Monday, January 11, 2016

The Question Connection {a 2016 motherhood goal for me}

I remember being quite surprised by the quantity and consistency of the questions that one very dear friend, Sue, and her husband Rob, asked their children.  The kids picked up the blessing of asking each other too.  

"How was the test?  How did your song go?  Did you have a nice ride?  What was class like today?"

It's not as if I don't ask these things of my kids.  But I too often, with the rush of all of them and the reality of those spinning, ticking hands on the wall, I settle for lifeless one word answers when I should be hearing their living dreams, vivid fears, joys, sorrows in story form.  Somehow, Sue and her family had a better pattern of sharing and listening with their questions.   It was as if their thoughts and feelings and opinions and experiences mattered to each other.  And, yea, how could I not want to bring in more of exactly that into my home too?

Once, when Sue was at our place just before my kids headed off to art class, Isaiah moaned to me "I don't want to go to art class today."  I launched right into my own sad pattern of over-instructing/correcting/nagging, so well intended, so consistently poor.  "Buddy, come on, you love art class.  Just grab you're things together and you'll be glad you went once you get there."  

Sue followed me up with, a question.  "Why do you not want to go to art class today, Isaiah?"  He didn't need a major soul unpacking....  he just didn't want to go while her kids were at our house.  But her family was leaving then too, and that made sense to him, when she said it.  And it gave him a chance to express his feelings, it gave her a chance to hear him, encourage his real need, and have a much better connection with my son than I had just gained.  

I thought of Sue's questions again as I read an article that Ann V linked to, a post about childhood and parenting for Danes.   There's a handful of points in this post that I could mull over long.   One:  I am guilty of over-praising.  

"Research shows that kids who are always told they are smart are likely to give up easily when confronted with difficult tasks. They feel that due to their alleged smartness, they shouldn't have to work hard — trying hard makes them feel dumb, so they avoid it."  

Ouch.   

My kids' weakness here (quickly giving up when challenged and complaining about anything difficult) just might correspond perfectly with my weakness in overpraising them (and too, I know it also corresponds with that fallen nature of theirs ours.  And perhaps there's no connection whatsoever here... but our kids bicker nigh incessantly.  It is, hands down, 100%, the most painful, drive-me-crazy part of motherhood in this season for me.   It makes sense to me that kids expecting things to come easy for them and always, exactly, be just what they want and like best, that they would bicker whenever life, or any sibling or request given to them, crosses them.   

Elisabeth Elliot wrote (in The Shaping of a Christian Family) how her parents assured her of their love but never went crazy overboard praising her accomplishments.  Diligence and excellence were expected, they were acknowledged, and the children were loved.   The kids apparently expected that they wouldn't get everything easy and just like they like it.  

"Mother smiled, although she was not given to waxing very eloquent.  Daddy always said, "that's fine."  Those words were prize enough for me.  Our performance was not the result of relentless goading, or even the prospect of great rewards, but of the "steady pressure to be at our best," to do what was right."  (page 173)

So I'm aiming, in this new year, to correct my own poor pattern with not just different words, but questions to open up a better connection for me to hear from my kids.   And the questions I want to be building on are pointed.... laying out clear guidelines and expectations for my kids to see the blessing of hard choices for excellence and lasting joy over easy, limp wimpery, narcissism and laziness.  

"Hey dear, how are you feeling?  What have you read lately in God's word?  What do you need to do to obey God's word today?  What do you think might be a hard thing God gives you today to strengthen you?  How can I help you, encourage you, in this?  How can you trust God and go His way through that hard thing?"  

"What do you think you can do to love your siblings today, even when you don't want to?  What better joy do you think you could find today for choosing a hard way rather than an easy one?  How do you think you might have to go against what everyone else is doing, in order to do the most pleasing thing to the Lord?  What is the best joy you're after today and how are you going to get it?  What are you going to have to give up to get it?  How can we celebrate together, when you get there?"

"How do you think the Lord might want you to lay down what you want in order to better bless ____?  How can I help you do that?"

