Category: Parenting

5 Family Traditions to Restore Wonder This Christmas

 

Daylight’s fading fast in the northern hemisphere, and these are the days when I’m glad I didn’t take a teaching position in Healy, Alaska all those years ago. Pennsylvania’s winters are dark enough.

We find ourselves in closer quarters this time of year. The card games have been dusted off and pulled from the top shelf in the basement.  We pull colorful books from the neglected shelf of picture books and read until our eyes are too tired, and then we read some more.

This season of darkness is also a wonderful time instill a few traditions that restore the wonder of Christmas. Children are catalysts for restoring wonder, and simply being in their presence cultivates a renewed sense of awe.  As adults, we can learn from the awe of our children, but we can also incorporate traditions that teach our children the true meaning of the season.

Advent Candles

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that she’d purchased a few candles, and her family was enjoying the practice of weekly lighting a candle in anticipation of the coming Christ. We were new parents at the time, and I was coming off a decade of almost losing the wonder of the Christmas season.  I’d been so busy with my career and ministry that there were years I hardly decorated the house.  My friend commented that the simple act of lighting a new candle each week and reflecting on the wonder of the season was slowing her family down and helping them appreciate the meaning behind all of the hype.

The next year, I spent five dollars on candles and a wreath, and we began the practice of the advent wreath in our home. We haven’t missed a year since.  For a guide to weekly readings and candle lightings, check out this link.

Enjoy a daily Scripture reading

The Book of Common Prayer offers daily Scripture reading throughout the year and throughout the season of Advent.  While reading every passage suggested in the guide might be too much for young children, consider reading a small passage daily at the dinner table or before bed.

Another child-friendly resource for Advent reading is Ann Voskamp’s illustrated book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  This book examines the coming of Christ through the lens of God’s Word.

Create Jesse Tree ornaments

The Jesse Tree is the tradition of reading the Old Testament Scriptures leading up to the coming of Christ. Studying these truths and allowing children to participate by coloring pictures that match each story and using these pictures to create your own Jesse Tree is a great way to incorporate a hands-on activity into your study of the history behind the coming of Jesus.  Many web sites offer Jesse Tree printables and instructions.

Visit a live nativity

Nothing instills wonder like visiting a live nativity. Children who love animals will enjoy seeing the creatures, and seeing real people reenacting the birth of Jesus will leave a lasting impression.   While there is speculation about the accuracy of some nativity depictions, this is an event that will instill wonder and bring the realization that Jesus was born into humble beginnings.

Actually celebrate the birth of Jesus

It’s easy to let the thrill of gift-opening dominate Christmas morning. Consider what the day would actually look like if Jesus were tangibly sitting in your living room.  Some families celebrate his birth through singing happy birthday and blowing out candles on a cake (or muffins or doughnuts) before opening gifts.  This is a fun and healthy way to remind ourselves of the reason for the day.

Another idea is to put an empty straw cradle in the house before Christmas. Place a doll to represent Jesus in the basket Christmas morning.

Regardless of which activities you choose for your family, the anticipatory attitude of your heart is what matters most.  The Incarnation, in which God actually descended to earth wrapped in flesh is a wonder and a miracle.  May the commercialized hype not numb us to this reality.

 

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Finding Beauty in Ordinary Moments

I discovered a meatball under the china cabinet this morning. We haven’t had meatballs for two weeks in these parts, and I found it surprising that I saw the meatball before I smelled it. I pondered it while I continued my search for hidden treasures beneath the rest of the dining room furniture, and I also pondered the ordinariness of my daily life.

Ten years ago I spent my days teaching students with disabilities inside the walls of a respected high school. I used the knowledge attained through my master’s degree on a daily basis, and every day brought new challenges and changes in my schedule. My husband and I traveled overseas often, and when we had a week off, we regularly took off across the country with our camping gear in the back of the SUV. Life was filled with adventure and possibility.

To finish reading this post, join me at Her View from Home. . .

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7 Family Friendly Thanksgiving Traditions

 

 

November is here with the grey branches of maple trees reaching heavenward and once-vibrant fields of wildflowers wielding frost-burned tufts in unison. It’s a season of transition.  In November we transition from seventy-degree afternoons to snow-laden days with woolen scarves and tightly laced snow boots.

It seems appropriate that this month of transition is also culturally known as the month for giving thanks. We are often most desperately in need of reminders to practice gratitude when the tides are shifting in our lives.  November has always felt like a changing of the tides for me.

November is the time when the kids bound from the bus wearing feathers in their hair and carrying paper Pilgrim hats. Pumpkins and hay bales adorn neighborhood stoops.  Our hearts overflow with gratitude for what is good, and all the while, we brace ourselves for the onslaught of winter.

