Christmas Presence

My seven-year-old son made a grid-like calendar with pencil and computer paper; and he taped it to his wall next to his bed with scotch tape. This happened back in November and I believed he was counting down the days to his December birthday, or maybe even Christmas. I knew he was eagerly anticipating something to be so intentional with that pencil-drawn calendar scotch taped to his wall—each night he faithfully crossed off the day, each morning he accurately recited the date.

But then, his birthday came and went and he kept counting down—I assumed he was waiting for Christmas but I wondered . . . I finally asked him, “what is this thing that you are waiting for?”

He quickly replied, “Mom, you said I would need to wait six weeks until after your surgery before I could give you a big hug again. Every day when I used to get off of the bus, you stood in the front yard waiting for me, and I ran and jumped on you to give you a big welcome-home hug. I really miss that. I am counting down until six weeks after your surgery. I miss you standing in the front yard. I really miss those big hugs.”

My sweet son. My double mastectomy and reconstruction season has kept me from standing in the front yard with big welcome-home hugs every day. In this season, my children have been gently hugging me around my hips. I just had no idea how greatly my son missed my physical presence in the front yard. It seems like such a simple and mundane thing—standing in the front yard with a welcome home hug—but to my child, this mundane thing to me was everything to him.

This is how my children amaze me. They live with child-like excitement and wonder. They make calendars and count down to big welcome-home hugs. Children understand the importance of presence—so much so they want to be in the bathroom with you—children care about snuggles, and hugs, and books read before bedtime, and belly laughs over Apples to Apples. This is a good reminder to me in the busyness and what can feel like the mundane of the holiday season. My children teach me the importance of presence.

It’s not about what we are doing with our children during the holidays—it is about whether or not we are present with them in the moments.  Are we there just physically, or are we there wholly—seeking to enter in to the child-like excitement and wonder?

As I have grown-up, my task list has increased as well as my worries; I sometimes feel the importance of a second cup of coffee greater than the importance of Christmas Presence.

Presence is defined as existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. Presence is entering in and engaging with others in the front yard welcome-home hugs of every day life. Presence is wholly living and evidence of holiness—dwelling among the little ones God has given to us.

Christmas Presence is living like Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us), Matthew 1:23.

Jesus came to Earth to give the world the gift of Christmas Presence. As humans we needed a God who would dwell among us. Presence, dwelling, and wholly living are the balm to all the longings of our human hearts—even when we are grown and we all too easily forget—glory is seen in the presence and the dwelling. Glory is seen in a God who knows our humanity because He dwelt among us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:14.

Christmas Presence is the greatest gift. As parents, we get to show this kind of love to our children. I don’t want to been grown and forgetful, I want to be child-like with the kind of excitement that causes me to make a grid-like calendar and scotch tape it to my bedroom wall—I want to long for presence more than I long for more coffee.

I want to live like Jesus with those around me, I want to be present and live wholly. I want to see the beauty of an every day welcome-home hug. Christmas Presence is what our hearts are all longing for, it is why we need a God who would dwell among us. It is children who are sweet reminders of the gift of Christmas Presence—counting down to the simple and important things like welcome-home hugs.

If you have grown and forgotten about Christmas Presence, there is great hope in a God who fully sees you, loves you, died for you, forgives you, and longs for you to return to him. He doesn’t require you to do anything but turn to him, he is waiting with a welcome home hug.

How To Respond To Teacher Welcome Letters

As a mom who was once a classroom teacher, I have been on a journey of learning how to come alongside the four public school teachers who love on my four children all year long.

I purchase everything on the school supply lists as well as the extras on the wish lists, but there is an extra thing I do that I wanted to share with all of you; as a former teacher and a sub who recently served in a two-and-a-half week long-term placement in kindergarten… teaching is hard… and teachers need reminders of parental love and support all year long. Teachers need to feel love and support not just in August and September, but in January, February, and March as well.

new heritage

When I receive the welcome letters upon my child’s placement, I usually respond with a note that I am willing to help in anyway I possibly can. I can cut lamination from my couch while watching television, make copies, change bulletin boards, coordinate parties, and even pray for my children’s teachers throughout the year.

