The Christmas Day Explosion

I blew up at my children on Christmas morning.

For nearly a week this past Christmas season, my family of four (along with a heap of aunts, uncles, and cousins) had been staying with grandparents for the holidays. We had slept in various rooms, including a tent in the backyard (our two sons with two of their cousins). When other relatives had come to visit and the house had begun to overflow, we set up cots, sleeping bags, and a small heater in my parents’ workshop and slept out there, too.

Now, after all the over-stimulation that accompanies present-opening combined with no alone time for many days, I felt sapped. And I snapped.

red and black presents

My two sons got into an argument with some cousins over a television show. The boys wanted to watch a reality show about offshore fishing, while the girls wanted to watch a cartoon. When my younger son tried to commandeer the TV remote, I pulled him and his brother into the bathroom.

I hated appearing out of control of my children’s behavior to the rest of my family, although I do ponder how much a parent can actually control a child’s actions. But I just wanted my boys to be calm and not stir up conflict. I wanted things to go smoothly. I wanted easy.

When I find myself brewing with anger over circumstances that don’t measure up to the calm-and-easy flow that I crave, I recognize the idolatry present in my heart. I see how much I look for inner satisfaction in outer peace—instead of resting in the One who is my peace.

colorful canoes

So, there we are, in the bathroom, where I whisper scream at them. I shudder to imagine the expression I wore on my face at that point. They explained their position in the argument, which I hadn’t fully known when I ushered them into the bathroom for the scolding. We came to an understanding, and I apologized profusely. I felt thoroughly ashamed for losing my temper with them, and I brooded over it—flying off the handle with them at Christmas–the next day, too.

The day after the TV argument and fussing in the bathroom, my family and my sister’s family loaded up and went to shop at a salvage store in our hometown. We typically stop by there on each of our trips to see my parents. As my boys wandered the store with their cousins, I browsed in nearby aisles. I stopped in front of one display, barely noticing what was right in front of me. Cereal? Make-up? I don’t remember.

With slumped shoulders, I actually hung my head as I reflected on the poor parenting choices I’d made so recently. Then I sensed the Holy Spirit’s nudge:  Obedience always matters.

Last fall, I’d read the Old Testament story of the Israelites demanding that God give them an earthly king. They wanted a king to lead them and to fight their battles. Even though God had been their King—protecting them and providing for them—they still clamored for a king like other nations had. Eventually, God gave them what they requested, and He led the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as their king.

king sculpture

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel made clear to the Israelites that they had done evil by asking God for a king. And yet…Samuel reassured the people even as they trembled with fright about the consequences of their sin. He exhorted them not to fear, telling them that as long as they and the king who ruled over them faithfully obeyed the Lord’s commands, it would go well with them. Their obedience—even after declaring that God was insufficient to be their king and insisting on a human king to reign over them—still mattered. Their obedience still mattered.

I contemplated that truth, the assurance that our obedience always matters, even right after our sin. Even after my explosion on my children that had more to do with my comfort than their cooperation, my obedience still mattered.

The Spirit’s reminder of this lifted my head, quite literally, that afternoon in the salvage store. Instead of shuffling along in guilt, I looked to the Spirit to fill me and empower me to love God and follow His commands. Which, of course, include loving my children. Right there in the after-holiday hubbub of that store, I trusted God more for His forgiveness—and for His strength to obey, no matter where I had to sleep that night.

 

 

 

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Pro-Life Movement, Here’s What We Got Wrong

Scrolling through Facebook a few days before Christmas, I came across a post from a pro-life group I’d followed on social media. They shared a news report about a young woman who’d become pregnant and, after being pressured to abort the baby by her boyfriend/father of the child, she chose nonetheless to carry on with her pregnancy.

But the story didn’t end there (or else it wouldn’t make much of a story these days). After discovering that his girlfriend refused to go through with an abortion, the young man murdered the pregnant teen–thereby killing the pre-born child, too.

He allegedly told police that he “took action” and “took her life.” You can click here to find the article and read more.

This certainly seems an apposite type of article to share on a pro-life site. But what didn’t seem fitting were the comments from Facebook followers of this organization.

backlit boys

Some responders–self-professed pro-life proponents themselves–pointed to this murder as being consequence for the young woman’s sin; another suggested her death might be punishment for sexual immorality. Others commented about the need for “young girls to stop giving themselves away” and instead to “have some self respect.” They blamed her; men and women alike blamed this woman for winding up murdered (and her baby, too). The number of people chiming in with these kinds of comments left me bewildered.

