Category: Parenting

Six Reasons Why a Vacation is Worth the Work

After two months of frequent weekend trips, I recently found myself remembering the week-long vacation our family enjoyed two summers ago. It was a precious week of memory-making moments.  Today I’m reminding myself of why a vacation is worth the effort.

Wisps of grey-white fog lay low over rolling fields of golden wildflowers, and I watch the sun ascend crimson through the haze. I take a moment to breathe in the promise of what lies ahead.  A week at a cabin in the woods with my husband, parents, 9-month-old Caleb, and 4-year-old Bekah feels like work right now, but I know I’ll be grateful when we arrive.  I also trust I’ll be refreshed when we return.  I cling to these hopes and begin the daunting task of packing food for seven days in the woods.

Vacation requires sacrifice.  Sometimes I wonder if the sacrifice is worth it, but the work required seldom disappoints.  Darrell shuffles to arrange someone to cover him at work, and he works long overtime hours for two weeks before the trip.  I make countless lists, checking and rechecking what we’ll need for our excursion.  Then there’s the task of finding someone to feed the pets and the detailed instruction notes.  Attempting not to leave the house in complete shambles while somehow remembering 786 items for everyone in the family is enough to put the steadiest of women into a full blown panic attack.  We find ourselves asking, “Is it even worth it?”

I contend that vacation is well worth the effort and sacrifice required. We live in a society of overworked, stressed out, exhausted individuals.  Productivity is highly praised, and rest is spurned.  Prioritizing vacation time breaks the cultural expectations that leave us weary and burnt out.  Prioritizing vacation opens us to quiet encounters with the love of God, meaningful encounters with friends and family, and a renewed sense of wonder in our lives.  Let’s examine these reasons, and more, as we contemplate the reality of making vacation a priority:

Reestablishing a rhythm of restful living

God designed the human body to require rest. The simple fact that doctors recommend eight hours of sleep per night indicates that rest is essential.  The person who follows doctor’s orders will sleep away approximately one-third of his life.  Our requirement for physical rest is a reminder of our need for mental, emotional, and spiritual rest as well.  Jesus extends this invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We need to be intentional about incorporating rest into our lives. Planning a vacation is one way to establish rest by removing ourselves from the rigors of work, extensive social schedules, volunteer activities, and home maintenance.  When we set aside time to rest for a vacation, we are reminded to reestablish this rhythm in our daily lives as well.  We are refreshed by the rest that comes when we step away from our routines, and we are prone want more.  Stepping away from daily life allows us to assess priorities and eliminate the parts of our lives that are leaving us weary, replacing those parts with restful priorities.

Interrupting the routine offers fresh perspective

Sitting with my kids along a creek in the wilderness opens my eyes to beauty I don’t notice in my daily life. It slows me down.  It invites me to ponder my decision-making and assess my goals for my personal and professional life.  I have space to reflect on my use of time, the relationships in my life, and my relationship with God.

Regardless of where we spend our vacation time, changing the routine of life forces us to reflect on whether life as we know it is working well, where adjustments might be helpful, and how to better prioritize our time.

Windows of time for deep communication without distraction

Whether vacationing with a spouse, the entire family, or friends, vacation offers windows of time for deep connection. Campfires, lingering over coffee, hours relaxing on the beach or in the pool, hikes through the forest, and hours in the car are all opportunities to talk and share.  Some of the best conversations with my husband took place on a 36-hour road trip across the country.  Quiet space allows us to reveal parts of our lives we might not otherwise consider sharing.

My daughter is most likely to share what’s really on her heart when we’re both relaxed and enjoying a time of peace and rest. She shares her fears and worries with me most often when we take long walks, away from technology, friends, and the listening ears of her brother.  Vacation offers countless opportunities for these interactions.

Authentic community is established

When we embark on a vacation, we open ourselves to simply “do life” with others. Whether it’s a spa vacation with girlfriends, a golf trip with the guys, a big beach vacation with the entire family, or a weekend on the lake with a spouse and kids, vacation positions us to need each other.  It also positions us to sacrifice for each other.  Eating an hour earlier than usual, because Aunt Carol gets hungry at five o’clock, heading the grocery store with your five best friends, and figuring out a schedule for the shower all force us into community.  Living in community, planning together, and sacrificing for each other molds us into the image of Christ, who willingly left the throne of heaven to walk among us.