I also respond with this list I have developed, revised, and revised again throughout my five years of being a parent with school-aged children:

What are your favorite things?
Birthday:
Birthday cake flavor:
Favorite flower:
Favorite candy:
Favorite gum/mints:
Favorite hand lotion:
Favorite homemade dessert:
Favorite drink (all):
Favorite lunch place (and even order):
Favorite dinner place:
Favorite sports teams:
Favorite date night spots:
Favorite places to take your kids:
Favorite color: 
Favorite drink from Starbucks:
Favorite kinds of teacher pens:
Other favorite teacher things:
Favorite scent at Bath and Body:
Favorite Yankee Candle scent:
Monogram:
Coffee Mugs or Water Bottles:

 

This list personally equips me, as a parent, to care for my classroom teachers throughout the school year. If I am at Starbucks on my way to school before my volunteer slot, I try to remember to bring something in for my classroom teacher as well.

If I am stopping in to help make copies and I know my classroom teacher loves Diet Coke, I drive thru McDonalds before I go to the school.

When my family and I show up at Meet the Teacher, we always try to bring something off of the teacher’s favorite things list.

Then I share this list with others.

As a public school family, we are just a small piece of the larger classroom community. It takes the whole classroom community to love and support a teacher. Sometime in September, I take the above list once it is filled out by the classroom teacher, and I share it with the whole class along with a Sign Up Genius link for families to sign up to bring in a small treat for our classroom teacher every other Friday. This is a small way we can show our encouragement, love, and support for our classroom teachers who love and support our children every single day.

When it comes time for Christmas gifts and End of the Year gifts, the above Favorite Things List comes in handy too!

My hope is this Favorite Things List will equip you to love your teachers all year long and not just during back to school time. Teachers need our love and support all year long. They support our children all year long and this is a small way we can show our continuous appreciation.

At the End of Patience

Raise your hand if you are ready for school to start. Are you finding yourself at the end of your patience?

I love my children and the slowness of summertime. I love the freedom to go to the pool, ride bikes, catch fireflies, and the excuse to eat more ice cream than normal. We have had a sweet summer, but as we inch closer to the start of school the inches of my patience are slowly disintegrating.

My Close Knit Kids Are Tried Of One Another

At the beginning of the summer it was so sweet to see my four children reunited. They played well, shared their toys, and encouraged one another. After two months together, I have noticed a large increase in tattling, screaming, and selfishness.

Just yesterday, a dear friend and mentor called me and when I picked up the phone there were children screaming in the background. Last night we came home from church camp and my children were screaming in the driveway.

I Am Tired

You all, I am so tired. I mean how many times can I say my coined momma phrases with a Mary Poppins attitude?

Listening is loving.

Ask a question if you want something instead of demanding it.

If someone asks us to stop we stop. 

First is not the worst when we get in the car. 

God has given your younger siblings two parents, and you as a sibling have the freedom to not be their parent. 

You are playing too rough.

No biting.

If our brother asks us to eat a piece off the cactus in his room, you don’t have to do it.

I have lost touch with my inner Mary Poppins in the recent days, found myself to be more like Maleficent, and I have wanted to give up.

God Is Not Tired

I was soberly convicted this morning about my impatience and lethargy when it comes to hanging in there with my children for these last few weeks of summer. God has never given up on me in seasons where I have been doing much worse than eating cactus. God is a pursuing God, God is an active God, and God is a patient God.

When we find ourselves tired as parents, we can find everlasting patience in Him.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,  and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40: 29-31).

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

As I stepped out of my feelings of weariness this morning I refocused on God and His Word. It is a high calling to show my children Jesus, and a great privilege. I am so grateful that God’s mercies are new every morning and today can be the first new day to model repentance and faith to my children.

How Can We Walk Alongside Those Who Are Tired When We Are Tired Ourselves?

First, we repent of our shortcomings and lack of patience with our children and we remind them of the truth that God is a pursuing and patient God.

Then we point our children to truth in God’s Word. I used a short devotional today from Susan Hunt’s Big Truths for Little Kids.