The young woman–cheerleader, athlete, high school student–consented to have sex; she did not consent to be murdered. God created us and gave us beautiful gifts–and He instructs us in how to use those gifts. Sexual purity matters. But so does championing a young woman who finds herself pregnant and, despite pressure, chooses to nurture her baby instead of end it.

There was one reason and one reason only that this woman was murdered:  Because another person murdered her. What could have prevented the murder? If the murderer hadn’t murdered her.

Pro-life movement, I’m afraid this is what our pro-choice counterparts mean when they accuse us of not caring about the mother. Next time, we need to get this right.

 

 

A Christmas Craft On the Cheap

Most Christmas seasons, I don’t set out to create handicrafts with my boys. I tend to focus my energies on finding ways for us to give as a family during Advent. Recently, though, I stumbled across an idea in a magazine that spurred me on toward some creativity.

boys painting cans

Using empty cans (ours once held mandarin oranges), we built a Christmas tree arrangement. After stripping off the paper wrappers from the exteriors of the cans, we painted them green. You can see the boys accomplishing that above. Truth be told, Cheapy McCheapSkate (aka Allison) wouldn’t have chosen to do this project if we hadn’t already had the leftover Jargon Jade from the painting we had done in October.

Once the cans dried, I’d assumed we’d stack them in a pyramid design (as I’d seen in the magazine) and admire our tin can Christmas tree. But Woodrow wanted to add paint to resemble twinkly lights. Garfield declared it didn’t quite look like a tree without a trunk, so Woodrow improvised one with an extra empty can, some brown construction paper, and a bit of cardboard.

tin can Christmas tree

But Woodrow hadn’t quite finished. For the star on top, he grabbed a birthday cake candle, lit it, and dripped some melted wax on the top can. He stuck the candle in the wax, then attached the yellow paper star he’d cut out to the candle. Then we concluded it was complete! And there you have it, folks:  an almost-free Christmas craft made by my children that will {hopefully} last for years to come.

Celebrating the Season With Books

One year in middle school, I asked for glitter perfume for Christmas. I tried explaining that to Woodrow today as we discussed his Christmas wish list.
Huh? He said. You mean it sprayed out glitter with the perfume?
Yep. I don’t know how well it worked; I didn’t receive any that year and never saw it advertised again in magazines or catalogs.
Christmas with tiles
To look at Woodrow’s short list of wished-for presents, you’d think we were raising Tarzan:  a Gator machete (the junior version, that is); another knife along with its case; a Jungle Hunter II slingshot.
We had a long conversation about the machete, y’all. He’s more or less persuaded me. I also plan to get him a book of Ansel Adams photography, since Woodrow is a budding photographer himself. And for his stocking? A couple canisters of French fried onions. Yes, the kind that go on top of green bean casserole. He and I love to eat those things right out of the can.
Still working on ideas for Garfield…he often asks for money to buy more collectible Hot Wheels. And both boys have asked for dry sacks for outdoor adventure, particularly camping. I tell you, it’s almost dangerous to go to REI with my family.
Christmas cookies
Apart from gifts, we have other holiday rituals–including Advent giving, which I’ll blog about in the near future. Soon, I’ll pull out our stack of children’s Christmas books that we’ll read throughout the season. In case you’re searching for Christmas books to share with children–your own or others’–here are some we’ve enjoyed. Naturally, they cover different age and grade levels. 
These stories are oriented around giving, serving, family, love, and the Christ child. In other words, they are primarily “non Santa” books.
And every year I try to read (on my own) a collection of L.M. Montgomery’s, Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories. Heartwarming, endearing, and predictable… Each one lifts my spirits year after year.
Happy holiday reading!
 

The Value of Simple Obedience

Early last spring, I inadvertently learned of some unsettling, sad news:  A woman I’d met once and long admired had reached the end of her battle with cancer and was moving into hospice that weekend. She would leave behind her husband and their 6 children, all of whom had been adopted.

I read this announcement on Facebook, posted by a mutual friend, and experienced this news like a punch to the gut. I’d never seen, spoken with, or kept in touch in any way with Cathy after our one and only meeting. She wouldn’t have remembered me, not from our one interaction in the summer of 2000 in Chicago.

Back then, Cathy–a single white woman–had embarked on the journey of foster parenting. She had adopted an African-American little girl and was fostering another, going on to adopt three children while single and then three more once she married. I just happened to be along for the ride in this conversation that summer, 18 years ago, tagging along with other people who actually knew Cathy. Then I never crossed paths with her again.

hanging baskets

But her life, her love, left an indelible mark. I spent the rest of my 20’s and almost all of my 30’s envisioning myself as a some-day foster mother, an adoptive mother, primarily because of Cathy’s example–one she never knew she set for me.

