Tag Archives: God

Encouraging generosity, global awareness and perspective in kids

During our engagement, my husband and I read an article about a family that encouraged generosity and global awareness in their children by involving them in decisions about charitable giving.  We knew we wanted to adapt their method for our own kids, but 9 years – and 4 children – later, we were still talking about our plan to do that someday.

Well, for Lent this year, we decided to stop waiting until we had time to really come up with a perfected system for our family and just dive in now.  I feel a little weird writing about this, but I’m sharing what we are doing for 2 reasons: (1) we benefit so much when others share their ideas and (2) we know we could be doing it a lot better and are open to suggestions.

Here are the basics:

(1)   We told the kids that every Sunday during Lent this year, they are going to learn about one problem in the world and one organization that is trying to help address that problem.

(2)   Each week, we are going to pray for the people affected by the problem and the organization trying to help them.

(3)   At the end of Lent, we’ll review the different organizations (and problems they address) and the kids can decide which organization will receive some money from our family.

So far, we’ve focused on organizations that have short video clips on their websites, but we’re hoping to expand to other mediums this week.  So far, with the videos, we have been very careful about what we show and we talk to the kids about what they’re going to see in advance.  Only one of our kids can read, so we read the captions for them during the video.  And I talk over parts of the videos as I offer explanations for what the kids are seeing.  (The explanations are important as these videos aren’t made for the purpose of easy understanding by young kids, but they are powerful if shown in conjunction with explanation.)

Here are the videos we’ve shown so far.

(1)   From “Project Night Night” (http://projectnightnight.org)…We  summarized their efforts (detailed on the homepage) for our kids, then showed them the video.  The organization basically makes sure that kids in shelters receive a bag that contains a security blanket, a stuffed animal and a book.  A $20 donation buys a bag.   The video is a simple photo montage of kids who give, and receive, bags. We also suggested to them that one of the places that currently needs bags is located in their Nana’s hometown, and we could actually buy the objects to put in the bag and send it with Nana if they chose that organization (and if Nana was willing to do the delivery…what do you say, Nana?!).  Here’s the video…

Project Night Night Video/Photo Montage

(2)   From “Charity: Water” (http://www.charitywater.org/)… I was initially nervous about showing this video due to the soundtrack and some hard images (our oldest is 6), but I’m so glad we did.  Our kids’ reaction was amazing.  As they were watching, we emphasized that some people had to drink that dirty water and that helping build a well would mean clean water for everyone in a village.  Almost 2 weeks later, S pointed at a ditch full of dirty rainwater beside the road and said, “There are people in the world that have to drink water like that, but I’m sending pennies to help them.”  Another powerful thing about this video is that is says the average lifespan in this part of the world is 39.  We told our kids that dad and mom would both be 39 this year and aren’t we lucky that we live in a place with peace and clean water so that moms and dads live so much longer.  That really made an impression on them (but was a risk, as we don’t want them thinking about the possibility of us dying!)  Anyway, this video really made our kids think – in a good way.

(3)   From the Make a Wish foundation (www.wish.org).  We chose a video about a girl who wished to meet a real ballerina (1) because our girls totally related to that and (2) because the girl in the video gets better.  To introduce this, we emphasized that some kids are very sick and that Make a Wish offers them something fun to think about instead of thinking about being in the hospital.  (Like being able to focus on the sucker, instead of the shot sort of thing.)  Our kids still talk about the girl in this video too.

After this video, we also emphasized to the kids that giving money is not the only way to help.  If the girl had wished for a chance to play at our house, would we have let her?  Of course.  The dancers in the video gave their time, etc.  My husband works for UNC and we talked about how if someone’s wish was to do something there, would they help dad arrange it?  In short, making the point that giving time, energy, etc. is very important.

Here’s the video:

(4)   Not sure what we’re showing the kids tomorrow, but may read them part of a letter about a family in our town who just lost their home to a fire and ask if they would like to contribute to a community effort to assist them.

What has amazed me so far about this:

(1)   I needed to be reminded that the blessing comes back 10-fold.  Since watching these videos, my own perspective has received a wonderful adjustment.  Instead of feeling like money is tight, I am overwhelmed by how rich I feel simply having a bed, clean water, healthy kids… I need that perspective and so do my kids.

(2)   The kids’ generosity.  At random points, they say “I want you to send our family money to that one when it’s time, mom”, but in the meantime, they have each individually come up to us and said “please send some of my pennies to all of them”.  One night, S disappeared after the video and we thought she was playing her Dora tamborine in her room.   Turns out she was shaking pennies out of her piggie bank so we could send them for her.  And she was very thoughtful about it.  6 pennies to this place, 6 pennies to that place, and 13 to the other…

(3)   The kids’ attention.  Several times this week, they have asked me if we’ll see another video on Sunday and if there’ any way they could watch it early.  And they are totally focused when the videos are on.  We’ll see how they do if tomorrow is me reading part of a letter.

What we still need to work on :

(1)   I need ideas for organizations and materials to introduce those organizations to our kids.  This is my real Lenten sacrifice…the time to search to find the right images and words to talk to our kids about this.