Next we pray. We explain to our children that the kind of love and patience we are asking for is supernatural and cannot be accomplished in human strength. We love simply because God first loved us.

And in a few short hours, we will probably do this all over again. This is perseverance and a testimony of a real an active God to our children.

Hope For Those Who Are Tired

Today, I am thankful for a pursuing God who is teaching me to depend on His patience instead of my dried-up well of human patience. This is a truth I know, but even though I know the truth, as a human, sometimes, I fail to walk in the truth.

God is redeeming His people all the time. We simply need to come to Him. I pray I can show my children more of my  life of  dependence upon a loving and patient God rather than a worn out mother operating out of a dried-up well of human patience.

God never tires. His mercies are new every morning. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Great is His faithfulness, even when He needs to remind me of the same thing over and over again.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 28-30).

What Kind of Mother Are You?

For some reason, when I think of my mother being alongside me during this season of motherhood, I sometimes imagine her shoulder-length red hair, her social boldness, and I imagine her asking me the question, “What kind of mother are you?”

From what I can remember of my mother, this question comes from a story passed down in my family or passed around amongst her friends. These stories mostly about the times the women before me have screwed something up during this season of motherhood, picked themselves back up, and then dusted themselves off to learn from their mistakes. What kind of mother are you, feels more like the punch line in all the ironies of motherhood, much more than deeply rooted criticism.

When my first child was an infant I had dreams of being the perfect mother. Perfection is always the longing of my heart when it comes to most things. However, in God’s goodness, these threads of perfectionism are slowly being unraveled away as I learn to embrace there are no perfect mothers in this world, there are only weak and broken mothers holding fast to the only one who is perfect, Jesus.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) I need this verse not just in small doses every day, sometimes I need to be walloped upside the head by this truth.

I do not hold up the world when it comes to my children, or my parenting, it is God, the Maker and Sustainer of the universe using our family as a microscopic part in the greater redemptive story of the whole world.

Cue my scary, humbling, story … it has taken me eight months to get to a place where I felt like I could write about this humbling place in motherhood. As you are reading this, visualize me as the clenched teeth emoji.

Last summer I was walloped upside the head with the truth that He must increase, but I must decrease. I am not called to be a superwoman, but I am called to be a super-dependent woman, upheld by the strength of the gospel.

It was Fourth of July Week and my oldest son was experiencing some severe stomach pains. I was certain he had a kidney stone, or his appendix was about to rupture. My son and I spent two back to back nights in the emergency room, I was a walking zombie by the third day. I had slept less than 2 hours at a time in 60 hours. Normally, when my kids are awake, I am awake. Even the slightest inkling of a movement or the onset of vomiting, I jolt awake. Motherhood has given me ninja-like reflexes, even in my deepest of sleeps.

Once my oldest was on the mend, I was able to experiece my first full night of rest. I was beyond exhausted and when my three year old arose for the day at 6am, I walked her down to the television, turned on Bubble Guppies, gave her and her five year old brother who had joined us by this point their morning warm milk, (warming morning milk for my three a five year old is still a crazy thing I do) and told them I’d be back downstairs at seven-zero-zero. In the age of digital time, this is how I communicate seven o’clock to my young children.

The next thing I know, it is eight-thirty and my husband is waking me. God has knitted me together to be an early riser, my husband NEVER has to wake me. As he wakes me he says something like, “Well, the police just rang the doorbell. They asked me if I knew where my children were.”

To my (at the moment) extreme surprise, shock, anger, and shame I discovered my children, while I was sleeping, had opened the front door at seven-zero-zero in the morning, my less than one year old puppy ran out the front door of our home, and my three and five year old chased after our dog to find themselves in a completely different neighborhood. My babies were lost in this big world.

And crying.

My three-year old still in her soaked and droopy to her knees overnight diaper.

A sweet hero woman, called 911 when she found them.

What kind of mother am I? It is so easy to see this question through the damaging lens of shame in this moment. That I am a very bad mother.

Then it is easy to self-justify.

You all. I am a good member of our community. My husband is a good pastor of a Bible believing church. I am a good school teacher. I serve in our local schools as a decent substitute teacher. I lead a very good women’s ministry team at our church. I bring meals to people when they are in need. My resume is neat and tidy.