As we aim to establish this month as a time for giving thanks in our home, I’ve been combing through resources in search of some family-friendly Thanksgiving traditions. I’m sharing some of my favorites today. Our family is strongly steeped in tradition at other times of the year, but what better holiday to richly embrace than a holiday built around giving thanks?

Here are seven very practical ways to practice giving thanks this month:

Gratitude Stones

Decorate small stones with either paint or a Mod Podge painted over tissue paper.  These stones are reminders to give thanks and can be used in this way: Pass a stone around the dinner table, and the person holding the stone thinks of a reason to give thanks; share them with friends and include a note about why you’re thankful for that person; write words on the stones and collect them in a jar to show what you are grateful for as a family.

Gratitude Crosses

Gratitude Crosses are a great way to remember that we are most thankful for the work of Christ in our lives.  Purchase a gratitude cross kit or make one on your own using foam or paper cut-outs according the attached link.  The premise is this: Decorate a small cross with reasons to give thanks and hang it as a decoration.  Get as creative as you wish.

Gratitude Trees

This is a fun idea for the outdoor lovers, and it’s a great way to collect many reasons for gratitude. Either create a tree silhouette and tape it to the wall or use real tree branches in a vase or pot.  Tape or hang paper cut-out leaves on the tree and write reasons to give thanks on the leaves.  This link for a Thankful Tree is a helpful example.

Gratitude Games

For families who thrive on activities instead of crafts, Gratitude Games are a great tradition to remind everyone that it is a season for giving thanks.  The link above is designed to help families give thanks together by playing Pick-up Sticks and giving thanks based on the color of stick.

Give Thanks Garland

If a gratitude tree isn’t your thing, or if your toddler insists on pulling the tree over and chewing on the branches, make your own Give thanks garland and write your reasons to give thanks on the leaves.

Embark on 30 Days of Gratitude

The 30 days of gratitude printout will guide you in a way to practice gratitude every day of the month.  We’re called to give thanks in all circumstances, and this tool is a useful way of applying the call to our lives daily.

Spread the Joy

Consider inviting friends over to share in the traditions. Host a neighborhood fall picnic on a sunny evening.  Write notes to friends and tell them why you’re thankful for them, and intentionally aim to give thanks for those who live under your own roof.  It’s easy to overlook those closest to us.

 

Gratitude is more than just something we do. It’s also an attitude of the heart.  Practice gratitude by internally giving thanks as you proceed throughout your day.  Gratitude journals have been a popularly promoted practice off and on throughout the past two decades and for good reason.  Fixing our eyes on reasons to give thanks holds the power to transform even the bleakest November day.

Friendship Friday

 

 

 

 

 

Crystal Twaddell

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5 Ways to Celebrate Fall without Ghosts and Goblins

Celebrate Fall with fun family friendly activities and avoid the Halloween spookiness

5 Ways to Celebrate Fall without the Spookiness

 

It’s a pristine October day that feels more like early September than mid-autumn with all its color and brilliance and the scent of freshly fallen leaves blanketing the earth. We go to the woods in search of fall decorations for the house and come home with plastic bagfuls of sticky pinecones, acorns, leaves, ferns, and rocks.  The pinecones find new homes in baskets throughout the house, the leaves are scattered across the dining room table while crayons make leaf imprints on construction paper, and the acorns and stones find their way to vases.

Fall is the season of harvest in these parts, and the farmers are ceaseless in their combining, raking, and gathering. There’s something about the season of harvest that seems to warrant celebration, and the kids are eager to embrace this short season of pumpkins and scarecrows before the snow flies.

There’s an important standard in our home that faces cultural opposition this time of year. The standard is this: “Only dwell on what is pure, lovely, and good.” This standard keeps eerie programming off of our TV screen, leaves goblins at the doorstep, warrants the disposal of other types of media, and guards our hearts in the season known for making light of ghosts and vampires.  It keeps the spookiness from overtaking our home with the onslaught of autumn, and it keeps our eyes on what is pure, lovely, and good.

This week’s post is for anyone who is looking to celebrate this abundant season of harvest without embracing the spookiness encouraged by modern culture. Here are five family-friendly ideas:

Focus on Autumn Décor Instead of Spooky Décor

With aisles upon aisles of witches, ghosts, and creepy decorations filling most stores, it can be difficult to navigate this season. The kids beg for Halloween decorations, and the options entice them around every corner.  One simple way to overcome the pull toward the spooky is to focus on decorating with an autumn theme instead of a creepy theme.  Pumpkins, wreathes, and even inspirational wall hangings are easy to find.  Aim for autumn instead of Halloween.