Experiencing the wonder of new things together is deeply unifying

Gazing at a picturesque mountain lake, exploring a museum, experiencing the thrill of a rollercoaster, or kayaking down a lazy river with a loved one unifies us. Experiencing the wonder of a sunrise on the beach or the luxury of a picnic beside a waterfall creates memories that last a lifetime.  When we take time to experience new things with our loved ones, we open the door to relational growth, and we grow closer to one another.  A relationship that is growing dry is often revitalized by the joy of experiencing new things together.  A vacation is an ideal opportunity to step out of the normal realm of daily living and experience new sounds, sights, and adventures.

Opportunities for doing nothing

The most refreshing moment of a recent vacation to a mountain lake was the realization that I was sitting on the shore with nothing to do but wait for my hair to dry. The sun soaked into my skin with a warmth that breathed life into my weary body.  I closed my eyes and embraced the quiet moment of doing absolutely nothing. Vacation time is a beautiful opportunity to pursue deeper relationships, pursue God, and simply rest in his affection.  When we’re not forced to ponder the next project at the office, the next issue on the home front, or the next item on the to-do list, we open ourselves to simply rest in the affection of God, doing nothing at all.

 

The week in the woods with my family proved to be among the most revitalizing times in my life as a mom with young children. We made memories, connected with each other, and I connected with God in a way that was deeply life-giving.  It was well worth the sacrifice.

 

 

For When You’re Feeling Less-than

 

Muddy water rolls onto the rocky shore like waves of hope, and I count my blessings with the rhythm of the surf: this perfect day with cerulean skies and just the right placement of high cirrus clouds, sailboats on the horizon, these rolling green hills that speak of life and abundance, a date with a six-year-old, and the fact that she begged me to bring her to this place with a Bible. It’s almost too much to really believe this is my child and my life.

I watch her as she watches the waves beside me. She’s past the age of hurling rocks and sticks for entertainment.  Today she simply wants to watch the boats and the clouds drift by.

I pray for words that might capture this moment and speak truth into the deepest recesses of her being. I want to make the most of the moment, make it teachable, and be intentional.

Her delicate hair dances in the wind, and she looks right through me with penetrating eyes. She wants to know what I’m thinking about.  I tell her I was watching her watch the waves, and I think she’s beautiful.  I tell her I’m so grateful for this time together.

That’s when I remember.  I remember Ann’s words from this morning:

“The world will say they will love you if you’re beautiful —but the truth is you’re beautiful because you are loved.  “God Loves YOU. He who is Love loves you unconditionally. Living as one truly loved and cherished by God is the cross- beam that supports an abundant life in Christ. Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you. And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until you choose to listen to your heart beating out that you do—unconditionally, irrevocably.” ~Ann Voskamp

My daughter is beautiful because she is loved. She’ll face bullies in the days to come.  She’ll face boys who will promise to love her if she’s beautiful, but how can I teach her that it’s not the love of boys or the admiration that comes from other women that makes a woman beautiful.  A woman is beautiful because she’s loved by God.

I want her to know who she is without hesitation. She’s not simply pretty or smart or funny.  She’s not defined by her social status, her hobbies, or her aspirations.  Before all of these things, she is first beloved.  Belovedness is the center of her being, her only real identity, and God’s name for her.  How can I teach her this?

I open the Bible on my lap to Romans, and I tell her: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is how we know for sure that we are beautiful: God showed us that we are beautiful and beloved when he sent his Son to die for us.  This is the ultimate act of love.  You are beautiful because of this.”

I think of the labels with which I’ve defined myself: athlete, teacher, backpacker, wife, mother. I remember when the injury happened, and I could no longer call myself an athlete.  I remember walking away from my career to pursue full-time parenting, and I could no longer call myself a teacher.  I remember the day I realized it had been six years since I’d worn the old Kelty backpack into the mountains, and I could no longer call myself a backpacker.  What then?

