Must Be Halloween Again

pumpkin

Ah yes, my annual struggle.

Every year my prayer is the same:  Jesus, give me wisdom!

I took the kids for a walk in the fall sunshine the other day and on the way home I forgot that we were coming down the street with the Creepy Halloween House. When we’re in the van I can usually count on moving past so quickly that the kids don’t really see all the super scary stuff, but when you’re walking at a toddler’s pace you really can’t avoid it. Oh I tried, believe me.

“Hey girls, look at that silly bird walking around on that grass over there!” There was a magpie on the lawn across the street. It worked for about five seconds. Then I lost them.

“Mama! What is THAT?!” My four year old asked, pointing at the house.

“Well, it looks like some Halloween decorations, but we don’t really need to look at them,” I said.

“Why not?”

“They’re a little bit too creepy.”

“Yeah,” my 6 year old agreed. For her, the novelty of certain types of seasonal decor has worn off. But for my 4 year old, it’s irresistible.

“That IS creepy! But it doesn’t scare me!” she cried. “Let’s play Halloween characters! I’m a ghost! Booooooo!”

In spite of her feelings about scary decorations, my 6 year old joined in immediately and for the next half-hour they ran around the back yard together pretending to be Halloween characters and imagining a world where “Chickens Running Around with Their Heads Cut Off” was their favourite comedy TV show.

Later, I asked them why they like to play spooky characters.

My 4 year old answered, “First, they’re not very scary for me. Secondly, I think they’re cool.” (She actually said, “secondly”! haha!)

“Really?” I asked. “Aren’t you a tiny bit scared?”

“Nope,” she continued with confidence, “If I just saw something spooky to me, I would just stick my tongue out at it.”

“Oh really,” I said. The next day as we drove in the van, the story changed. We were talking about some Halloween thing they had seen out the window and my 4 year old spoke up.

“Well, some Halloween things are NOT scary for me, but some Halloween things ARE scary for me,” she explained. “Like, the cartoony things aren’t, but the spooky things are. I do NOT like those witches at the neighbour’s house, they are too creepy for me. Yep, too creepy. But that big Frankenstein is so funny!”

I totally get why Halloween is so interesting when you’re a little kid. It’s impossible not to be fascinated, especially with all the huge inflatable lawn decorations nowadays. The Halloween House next door is their favourite. The kids are really drawn to the ten-foot-tall Frankenstein and a set of inflatable jack o’lanterns that look like a little pumpkin family, a spider in a top hat, a dragon they’ve named “Dragula”, two big white ghosts with lights and a REALLY tall pumpkin reaper we’ve named “Pumpkin Guy”.  Those characters have really sparked their imagination! But Creepy Halloween House has presented a new set of challenges.

For the first time, it’s actually scary to them.

As a Christian, I’ve always struggled with Halloween because of the evil and fear associated with it, and I will do my best to keep those kinds of things away from my kids whenever I can. But I know they’re growing up and we’re moving from being fascinated with the silly inflatable Halloween characters on the lawn next door to genuinely scary moments for them as they come in contact with certain images.

After six years of Halloween with young children, I’m realizing that despite all my efforts to shield their eyes, they’re going to see the awful decorations in the neighbourhood or at the store. Or hear about horror movies from their friends at school. Or happen to catch a glimpse of a billboard with a creepy clown on it as we drive down the street.

And even though I would rather protect them from all of it so they never had to feel afraid in their lives, I’m realizing that these are opportunities to have some really important big-picture conversations about feelings and fears and good and evil and Who is bigger than it all.

The Time Machine: The God Who Protects

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

Today I chose this short word of encouragement that I shared in March 2012 on my radio show. I hope it brings some encouragement if you’re facing a dark season.

***

It’s amazing to think that the God of the universe is involved with His creation!  We see this over and over again with the way God interacts with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  In this Isaiah passage, we see a side of God that is so loving – an amazing Heavenly Father and powerful Protector!

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

“But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze’.”

BillyWilsonflickr

Image: “Ripple”, Billy Wilson, Flickr

I Need a Do-Over

Saturday, 8pm.

I need a do-over.

The last half of this day didn’t exactly go as I was hoping. Things just kept coming up that weren’t in the plan, you know? Conflict. Cranky baby. Crazy kids. And then, the broken sink.

Feels like the past 12 hours were a total write-off! My heart is heavy tonight and I am struggling to remember if there was, in fact, anything good about this day. It’s easy to let times like this make me feel like a failure.

Then I remember Grover’s bad day.

