Thursday, March 31, 2011


2. : an underlying often ideological plan or program

Do you have an agenda for your children's lives?  Do you hope they will live near you when they are adults?  That they will pursue a certain profession?  Play a certain sport? Share an interest you have? Make the Honor Roll?  Attend your alma mater?  Love your favorite food?

I think most of us have big and small agendas for our children.  They can be as innocuous as an unspoken fact that your entire family drinks milk with dinner or as poisonous as the notion that nothing less than perfection is acceptable.  I have a few agendas for my girls: the biggest is that they be who they were made to be.  This is a somewhat dangerous agenda because it means all of my other acknowledged and unacknowledged agendas may fall by the wayside.  I truly, deeply hope to have three daughters who love to read - for all of their lives.  This is a partly selfless agenda.  I know from experience the worlds that a book can open and I think books have encouraged me, broadened my mind, expanded my horizons and made me into a life-long learner. 

But it's also a selfish agenda.  My husband and I are readers - it's a core part of who we are and it's a big way that our family spends our time.  So what happens to my agenda if a daughter (or two) doesn't fall in love - and stay in love - with reading?  I'm not sure what would happen.  But I know this: I am not going to shame her into complying.  I'm not going to pressure her to just try this book - or this one - in the hopes that I can ignite the flame by force.

I think as a parent of young children, your agenda is, in some ways, less important.  It's easier with toddlers and preschoolers to cover all the bases.  You teach them a smattering of manners, behavior norms, faith principles and general expectations.  But one thing that's challenging about having your children age before your very eyes is that I feel I really must decide what things on my agenda are most important because I can't do it all.  One of my key goals (if not my primary goal) as a parent is to not get in the way of each of my daughters growing into themselves.  That means not putting my own ideas of who they should be on them, but it also means helping them shake off and stay free of agendas that the world might put on them.

This line of thinking has led me to a desire to really combat consumerism in my life and the lives of my children.  Because if you spend your life worrying about what things you have or don't have, how can you be who you're meant to be?  Consumerism is all about comparison.  It's about who has what and how much.  And becoming your own person isn't about anyone else but you.  I'm sure the path looks different for each of us, but it's only been as I've been able to decide for myself who I am - free from comparing myself to others - that I've grown to even get a glimpse of who I am.

I think consumerism and/or materialism is a battle every parent in our culture faces.  We live in a world that bombards our children with images of what they should want from an incredibly young age.  Thanks to large doses of commercial free PBS, a blessedly sweet non-competitive elementary school and enormous imaginations, my girls have mostly avoided the gimmes.  I am thankful that they aren't currently defined by what they have and I am determined to fight to keep it that way.  This will require some tightrope walking during the late middle school and early high school years, when fashion is likely to become more important to them.  I don't want to ignore their desire to explore who they are through what they put on, but I also don't want them to fall into a pattern of spending too much of their time, energy and thoughts into what things they have. 

I don't what that for them because I firmly believe it's a trap.  It's a way to keep their focus off the things that matter and on the things this world tells them matter. Obsession with material things can keep someone from pursuing a job they love because it doesn't pay enough.  It can keep them from living in the place they want because it doesn't fit their self-image.  It can keep them from seeing God as their provider because they are so busy buying non-essentials that it doesn't even cross their mind to be thankful that their needs are actually being met.  I don't want any of these things for my girls.  I want them to hold the things of this world loosely, so that the world has a loose hold on them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


: the state of being not present

Last Friday, I took my 11 year old daughter, A, to the airport.  She boarded a plane and I left the airport alone.  She was nervous, excited, giddy - all things that an eleven year old girl does really well.  A was on her way to Milwaukee to visit J's parents.  This trip was an impromptu gift for several of us: time with her grandparents and her first solo flight a gift for A, time alone with A a gift to Me-Me and Grandpa, time alone a gift for me.  Her flight up went well (for which I am very thankful since I need her to willingly board the plane again tonight!) and she called to let us know she had arrived safely.