What do we do with all the labels that are eventually stripped away? Who am I if it’s all stripped away?

Ann’s words ring true: The only identity that never changes is the identity that says I am beloved.

Blaise Pascal said it this way: “Not only do we know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ.”

I tell my girl that the only part of her that can never be stripped away is the love of Christ that is sealed over her life. No matter where she goes, no matter what she faces, she is still beloved.  There’s no need to prove herself to the world or make much of her life for the sake of a simple label.  She is free to live and love as one who is fully defined by the love of Christ.

She crawls onto my lap and listens intently. “Does this make sense?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “God loves me, just because I’m his.”

I kiss her damp hair. “Yes, just because you’re his.”

~~~

For more thoughts on parenting, sign up for your free copy of 22 Questions Your Kids Need You to Ask

 

 

 

 

 

For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

Friday isn’t my usual day to post, but I’ve been guest posting quite a bit lately.  It’s an honor to write alongside John Piper and other gifted writers at Desiring God.  The links below will lead you to these articles and a few more:

Desiring God:

Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

God Carried Us with Promises: Five Truths Strong Enough for Any Trial

The Praying Woman:

Five Prayers Every Mother Should Pray for Her Children

Her View from Home:

To the Mother Who Feels Like She Doesn’t Belong

Christian Devotions Ministries:

The Promise for Your Affliction

You Are Cherished

Thanks for reading and sharing!  Have a blessed weekend!

Fifteen Ways to Find Refreshment

 

I take her to the river on a Saturday. Billowy cumulous clouds make promises about what’s to come, and I lean in for the quiet whisper on the wind.  It seems to be an invitation to refresh our souls.

She’s five, but she’s begged me to take her to the woods with a tent for months, and I finally concede. I want to go too.  I want to tell her about the nights on this river with friends and open Bibles.  I want to tell her how I encountered God on these rocks – how I memorized Psalms and felt like new life poured down through the summer rain showers that always caught us unprepared.

I strap fifty pounds to my back: two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, the tent, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes, a baby doll, playing cards, and more. I push the rest in a double stroller, and she bounces into the woods for three whole miles, overflowing with the excitement of this novel adventure.

We’re two girls in the middle of the woods, and our cares slip away. After erecting the tent, gathering firewood, and hanging the bear bag, we wander to the river.  The water slips past emerald, and she asks if I have my Bible.  We read Psalm 97 and I tell her about the rainy day when I memorized this very Psalm along this very river.

She smiles, thoughtfully, and asks, “Did you bring communion?” She wants to remember him on the river.

We retrieve a small hotdog bun and the bottle of juice I brought for her breakfast, and I break the bread. We eat it in his memory and give thanks for the new covenant.  We pour the juice into metal camping cups and drink, remembering the blood he shed.  It’s a holy moment.

After a song and prayer, she scampers up the riverbank in search of toads, and I think of the words of Job: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Something about this place makes me long to open a Bible and recite beautiful words. It apparently stirs something in my child as well.  But I pray that it won’t end here.  I pray that I’ll treasure these words more than my necessary food, even when we return home with the demands and requirements for daily living.  Do I really treasure these words?

“These are more than just idle words; they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47), I read, and I wonder how much I’m really drawing my life from these words. Bekah returns with a snail, and she’s jumping in sheer delight.  We put it into an empty peanut butter jar, and she hurries back to the rock where she found it.

This river feels like it’s refreshing us in the deepest way, but these words in my hand offer even better promises of life and rest. I cling to these promises and rest in them until the sun sinks low.

When the shadows fall long on the water, we go back to the tent, cook dinner on the fire, and talk about dreams and hopes. She sleeps deeply, and I watch her all night, this protective shield rising within me, keeping watch for bears and raccoons.

I also consider what it might practically look like, in this season of life, to stay in a place of refreshment. I turn on the flashlight and scratch words on waterproof notebook paper:

  1. Treasure the written Word of God more than food (Job 23:12)
  2. Get away to quiet places when I can.
  3. Spend time with people who refresh my soul.
  4. Stop striving.
  5. Stop hurrying.
  6. Count blessings.
  7. Look for toads and snails more often.
  8. Give thanks for the work I get to do.
  9. Stay in community.
  10. Speak words that bring life.
  11. Cast my cares on the Lord.
  12. Turn away from perfectionism.
  13. Stop trying to prove something.
  14. Laugh more.
  15. Live vulnerably.

I close the book and close my eyes. I trust that the One who led us on this journey will protect us from bears and raccoons, and I drift into the deepest sleep I’ve found in months.