But none of these good things mattered in this moment. In this moment, the only thing that mattered was: What kind of mother I am. A mother, doing the best she can, one day at a time, firmly clinging to Jesus. When shame creeps in, I need not to think about what I am, but what I believe in.

I believe in a good God, redeeming me and my family, even when the police are at the front door of my very good and clean home because I don’t know where my children are.

He must increase, but I must decrease. This is a small thread in the unraveling of my unbelief.

What kind of mother am I?

Shame says, you are a very bad mother. What kind of mother loses her children? Don’t ever share this memory, keep it in the dark. Let it fester, and cluster to all the other lies you believe.

The gospel says, when you are weak I am strong.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Can you imagine all of the horrible things that could have happened to my precious three year old daughter and five year old son? Believe me, I have imagined them all.

Can you see how God protected them? How He sustained them? How He brought them back home to me when I was weak? How He used His community of neighbors, police officers, and grace to display His strength and goodness to my family?

If my mom was still here, alongside me in this season of motherhood and this question came up between us… What kind of mother am I? I would answer, I’m an okay mother with a very Good God.

It is only by His grace. As perfection unravels, and I decrease, He increases. His power is perfectly displayed.

What kind of mother are you?

Valentine’s Day Coma

My third year of teaching was the year I watched a completely sweet, wonderful, kind first grader rip open the end of a pixie stick and chug it down. Minutes later, my sweet student, she snapped. The sugar high in full force. Talking a mile a minute, I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t help but giggle. I can only imagine the Valentine’s Day coma she experienced after her bus ride home.

Currently, I am ten years from that moment with my own four children home from Valentine’s Day parties. My kitchen table covered in tiny notes, lollipop wrappers, tiny treasures, and Fun Dips. Ninety-two if I don’t add teacher Valentines into my classmate count to be exact.

Fun Dips (side note) the equivalent, or possibly worse than, a pixie stick.

I never thought I’d be the mom to let them pile their treasures on the kitchen table, currently my four year old has four lollipop sticks hanging out of her mouth. My heart isn’t fretting the sugar high, followed by the Valentine’s Day sugar coma. In my nine years of mothering four, I’d much rather rip the band aid of V-Day candy off quickly, rather than experience the slow burn of hoarding heart shaped  candy until Easter… okay, maybe until Halloween… some years.

As I survey the ninety-two Valentines on my kitchen table, it’s my own coma I am concerned about.

I’m the mother who purchased the ninety-two Fun Dips. My children’s names are signed on each of them. A Valentine easy on the allergies, and a candy pretty easy for primary aged children to write their names on.

Unfortunately, I have a wandering heart. My heart so prone to wander over to the places where I am more concerned about what others think about the kind of mother I am instead of finding true satisfaction in the fact that I’m the kind of mom  just trying to hold this whole motherhood thing together with a little faith and ninety-two Fun Dips.

As I surveyed the creative Valentines on my kitchen table, the personalized Pinterest Crafts, the beautifully put together goodie bags, my heart compared my pixie stick like Fun Dips to what I saw before me. So easily I saw myself as worse. In my mind I saw myself as judged as the Fun Dip mom.

What is the most important medicine for me and my heart prone to wander is that I am not judged by the kind of Valentines I send to school. I think I am judged, but what I think is simply not true.

I have to be intentional to balm my mind in these moments with the truth of scripture. As I survey my kitchen table and consider my own comparison Valentine’s Day coma, I have to remember it is comparison that steals my joy as a mother.

Scripture is so clear when I battle myself in these moments, ” I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

In my own Fun Dip coma, my truth is, I don’t even judge myself it is the Lord who judges me.

This is the balm I need for my own mind as I battle comparison over the ninety-two Valentines on my table.

I am the Fun Dip mom. I am seen, I am known, and I am deeply loved by God.’

This is the truth I preach to myself as comparison may seep through the cracks. This is the truth I need in my own personal Valentine’s Day coma. Comparison is the thief of joy.

The Fun Dip mom is who I am. And that is simply okay.