She called that evening to see what we were going.  She called Saturday to see how K's soccer game went.  She asked to talk to her sisters.  She talked to me.  She talked to J.  After a phone call or two of this, J and I realized that she missed us.  Since our girls have been little, they've spent time without us at my parents' house and J's parents' house.  But none of them have ever done it without sisters as companions.  It was sweet to see our absence from her make her heart grow fonder.  And A wasn't the only one.

Last night at bedtime, I told K to grab her most recent library book and go read in bed until I joined her.  "Can I clean my room instead, Mom?"  "Clean your room?" I say, puzzled.  Her room is strewn with toys and clothes - all her doing.  After helping her ready her room for a playdate on Friday, I've since then left it to K.  The result of that was quite a mess.  She's going to voluntarily take care of this mess?  Is she angling for a later bedtime?  Apparently not, because K's reply was,  "Yes, I want to clean my room so that it's nice and clean and beautiful when A gets home tomorrow!"

A and K had been sharing a room for a few days before A's trip.  K has a spare bed in her room and A wanted to sleep in there with her.  Actually, A is ready to just move into the room, but we thought we'd give it a few nights (or weeks) before moving furniture and clothing from one room to another.  K adores having another person share a room with her.  She is such an extrovert that she doesn't even want to sleep alone.  And we've found from past experiments that A and K make pretty good roommates.  While K is four years younger, A is an early to bed, early to rise girl, so the earlier lights-out doesn't bother her.  And sharing a room with her six year old sister gives this tween a reason to let her little girl side reign.  She plays zoobles, Barbies and dress-up with K - a gift only a youngest sister can give.

K is excited to have her sister, playmate and roommate return tonight.  A's flight gets in at 7, so I imagine K will be on pins and needles in the hours between school and airport.  But her room is ready.  Because K not only cleaned it last night, she got up early this morning to finish tidying and vacuum.  Yes, the vacuum was in use in my home prior to 8 AM this morning.  I can assure you this is not the norm.  It may, in fact, be the earliest wake up call my vacuum cleaner has ever received.  But K wanted the room completely clean and ready for A's return.

I know I have years ahead of me of girls squabbling, arguing and generally being annoyed with each other.  After all, one purpose of siblings is to learn conflict resolution in a safe environment.  But having sisters also exposes your own selfishness.  And as much as we each need to see that, it's never fun to do.  So raising three girls has its fair share of blessings and challenges.

But today the blessings are shining a bit brighter, taking up more room in the forefront of our lives, reminding us that it's a very sweet thing to raise three girls who enjoy each other (even when they are completely unwilling to admit it).

A, K and B

Thursday, March 24, 2011


: something in addition to what is expected or strictly due

I Love You art by K, age 5

When J received his annual bonus a few weeks ago, we decided to try something new.  We've typically seen the receipt of a lump sum as a way to give to organizations that don't normally receive our tithes.  J and I have enjoyed brainstorming together about who to give to and how we can bless them, so we decided this year to let the girls in on the action.  They were each given a sum to donate to an organization of their choice.

Their immediate reactions were a bit surprising.  They all knew exactly where they wanted the money to go.  K wanted to give some to the homeless and some to an orphanage (they'd recently watched Annie).  B wanted to give to Soles 4 Souls and a homeless shelter.  A wanted to give to Rejoice, where she dances.

A had an opportunity to donate her money fairly quickly through a dance marathon event, but it has taken awhile to get around to giving to B and K's causes.  This actually worked out well, since K said to me not long ago, "Mommy?  Have you given my money away?  Because I thought the people in Japan might need it."  I told her that was a great idea and that we could talk about it some more.

B had also had a slight change of heart.  Her school is holding a Jump Rope for Heart event and she had asked if she could give her money as part of that.  While I initially agreed, as I thought more about it, I wondered whether her motivation was curing heart disease or earning prizes...

