Who Needs Sleep?

I’ve been sleep deprived for at least 8 years.

It’s a bit of a problem, but thankfully it comes in waves. There are nights that I actually do get to sleep all the way through, and the next morning the world is in full colour! Many days, though, I’m dealing with the effects of being up in the night with at least one of our four kids.

Last summer, though, I had a moment of clarity and gratitude for it all.

I laid awake in the middle of the night with an arm around a little warm body.  Our 5 and a half year old had fled to our room after a bad dream.  I didn’t know she was there until she was climbing over me and snuggling in for refuge.  We talked about it a little bit, and after a few minutes, she was ready to go back to her own bed.

When I got up with her to help her find her way in the dark, 3 and a half year old awoke and began to cry loudly about the lullabies on the iPod.  They weren’t right.  They were too quiet.  The nightlight wasn’t in the right spot…  I took a deep breath to keep from losing it and reminded her to use a quiet voice so she didn’t wake the babe.  “I CAN’T!” she wailed.  That about did it.  I hissed a “be quiet or else” type of warning and tucked them in.

For the next hour I drifted in and out of sleep while more noise came from their room than is necessary or allowed at 3am.  At 4, one was up again trying to get to the potty on time, but oops.  I could hear the steady stream hitting the step stool in front of the sink from the warmth of my wonderful bed.  I bolted up and out of bed just in time to see a giant puddle and a worried little face.  I gently told her it was okay and that accidents happen.  She sat on the potty and waited while I wiped and washed it up, found fresh pajamas from the clean laundry baskets downstairs, and tucked her in again.  As I was going back to bed, I pretended not to hear a small squawk from Little One’s room.

My head hit the pillow with great desperation and I sighed, feeling crankier than ever.

My husband put his hand on my arm and said, “Thank you for doing all of that.”  He has often been the one to take care of the potty accidents while I calm a crying babe, so he knows all too well what it’s like to get up with the kids.

“I am sure there is a special place in heaven for mamas who get up a million times in the night.”  I said.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“4:15,” I said.  “I am so tired.”  He patted my arm again.  We laughed for a minute or two about how we know we are living in the good old days right now… at least that’s how we are going to remember nights like these.

The next morning at 6:30 (read:  2 hours and 15 minutes later), two out of three kids were awake and playing.  One woke up with a fit of tears at 7, complaining that she wasn’t done sleeping.  But pretending you’re a superhero is irresistable, and all was forgotten before breakfast.

Not every night is like this one, but we’ve had our share.  In the early days of sleepless nights, I’d spend the following day feeling bad for not having the energy to take the kids out to the park or run a bunch of errands or have craft time WITH painting (so much to clean up!) or make cookies and have a flour fight in the kitchen like they do on the commercials.  But I must be getting smarter or something because I am learning to take it easy on those days instead!  We all NEED it.

Come to think of it, I’m either getting much smarter or even more exhausted, because I am so done with trying to figure out how to do everything perfectly and keep up with that pesky Jones family on social media.

My word this summer is GRACE.  I mean, how many days have I spent my time and energy wondering if what I have done with my kids or in my house today meets an imaginary standard I’ve set for myself?  These good ol’ days have often been filled with angst as I “should” myself to death throughout the day.  “I should have taken them there.  I should have fed them this.  I should have done that thing…”.  But I saw something the other day that was EXACTLY what I needed.  Instead of asking, “what have I done today?”, ask “who have I been today?” (thanks Alicia Bruxvoort and Proverbs 31 Ministries).

My heart echoes a resounding “YES!!”.

As we tumble through this stage of our lives, in the thick of these good ol’ days, it’s the nights with no sleep and letting go of perfect that are helping me to bear the fruit that matters most:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

One sleepless night at a time.

sunflowers at sunrise

We grew sunflowers one year. They were so beautiful at sunrise.

Mom! You Aren’t Watching!

“Mom, you aren’t watching!” My four year old cried out. “You missed the whole thing!”

Unbeknownst to me, she was showing off some new moves she made up for the March from The Nutcracker. Her little heart broke when she realized I had left the room to change the baby right before the big finale.

When I returned, she was quite distraught.

“I’m sorry sweetheart! Why don’t we start it again and I’ll watch the whole thing, alright?” I suggested. She went for it. We restarted the song and I settled in to witness every move she made. Every time she did something “cool”, she looked to see if I was watching – and this time, I was. I smiled and cheered while she moved her body perfectly in time, and when she was done, I wrapped my arms around her.

“Great job!” I said.

She beamed.

Off she went to play with her little sister.

It comes in different forms, doesn’t it? “Mom, watch me!” “Do you want to hear my new song?” “Can I show you a cool trick?” “Are you coming to my play?” “Look at what I made!” Every single one a cry to be seen, known, celebrated, connected. Every single one an opportunity to love on these littles of mine.