(2)   Our kids don’t get allowances and we haven’t talked to them much about money.  I would love to use some kind of system (they get 10 dimes, one goes to charity, one to savings, etc.) but we haven’t figured that out yet.  This would be a better project if they had some an understanding of money and some of their own money to give.

(3)   As kids get older, there are deeper conversations to have about all of this.  The point for our crew now is: (1) There are problems and good people working to fix them. (2) Our family helps.  You can help, and we’re so proud when you do. (3) We are blessed.  Appreciate what we have.

(4)   The prayer part.  I think the prayer for the people should be a bigger part of what we’re doing, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

Again, I feel a little weird writing this.  I don’t want to make it seem like we’re giving a lot.  And I don’t want to come across as anything other than someone who has procrastinated too long on an idea we learned about 9 years ago.  But I did want to share in case anyone else has ideas about how this can work, what resources we could use, or if anyone has been looking for an idea for their own kids.  So far, this has sparked some good conversations in our house and given me a reminder about the perspective I need to keep.

Hugs,

K

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Updates and photos from last month (part 1!)

So I’ve been AWOL (life has been busy!) and have been promising an update…

Here’s the short version: we’ve been having fun, which has involved a spring break “staycation”, a week recovering from that staycation (hello, laundry), a wonderful Easter, and then a great visit from Nana!

And here’s the longer version: updates and photos from our last month (part 1)…

Each girl got to pick one special “must do” for the week of spring break.  To my surprise (why did I think they would stay in my comfort zone?) E picked “make a dress for our dolls” and S picked “plant a garden”.  Holy moly.  I have no experience in either of those things.  (It did make me glad I asked however, since there is no way I would have put either one on a list of plans, and obviously they are unexplored areas of interest!)  Anyway, here we are at the fabric store…

fuzzy cell phone photo

After a “looking loop” around the store, each girl was allowed to pick out one yard of any fabric they wanted, and one foot of any ribbon they wanted.  E & S surprised me by both selecting the same fabric and ribbons.  (They wanted their dolls to match, I guess!)  T got a piece of fabric with cars on it that I hoped would become his new lovey, but alas that role was filled by the racecar and Toby train the Easter Bunny brought him.  Not conducive to sleeping – rolling over onto those loveys (especially Toby, who says “full steam ahead!” everytime T bumps him in the crib).  Oh well.  He loves them!

Anyway, here’s the dolls in their dresses.  Since I don’t know how to sew, these are more like glittery sackcloths, but they made the girls happy!

E said, “Her dress looks a little like a bathrobe, but I like it!”

Thanks to Nana who did an actual sewing lesson with the girls when she visited a few weeks after this (with a real sewing machine).  I keep a few cloths around the house for various things, and one now has random, festive stitches all over it.  An easy way to have the kids feel like they were “really sewing important things” (at least until the machine stopped working…anyone have a spare manual for a JC Penney sewing machine purchased in the mid 1980s?)  Here’s one of my new decorative cloths below.

Just look at that stitching! She’s a natural, I say! : )

We’re hoping to complete the set after (1) we figure out what’s going on with the sewing machine, and (2) Nana comes back to teach me how to thread and use it.

S’ project was the garden.  I am not a gardener, but we headed over to Home Depot (with their optimistic “You can do it.  We can help.” motto).  S & E picked out three things to plant (1) marigolds: the only flowers the deer won’t eat, (2) carrots: the only vegetable S will eat, and (3) basil: because the man who helped us said there was almost no way I could mess it up.

After hours and hours of shoveling, weeding, removing rocks, adding topsoil, planting, and lots of muddy shoes and jeans piling up on the porch, we have the smallest garden ever.  It is impressive only to me and the children.  (I promise, we truly have spent countless hours on it, but it is really only a 4 x 6 patch of ground with 12 flowers and some tiny sprouts that are either carrots or weeds…I honestly don’t know how to tell them apart, so I have no idea if I’m weeding, or ruining our only crop.  I am not kidding about this.)

The two big rocks on the left that we used to mark the rows of carrots and basil kind of look like gravemarkers for our struggling-to-survive garden. Seriously, is anything going to grow in that red clay? We added two huge bags of topsoil, but honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And in the interest of internet input, can someone please click on this photo to enlarge it and tell me if any of the green things sticking out of the ground look like the beginning of a carrot-top?

OK, so if you can fight the impulse to tell me we should have added more topsoil and removed more rocks (I promise, we were removing rocks for hours…), tell me instead which of these green leaves is a carrot sprouting, and which is a weed. Carrot at the top of the photo? Weed at the bottom? All weeds? Egads. I think I’m going to go to the grocery store, buy a bunch of fully grown carrots and plant them one night after the kids go to bed and then take everybody outside to harvest them the next morning. In case you think I’m kidding with this plan, I have already done my research. Apparently, they sell carrots at Whole Foods that still have the green leafy parts on top. Score!

Anyway, the kids love watering the flowers; it has been a fun adventure, and I give us an “A” for effort.  My grandma J, who – God rest her soul – (1) won all sorts of yard and neighborhood beautification awards, (2) was in charge of all the flowers for our church for decades and (3) grew the rose petals that lined the aisle of my wedding, would applaud our efforts too.  She would appreciate that at this stage of life, we are certainly process (as opposed to product) oriented!