Today, I was taking care of some of my final dispensation of bonus gifts and decided to see if I could take care of B and K's giving online as well.  I started by talking with B about her giving.  I told her I'd been thinking about Jump Rope for Heart and that while it was still OK for her to give to that, I wanted her to think about whether she was being motivated by the cause or the prize, since the point was to give, not get.  Of all my children, B has the strongest conscience.  It didn't take her long to conclude she was, in fact, more motivated by the prizes.  After some discussion, she ended up splitting her gift and giving equal amounts to Soles 4 Souls, CUREkids and our church.  When J asked why she wanted to give money to our church, she said, "It's my church," like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Then came the task of getting K to make a decision.  She started by asking me whether the people in Japan or the homeless people needed the money more.  How do you answer a question like that?  It kind of broke my heart.  I tried to explain that Japan's needs were more urgent than the needs of the homeless, but that their needs were still very real and present.  She asked to see pictures of what happened in Japan after the soo-man-ee (as she calls the tsunami).  So we looked at pictures.  Lots of pictures.  We talked about what we saw in the pictures and K asked me, "Are you getting sad?"  She was right.  It was hard to look at the widespread devastation in picture after picture and not get sad.  But we still needed a decision.  Where to give the money?  As I was about to split her gift between an organization that supports the homeless and Japanese relief efforts, she decided it should all go to Japan.  I clicked away before she could change her mind again and assured her that was a good choice.

I've been encouraged by my girls' reactions to this experiment because I want to try something new this Christmas and let them give gifts to others instead of receiving gifts from J and I.  I thought by giving them a taste of what it can be like to give, they would be more agreeable to the idea of changing the way we celebrate Christmas.  But even as I'm encouraged by K's concern for the people of Japan, A's love for the kids she dances alongside and B's desire to help others, I'm stunned that the same children who can care about others can turn around and be mean to each other.

My children fight far more than I'd like.  They bicker over who's going to sit where, snap at each other if they have to repeat themselves and generally act as if their sisters are put on earth for their personal torture.  So these same loving girls can be real pains, too.  In times when the din is high and my spirits are low, I try to remember that siblings are meant to help us understand conflict resolution.  All of these little squabbles and spats will hopefully turn them into the humble, selfless, giving creatures I sometimes glimpse.  In the meantime, I'm going to try to remember moments like today, when K looked at me earnestly and said, "Who do you think needs the money more?"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


2. b : the four quarters into which the year is commonly divided

I packed up the flannel sheets today.  Folded away snowflakes and snowmen.  Tucked their softness into a bin.  And remembered how happy I was a few months ago when it was time to pull them out of that same bin and put them on the beds.  Recalled the delight in slipping under them for the first time, their softness and weight bringing sleep as a gift.

I love every season when it arrives, fall perhaps most of all.  The heat of summer seems to bear down on me, making it harder to move, to think, to do anything.  Fall offers reprieve from heat's oppression and points towards Thanksgiving, then Christmas, my favorite times of year.  But this winter has worn long.  It has kept us indoors, snowbound, for far more days than I am accustomed to.  Summer's heat I have long dealt with.  But snow for days on end?  This is a battle where I lack training.  I know how to combat the heat - with water to drink and swim in, trips to the art museum's cool interior, a morning movie in a darkened, air conditioned theater.  Snow?  I can offer you some hot chocolate and pancakes and let you watch some TV.  I don't have much beyond that to offer.

So after a long winter, this spring is especially welcome.  From our bathroom window, I've watched one of our trees for signs of buds, then blossoms and have been pleased when they've appeared.  I've looked for green day after day and been glad to have it greet my eyes more and more often.  I've opened windows, cleaned out closets, tried on sandals.  I've been able to smile as I folded and put away flannel sheets.  Thankful to be moving from one season to another.

This is life, isn't it?  Never static, always moving away from one thing, towards another.  And here's how I want to be able to live it: thankful for the season just arriving, grateful to have lived the one that's come and gone.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


1. a (1) : an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought

Over our eleven years of parenting, we've tried various types of prayers with our children.  Everything from a basic memorized prayer ("Father in Heaven, hear my prayer...") to the Lord's Prayer to doing Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication to just letting our girls share what's on their hearts. 

Several months ago, I began singing prayer with the girls each night.  I would sing a line and have them repeat after me.  The prayer I most liked to pray when doing this is Psalm 51:1-2.  It's a prayer of repentance and I think children (or is this only my children?) have trouble really understanding repentance.  Yes, they'll apologize - and often mean it sincerely - but the idea of turning away from their bad choice - of walking away from it never to return - doesn't really register with them.  While I doubt they intend to commit the same sins time and again, I also think they can't really imagine being able to not make these little mistakes that litter their lives.  So I thought singing a prayer asking God to forgive them for the things they do would help them begin to internalize the concept of repentance.  For several days now, I've heard K playing in her room and singing Psalm 51 while she plays.  She's clearly learning the words - yes, even words like iniquity and transgression - whether this will change her heart is yet to be seen.