~~~

For more thoughts on refreshment and joy, check out this link and receive a free printout: 10 Steps to Greater Joy

 

The High Cost of Disobedience

 

We’re standing by the murky waters of a place we call the frog pond when I tell him. I tell him not to step into the water.  It’s sulfurous black swamp mud, and he’s wearing white socks under his sandals, upon his own insistence.  It has something to do with the cut on his foot that mysteriously appeared in the basement last week.

Maybe it’s because he’s ten feet away and he figures I can’t get over there in time to stop him. Or maybe he simply can’t resist the temptation.  He has a rebellious streak that’s so unlike his sister’s conservative temperament.  I pray every day that I might rein it in.

He doesn’t disobey with a toe in the water and a glance in my direction; he’s an all-in sort of guy, so he literally plunges into the mysterious murky water in a sort of leap. He sinks to his knees before he realizes what happened, and I find myself hurrying to the rescue.  I pull his little body from the muck, and we lose a sandal in the process.

The sobs start as soon as he sees his blackened socks, and I cringe at the thought of the microorganisms burrowing into the laceration on his foot. But there are greater issues to which I must attend: I plunge my arm into the stirred up, stinky water and begin grasping through the mud in search of the missing sandal.

There’s stinking mud under my nails when I pull the tiny shoe from the water, and we walk to the creek to make an effort to clean ourselves. This is a scene that’s played out in my life more than once over the past six years, when I decided to cultivate a passion for catching frogs in the lives of our children.

While Caleb splashes in the much-cleaner water of Wolf Creek, I’m reminded of a passage I read in Scripture not long ago: “‘If we have found favor in your [Moses’] eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’ Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, ‘Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them?’” (Numbers 32:5-7 NIV)

After forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people have finally reached the waters of the Jordan River – the gateway to the Promised Land. Their inheritance waits on the western side of the river.  They must simply find a way to cross the river and receive the promise.

Not everyone in the crowd is excited about the journey across. A few of the leaders look at the land where they stand, on the eastern side of the river, and they decide this land will be good enough for them.  They’re comfortable.  This spot looks quite welcoming.  They approach Moses, their faithful leader, and convince him to let them stay on the eastern side of the river.

Moses relents. He simply asks that they contribute to the conquests on the western side of the river, and they may then return and settle to the east.

But the happy ending never comes. Jump forward a few books, and we find that those who settled to the east of the Jordan River were attacked and enslaved, and the right eye of every Israelite was gouged out (Samuel 10:27, 2 Kings 10:32). Failing to obey God’s command cost them dearly.

I’m thankful my children are learning to obey. The half-hearted Israelite clans set a good example for us all.  Partial obedience is disobedience, and disobedience has a cost.  We’re called to honor God for our own protection and benefit, not to stifle our fun.

I share these truths with Caleb while we clean his shoes in the semi-clear waters of Wolf Creek.

“No more mud,” he says.

“Right, no more mud,” I affirm.

 

Giving Thanks for the Wearying Workload

 

There’s a pile of luggage at the bottom of the stairwell.  An array of minion-decorated backpacks, colorful duffels, and pink handbags adorned with flowers and fairies.  We’re leaving town for two short nights.  Two nights.  And the pile is taller than our toddler and large enough to fill a small moving van.  I have no idea how we’ll fit it into the hatchback trunk of the CRV.

My mind races through the contents of the bags. There are lists in every room of the house.  There are enough snacks to feed a small family for weeks, enough emergency medical supplies to last our family close to a year, and enough extra diapers for a week.  You just never know.

