It Matters Deeply: The Heartbeat of a Home

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Think warm. Think Spring. Think St. Louis. A child is at home with her mother listening to the radio as they go about their kitchen chores. The radio is playing some Gospel music and both mother and daughter are singing along, cozy and deeply happy.

As the music swells: “Mother started whirling and dancing gaily as we both sang about the greatest love in all of life—our sweet Lord Jesus. This love sparkled and was enjoyable and gave gladness. I laughed as I joined in the dancing with a joy that can still bubble up. I’ll always remember this lovely young mother, the atmosphere of the home I grew up in, and that special scene,” writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay of her mother, Edith Schaeffer, in her book For the Family’s Sake.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this image and about home. And by home I don’t mean the physical four walls and roof. Rather, I’m writing about the atmosphere that creates the feeling of home: the people who create “home” for others and the spirit which they create with words, actions, and attitudes. I’ve been mulling this because I think more than anything this is the life-shaping influence our children or those who enter our homes will remember.

More than anything I want my boys to remember one day a mama who was so in love with Jesus that they could see it on her face, that they could hear it in her voice, and could sometimes even feel it in their bones as she whirled them up in her arms and danced around the kitchen with them. I know that each moment will not be such a spiritual mountaintop experience, but I want my boys to remember a mama who more often than not sang with the love of Jesus on her lips, who laughed with a heart full of joy, and could be in the moment because she could trust her cares to her Creator.

These kinds of memories of home have nothing to do with how well the home is decorated, with the kind of furniture or home one can afford, or whether or not a parent stays home or works full time. They depend on the kind of relationship a mom or dad has with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another.

I have lovely memories of my own home growing up. I remember the feeling of being picked up and carried to bed as a little girl by my dad’s big strong arms. I remember my mom comforting me with Scripture when a midnight storm had made me afraid. I remember my dad’s bible open on the kitchen table, and the reverberations of my mom’s upright piano as she played a favorite hymn. I remember games, and laughter, and good-hearted teasing, affectionate parents, and a spirit of hospitality. I remember earnest prayers prayed and answered, and a habitual desiring that others might know Jesus and know His comfort through our family. And I remember most of all being deeply loved and cared for in every imaginable way. As Susan Schaeffer McCauley writes:

“There is so much more that I could tell, for I was taught Bible stories clearly, even in those years when I was six years old or under. So I knew this Lord Jesus by word, by song, by hugs and comfort, by forgiveness and faithfulness and meals all together, blessed with prayer.

A childhood home like this is a very great and godly gift. Such a legacy does not come from perfect parents, thank God. In fact perfect parents could not prepare us for a life that is to be full of our own and other people’s failings. My parents were always open about the fact that they weren’t all that good. Anyway, all children see parents as they are!

How could anyone dare to suggest or say that working at the huge task of making a home and carrying on through years and years of ups and downs is not one of the very few truly worthwhile ways to spend our energies and gifts in human life?”

We create the atmosphere of our homes. And we are largely unconscious of how we make it. But it begins and ends with our own relationship with Jesus. Is it living and vital, not a last year’s faith, but a faith of today, of this right-now moment? If we are unhappy because we have not known what it is to be filled deep down in our souls by the One whose love means more to us than our bank balance, our self-image, or our failures, then our children and those who enter our homes will feel it. But if the hard things—and heaven help us, they are many—are all tempered by the sweetness of the peace we have in our Savior, then those who come within our walls will not remember the circumstance, but rather our peace and our joy in the face of the circumstance.

What a great privilege and duty it is to help set the tone of our homes! How important it is that I find my joy in that which truly satisfies so I can pass that joy to the others who enter my home. I can do my children no greater service than to think deeply and act boldly to create the aspects so vital to developing a rich home atmosphere. How will I work to create an atmosphere where each person matters immensely, where compassion is a muscle exercised often, where books, and music, and art are laid before my children regularly like a feast, where vastly diverse people are routinely welcomed and served within our walls, where conversations rise above the frivolous, where laughter leaves us wrinkled in all the right places, and where Jesus is enjoyed and exalted in manifold ways throughout our days and years.