For Sue, when she asked Isaiah about the art class, there was no pansying about it...  She doesn't take the approach of "whatever you're feeling, that's true for you." Or "well, that's all you need to know."   Not at all.  But oh how much growth could come out of guiding my kids to see that 1-  your feelings matter and 2- let's see if they're based on truth, and 3-  how can you best respond to your feelings and express yourself or make the wisest choice to move forward from here?  

There were other pieces of the Danish post that zinged me too.  There are a heap of areas where parenting needs to improve on the K front.  I want to be careful to assess where we're at and intentional to aim for the best way forward, but my first priority for 2016 is still to focus my own heart on the Lord, in prayer, reliance, dependance, abiding in Him, rather than on lesser book methods and parenting/ psych. strategy, questions or comments....  

May the Lord build this house, these hearts, firm after Him, fruitful and bright for His glory.  

Our eyes look to You, Oh God.  Our eyes look to you.     

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Word for the New Year

A little late to get to this post... but it's still a needful post still for my own sake.

Last year I used a new (to me) Bible reading plan that I appreciated.  This one focuses on one selection from the Word at a time, but still weaves in all the major areas (Law, History, Poetry, Epistles...) each week.  I also really like the flexibility of this little graphic printed up and slipped in my Bible that I could end up shifting books a bit so that as years go on, reading on this schedule, I could read different books side by side.  There's no reason that one chapter of OT must always be read along side the same chapter of the NT each year.  The Word fits truly together in every arrangement and configuration possible:  Genesis and James, Psalms and Luke, Joshua and Acts....

So I really like that plan.  But it turns out there are others that looks equally sharpening for my particularities too.  This year, I'm going to try this 5 day schedule.   Melissa Kruger is a pretty convincing gal and I'm excited for another slice of the same feast of truth.  Especially excited about the more chronological arrangement of this one.

Yea! Just had to share!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

MacDonald's wisdom: our children's faith hunt

George MacDonald was a favorite writer of C.S. Lewis... and it turns out, Elisabeth Elliot and her parents also loved reading from him.  Just finished her book The Shaping of a Christian Family,  which is one I know I'll be returning to, even though much of what she described there seems farther than a few generations removed from where I live today.  But oh what grace and wisdom and beauty and joy in those pages.  

This quote packs in as much wisdom as I was hungry, hunting for about two years ago when I ordered a different book about raising our kids every day with the Gospel, but also wanting to make  their responsibility to respond to the Gospel clear to our kiddos...  The will-remain-nameless book I ordered didn't answer my questions as much as this short quote does:

Every generation must do its own seeking and its own finding.  The fault of the fathers often is that they expect their finding to stand in place of their children's seeking.  They expect the children to receive that which has satisfied the need of their fathers upon their testimony; whereas rightly, their testimony is not ground for the children's belief, only for they children's search.  That search is faith in the bud.  

(quoted on EE's page 222, from GM The Miracles of our Lord, page 78)

And I remember too, early 2006, sitting at the table with our Florida "parents", truly a mother and father in the Lord to Matt and I, and Bart J. saying something firm to us that we must  "never underestimate the power of the covenant of God at work in our children's lives."  

Perhaps, for me for now, the hardest work of parenting, is in modeling the grace and patience and love and joy I hope to give to my kids, and in earnestness and fervency in prayer.   But our efforts and our prayer are not in vain.  We have good reason for bold faith, bold prayers, and bold personal pursuing of God with and before our kids. 

Here's to another year of good hard faith at work!

Monday, January 4, 2016

missing Grandma, missing family

at our wedding, March 2004
with her first great grandson.... Isaiah
this is one seriously fantastically stellar group of ladies....  I'm so privileged to marry in as one of them!
(Thanksgiving time 2005)
just one year ago....
Such a classy, humble, witty, caring, talented, fun to be with Grandma!
You will be dearly missed!
We're so glad that Great Grandma's last days were so perfectly arranged....  such grace to be able to gather her children to be with her to say good-bye and to see that she could go painlessly.  Grace.  Our hearts are grateful for her life, glad to have been blessed in relationship with her, and even though we knew she wouldn't last forever and had warning that the end was near, we had six hearts kind of hold their beating, still mouths even holding their breath to take in the news of her passing....  Our kid crew and Matt and I sure love this woman and will miss her so!  Much much love to the whole crew, there grieving together now...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Read Alouds of 2015


We must include a little shout out of K gladness over a few of the books that blessed us best this year.  