My grandmother would also likely laugh at the fact that the flowers we are trying to grow are in a battle to survive, while the part of our yard that received no TLC and is “supposed” to be grassy is covered in the most lush display of flowery “weeds” you can imagine.  I mean, check out the photo below.

Yes, I love them. But honestly, “My kingdom for a carrot!”

The brick wall marks the property line between our house and the neighbors.  It’s like the weeds magically stop there (much to the delight of the girls, and to the dismay of my husband).

It is uncanny. I will say that these flowers provide hours of entertainment for the children, because they are determined that none of them be chopped by the lawn mower. Every time my husband says he’s going to mow the lawn, they sprint outside to pick all the flowers and cover my kitchen in bouquets. I will miss this stage so much when they grow out of it…sigh…at least then I will know that I really did try to enjoy it all in the moment.  Bring on the bouquets, girls!

Finally, since I mentioned the racecar and train that appeared in T’s Easter basket, let me include a few photos of the holiday.  We tried to capture the meaning of the season – telling the kids an age-appropriate version of the crucifixion and resurrection (when S heard Jesus died and came back to life, she said, “Hmm.  I think that’s what I’ll do too”, then let out that little breath that almost made it sound like “Well then, that’s one less thing to worry about.  What’s for dinner?”  It was a good opportunity to tell her we can all come back to life, and live forever in heaven.  (Happy belated Easter, everyone!)

Then there were the secular celebrations.  Here we are dyeing Easter eggs

T got a plastic egg and a cup of water, and was absolutely a part of it at the age of 1!

I know you can see the plastic egg in the photo…can you also see the clear plastic cup of water he dunked this egg into for half an hour? He kept yelling out random colors while he did it, mimicking the words his sisters were saying as they dyed their eggs. I remember taking this photo. He shoved the egg right at the camera and yelled “purple!” So we have the spirit of the activity covered…we’ll work on colors next year : )

S at our church egg hunt

Hunting eggs in our house Easter morning

E & S hunting eggs on Easter morning. Note that it is still pitch black outside the windows. The kids were so excited that they woke up insanely early. Also…note to self: ask the Easter Bunny to make a quick list of where the eggs are hidden. There was one we couldn’t find for a few days, and of course it was one of the real, hard boiled eggs. Fortunately, we did find it before the smell found us! I was like Kirk in that episode of Gilmore Girls, looking for the egg…anyone else remember that episode?!

We also enjoyed spending part of the weekend with cousins and the other part with friends.  Beautiful company, beautiful weather, beautiful time.  Love all y’all!

In the “less than beautiful” category…My deviled eggs didn’t turn out exactly right…

I had promised deviled eggs, then learned that I couldn’t use the boiled Easter eggs that were hidden overnight at room temperature (health risk, apparently), so I only had the two eggs left in the fridge to work with. Me in the kitchen + no spare ingredients = no room for error/recipe for disaster. My mother-in-law gave me this awesome tray to hold deviled eggs in, and I am embarrassed to say that these eggs were so misshapen they wouldn’t even fit in the tray. Oh well. This is why no one complains when I bring pre-packaged cookies to potluck gatherings.

Between the flowers and the eggs, my grandmother would finally have to admit that I inherited absolutely none of her talents…but my admiration for those talents is ever increasing grandma!  This gardening and cooking is tricky stuff!

More updates on S’ new obsession with cooking in the next post…  Here’s hoping she has inherited my grandma’s skill as well as her interest, and that she can take over the kitchen soon!  S is actually so into cooking right now that I’m thinking of arranging an apprenticeship with my Mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook and maybe planning to visit soon.  Are you up for it Grammy?!

I’ll leave you with a photo of the laundry that accumulated while we were doing all this other stuff.  The laundry problem was exacerbated by the fact that the week after spring break was unseasonably cold, which meant I could just shove all the dirty warm weather stuff deeper into the hamper and pull out all the winter things I had just put away.  End result?  Well, check out laundry day…

There are no people in the photo because we were all basically walking around in towels by this point.

My husband, never one to complain, actually looked at the growing pile shortly after spring break, sighed, and went out and bought himself new boxers.  True story.

(And lest that be misinterpreted, know that he is actually great about helping out with the laundry and everything else around the house, but in his infinite marital wisdom realized that buying a few new boxers was probably the best investment in overall domestic contentment.  And his wife says, “amen to that”.  I don’t need a six-week retreat in Fiji.  But occasionally, I do need a week of blissfully ignoring the laundry : )

So that’s part I of our update…to be continued with part II later.  Hope everyone else is enjoying spring too!

Tiny Souls; Big Responsibility

Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff, author of “Will Our Children Have Faith?” (full disclosure: I have never read the book), hosted a Q&A in our Christian Parenting Sunday School class this weekend.

My husband asked him if he had one piece of advice for the parents of young children, what it would be.

He responded by saying he would say three things:

 

(1)  Relax.

(2)  Be yourselves, and

(3)  Do things with your children, instead of for them or to them.

 

That’s pretty good advice, in my opinion.