Trying to remember everything for a short family trip with young children is enough to induced mild chest pains in my anxiety-prone diaphragm. I once decided to compile a master list of needed items, which is a great idea – in theory.  The problem is that the needs of my two-year-old are entirely different than his needs a year ago.  A year ago, he needed jars of runny baby food, the baby chair, multiple bibs, and baby spoons.  This year he’ll eat the same foods as his older sister.  In addition to the changing needs the come with passing years, winter trips are entirely different than summer trips, and the packing also depends entirely upon the destination.

The pile looms in the corner as the sun peaks over the pine trees out the window. I pick a cuticle and open God’s Word for some truth to center my racing mind.  I’m reading in 1 Chronicles these days, and the thin ribbon opens to a page I must have read before.  The black ink is highlighted neon yellow: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

I chew on the words and drink down black coffee. Fuel for the day.

Too often, I forget to chew on the words. Too often I take them in like one more task to complete – like dishes that need cleaned or pillowcases that need folded.  He doesn’t want it to be like this.  He wants it to be like a love letter – pondered and memorized and cherished.

I think of how life would be without these two small people bouncing about in need of snacks and dry pants and crayons. I look at the worn blue backpack at the bottom of the pile.  Ten years ago, that backpack was the only luggage needed on every weekend trip.  Ten years ago, I could fit all I needed for five days in that pack.  Things were simpler.  But simpler doesn’t mean better.  There was less work at home, but it wasn’t better.  It’s better now.

I ponder these things and forgive myself for disdaining the work that sometimes comes with parenting. I give thanks.  I call upon his name.  I commit to make his goodness known.  Are opportunities to serve others not opportunities to give thanks for the honor of sharing in Christ’s heart for investing in others?

The work set before me today is stacked higher than the bags on the steps. There is laundry, cooking, and an article assignment that will take at least three hours.  I’m not looking forward to it.  It’s the gritty kind of work that feels more like a college research paper than a soul-satisfying outpouring from my heart.

I give thanks anyway. I thank him for the opportunity to create with my hands and bless others.  I thank him that there are words to write and dishes to wash.  I thank him that though it feels like a heavy weight, it’s more like a minion backpack filled with purpose and blessing.

 

There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from the Flowers in My Pocket

 

I reach into my pocket for a tissue and pull out a handful of wilted yellow flowers. They’re coltsfoot blossoms – a gift from my son on a warm spring afternoon. Withering and wilted, they look pathetic in my pocket, and I make sure he doesn’t see me slip them into the garbage can. But before I can release the crumpled symbols of his love for me, something stops me.

I examine them closely in my hand, then walk to the china cabinet in search of a suitable vase. Throwing them into the garbage can simply isn’t an option today. Someday I’ll confess to my children that I’ve quietly discarded art projects, spelling tests, and pet rocks, but for today, I’m keeping the flowers.

Staring at the pathetic vase on the dining room table, the flowers from my pocket remind me of several important lessons about life:

Small miracles always surround us

For close to thirty years, I quit noticing coltsfoot flowers along the roadside. I quit appreciating the first color to burst forth from the bleak winter landscape. For a long decade, I became so focused on my career, my goals, and my schedule that I overlooked the thousands of tiny miracles in my midst. I stopped catching snowflakes on my tongue, smelling roses, and making wildflower bouquets.

I’m thankful for the students and children who have reminded me what it means to appreciate the small miracles in my midst. Geese overhead bring awe, freshly fallen snow on a winter morning is a reason to cheer, and sunsets warrant a cessation of all activity. I’m slowly becoming less focused on the tasks of the day and growing in gratitude for the small miracles all around.

What some people call weeds, others call treasure

There’s a beautiful housing development about a half-mile from our house. We live on the outskirts of the development, literally the last house between town and the endless fields of rural farm country. The houses in the development manage to completely eradicate small yellow flowers from their lawns with chemicals and special treatments.