Once I was reading a Sesame Street book to the kids about Grover having a bad day. Everything went wrong for him. He was late for playgroup, he forgot his lunch and the other monsters wouldn’t let him play football! And after school, he dropped his ice cream on the ground.

When he got home, his mom asked him how his day was and he just crumpled into her lap and told her all the things that had gone wrong. Then she said something that stuck with me: “Don’t let a bad day make you feel bad about yourself.”

How easy is it to take a tough day and turn it into a test of our competence? Those feelings of failure can seep into our hearts, making it difficult to be thankful for the things we have right in front of us. Whenever I feel like this I remember something my husband came up with about a year ago. I was having a similar kind of moment where all I wanted to do was grumble with a capital G every day all day long. It was becoming a pattern for me – a default attitude that needed to go.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“How about this: every day, find two different ways to worship God, help someone, and write down twenty things to be thankful for,” he suggested. “And each day’s list has to be different than the day before.”

“Twenty things!?” I raised an eyebrow. It was a good idea, but I was skeptical.

The first two parts came easily – the worshipping and the helping. And then, the list. I thought, There’s no way I can write down twenty things to be thankful for! But I’ll try.

Numbers one through five were the regular things you thank God for – family, shelter, provision and such. As the list grew, I began to dig a bit deeper into the things that I had in my life to be grateful for. The higher I counted, the more my attitude shifted. By number twenty, I was thanking the Lord for the difficult day itself, because I realized days like this really help me grow in ways I can’t even see at the time.

Back to Saturday night. Was there anything in this day to be thankful for? Of course there was!

A visit to the store with our cutie pie kids!

Lunch and lively conversation with friends.

A teenage niece who likes to babysit our girls so we could enjoy said lunch kid-free (besides the baby)!

Hearing our girls playing together with such incredible imagination and creativity.

Baby smiles and chatter that literally melted my heart and filled me with joy.

And my husband! Hearts-for-eyes for that guy, I’ll tell you! Just all the things about him!

Well, I think I just found my do-over.

 ***

Count your blessings

Name them one by one

Count your many blessings

See what God has done!

leaves and shoes

 

The Time Machine: The Girl and the Old Woman

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

Today I’m sharing a short story I wrote in November 2015, the year our third daughter turned one. It was a tremendously busy year, and I was struggling with feeling guilty for not being able to do everything all the time. After I wrote it, I printed it and put it on my fridge as a reminder to myself that it’s okay to be busy with the very important work of raising kids. My dishes can wait (for a little while, anyway!).

***

story

Once upon a time there was a little girl.  She was beautiful and ambitious with a courageous heart and a feisty spirit.  She grew up in a world where everyone told her, “you can do it all!”.  So she tried.  And she found that she really could do it all!

Then one day she met a handsome prince and fell in love.  They got married.  She continued to do it all, and she did it quite well.  Everyone praised her for how she took care of everything.  She beamed with pride.

After a while the girl and her prince decided they wanted to add to their family, and soon she was with child.  How wonderful!  She loved the idea of having children.  She loved preparing the nursery.  She loved imagining what their life would be like with such a joy.

And what a beautiful baby she was.

As the girl held her own tiny daughter close, she began to realize that she now only had one arm to do it all.  So she tried doing it all with her one free arm.  But something happened.  She began to drop things.

She was stunned.  She had never dropped things before.  She had always been able to handle it all with ease.  But something had changed.  Her heart began to ache with feelings of fear and failure.  She thought, “Surely there is something wrong with me.  I’ll just try harder.”

So she did.  Everyone kept telling her, “you can do it all.”   So she kept going, but her heart was very sad and she grew very tired.

One day, she came across an old woman who had raised her own family many years ago.  Her eyes were full of kindness and wisdom.  Surely this woman would have the answer to her heart’s biggest question!

So the girl said to the woman, “I must know!  How did you do it all?”

The old woman smiled with deep understanding.

She patted the girl on the hand and said, “Oh my dear girl.  I didn’t.  And that’s okay.”

She Cut Her Own Bangs.

My daughter cut her own bangs.

Last fall, I found a little strand of hair and some scissors in the kitchen under the table, and I didn’t think anything of it. Then I saw another lock of hair by the fridge. Weird, I thought, and went about my day.

A few days later, I saw more hair under the computer desk, and noticed that she had a new ‘do.

Let’s just say it wasn’t a particularly happy discovery for me. And since I am the parent who tends to freak out about all the things all the time, I was really working hard to manage my emotions on this one. I mean, if you freak out over EVERYTHING, then when something is really worth freaking out over, do they even notice? It’s something I’ve really been working on.

I took a deep breath and counted to five. Then I asked her about it.