He also answered lots of questions about how to teach children about spirituality.  The questions approached the issue from a variety of angles: how to help a child sort out real vs. not real (e.g. Bible stories, childhood characters, etc.), how to help children pray and understand prayers that seem to have gone unanswered, etc.

His answers had one basic theme. That theme was, work on your own faith, and you will more naturally become an example for – and understand how to help – your children.  From a slightly different angle, instead of trying to figure out what to teach your kids about a particular topic, figure out what you really believe and tell them that.

That seems like such a simple principle, but I will admit that it had eluded me until Dr. Westerhoff said it so plainly.  Before we struggle with how to convey our beliefs to our children, we have to know what we believe.

Maybe the kids are struggling with the reality of some Old Testament stories as they learn that their favorite Disney characters are make-believe.  Well, before answering their questions, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we really believe about the Bible?”

Before dealing with a child’s frustrations over prayers for a grandparent who is still sick, we need to ask ourselves “Well, what do we really believe about prayer?”

The shift in thinking struck a particular chord with me because my husband and I have been trying to figure out how to expose the kids to two different strands of the Christian tradition (My husband is Catholic; I considered myself a non-denominational Protestant until joining a Methodist Church several years ago and still prefer to be simply identified as “Christian”).

As we do this, I have been constantly asking myself, “What parts of each of our traditions would be important for the kids to experience?”

After hearing Dr. Westerhoff, I now believe I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of making the primary inquiry, “What would be good for the kids?”, my husband and I should be asking each other, “What parts of your faith background are important for you to experience as a part of your spiritual journey and commitments?”    If we both (1) carefully consider that question, (2) answer it honestly, (3) commit to experiencing those essential elements as a family (when it is age-appropriate for the kids to be involved and church-sanctioned to have a non-member spouse participate), and then (4) really think about all of it in terms of what overall experience that creates from the perspective of the kids, then we have our family’s spiritual roadmap.

I was greatly relieved to have a new framework, until I realized how much thoughtful work was going to be involved in this new approach.  So I leave you with this question:

Does anyone have any advice on how to answer such big questions relatively quickly while spending the bulk of our days chasing young children?  Because it would be nice to figure out what we believe and how to teach that before our kids are completely grown!

(I say this somewhat facetiously, because honestly, one of my key beliefs is that there are a few BIG TRUTHS we need to affirm over-and-over with our children (this is important), but the rest of the kids’ questions are ok for me to answer with, “Different people believe different things about that”, then ask the kids what they think, and admit that aside from those BIG TRUTHS, there are a lot of things I just really don’t know…”)

 

P.S.   I am still sorting all this out in my head and have mixed in my thoughts about specific issues (like beliefs about scripture and prayer) with my thoughts about an overall approach for choosing our family’s spiritual path.  That may mean this post comes across as confusing…My apologies if any part of it doesn’t make sense.

The merits of saying nothing…

I was cleaning up the kitchen, so I told the kids to play anything they wanted, as long as it didn’t require my assistance, and I mentally committed to letting them figure things out on their own for half-an-hour.  Still, I could hear snippets of their conversations and couldn’t resist peeking in at the process.

So when E pulled her top sheet off her bed and downstairs I thought, “that sheet is going to get so dirty down here”, but said nothing.

When S helped her spread it out on the living room’s hardwood floor I thought, “last time they did this with a blanket, with no rug pad, and it made such a slippery surface that someone fell”, but I said nothing.

When they dumped the whole box of lego duplos out on the floor and began separating the connected pieces and spreading them out on the sheet, I thought, “S is not wearing shoes!  She is going to step on a lego and hurt her foot!”, but I said nothing.

When they left the whole crazy mess to go color, I thought “they can’t just leave all of that there!”, but they were playing independently – just like I’d asked them to – so I said nothing.

When E asked me how to spell “botanical”, I said something – for the first time –  “B-O-T-A-N-I-C-A-L”

I also said something when they asked me to come look at what they had created.  I think my exact word was, “WOW!”

Check out what the kids can do when I step back, say nothing, and just let them go:  a botanical garden, made of lego-flowers, complete with signs welcoming bees and birds to come over and check it all out.

(I think I am wanting credit for showing restraint now, and for recognizing the merits of sometimes saying nothing, because when they are teenagers I am going to be all up in their business.)

God, as I raise these children, please help me know when to intervene, and when to bite my tongue and let my kids go & do & independently figure things out.

In the meantime, I think that’s a pretty great botanical garden!  (If you want to see the details they drew in the pictures, you can click on the photo to enlarge.)

Preparing for Lent

Lent is coming, and with it our family goal of growing closer to God through prayer, fasting and giving.

With the Lenten season approaching, I have really been thinking about what obstacles create distance between us and God, and how a focus on these three areas could help us remove those obstacles.

Here are my thoughts about our family commitments, arranged by element.

(1)  prayer: We’ve had problems with family prayer time this year.  The kids used to do a rhyming type of prayer at bedtime, then pray for family members at the end (i.e. God Bless Grammy and Grandpa, Aunt A, etc…).  It was good in theory, but  honestly, the whole prayer became a lyric the kids didn’t really understand followed by an exercise in remembering family names, and then an argument over who would say the girls’ names vs. the boys’.  At some point, all meaning was lost and I threw up my hands in frustration.  This Lent, I am committed to finding a format for kids bedtime prayers that works better for us.  I am begging for suggestions!  Particularly for a prayer that kids can really understand (or I can explain)…  I also need to get better at my own, grown-up prayer life, but that is a whole ‘nother blog post.