I didn't exactly keep up with my goal of 2 books a month... but I think I did finish 15 books and I'm grateful and content with that.  (More next year though!)  Saving Leonardo (By Nancy Perkins) was a surprising favorite read for me.   (Very grateful for the friend, TS, who loaned it to me who shared that the intro and concluding chapters were worth the most consideration.  It's all excellent art history in the middle, but if you can ponder those first and last chapters, you'll have enough to mull over for months!)  For other books, there's just too many more reflections to record here...

But now a few awards must be given to our K favorites, the best books I read aloud to our kids this year.  

(if only I could change a cover!)
Twice Freed, by Patricia St. John.  Historical fiction based on the story of the slave Onesimus, that Paul wrote about to the slave owner Philemon.  How awesome to track with this young boy on his journey to manhood, his search for truth, his travels and abuse, his crimes and the grace that broke in on him to finally give him sight and life.  So Paul, who wrote the nonfictional, brief letter Philemon in the Bible, he's a fictional character in these pages and he speaks the real words of scripture to the huddled little crowds that pressed in to hear him teach.  You can hear him!  You can see their faces!  ...when you read these pages.  Privileged grace to walk with Onesimus, to meet Paul, to know Christ in this story.   I think every Christian should read this book.  The living dynamic of meeting Paul and hearing him speak the words we know him to write is just too great a front-row seat for anyone to miss.  Truly, this book can deeply warm Christians of any age, stoke a flame for giving all to the One Worthy.  I highly recommend it as fuel for family discussion and discipleship for all in Christ.  


Kingdom Tales, by David Karen and Mains.  Our second reread.  And there will be more, many more rereads ahead to our kids, and, I pray, to our grands...  I admit, that I don't love the setting of this book.  There's some dated oddness there.  But oh, these chapters, this story, the incredible wisdom tucked into these do-ably short chapters.  If I could, I would buy a copy for every family I know.  Every Grandparent should grab a copy to pour over with their littles....  there's so much life, wisdom, beauty, worthy soul hunger in these pages.  Amanda's battle with the dragon, the Enchanter's deceptive saying, the slogan he has posted around the city, the King in his disguises and the names of the King being sent like arrows to pull back the veil of blindness and death...  Rich beyond words.  Our souls are much profited by these very favorite stories.  



 I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.  This is just plain extraordinary literature.  The writing, the scenery, the history, the characters, the longings, the fulfillment....  Exquisite.  Historical fiction based on some true pieces of life from this great painter Diego Velasquez and his beloved, loyal, admirable slave and better friend.  A privilege to enjoy this one with the kids.


Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade.  This is much the same flavor book as Kingdom Tales.  Keeping Holiday, as Matt would say, is no Narnia or Lord of the Rings, (and I wouldn't put it on the same heights as Kingdom Tales either) but it is a worthy contribution for exactly what it is: the telling of how children who grow up knowing about holidays, can come to know the Truer, Fuller, Real Holiday.  There are a few pages, scenes in these chapters, that we've recalled and retraced and questioned and enjoyed retelling again at the table...  a very special family read at Christmas.  

If this was Matt's post... his list would be entirely different.  We have a slightly crazy pattern of reading LOTS with our kids and he and I choose quite differently.  I love it.  I read in the afternoon, after lunch usually, and Matt reads most nights at bedtime.  Sometimes our kids have mentioned that their friends watch more movies than us.  I point them back to the joy it is for our family to take in books, stories read aloud, together, and this usually calms the comparison storms as they recognize that there is a lot of family joy for us in feasting our ears and minds and hearts on excellent STORY together, read aloud and savored like fine wine (well, they wouldn't say that, but it's true).    

We like to discuss every angle we can consider together and this just seems to happen better with books than with movies, probably because there seems to me to be a higher quality of brilliance in the stories that are written rather than most of the movies that are made these days.  To be sure, there are some excellent and profound movies, and sometimes some fantastic silly movies, to enjoy as a family too.  But these four books surpassed any movie I've heard of or seen this year.  They kept us talking long at the table and at bedtime for weeks...  I'm so grateful for these authors, these characters, these stories, to share with our family, to love and grow with these stories together.  