“Did you cut your hair?”

“No,” she replied.

“Really?”

“YES Mama, I did NOT cut my hair!”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “This is your last chance to tell the truth.”

She looked worried, then instantly her expression changed to repentant. She sighed a heavy sigh. “Mama, okay. I did it.”

“Hmm,” I said, wheels turning in my mind. I mean, is it really THAT big of a deal that she cut her own hair? Nope. But hiding it from me IS a big deal.

“Well, scissors are for paper, not for hair. So, you won’t be using scissors without supervision for a little while. And you can’t get up early and do art by yourself for the rest of this week.”

Her most favourite time of day – 6am at the dining room table, working on drawing and coloring and art and all manner of cutting and gluing and so on.

It was as if I had cut off her right arm. She wailed, “Mama! Why?! OH PLEASE, WHY?!”

We had talked about trust in the past, so I reminded her what it was and how important it is for our family. And I explained that when she cut her hair and hid it from me, she had broken my trust and would have to show me that she could be trusted to do art by herself.

After a week, we were back to 6am drawing sessions. But unsupervised scissors took a bit longer. Eventually, even those returned.

Fast forward about a year, to last Sunday.

She wore a headband to church, which was not unusual, and I didn’t even notice that the scissors had struck again. But later that afternoon, some little bangs caught my eye.

I am pretty sure smoke blew out my ears when I realized she had cut own her hair AGAIN. I took a deep breath and counted to five, then calmly asked her the question.

“Did you cut your bangs?”

“No,” she tried to lie.

“Are you sure?” I looked in her eyes.

“I didn’t.”

“Really? Because it looks shorter in the front,” I said nonchalantly.

She relented. “Yes Mama, I did.”

I took another deep breath. “We’ve already talked about this,” I said. “Scissors are not for hair. When did you cut it?” I led her to the bathroom mirror so I could inspect the damage.

“Before church,” she admitted.

I fiddled with her new baby bangs, trying to find a way to keep them from sticking up.  We put a bit of water on them, and it helped. A little.

Sighing, I pressed my lips together, searching for the right words AND the right way to say them. “I don’t think I can fix your hair. I was going to take you to the salon for a haircut, but since you already cut your bangs we’ll have to wait until they grow out.”

“Oh,” she said in a small voice.

“Can you tell me why you cut them?”

“They were in my eyes,” she said.

“Okay, well, you know that you are not supposed to cut your own hair, right?”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I won’t do it again.”

“Ever,” I added.

“Ever,” she repeated. She was waiting for an angry loud exchange, followed by a lecture.

Instead, I put my arms around her shoulders.

“Well, at least it was after picture day at school. And at least you didn’t grab a bunch from the top,” I said. “I know some kids who just grab any spot and cut away. And then it REALLY sticks up,” I laughed.

She burst out laughing at the idea.

We both relaxed.

“Listen,” I said tenderly, leaning down to meet her eye to eye. “I love you, and I know you know not to cut your own hair. I am not going to give you a consequence, but I hope you can remember this moment and remember that scissors are for…”

“Paper!” she finished. “I love you Mama,” she said.

We hugged.

The funniest part is, she actually did a really good job. Both times. And for a kid who is dreaming of being a hairdresser when she grows up, a pair of leopard print scissors are just dying to be tried out on her long thick hair!

scissors

The Time Machine: Restoring the Ruin

The Time Machine is a series that features posts from years past.

Today I’m sharing something from March 2014. At the time I was highlighting Scripture on the radio each day leading up to Easter. This particular insight encouraged my heart this week!

***

Jesus read Isaiah 61 aloud in the synagogue (Luke 4:14-30), and then declared that it had been fulfilled in Him.

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,  

     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
 

Beauty instead of ashes.  

Joy instead of mourning.

Praise instead of despair.  

Ever felt like everything you’ve ever worked for and loved has been burned to the ground?  

Ever lost something so incredibly precious that you can’t eat or sleep, and you’re seriously considering if it’s worth going on?  

Ever been filled with a sense that nothing will ever change, and you’re stuck where you are forever with no way out?  

Then you know.  

You understand.  

This news is very, very good.  And this news is for you.   

Jesus has come to turn the shattered places into wonders of beauty, joy and praise.

Restoring the ruin.  Hope in human form. 

Might seem impossible from where you’re kneeling, but He is the One moves when we simply can’t.

clouds

I caught a glimpse of these clouds one day and was stunned!

We who are in the thick of it…

This one is for the mamas of littles.

We who are in the thick of it, neck-deep in diapers and finger rhymes, early readers and mad monkey bar skills.