Share the Harvest with Friends

Our fridge is full of red raspberries, cabbage, fresh green beans, squash, and foods straight from the earth. One way to embrace this season is to bless friends with the gatherings of the harvest.  Take a loaf of pumpkin bread to a neighbor’s house.  Invite a few families over for a bonfire.  Plan a meal entirely based around freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, and practice giving thanks.

Practice Gratitude

It’s easy to slip into self-centered thinking when the focus of the season is on costumes and candy collection. Instead of making these things the focus of the season, encourage your family to name the blessings of the season.  Encourage them to give thanks for the abundance of goodness around them.  Gear up for the upcoming Thanksgiving season with reminders to give thanks in all things.  Count blessings and write them on leaf-shaped papers to create a gratitude tree.

Bring on the Pumpkin and Leaf Activities

In lieu of parties and activities that focus on fear-based entertainment, keep the harvest theme going as you plan activities for your children and their friends. There are countless ideas for pumpkin and fall crafts and games.  Keep your focus on God’s creation, and you’re sure to avoid ghosts and monsters.

Embrace the Last Warm Days with Outdoor Activities

Finally, celebrate fall by embracing the last warm days before winter. Visit a pumpkin patch, apple orchard, or hay maze.  Many communities offer these attractions for free.  Explore a local park and collect leaves.  Enjoy a campfire in the backyard.  Pick a bouquet of fall wildflowers for the table.  Just as the daylight is fading quickly, so are the sunny T-shirt days.  Enjoy them while they last.

For a list of 17 fall-themed Bible-based craft ideas, click here.

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This post was shared as a part of the Fresh Market Friday Link-up.

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26 Practical Ways to Encourage Our Kids

 

Author Toni Morrison once posed the question, “When your child walks in the room, does your face light up?”

I was not yet a parent when I first considered this question, but it stuck with me. It stuck with me that others can tell how we feel about them by the way we look at them.

She continued, “When my children used to walk in the room, when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. But if you let your face speak what’s in your heart…because when they walked in the room, I was glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see.”

I find myself remembering these words in the early hours of dawn, when fuzzy heads stumble from their rooms and greet me. I find myself considering these words when I’m tired at the end of a long day, when I just wanted to finish the dishes before he scooted the chair to the sink, and when I had hopes of staining the whole deck before the school bus rolled up.

I’ve been considering how to encourage the little people in my life, and I’ve been working on a list of practical ways to build them up. This week’s post is for anyone who has influence in the lives of children, and I hope it offers fresh insight.  Here are 26 practical ways to encourage the kids in your life:

  1. Listen with full focus.
  2. Leave notes by their beds.
  3. Affirm effort over fixed attributes.
  4. Remind them that hurt people hurt people.
  5. Show up at their events.
  6. Remind them that their mistakes don’t define them.
  7. Model humility.
  8. Don’t hold grudges.
  9. Tell them why you love them.
  10. Set aside time just for them.
  11. Go on dates.
  12. Cook special meals you know they’ll love.
  13. Make their beds one day a week.
  14. List all the things you love about them, and then share the list with them.
  15. Write notes on napkins.
  16. Laugh at their jokes.
  17. Pause in the midst of a task to closely examine their artwork.
  18. Review the enormous stack of school work with them.
  19. Tell them you believe in them.
  20. Tell them you’ll be there for them.
  21. Go on adventures together.
  22. Apologize when you blow it.
  23. Ask for their opinions.
  24. Help them when they’re stuck.
  25. Speak words that bring life.
  26. Make room on the couch.

If this post resonates with you, you might want to check out the link below. By clicking on it, you’ll sign up to receive a list of questions every child needs to hear from the adults who love him.  And no need to worry, you will receive only one email.  Blessings, friends!

22 Questions to Ask Your Kids

 

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The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.

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Four Ways to be Allies with Your Child’s Teacher

In honor of Bekah’s first day of first grade, here is an article I recently shared with a parenting publication on behalf of all parents and teachers:

When “Parenting” magazine joined forces with the National Education Association to study the delicate bridge that unites parents and teachers, their 2012 study found that 68 percent of teachers report difficulty when dealing with parents. Meanwhile, 63 percent of parents indicated that they’d never had difficulty in dealing with teachers.

The question stemming from this research leads us to ask what we can do as parents to promote a positive relationship with the teachers who invest in the lives of our children. For elementary-age children, up to six hours of the day will be spent with one primary teacher. Even as our children emerge into upper grades and encounter dozens of different teachers, these adults will make a formidable impact on the lives of the students they teach. Parents are wise to facilitate positive relationships with the adults who will shape the lives of their children.

To continue reading, join me at Parent Co

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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.

 

 

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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.”

~~~

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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.

 

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