(2)  fasting: One of the barriers between our family and Christ is the way my general level of business and fatigue distracts/prevents me from spiritual time with the kids.  This year, to the best of my ability, I am going to empty our minds of everything for 5-10 minutes a day except a focus on a family devotional.

Here’s my confession:  Last year, I had a Lenten goal of doing one devotional a day with the kids, in hopes that 40 days would be long enough to make it a real family habit.  Although I managed to purchase the devotional book I wanted to use, I absolutely failed at making it part of our daily routine.  I think part of the problem was that I envisioned doing it at night, but it required enthusiasm and energy I just didn’t always have at that time of day.  This year, with my husband’s support, I am going to do it during our after school story time.  He will still be at work, but I think it will work better for the kids and me, and we can reinforce the devotional message by taking turns telling dad about it over dinner.  This may seem like an odd form of “fasting”, but the reality is that our afternoon quiet time begins right after stories, and prioritizing a devotional will delay or cut into that quiet time on some days.  The kids and I both need that time, but we need this devotional to become a part of “what we do” more.  So we’re going to*try* to alter or give up whatever we need to make a family devotional happen during this Lenten season.

(3)  giving: We are embracing the 40 bags in 40 days challenge.  The basic idea is to move 40 bags out of your house, whether it is to a good will, a dump, or wherever else.  For me, this challenge is important for three reasons:

  1. I feel at peace and free (and believe I will be better able to focus on the two Lenten elements above) when the house is decluttered and organized.  This is just an element of my personality, I think.  I don’t care if a surface is mopped, dusted, etc. but if it’s covered in stuff, I feel like I’m suffocating, and it’s hard for me to focus on anything.
  2. Decluttering is a great way to think about “want vs. need”.  Not that we will get rid of everything that’s a want (or even close), but we will get rid of some, and it will put the “wants” we keep in the proper perspective and us in the right frame of mind: gratitude for what we have instead of stinginess about the things we need to let go of.
  3. This exercise is going to challenge me to truly live in the present, which requires perspective and faith.  I think we currently have too many things that are about the past (some nostalgia is great, but we don’t need to hang onto everything…I am planning to take photos of some items then let them go), or things that are “stored up in barns” for the future (to cover all those “but what if this happens?”).  There are plenty of people who could – in this present moment – be served by the things we are hanging onto because of a past attachment or a possible future need.   And we would be well served by (a) a less cluttered environment, (b) the reduction in effort needed to care for or clean those things, and (c) the peace of mind (i.e. sane mama) that results when the house has less stuff and more empty space.

I am still working on all the details, but these are the general thoughts at this point.  I also have one other Lenten goal that is less about the family and more about me (at least at this point), but it’s private…I will likely share at some point, but need to think more about what it means.

Finally, I want to share some of the ideas that my friend Queen B posted last year that I find absolutely inspirational.  I’m not sure if we’ll get to these this year or not, but they are on my mind for future years, and definitely worth passing along in case anyone else is looking for ideas.

(1)  prayer: having the kids add a link to a prayer chain each day during Lent

(2)  fasting: in addition to abstaining from meat on Fridays, the kids would select one item from the pantry to be placed in a box that would go to a food pantry

(3)  giving: a jar of dried beans placed next to a small empty easter basket, and each time a family member does a good deed or something especially nice, they move a bean into the basket.  She then explained to the kids that “on Easter morning, when Jesus Is Risen, the dried beans will be replaced with jellybeans, representing the new creation we become through Christ: the old is gone and the new has come!  (2 Cor 5:17)”.  I must also say that Queen B has one of the best posts about love and justice I have ever read, and she credits reflecting on this jellybean activity with providing those insights.  Inspirational, especially since I can imagine this activity is somewhat difficult to manage with kids.

I’ll end by reminding you that we are struggling with regards to kids’ bedtime prayers, and would love suggestions via e-mail or comments.  Is there a childhood prayer that is particularly meaningful for you?

Here’s wishing you a meaningful Lenten season that brings you and yours closer to God.

Christmas Recap, Part 3, the Final Chapter (Alternate Title: A focus on Christ during Christmas…what we tried, how it went, and what we want to try next year)

This is the last long post about our Christmas season. I have posted about the joy of being with family and the fun of elves and Santa.  Here I want to recap how we try to keep the focus on Christ.  I feel a little strange about the post for two reasons:

(1) Sometimes an effort to focus on The True Meaning of Christmas comes across as a judgment against all the other parts of Christmas.  For the record, I am not someone who necessarily believes that our tinsel and lights and Santa distract from our focus on Christ.  Quite the contrary, for us they are an absolute expression of joy, faith, generosity and love.  While I respect the act of quiet contemplation and seek it out when I can, I think part of being a parent is finding God in the hustle and bustle.  I love finding Him in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, especially when the kids and I are happily bustling around doing fun Christmassy things together.  (This does not include shopping, which I do try to finish early.)  Someday I will write a whole essay about this, but today is not the day!