There is something incredible about this early stage of motherhood. It brings you to the edge of yourself and then gives you a little tap, sending you flying over into the arms of Jesus. It strengthens you in areas you didn’t know you were weak, it smooths the edges you didn’t know were so sharp, it softens your hard heart and brings stunning moments of beauty out of what otherwise feels mostly like chaos.

And all of that takes an amazing amount of time and brain space. It’s really easy to lose yourself in it as the days of “eat, play, poop, sleep, repeat” turn into weeks and months. Sleep deprivation takes its toll. There’s only so much time, and slowly, things you once loved start falling to the side. Besides, you’ll pick them back up in a few years when the kids don’t need you anymore.

Enter the mom-guilt.

Some of us feel guilty for popping out to grab a coffee with a friend. Some of us feel guilty for going back to work. Some of us feel guilty for not planning out an entire day’s worth of brain-enriching activities, with a hundred healthy snacks and meals and endless time for reading with our kids.

Some of us simply struggle with doing anything that remotely resembles something just for us. We are waiting until the right time, for things to be perfect, so we can relax and do our thing without interruption or distraction.

After just seven years of parenting, here’s what I’m coming to realize. Although the way my kids need me will change, they will never really stop needing their mom.

I know because I have never stopped needing mine.

We will always be in each other’s lives, affecting each other’s lives.

Our kids will always need us, just in different ways, and in different seasons.

We know it won’t always be like it is now. One day our littles will not need us to help them go potty or learn to use a spoon. There will be more space for our careers, our interests and our passions to take flight into incredible achievements. There will be time for all the things we once dreamed of doing.

One gorgeous autumn afternoon, we’ll see the sun shining through the window into our clean living rooms and envision the exact toys that were once scattered there. We’ll see our counters free of crumbs and remember days like today, when all manner of Cheerios and cheese bits are waiting to be wiped up. We’ll have a moment of wishing for just one more snuggle and one more tickle fight and one more belly laugh and one more game of chase-the-toddler down the hall for a bath.

laundrytoys

And then we’ll remember that they are soaring into their own adventures with all the spit and vinegar of youth! And we’ll cheer them on as they learn and grow.

And that means we’ll always be learning how to strike the balance between pouring ourselves out for our families and taking the time and space we need to tend to our own hearts.

Once I was talking to a woman with a large family who was going through a divorce after two decades of marriage. My heart broke as she shared her story. While she spoke, she said something that struck me:  “You know when the flight attendant says in the event of an emergency to put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else with theirs? That’s really important. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your family. I didn’t do that. I should have done that.”

Sometimes the daily grind feels, well, very grind-y, pushing us beyond our limits and making us feel drained.

There is wisdom in recognizing when we really do need take a break for our own sake and the sake of our family.

Around Mother’s Day this year, my eldest daughter asked me what I was into.  I think she was making a list of ideas for gifts or something.

“Daddo loves Star Trek and sharks. What do you love, Mama?”

“Hmm,” I said. I searched my very tired brain for a moment, but it was blank.  Pregnancy exhaustion was filling every inch of my mind and heart. “Well, I like cool mugs. And fun journals.”

She bounced away, happy with the reply, but the question stuck with me. What do I love?  What were my interests and the things that made me feel happy?

I was too tired to remember, and for very good reason. My life is very full! Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I can very easily become overwhelmed and depleted if I don’t stay on top of the basics.

Extra sleep.

A hot shower.

Good food.

Getting outside in the sunshine.

Exercise.

Connecting with the Lord in prayer, worship and Bible reading.

A date with my hubby.

Talking with friends.

Space to do something I love.

Time actually playing with the kids.

In  my first years of parenting, it took alot for me to ask for help — even from my husband! I thought, “I chose this, no one is going to do it for me.” And we all suffered for it. With my third daughter, everything changed. About two weeks after she was born, we discovered she had a rare condition that required close monitoring with many tests, appointments and medication – and I simply could not do it all on my own. My mom came to help, not to mention the amazing church friends and other family that stood by us and helped us through a time when we really needed them.

Here’s the thing – when I’m feeling like I need a break, I have learned to tell someone. Even if I feel silly, or like I don’t matter anyway, or like I’m being a burden —  I tell my brain to be quiet, and then I tell someone how I’m feeling.

It’s my first step in finding a bit of balance.

You matter.

Your family loves you and needs you.

REMEMBER!

A refreshed mama is an amazing mama. There will be time for big things later if we make time for the little things now.

The Time Machine: To Myself – Read this when the kids are grown

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

I wrote this to wrap up 3 Weeks of Thanks one year when I had no kids in school. I love these memories!