Cathy didn’t approach me with a challenge to love the poor or serve the needy. She just lived her life in obedience to God, to the invitation to be part of His work that He’d extended to her.

About five years ago, I gave this dream of fostering, adopting, or both back to Jesus. Those means of caring for children are not part of my life and probably won’t ever be. But Cathy’s influence wasn’t for naught. Over the years, I’ve attempted to serve children in need through supporting orphan ministry in Russia and Moldova; by supporting a child through Compassion International; by purchasing (along with my former women’s service group) over 1000 diapers for a local rescue mission. Taking God up on His invitation to be part of His work to care for those in need. Like Cathy did.

grateful heart

I read the story of Joseph recently, in the book of Genesis. Some of his many brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben convinced the others not to kill Joseph. Instead, he suggested they place Joseph in a big pit and leave him. Reuben planned to return and rescue his brother, but before he could, the others sold Joseph into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, where later he played a significant role in saving many lives–including those of his brothers.

Had Reuben not persuaded his siblings to leave Joseph alive, Joseph wouldn’t have been in place for the life-saving work God had planned for him. In some ways, this hinged on Reuben’s obedience–on his simply obeying in a complicated, dysfunctional situation. Like Cathy did. 

baby feet with hearts

Today, at church, our body welcomed a handful of individuals into new leadership roles. Before they officially took on those responsibilities, other members spoke in support of these folks. One of the women beginning  her role as deaconess today–a friend of friend–has faced mind-bending tragedy in her life, part of which involves the loss of her husband due to disease. The member sharing about this woman’s qualifications for deaconess spoke some powerful words, so striking that I wrote them down on the bulletin:  He stated that she possessed “strength full of mercy, forged in the fires of pain and loss.”

How did she get there? To this merciful strength after disaster and grief? I haven’t asked her, but I think I know–obedience. I think she must have regularly–perhaps daily–made a choice to trust God more than she could feel, more than she could see, and to keep doing that, over and over and over.

Simple obedience that adds up over time. 

Obedience can preach a sermon, save a life, change the course of history. Let us never discount the value of simple obedience.

“Never doubt that God uses small things for all eternity.”–Jennie Allen

 

Walking and Not Fainting is Still Moving Forward

I’m trying something new this school year (which is a term I use loosely):  early morning times with Jesus.

Truthfully, this is an old something new. Years ago, I got up early to have my “quiet time” before starting my day with the boys and school and chores. It lasted a while, then I stopped.

Mornings are hard for me.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I decided to start fresh with morning quiet times. I enjoyed the stillness and the quiet at that time of day, sitting at the kitchen table with Bible and journal, wrapped in a blanket–not because I felt cold but because it felt comforting.

But mornings are hard for me.

blue green clothespins

I persevered valiantly, for as long as I could. But connecting with God felt nearly impossible in those dark early morning moments. I would pray and then forget what I’d just prayed. I’d keep praying but feel that my prayers were scattered, that they needed to follow a more sensible line of thought. I found myself praying and then feeling I’d gotten off track with some tangent (although still prayer) and then try to circle back to the original topic. Sometimes, I just wanted to cry about my seeming  lack of ability to meet with the Lord. I ended those times not feeling fortified for the day but feeling discouraged at having wandered and rambled for 45 minutes. The blanket would slide off my slumped shoulders as I stood up from the table feeling discouraged and alone.

Often, my struggle with a frequently-present sense of defeat, failure, and guilt looms largest in the early morning. And trying to meet with Jesus at that time of day felt like one more failure. Mornings didn’t feel difficult because of the needs of my house or my children or even lack of sleep–the boys have slept through the night for many years now. They felt (and feel) difficult because I often wake up with a vague but genuine sense that I just might (or will probably?) ruin whatever is in front of me:  parenting, teaching, walking with Jesus. {I’m working on this with my spiritual director, by the way.}

Instead of starting my days in the embrace of my Father, I felt instead I started them feeling alone even though I reached out to find Jesus.

And I always felt I was to blame for that.

So I stopped those early morning times with Jesus. I’d still pray as I got breakfast or made the bed, asking Jesus to live His life through me; and the boys and I have a morning time together before we start lessons in which we sing, pray, read verses.

I just couldn’t let time set aside to connect with Jesus be another source of defeat–perceived or real.

So, I would carve out time at night–I’m a night person, after all–or in the early afternoon while the boys had their own “down time.” That worked.