(2) I worry that an explanation of how we try to keep the focus on Christ will come across as a “look what we do, we have it all together” kind of thing.  I assure you we don’t.  The reality is we are trying to get it together, and part of that process for us is learning what other people do.  I have benefited tremendously from dialogue with friends (and other bloggers) about holiday traditions, which encourages me to continue that dialogue here.

With that in mind, here’s how we tried to keep the focus on Christ and how I am hoping to improve on our efforts next year!

We begin by framing the holiday as a big birthday celebration for Jesus.  Our preschool makes this easy by throwing Jesus an actual birthday party, and a friend told us about a family tradition that we have adopted as our own: making the dessert at Christmas dinner a birthday cake for Christ.  I forgot to make a picture of the birthday cake, but the reality is that no one ate ours this year anyway, since S coughed all over it as she was helping Jesus blow out his candles.  In case you are wondering, yes, that did mean that I served Twix bars for dessert at Christmas dinner!

We have three nativities at our house.  The one in the yard is from my childhood home.  I asked Nana to bring it up because (1) she was looking to share it with someone (i.e. we didn’t take it and leave her yard bare!), and (2) it is a big, gaudy display of neon Jesus-spirit that just feels so right sitting in front of a home during the holidays.

(E had two funny reactions to this when Nana brought it to us.  The first was asking if she could keep the three foot high Mary in her room as a nightlight.  Already, she is finding comfort in the Virgin Mother, I suppose!  The second was about a week before Christmas when she viewed all our lawn ornaments and noted that Jesus and Santa had completely burned out.  This left all the adults within earshot humorously wondering – if Jesus and Santa were feeling that way, how the rest of us were supposed to make it through the rest of the holiday festivities?! : )

Anyway, here’s a photo of Mary, who did a quick detour into E’s room en route from the attic to the yard:

I would be comforted by this as a nightlight in my room as well, I think!

The other two nativities are inside the house: a breakable one that was my Grandmother’s and is displayed on a table that used to belong to her (and still smells like the perfume that she kept in the cabinet), and a cloth one that the kids can play with.

The cloth nativity set contained the Jesus that was offered a room in the Barbie Mansion.  Innkeeper Barbie and her guests are pictured below.

note that several of the characters have either been knocked down amid the daily chaos that engulfs the Barbie mansion, or they are bowing before the Christ child...I prefer the latter interpretation

and a close-up…

I learned of another interesting tradition this year that I’m going to think about: leaving the nativity’s manger empty until Jesus appears in it Christmas morning. I love the idea of this, and we might do this with the more fancy nativity.  However, I think I like having the one pictured above around for the kids to play with throughout the season.

During Advent, E also sang (like an angel) and bleated (while dressed as a sheep) in the church Christmas pageant.  There are no pictures, as my husband was ill that evening and I had to choose between holding T, S and the camera.  Fortunately, there was a wall of parents taking photos and I have already seen some I am planning to get copies of!  But here’s a photo of E & S caroling with E’s church choir at a local nursing home, which was another activity that kept us in the spirit.

Note to caroling children: avert eyes from scantily clad lady on the TV in the background...yikes! Can someone please change the channel or turn off the TV?! By the way, E & S are the ones in the turquoise shirts absolutely fixated on the the television screen...oh well...

We also tried to keep the focus on giving with fun projects like:

– the kids making small treat bags for teachers and whatever friends we happened to encounter over the season.   (I love this activity because the kids can actually do most of it themselves…I gave the kids a bag of Hershey kisses, a box of fold top sandwich bags and a spool of ribbon.  They put three kisses in each bag and cut the ribbon.  I tied the ribbon on the bags.)

– coloring pages…I printed out a whole batch of these and the kids spent several afternoons coloring pages that they gave to people for Christmas

– shopping for Angel tree gifts: the parenting Sunday school class at our church did this and we intentionally signed up to bring clothes for kids that were the same ages as ours.  The kids were happy giving clothes (toys might have created more of an “but I want it” issue…we will tackle that soon, but for now we just wanted them to feel good about giving).  Selecting kids the same ages meant our kids were able to really help pick things out (e.g. “I bet she would like this shirt because I think it’s pretty”)

– We also made sure to tell Santa that we were busy making cookies, etc. for him (in addition to telling him what we wanted).

Still, to keep it real, I’ll show this picture of the kids writing their letters to Santa…

(OK, I wrote this and just realized I don’t have any pictures of that…sorry!  But we did write the letters!)

and I’ll end by mentioning an idea that I heard about for the first time just after Christmas, but am thinking about for next year.  Here’s the link, and here’s the excerpt:

When my oldest was a baby, my Mother-in-Law gave us a beautiful wooden Advent cabinet with 25 tiny doors. This year, along with the gifties that Granny sends, there will be a note with an act of kindness to be carried out that day. Some will be strategically placed…like on the 10th when we’ll be joining my husband’s Rotary group to lay wreaths on gravesites at Arlington Cemetery. Or, on the 20th when we’ll be volunteering as a family to organize donations at the Salvation Army warehouse. But, others will be less grand…like picking up litter anytime you see it throughout the day. Or, feeding the birds

And there you have it— a simple plan for 25 days of serving, giving, and helping others.