Would you think about this with me? It matters deeply.

 

Homes matter. And creating a life-giving home is a calling that every adult, single, married, widowed, with children or without, has. Because homes are not only our refuge but our outposts of ministry, we should give thought to the atmosphere we create within them. We should pray that the Lord would make them alive with His work within them.

Want to keep digging deeper and living bolder? Keep exploring with me here at Live Expectantly. I expect God to keep showing up in our lives and in our homes and to keep hearing from Him if we have the ears to hear. Stick around. Let’s see what He wants to tell us. And if you haven’t become a fan on Facebook or signed up to receive these posts in your inbox, would you take a minute to do so? Now that you’ve followed this crumb-trail of words here, I’d hate for us to lose each other.

Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

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The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

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Less Than Picture Perfect

 

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It is the end of the day with my three little ones and I am spent. It hasn’t been a bad day, or even an unusual one for that matter. In fact, perhaps it is the very sameness of this day from the day which went before it which has me worn so thin.

So many words have left my mouth today: a litany of “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that!”, “Be careful!”, “Obey!”, “Listen.”, “Come here!”, “Be still,” and “Leave your brother alone.” Along with them comes a steady stream of reminders to say, “Please,” and “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” There are reminders to pray, reminders to wash, reminders to share, reminders to brush, reminders to flush, reminders to show kindness, respect, and care. There is explaining, defining, and demonstrating. There are attempts at humor and times when the words come too hard or too soft.

And in case your days go blurry like mine with a dizzying torrent of no’s and stop’s and listen’s, let me just remind you that the fact that your days are full of words like these is not an indication that you are failing as a parent. But rather it is an indication that you are doing the hard business of training and instructing, correcting and paying attention to the details of raising small humans into (hopefully) responsible, loving, and generous adults one day.

Somehow, though, I think we all are surprised by the constancy of this need for discipline and training. We think we must be doing something wrong, or must have much more difficult children than so-and-so because our days are spent this way. When we come to the end of the day and we have had to reprimand them, repeat ourselves, and explain basic principles of decency and decorum, we feel at our wits’ end when really this is just the business of parenting.

Have we really been hoodwinked into expecting children to come out of the womb already kind and courteous, thoughtful and sensitive? Do we think somehow that doing the right thing and the hard thing (sharing, completing chores, stopping fun things to do challenging or laborious ones, leaving friends, listening to our body’s need for rest) should somehow come easily to them when it is often just as hard for us?

All of us are born bent and broken. And we don’t straighten out on our own. We need training, discipline and instruction. Change is not easy for any of us, and perhaps it is especially not easy for our little ones.

The point, and its simple, my friend, but worth re-stating: this constant need for discipline and instruction is the normal state of parenting affairs, especially when parenting very little ones. Don’t add to your burden by thinking you are failing, or that your children are, or that such repetitive need for instruction simply should not be. Our days are hard enough without unnecessary weights of guilt, inadequacy or shame.

Perhaps if we could stop thinking our days ought to be full of one pastel-filtered Instagram moment after another, we would be less ruffled by the normal childishness of our children. Perhaps if we could accept the rawness of our real moments, we’d find more satisfaction and less frustration in the importance of our roles in shaping that raw material into men and women of godly habits and character.

So don’t be flustered by your children’s misbehavior; seize the moment as an opportunity to explain what is right, good and true, as an opportunity to do the very hard but important job you’ve been called to do: parenting.