Calvin eating from a bowl

But I want to try again with mornings. I desire to start the day in intimate fellowship with the Savior. I want to take this step of faith–and it’s scarier than you might imagine–believing that the Lord’s victory is for me even when I feel weighed down at the start of another new day.

It’s scary because I don’t want to risk feeling disconnected from the Lord. It’s scary because I don’t want to risk hearing the Enemy’s lies so loudly in the early morning–when I’m at my weakest and most vulnerable–that tell me God just might need to reject me.

So…I came up with a plan. Not a formal check list of must-do items in order to declare I’ve completed a “quiet time.” But a step-by-step guide to help me, to remind me–as I see it in writing–that I AM doing what I need to do to make myself available to engage with my Lord. The real me meeting with the real Jesus. 

I’ve even been so specific as to write down a few short prayers to start the time, just words that express my heart and my needs in something a friend calls a “breath prayer.” Which I suppose means the words we breathe out as prayers…

I found a Bible reading plan to start fresh next Monday morning–a plan to read through the Bible chronologically. I’m looking forward to viewing Scripture through fresh eyes.

This could very well be the most titanic step of faith I’ll take the entire school year. It makes me cry to think of it even now. Not because I’ll need to go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier, but because I hate the idea of feeling even more defeated by 7 AM because I set out to meet with Jesus and ended up squandering it by…well, by just being me.

The Enemy’s lies are so targeted, aren’t they? So tailor-made to poke hardest at our weak spots.

Recently, my best friend Lynn and I talked about Isaiah 40:31–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.

I shared with Lynn that I feel I’m in a perpetual state of walking and not fainting, that I don’t know if I’ll ever see a time again when I mount up with wings like an eagle. Or run and not grow weary. I know there’s no shame in walking instead of running or soaring. I know I can still obey even if I’m “just” walking.

Know what she told me?

Walking without fainting is not settling. Walking without fainting is still moving forward. It’s still obeying; it’s still following God. It’s still moving in the right direction. 

So, when we start a new school season next Monday morning, my plan is to walk to the kitchen table, to bring my whole self to meet with Jesus, and then to walk with Him throughout the day. Moving in the right direction. 

 

 

Our Frugal Fast From Netflix

In January, I persuaded my husband to commit to a Netflix fast for one month:  from January 13 to February 13. Our subscription payment came due on the 13th of each month, which determined the dates of our fast.

We don’t have cable/satellite/dish and haven’t since 2004. If I had my preference, we wouldn’t own a TV. But since we do (and I don’t think it’s all bad), I want us to consider how we use it–and how much money we spend on it.

black and white 2 boys in flowers

Our family possesses one TV–only one–and we’ve never had a TV in our bedroom, save for a few weeks during our first year of marriage, before we sold a small extra TV Mike owned when we got married. We limit screen time for the boys; they have a budget of 4 half-hour shows from which they can choose during the week.

Most weekends, they watch no TV–and they don’t own or use tablets, iPads, cell phones, or the like. Although Woodrow has learned to use my phone to take photos, mostly of the fish he and Garfield catch…Once in a while, we allow them an extra half-hour show on a weekend afternoon. Or even a movie, such as the one we watched on Mother’s Day evening.

We have an Amazon Prime membership, and with that comes access to Prime Video:  movies and TV shows we can watch at no extra charge. During our Netflix fast–which, incidentally, stretched from one month to a total of 4–the boys used Prime Video to view Popular Mechanics for KidsWild Kratts, and Thunderbirds Are Go. And the Mother’s Day movie? The Nut Job, also accessed via Prime Video.

board cinema

As we neared February 13, and the end of our one-month Netflix fast, we easily decided to extend it for another month. Then another, and another. May 13 approached, and I understood that my husband hadn’t committed to an indefinite departure from Netflix. So, that day, Mike reinstated our membership (for streaming videos only, the only Netflix subscription we’ve had).

For those 4 months without this service, we saved over $40 in a painless way. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the extra TV options. It actually felt freeing. A couple of times during this season, Mike and I found a movie on Hoopla (a free service provided by our library for e-books, audio books, movies, and TV shows). This gave us extra entertainment choices, all for free.

colorful guitars

Entertainment deserves a category in our budget, but a small (and sparsely funded) one, I think. For now–this month, at least–Netflix gets a spot in that budget. While we have it, we’ll enjoy it. Going without it for a time makes us more appreciative of it now. Just yesterday, the boys (gratefully) watched an episode of Magic School Bus that they’ve gone without for months.

Have you embarked on a “frugal fast” from anything in particular lately? Did you save for a special goal–or simply to spend less on luxuries?