Me talking again here…

I like the idea of this because of its active nature (with kids this young, we do better with active than contemplative acts of the spirit!) and because it can be mapped out in advance.  Then each morning, you pull out a reminder of one way you can refocus the family during the season.  I can already think of simple ones like making it a point to notice someone doing a good job that day and telling them you noticed…

I’d also like to try a “David tree” activity, but need to learn more about that.  And I definitely want to do a better job with our advent wreath next year: setting aside a quiet time to really explain to the kids what each candle means.

OK, I just read back over this entry and know there is no way I can do all of that.  The nice thing is that I have many months to figure it out!

I’ll leave you with one last photo:

The men of the house, clearly exhausted from all the festivities! (Yes, that's T asleep on the floor next to his dad, asleep on the couch!)

and a final Merry Christmas to all!

With that, it’s back to our regularly scheduled blog programming (with a few random belated posts about our Happy New Year to come at some point!)

Updates and Holidays!

So I can already see that my blog posts will be less frequent during the holidays.  Things are joyfully busy around here (i.e. lots to write about, but no time to write it!)

Our updates:

(1) Thanksgiving: wonderful time with Nana, Aunt B, our cousins, and not a single kitchen disaster (this totally makes up for the time I cooked the turkey upside down…)

(2) Happy Birthday to my husband (!):  so grateful for the day this guy was born, the day I met him, the day I married him, the birthday we just spent with him and all the birthdays we hope to share with him in the future.  Happy, happy birthday!

(3) Advent:  As we prepare our home for the holidays, we are trying to prepare our hearts for a celebration of our Savior’s birth and our souls for the day He returns.  How’s that for a “to do” list entering each day?!

(4) Update on E: Thanks to all those praying for E, and to the doctors who have cared for her and advised us (this includes her primary care doctors as well as additional doctors in our circle of friends & family who have offered insight and counsel).  It looks like we are on the tail end of a cold that really hit E’s respiratory tract (and then took a short break before hitting it again even harder), and we have learned a lot about what to look for and do if something like that happens again.   Not since E was a baby have I snuck into her room just to listen to her breathing at night.  Let’s just say I have done that several times this week (and into S & T’s rooms too, even though they have been fine, and E is truly fine now…).  Those breaths are so, so precious.  E (and her mama) are breathing very easily now, praise God!

(5) Update on the blog: I’ll check in when I can this month, but there is so much living to be done right now I can barely find the time to write about it.   So think of us as we dress E in a sheep costume for the church nativity play, head out of state for an early Christmas/family gathering, taking E&S to see the Disney Princesses on Ice, help T eat despite his new obsession with the words “no” and “yuck”, welcome family into our home for Christmas, and celebrate every moment of hustle/bustle AND quiet/peace we find in this holiday season.

…and remind me (after the holidays) to tell you about the e-mail I sent to Santa last week  : )

Short version: I will continue to post when I can this month, but will be back to more regularly scheduled programming in January!  Merry Christmas!

36 hours

Sunday morning: at church listening to E sing in the cherub choir during their very first performance…absolutely adorable

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Sunday afternoon: at the local middle school track, with E & S riding their training-wheel bikes and pushing T around in his mini-coupe…one of our best afternoons

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T in his mini-coupe, S on her bike, & E must have been running a lap at this point (she likes riding bikes, but she LOVES to run...)

Sunday night (prepare yourselves for the twist we were unprepared for…): at the emergency room with E (who is now fine, thank God), after she walked downstairs at 11pm upset because it “feels like there’s something in my throat”; we could hear the raspy breathing…very scary

Monday 1am: relieved to find out it is just a cold/croup that caused some swelling in E’s trachea and that there was medicine she could take to reduce that swelling…ultimately we have nothing to worry about…

Monday 2am: putting E to bed; getting into bed; saying goodnight to my husband who had to stay home with the sleeping S & T, but of course did not sleep a wink while we were gone

Monday 6:15am: up with T, preparing for a day at home with all the kids (no school for E, who is fine but will be exhausted)

Monday afternoon: all three kids still in their pajamas at 4:30pm…(mama is still in her pajamas too…), at what time of day do you just decide that everyone can stay in their PJ’s until bedtime?

Monday evening: finally collapsing in bed, thankful for healthy children who will be wide awake and smiling at 6:15am.

Quite a 36 hours…

Memories of – and prayers for – “Dee” (and others) on All Souls Day

(note added after post was written:  I feel like I’ve been on a string of more serious posts here…I promise my next post will be more light hearted (!), but today I am thinking about “Dee”.)

I confess that I know very little about some religious holidays, such as “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”.  I want the kids to know about these special religious days, which means I need to know something (anything!)

From what I know about All Souls Day (Nov. 2), it seems like an appropriate day to flip through some old family photo albums, tell each of my kids one thing my dad (“Dee”, who passed away 2.5 years ago) would have loved about each of them, and then together say a special prayer for my dad?

I think I am going to tell E today that my dad would have loved watching her run across the field behind our house. 