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Counting Down to Christmas: Joy & Jesus Entwined

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My three year-old sits in the tub sporting a Santa beard made of bubbles. He’s alternately slurping hottish cocoa from a sippy cup and slathering his almost 2 year old brother with foam from their peppermint-scented bubble bath. They are a slippery, giggly mess as I get them out of the tub, the toddler darting naked, trailing frothy bubbles in his wake. Once pajama-clad and snuggling in next to me, we read the old, old story of a humble birth in a stable and I breathe in the sweet smell of their pepperminty hair. I hope the smell of candy-canes will remind me of these moments when I’m old and gray. And I hope it will remind them of joy, and Jesus, and laughter when their faces are no longer boyishly smooth.

We’ve been making memories at our house this Christmas season, ones which I hope will entwine the joy of Jesus with the joys of the season, of home, and of laughter. A few years ago, when all I had was one in diapers, I bought a huge advent calendar with pockets to hang on the wall at Christmastime. At that time I had no idea what I’d do with those pockets. Candy, perhaps? I’d figure it out when I got there.

When I got there—er here, two more kids in diapers later—daily sugar for my already energetic boys didn’t seem like such a bright idea. I’d fill the pockets with something else. But what? Finally, I landed on the idea of counting down the days with a Christmas bucket list of sorts. Meanwhile, I stumbled on a Bible-reading plan that would take us through their Jesus Storybook Bible each night as we count the days to Christmas. One of the themes of this children’s Bible is that every story whispers His name. And so we point to Jesus each night as we read these stories and hang our hand-made ornaments, representing each Bible story, on the tree. After our Bible reading is over, the oldest picks a note from the pocket of our calendar that reveals what’s on our Christmas countdown list for that night.

advent collage 2The whole routine is met with daily expectation and glee. From the time they get up, my oldest is asking when it will be time to “do Advent.” I love it and so do they. And here’s the thing: Jesus and joy go hand in hand each day as we count the days to Christmas. And this is how it should be. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. The season’s songs remind us of this truth. Jesus’ birth is the birth of true Joy. It is the Hallelujah moment the world had been waiting to sing. And as I cultivate traditions of Christmas celebration in our house, I want these two words—Jesus and joy—to always be entwined. I want Jesus and Joy to be the centerpiece of our celebration.

The world will always whisper lies-that joy is found elsewhere. It whispers it to you and to me. One day it will whisper this lie to my boys. When and if they taste of the world’s pleasures and find them empty, I want them to remember a time and a place where fun was found in personal relationships that had meaning, where you didn’t have to numb yourself to feel good, where a few simple laughs were enough to fill you. I want them to remember a place where they felt like themselves and that that place was filled with Jesus. I want them to remember those stories that whispered the name of Jesus, that name that Joseph named his baby boy when joy invaded the earth.

 

~*~

Here’s a link to the Jesus Storybook Bible and the reading plan and ornaments we’ve been using. And here’s a little peak at our personal Christmas bucket list. Enjoy the season and no matter the Christmas traditions you cultivate, make the joy of Jesus the centerpiece of your home.

1. Make an advent wreath for the table.
2. Make Christmas cards to send to the cousins.
3. Make Snowflakes to hang on the window.
4. Have French toast and hot chocolate for dinner.
5. Turn Christmas music up loud and have a dance party.
6. Read about the real St. Nicholas and have St. Nick’s b-day celebration. Practice secret acts of service.
7. Go see a live Nativity.
8. Make a Bethlehem star to hang in the kids’ room.
9. Have a game night.
10. Take a peppermint bubble-bath.
11. Make a snow globe.
12. Pick out a gift together from World Vision catalog for a needy family in the Third World.
13. Pop popcorn and watch a Christmas movie.
14. Go with parent to pick out a gift for other parent and siblings.
15. Drink eggnog.
16. Call relatives and sing Christmas carols.
17. Spend the day doing Random Acts of Kindness.
18. Act out the nativity story.
19. Read Christmas stories under the Christmas tree.
20. Make Christmas cookies.
21. Have dinner by candlelight on the shortest night of the year.
22. Make popcorn strands for the tree.
23. Drive around to see Christmas lights.
24. Attend the Christmas Eve candle-light service at church.
25. Sing Happy Birthday Jesus and read the Christmas story.

 

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