Meanwhile, my son refuses to walk past a colorful flower without picking it for me. Refuses. It’s a battle to keep daffodils in our landscaping, because he insists on bringing them inside for his mom. Not a dandelion endures the onslaught of his voracious desire for more treasures. He reminds me that embracing the imperfection of a flower-spotted yard might just be a gateway to greater joy. Similarly, embracing the imperfection of a less-than-perfect life, might just free me to live more abundantly.

The season of darkness always ends

The coltsfoot plants emerge on the cusp of spring. The days are just starting to linger longer. Raging blizzards have mostly passed, and warm sunny days alternate with blustery days of flurries and winter hats. The coltsfoot reminds me that the darkness of winter really will end, and warm days of basking in the sun await.

The dark seasons of our lives generally don’t last forever either. Even for those of us who endure darkness and trouble throughout much of our lives on earth, there is a greater promise awaiting. There is a promise of life without tears, pain, or suffering. I’m quite certain it will also be a life of rolling hills of coltsfoot and glistening yards of dandelions. This darkness won’t last forever.

 

The Art of Embracing Interruptions

 

The wind’s screaming through the poplar tree out the window, and the curtains flutter from the draft. I roll over and pray the light pouring through the blinds is just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure it’s the dawn of a new day. I went to bed late, thinking of writing projects and the poster Bekah and I need to make for her school project next week and what I’m going to send for snack day. My mind raced for hours, and now that dawn is here, I have no desire to race into anything.

My to-do list is long today, and I think of Ann Voskamp’s words about changing our to-do lists into to-love lists. Could scrubbing the toilets really be an act of love? Could getting down on all fours to work on the sticky dining room floor really be an act of worshipful service?

I brush my teeth thoughtlessly, and the impending nature of my list weighs me down. I need to write two articles this weekend to top it all off. The good news is that I’m the first one awake, and the stillness of the morning feels like an invitation to productivity.

I race through my daily routine of Bible reading, coffee, and dry cereal without so much as a single prayer. Little footsteps stir before I’m done checking the weather forecast, and it seems I’m racing time. I’m racing to accomplish, produce, and achieve.

Bekah’s up first, and for this I’m thankful. Once Caleb hits the ground, quiet moments cease at all levels. She smiles at me sleepily, then settles into Minecraft on the Kindle and sucks down chocolate milk. My heart smiles watching her, for just an instant, and then it’s back to the to-do list. I’m thinking of Ann again and trying to reframe my perspective as I wipe sticky handprints from the sliding glass door for the thirty-fourth time this week.

The morning progresses at the same pace, and by quarter til ten, I’m half way through writing my first article. The kids are lost in piles of dump trucks, plastic action heroes, Legos, and stuffed animals on the living room floor when Caleb comes to me eagerly. “Creek today?” he asks, and I smile. A trip to the creek wasn’t on my to-do list.

I’m not good at embracing interruptions. A surprise knock on the door when I’m in the mist of cooking dinner isn’t a welcomed opportunity – even when it’s someone from a different religious denomination coming to the door to talk about God. Too many times, I’ve overlooked opportunities to embrace people who literally come to me and want to discuss God. I wish my kids were never interruptions, but sadly, I tend to focus on tasks more easily than less tangible necessities. And spending time with my kids is a necessity.

It takes three interruptions from Caleb and one from Bekah to convince me to save my to-do list for tomorrow and go to the creek. We go, and they love every minute. We bring nets, search for frogs, and build sandcastles. We laugh, take turns sharing what we like about each other, and throw huge stones into the water. I am fully refreshed, and memories are made.

Returning home, Caleb naps, and Bekah and I embrace an hour of quiet time. In one short hour, I write more words with a refreshed soul than I would have written in four hours earlier in the day. I’m surprised the interruption fueled me.

I think of Jesus walking from town to town. I think of his destination and the reality that nearly every interaction along the road was an interruption. Again and again, he was interrupted for the purpose of bringing glory to God through his interactions with others. He wasn’t put off or disgruntled by interruptions. He lived in the midst of interruptions and embraced them.

As I finish typing, a six-year-old stands at my side with a coloring book. Time to embrace another beautiful interruption.