Relevant memory:  I was required by coaches throughout middle school, high school and college to run as part of my training for basketball, and my dad was my eternal encourager: holding the stopwatch when I had to do intervals, measuring distances in the car when I had to run in new locales (like while on family vacations), and insisting that he should follow me in the car when I waited until too late (i.e. until after dark) to do my runs.

E loves to have people count how many seconds it takes her to run across the field.  It is impossible to emphasize how much my dad would have loved sitting in a chair on our back porch and doing that for her.  Feeling the joy of being her grandfather; and (in the years that were harder for him to be mobile), being able to sit for hours and bring such joy to this out of breath, ever-running child.

E, he would have sat and counted for you as long as you wanted, and you would both have been blissfully happy.

I think I am going to tell S today how much my dad would have loved her company, especially in the mornings. 

Relevant memory: I spent almost every morning of my childhood sitting on the floor of my dad’s enormous bathroom while he got ready for work.  That room had it’s own heater in the ceiling, and my dad always set it on high in the mornings, making it (by far) the warmest room in the house.  I would wake up every morning, and immediately walk to his bathroom and sit under the vent.  He had green towels that he kept in there, and he would let me wrap up in them to get really warm, and then he would lay one on top of my head and declare me “his little green mountain”.  My dad was slow in the mornings – rising early and taking hours to get ready.  I rose early and sat there for hours.  He would play this great music, sometimes “oldies”, sometimes “bluegrass”, and sometimes these old spirituals… Anyway, I would stay in my warm little towel cave as long as possible, usually until he had to leave for work (or – once I was old enough – until I had to get ready for school.)

S is exactly that type of kid.  Yesterday morning she was calling for her dad to come hide under the covers with her at 6:15am because the house was too cold and because she loves her daddy.  Tonight, she didn’t want her hair combed after her bath because “I like being here on the floor curled up in these towels.”  At this stage of life, S warms up slowly (literally and figuratively), and once she has warmed (in a cozy space or to a person) she stays put.  I am like that, and I get that from my dad.  He would have loved turning S into his little green mountain.

I think I am going to tell T that my dad would have loved meeting him.

T is the only one of my kids who was never held by my dad, since “Dee” died a little over a year before T’s arrival.  At the same time, T is the kid who most embodies my dad physically, with that dark hair and those blue eyes.  If my dad had seen those features in miniature, I think he would have begun spoiling T rotten right then.  It is a reminder to me that I should give something to T on behalf of my dad: maybe a photo (maybe a small, T-sized copy of the one of Dee in his basketball uniform?)

T, if your “Dee” was still here, in addition to that photo, he would make sure you had a good grasp of

(a) all the family stories (no one could tell them like he could…though there are entire sections of family lore missing because those are the parts that got my dad laughing so hard that no one could understand what he was saying!),

(b) everything related to Alabama athletics (he was a second generation team captain for “the University”…), and

(c) a steady supply of icing.  (Dee ate his cupcakes like you do… all of the frosting, none of the cake.)

He would also have thrilled you by giving you an endless stream of your favorite greeting: your tiny version of the “high five”.

Prayers for you today, Dee.  In my minimal research about All Souls Day, I learned that I need to pray for you – and all souls – more often.

I wish we were in Alabama for the day, so the kids could help us place a few flowers on the grave in honor of you and All Souls Day.

In lieu of that, we are going to draw flowers and say a prayer for “Dee”.  If you are praying for souls today, please include a much-loved and missed “Dee” on your prayer list!

My favorite moments from this Halloween…

(1) Watching E & S teaching T how to ask for candy

(2) Seeing all of them in their costumes

(3) Walking through our neighborhood with my family and seeing all the other families out and about

(4) Being completely “in the moment”… (Halloween is such a reminder that childhood is so precious; my husband and I both reflected on how we would miss trick-or-treating with the kids when they decided they were too big to go with mom and dad…)

(5) Hearing – and remembering – the funny things that kids say… yesterday, when I said good morning to S in her room, I reminded her that it was Halloween.  “I know that!” she said, then walked downstairs, turned around and asked me, “Where are the presents?” . . . Um, she might be confusing her holidays!  But that’s ok, E did too when she was younger, telling us right before a Christmas party that if she went in and said “Trick-or-treat, Jesus!” someone might give her a gift.  Oh how I love my quotable kids!

(6) And to prove we are not completely focused on “gifts” (heaven help us…), I must also reveal that one of my favorite moments was recognizing that our kids loved giving out the candy at our door just as much as they loved getting it while trick-or-treating… (It occurred to us yesterday that Halloween really is a great time to celebrate the “joy of giving”.  We are looking for moments to celebrate generosity, and last night as our kids sat content with their overflowing buckets of just collected candy and eager to have the next costumed character knock at our door asking for a treat from our separate home bowl, we found a moment to do that.  It was as simple as saying how proud we were that they enjoyed giving candy to others as much as they enjoyed getting it for themselves… Christmas is another great times to do this too, I think.  I know lessons about generosity will move to another level as our kids age, but we are starting small here…)

Hope you had a Happy Halloween also!

Oh, these are such precious, precious days…