Tonight as I prayed with A & K (who are sleeping in the same room tonight), I decided to sing another scripture to them and have them echo me.  I chose Zephaniah 3:17, a verse that I need to remind myself is true.  While singing it, I realized that some prayers resonate more with one daughter than another.  A was singing along faithfully, but it was K who really liked this one.  When I sang "he will rejoice," K threw her arms out in expression.  I continued singing, but smiled inwardly at the idea that K doesn't find it difficult at all to imagine God rejoicing over her.  As the youngest child, K can readily believe that she is loved, adored, rejoiced over.  And I wondered whether A needs that prayer as much as I do.  Does she, as the eldest like her mother, need to be reminded that God delights in us?  That he's not a taskmaster out to shape us up, but a Father who wants to encourage and nurture us.  After I finished the prayer, K said to me, "Is it OK if I make motions to go along with the prayer, Mom?  Like this..." and she threw her arms out as wide as they would go.  "Yes, honey.  That's fine," I said as I headed out the door.

Which daughter needed this prayer more?  The one who immediately recognized its truth or the one who may need to hear it dozens of times to really believe it?

Parenting is a job where the seeds we plant take years to bear fruit.  One of the terrifying things about parenting pre-teen daughters has been seeing some of the seeds we've unwittingly sown bear some unexpected fruit.  How does one yank up the weeds of anxiety and water the blossoms of independence?  The short answer is that you really can't do that as the parent.  Sure, I can try pulling a weed that I see in my daughter's life, but it's her life.  I can't snap my fingers and remove her fears - rational or irrational.  All I can really do is check to see whether my own life has those same weeds and get to work tending my own soul.

At our church this week, the Lenten focus is on internal formation - how well are we seeing the gifts God leaves in our paths?  Do we rejoice in them or turn a blind eye to them?  Tonight's prayer experience encourages me to persevere in praying with my daughters in a variety of ways.  While it was clear to me tonight that K liked this prayer, those internal "A-ha!" moments may go unseen by me.  Which is why it's my own prayer that the prayers we pray - or sing - with our daughters are also planting seeds that will bear future fruits in their spiritual lives. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


3 : the regular or customary condition or course of things

What does your ordinary life look like?  Are you content? compelled? coasting?  I find I am lately trending more towards contentment than I have at any other time in my life.  I was thinking about this as I lay on my bedroom floor doing push-ups at 9:30 on a Tuesday night.  I've developed so far this year a fairly consistent schedule of working out on Mondays and Thursdays.  (What's that?  I know two days weekly isn't really enough, but it's better than nothing and it's a target I've been able to hit, so I'm going with it.)  But this Monday was different - it was the start of spring break, I had all three girls at home, the day was gray, the mood of our home was laid back and I didn't want to work out.  So I didn't. Which was fine until Tuesday evening.  As I drove home from dinner, I could feel how much my body wanted exercise.  So I left J to deal with three girls (two of our own, plus a friend) and headed upstairs for some time with the treadmill and hand weights.

While debating how long my treadmill intervals should be, I realized I hadn't fulfilled my Lenten aim for the day - no time to create a collage on this day.  Should I stop my workout mid-stream and head down to pull out the art materials?  Or should I simply begin to learn the lesson that this Lent is pointing me towards - a lesson on self-care, its value and its place in my life.  Because if giving up caffeine and making time to create collages have anything in common, it's the thread of self-care.

I love how intentional our church is being about the Lenten season.  It makes me give it more thought and encourages me to see this season as more than just 40 days of self-denial and willpower.  One idea that has really struck me is the concept that Lent originally began Ordinary Time in the church calendar.  So a Lenten vow - whether one of giving something up or taking something on - would not be about surviving 40 days only to go back to the way things were before.  Instead, Lent is a petri dish for change - a concentrated, consecrated time to begin small changes that you want to be a part of your ordinary, everyday life.  I didn't know this when I gave up caffeine and committed to collage everyday, but I do think there are lessons in my Lent that need applying more regularly in my life, especially as they relate to self-care.