***

The sun is bouncing into the living room right now, warming the floor and inviting me to nap right there beside the toy box   All.  after.  noon.

Alas, it is not to be.

But it sure is beautiful.

I want to remember this moment forever.  I will probably forget it when the next cloudy day comes along, because you really don’t remember exactly how glorious the sun feels until it’s right there on your face or your feet or whatever happens to be in reach.

I’ve got an inquisitive 4 year old asking me questions from the table behind me, while munching on the bread we made this morning in the bread maker.  She is an expert ingredient-adder, and always has to taste the flour (I don’t know why, I always tell her it tastes gross by itself).

“How’s the bread?” I ask.

“Good.  Do we have any more pears?” comes the reply.

“Nope,” I answer.

And she is on her way to look for a cowboy hat and a half-crocheted yellow scarf that doubles as a rope she uses to lasso anyone and everything.  Today she is Jessie the Yodelling Cowgirl from Toy Story 2.

The other two are napping for the moment.  A quick morning playtime in the backyard in the crisp fall air and warm sunshine, and that about does them in well for nap time.

Then, all at once, little voices echo from down the hall.

Everyone is awake.

These are the moments I will probably forget, because you can’t really remember everything after all, can you?

How I wish I could freeze time and hold this in perfect detail in my heart, and save it for when they grow up and go away and do the wonderful things (and the awful things) that adult children do.  For when I actually have to let go for real.

I know there will be grace then too, as there is grace now.

sunflower

3 Weeks of Thanks is nearly at an end for another year.  This weekend, we gather with loved ones over food prepared by hands full of love, and in this way return our love to the One who loved us first.

Generations gather.  Moms who once were where I am now will watch their own sons and daughters do what they once did, around this Thanksgiving table.  And we carry on in this way, each year getting a bit older and maybe even a bit wiser.

We give thanks – together.

What an absolutely beautiful tradition.

3WT Week #3

We love because He first loved us.

1 John 4:19 (NIV)

How do you raise kids who love Jesus?

“Fall is the beautiful-est season!” my 4 year old declared from the back of the van. We took the long way to Grandma’s house the other day, past a natural area that comes alive with colour at this time of the year. You wouldn’t believe the fiery oranges, deep reds, dark purples, and shades of bright yellow set against the browns and greens of the hillside and the glorious deep blue of the fall sky above.

Incredible.

My eyes are drinking this in. I can’t get enough! Every year I forget just how amazing it is, and every year I’m stunned by the gorgeous palette around me. Little creeks and hillsides next to freeways go completely unnoticed until Fall, when they shout their presence with incredible beauty. Ditches and groves that were so ordinary just a few weeks ago now catch my eye and amaze me.

I am a “noticer” of nature. In spring, it’s the return of the robins and the buds on the trees. In summer, I wait for our roses to bloom and for thunderstorms to shake the house. In winter, I love the way the snow sometimes falls in huge peaceful flakes, and the way the stars twinkle on a cold, crisp night. Right now, it’s technicolor trees and vivid sunrises and sunsets.

I purposely point them out to the kids.

Last week we happened to be out past bedtime, as the sun was setting. “Look at those colours, girls! That’s amazing! God is such an incredible artist!” I said. I snapped a photo with my phone from the passenger seat.

fall sunset 1

They gasped, eyes wide in wonder.

“Wow!”

“It’s so beautiful!”

“It’s dark outside!” Our 2 year old was worried. “Why’s it so dark?” (We assured her it was alright, and that we were safe.)

They pick pretty rocks from the driveway for their rock collections. They are dazzled by dandelions. And pinecones are perfection.

I can see them becoming “noticers”, and my heart is so full!

I remind them that God made all of this and He made them too.  I tell them that God is the MOST creative of all, and that He gave them their creativity. I want them to see that He is not silent and uninvolved. I want them to know He is real, and that He draws near, even in everyday things.

How do you raise kids who love Jesus? Ultimately, the choice to love and follow Him is up to them, as they grow and discover who He is. But I am learning that they’re watching how their parents interact with God and each other, listening to the things we say and putting the pieces together about Him by their experiences with us.

It really gets me, you know? I think of all the mistakes I’ve made with the kids and I wonder if even those things can be made into something beautiful in our family’s life. But I am trusting that God knows how to untangle my mess and work it into a gorgeous tapestry of His faithfulness for each of my kids.

They need to know that worship is more than Sunday morning songs and stories, and that the beauty of creation is meaningful because of Who it reveals.

We worship God inside AND outside church walls, right smack in the middle of all the ordinary.