*And for the record of joy here:  Matt finished all one thousand plus pages of Lord of the Rings with our kids this year and, of course, it will be reread in years to come too.  Tolkien's works were worthy of highest consideration when we were pondering names for our children.  There is deep love for all things Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton around these parts.  


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

swim-gift!


So we were just a bit wildly spoiled by these dear friends and treated to an afternoon of swimming, a kids Christmas party together!  Thanks Js!!!  Our family is so blessed to share life here with these two families....  4 kids each, 6 boys and 6 girls between us. (Our littlest cupcake eater was a bit too cold to cooperate with the group shot here!)

the big girls, super beauties inside and out!

their miserable faces
She was intent on that blue cupcake...  (complete with sharks on the aqua icing... perfect for our pool party!  Way to go AJ!)

The Boys....  6 boys, 3 families, 3.5 year spread


Of these six, the oldest three boys- one from each family- are in a catechism class with Matt.  They go through the New City Catechism (free app... I hope you all have!?) weekly.  

Here's the "Cat Class Boys"

my fav pic of the day.  The amazing Jack!
High-flying Eli
our very own ironman cannon baller, Isaiah!

the middle two girls....  our six girls are about 10 years spread apart.  Vivi's kind of on her own on the little end but she also gets lots of loving from the big girls often enough!

So soo grateful for these dear friends to do life with here!  Grace from God to have these kids right in at our kids' ages and to have their moms and dads for Matt and I too!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Greetings! {2015}

Sorry friends, It took us a few extra days to get to a friends' house to have a photographer to take a family photo... and then many more days to get our internet confangled (for the hundredth time!) to let us get on foreign sites (blogspot) so that we could post our greeting to you this year.


And despite mom's hair being forgotten yet again, left in a housewife bun (like every day), we got almost every eye looking toward the camera and just at the second I could pull one little hand down from her nose,  Daddy hugged us altogether to lean gently in on him (like we do with earnest every day), mom forgot to smile a less toothy grin, Marian posed all ladylike as if quiet, mild meekness was her norm, John smiled so you know he's a strong, humble thread of humor and compassion in our home, and Vivi just about slid off Isaiah's lap, somehow, nearly taking down the biggest brother, still helpful and wonderful as ever, along with her.... while she pretended to be more of a space head than the silliest silly she truly is.  

This is us.   A pile of messy, graced Ks sending all of you lots of love and cheer for a Merry Merry Christmas celebrating the Savior and all the joy He's filled our lives with!  


Wishing you a very happy 2016!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Advent & Christmas Joys {2015}


To have this sparkle-in-the-darkness chance, this perfect way to awaken our souls from the drab and dreary, to alert our souls to things worthy of hunger, sacrifice and worship.  This intentional beholding, remembering, retelling the story, the Gift, the Savior come for us, this is the gift of Advent and Christmas.  Oh my soul... behold the gift of this.  Christmas is awe and wonder-worthy worlds beyond the glimmer and cheer that's so shallow here.

It's no small thing and needs no improvement.  The story of the Word of God.... that word spoken millennia ago that created with such power that our universe is still expanding because of it today.... the Word made flesh, to dwell among us, to feed and heal and love us, to die for us and give us life in Him.



I'm grateful Matt is totally onboard with a nontraditional approach to our family Christmas.  Our path-less-travelled choices for Christmas are very intentional, and we pray earnestly that our little K family Christmas traditions here will weigh heavy with glory in our kids' hearts and lives, heavy with joy as a pattern for our family.

It's true, our kids will be growing up without a madhouse of unwrapping a pile of gifts from under a tree.    I've been told this will wound them.  (Even our family who love gifts and bless with gifts so kindly, thoughtfully, generously, well...  they haven't said this.  But some have.)