Often, my “inn is too full”, so to speak. I’m turning away the most important visitors, relegating them to the stable as I briskly move throughout the house from here to there doing this and that, taking care of my list, accomplishing my goals. I am loving on my family in the practical way of making a home for them to live in and enjoy. But when it comes time to stand in the cold next to the playground equipment to watch one more cool trick on the monkey bars, even though if we leave even five minutes later we will get stuck in rush hour traffic, can I show them that kind of love, the kind that costs me something?

Love shines brightest in the places we overlook.

God’s Son carried by an unwed teenager.

The King of Kings is born in a stable.

Angels appear to a band of shepherds.

This Sunday, we’ll light the Advent candle of love. It’s a beautiful sentiment – that love is the greatest gift of all.

But here’s the bottom line: loving well is hard. It costs me something every single moment of every single day. I can hardly spend a few minutes trying to write a post like this without being interrupted by ample opportunity to love on my kids – from answering their questions to helping them sort out conflicts, to one climbing up on my lap and trying to type as I type to a hungry babe crying out for a spot of lunch.

These are easy to overlook because too often I am only looking at myself. But we serve a God who is far greater than we can ever imagine – a God who came near to help us tear our eyes off ourselves and turn them in worship to Him. When we meet Him, we discover the love we never knew was possible, and in turn, we pour it out on those around us in ways we never would have considered before.

Let’s love well this Christmas, and into the New Year. Let’s allow this life-changing love to transform us from the inside out so we can love the way He first loved us. Let’s let His love shine in those places we used to overlook.

Why? Because Romans 5:8 –

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

And most of all, 1 John 4:19 –

We love because He first loved us.

Amen. And Merry Christmas!

nutcracker

This is our 3 foot tall Nutcracker

Getting Out of Holiday Survival Mode

angel chimes

(Image: pinterest)

When I was a little girl, my mom had a set of these Angel Chimes that astounded me every single year. How could the angels spin when you lit the four small white candles below? Must be magic.

I loved November 12th. The local radio station flipped to all Christmas music the day after Remembrance Day, and sometime that week, we’d haul out our four foot artificial tree, pop it on the corner coffee table, and fill it with those vintage Christmas lights with the plastic star-shaped reflectors that required an ER visit if you ever stepped on one with your bare foot. Oh, and gold garland from years ago. Then came all sorts of handmade and store-bought ornaments, one on every branch. The moss-haired raffia angel sat at the top, and the tree always had way too much silver tinsel.

After church on Christmas Eve, we stayed up late and ate so many treats. Some years we’d get to sleep in the living room under the lights of the tree, and woke up while it was still dark to open our stockings. We ate chocolates and mandarin oranges for breakfast, and once everyone made it to the living room, we read the Christmas story and took turns opening our presents.

We weren’t well-to-do by any means, but my mom always made sure Christmas was special for us kids. She brought the holidays to life and always focussed on the reason we celebrate – Jesus!

I love traditions and I look forward to them each year. They are anchors, keeping us connected to our roots and giving us warmth and familiarity in the middle of the changes of life. When my husband and I first got married we had to sort through two sets of holiday traditions. Now that we have our own kids, we’re building our own family memories that we hope they will one day cherish. In these early years with young children, Christmas feels different than it used to. At first, that was difficult for me and I’ve allowed the stress to cloud my joy, but I’m learning how to get out of “holiday survival mode” and actually enjoy this season together.

We’ve made three major shifts in the past few years, and it’s been amazing. Here they are, in no particular order.

Make like Elsa and “let it go”.

I’ve shared before that I like things to be “just so”. All the ducks need to be lined up perfectly in order for me to be able to enjoy all the things. The ducks seem to have a mind of their own, though, and rarely fall in! With a great sigh of relief, I’m learning to choose life over perfection. Can I just say that it is beautiful?

Less is more.

Last year we left some of our decorations in the box. We researched our gifts before we went shopping and finished most of it before the beginning of December. We sat down ahead of time and chose our family Christmas activities, with room in the schedule for a splash of spontaneity (and the inevitable sick day). We said no to some of our regular traditions in favour of creating new ones. There was room to breathe, and that made all the difference for me.

Worship the King!

Every year I have to decide what Christmas is going to be about for me, and in turn for our family. Kindness is important. So is generosity. But these flow out of our worship of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings! It seems like it should come so easily because we hear it so often – O Come Let Us Adore Him. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Keep Christ in Christmas. Look for the Cross on the Cradle. And yet, slogans don’t work in our hearts the way the Holy Spirit does. I’ve found Christmas to be one of my favourite times to dig deeper into the Word and life of Jesus and discover Him drawing near to me, finding His love all over again. In that, I can’t help but weave worship into the fabric of our family’s celebrations! In the big and the small, when things work out and when they don’t, I am praying that my kids would see Jesus.

My husband and I have agreed: in this season, we’re in what we call “Parent Christmas” mode. We don’t need big Christmas surprises from one another – we really just want to watch our kids squeal with delight and see the wonder in their eyes. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to come at great financial cost, with overloaded schedules and a bad case of the gimmies.

Praise the Lord that we can trust Him to redeem the Christmas season!

And that doesn’t cost a dime.

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.