letters to Ivan

Bad Guys

I cannot imagine a house without “bad guys,” those animals, monsters, or people against whom my older boys defend us at any given moment. They perpetually create some adversary in their imaginations and BAM! away they go, fighting to protect their sister and me. The normalcy of this type of play manifested itself two days ago when my not-yet-two-year-old daughter picked up a Lincoln Log, shook it at the floor, and made shooting sounds. She then looked at me with her toothy smile and said, “bad guy!” Oh my.

My second son was sharing his protective plans with me when his older brother said, “We are all bad guys,” and then proceeded to name each of us. “All of our hearts are bad,” he continued, “and we all need them fixed.” I smiled as my telling of Solzhenitsyn’s lesson of the line between good and evil running through every human heart re-surfaced. We are all bad – we all have a sin problem – and we all need a savior. There are no good guys, just saved ones.

Thankfully this younger brother is beginning to understand. He prayed before dinner, “Heavenly Father, thank you for every person in my family. Would you be with us, and would you also be with enemies that I do not like but get to love? Amen.” We are one step closer to loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

 

Uncategorized

Why the title “Give Me Joy?”

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man he later discovers to be God in human form. He struggles or strives with the Almighty, refusing to let go until his opponent blesses him. I too am fighting for a blessing.

Facing the joys and trials that any mother might face, I need endurance. When everything goes wrong from the first cry of the morning until the last wee one is tucked into bed at night, I need consolation. Living an awesome life, loved by my husband, surrounded by my children, and so obviously in the position God desires for me right now, I need to express gratitude.

So how do I reconcile the tremendous trials and blessings that fill my life? I ask, plead, and wrestle with God to give me joy. A feeling that does not depend upon my circumstances but instead exists because I trust God in the midst of it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A feeling that fights self-pity and expresses thankfulness. I am sometimes a mess and my life with four littles is perpetually a mess – albeit us a beautiful one. I need joy to make it through this day and into the morrow. And so, I wrestle.