I say, wound us, Lord.  Chisel away our pride and sense of entitlement ("Santa gave me this 'cause I was good") and all the materialism, discontentment, selfishness and gluttony of every kind, and all comparing and boasting that filled my Christmases as a youth, and that still try to weed their way into my heart even without gifts under the tree.   This is YOUR Day!  Fill us with a joy beyond anything in this world at Christmas.    We'll do gifts later....  really, any other time will do.



We celebrate very intentionally, music and sweets and serving and sharing together and kindness and thankful notes filling up our stockings all month long.    Every evening setting up another ornament on the Jesse Tree banner, adding to the stories of the Story that points us all toward Christ.  

And finally, amidst all the celebration, it seems fitting to let one moment be lean.  We pause for a simple, humble meal on Christmas Eve, a time and a place to remember the road weary travelers, Joseph and Mary, the unknowns ahead of them in Bethlehem, the fears and pains and tiredness and probably hunger after such a long journey, the lonely labor she would soon endure...

And then crescendo of Highest Joy!  Kings Joy!  It took a host of angels to announce it then, and we turn it up loud in the morning too.  Come, bed heads, Rejoice!    The peak of celebration!

It simply does not get better than celebrating our King!  He came! For us! Oh God arouse us from all that dims and dulls our minds, our hearts, longing, waiting, hungering and thirsting for you. We want to be filled with You. May our advent waiting and looking deepen the true spirit kind of hungering and thirsting that you promise to fill.  You are the Gift we want most.  We want more, much more, of you, in our lives, your glory, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

At the table?  The best breakfast we can dream into reality.   (Gingerbread pancakes, thanks Alycia!) We share creative beauty, to unwrap and discover with each other, and any who can join us? songs, art, poems, verses recited, dance:  all gifts for the King!

Those notes we've written up all month long and stuffed in stockings .... all cheer to read and reread, steady smiles and laughter all around...  the kids get paid for and that money gets added to their giving fund.  And since giving to Jesus, means giving to the least of these, that's what we do.  Sewing machines and goats purchased as resources for rescued slaves.  Tuition for school, Biblical training, small business loans, medical payments made....  and more this year!   

This year, our kids wanted to be able to make their own crafty gifts for each other  and it turned out to be a fun way to show kindness and care. Since Matt jokes with the kids all the time about how they need to be saving up to get him a cane...  Marian "made" this one for him (ie. she found stick and tied a ribbon on it.)








For us, Christmas is about more and better than gifts all wrapped small in packages under a tree.   And if we stack up gifts right there, there's no way our crew is not going to hinge their celebration on those things.   But gifts are good too.  Our family is getting to head south into sunshine in just a few weeks and January won't be finished before we get to do a Family Gift day there!  Such a treat for us to find things other than what shops around us here sell.  There's a lot of beauty in learning to care for loved ones especially, specifically well and we want our chance at this too.  To celebrate a special gift chosen, given, well received....  gifts for the sake of gifts, the joy of blessing some loved one really well?  How fun!  We totally look forward to this gift time with each of our kiddos too, in it's own, fitting time.

And I must mention!  Our kids super enjoyed a package from Grandma and Grandpa full of gifts that actually arrived on Christmas Day (not a holiday where we live).  They loved it!  It was a cheer for everyone.... such generosity, as always from these guys!  To me, I love that our kids are learning to associate the generosity and kindness with the gift givers and not as much this holiday.  They know that their grandma and grandpa love to bless them so kindly with delighted in and delicious gifts!

We heard Matt Chandler preach this advent and he mentioned how inevitable it is that when we're packing up our Christmas things, we always tend to feel a sting of disappointment.  I definitely do long to do more, to celebrate better, to give to friends around me more and better, to delight together with my kids more deeply in the wonder of the Savior....  but the reality is that I feel, and I think our whole family is, much more gloriously attuned to Christmas and much less disappointed with it all when our celebration does not revolve around and, honestly, when it doesn't even include gifts for us.





And I'm grateful for friends who care to understand our craziness even to read this far!  Such a privilege and a pleasure to be with you in heart, dear friends, celebrating the birth of our Savior together with you.... no matter what shape your celebration or ours takes... we are together in pointing all our hearts and lives to Christ!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Noel

Because these words, this voice and tune are a worthy gift to the King... as worthy as this fallen world can make to give to Him.