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with self-care.  I could sit with you at a coffee shop and extol its value to you, then go home and completely ignore my own needs for days on end, choosing instead to take care of others or occupy my time with any number of productive, if ultimately unimportant, tasks.  Even before Lent, I've been finding pockets of time to take care of myself.  Odd as it may sound, I try to choose a bath over a shower whenever possible.  A bath is a slower, more meditative way to cleanse myself and start my day.  I keep two books nearby.  I read one or both.  I close my eyes and rest my head on the lip of the tub.  I soak in bubbles.  It may sound small, but it has given me a way to choose to take care of myself on a daily basis.  And I have found that when I choose this for myself, I am better able to deal with the demands life places on me.  I can give more and resent less.  I can say no and forgo the guilt of doing so.  I can, in short, be healthier.

I'd like more of this in my life - more self-care, a healthier, more whole me.  I would like self-care to be a part of my ordinary life, at Lent and always.  Seeing Lent this way gives it life and beauty instead of making it a time of legalism and ample opportunities to fail.  It's not really about whether I have a Coke or create a card for a friend today.  It's about seeing, learning and really understanding the lesson in my Lent.  A lesson for an ordinary day.

Monday, March 14, 2011


2 : a beginning of movement, activity, or development

How to start a spring break:

Start with one trip to the zoo.

Follow with a trip to Cheekwood, where evidence of spring is just beginning to show with daffodils and other early blooming bulbs.

Add one gray, cold morning, quickly stirring in episodes of Phineas and Ferb whipped together with breakfast.

Our Spring Break is off to a good start, even if it doesn't look (or feel) like spring outside right now.  Saturday was lovely - a true glimpse of days to come.  It was packed to the brim with a zoo trip followed immediately by an excursion to Cheekwood.  (While I'm not normally one to double up on a day's pleasures in this way, B had an art class at Cheekwood from 1 to 4, so K and I wandered the grounds while her sister got an insider's tour of the museum, created in clay and crafted a futuristic playground out of pipe cleaners and styrofoam.)

Yesterday and today have been chilly, gray days.  That hasn't stopped me from doing spring break activities like watching a family movie on a school night and allowing the girls to start their week with TV (both huge no-nos in our home).   B and K are technically supposed to be in school right now, making up one of the ten snow days from earlier this year.  But we need rest more than they need a day of instruction.  So we're home, starting a spring break that will be free from travel, free from plans, free to do what we want.  Which is what we all are craving right now.

Hope your spring is off to a similarly good start, wherever you are, whatever weather you have.  May this day, this week, this season find you seeking rest, seizing moments to play and laying in the sunshine when it peeks out from behind the clouds.  That would be a good start, don't you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011


2. c : an independent institution of higher learning offering a course of general studies leading to a bachelor's degree; also : a university division offering this

Last night, I was laying on B's pillow pet on her bed, snuggled under a blanket as we talked.  She loves these evening chats.  I suspect that's partly the result of being the middle child - always acutely aware of having to share her parents, but desiring real relationship with each of us.  We were talking about school, how her day had gone and the book she was reading when, for no apparent reason, B said: "I don't want to go to college."  A conversation ensued:

Me: "Oh, honey.  That's years away."
B: "But I don't want to go.  My friends will make fun of me for having stuffed animals.  And... (her eyes fill with tears) You won't be there."
Me: "Boo, that's not for years.  You're only nine."
B (a tear trickles down her cheek): "But I don't want to go.  I'll miss you."
Me (seeing that the line of reasoning that this was nearly a decade away was getting me nowhere): "Well, you can go to college and live at home."
B (shocked, the tears stop as she tries to figure this out): "I can? How?"
Me: "You could go to Belmont during the day and take your classes and then come home and sleep here."
B (visibly relieved): "Oh.  Well, that's what I'm going to do."
Me: "OK, honey.  Let's say your prayer."

I don't for one second believe this fiercely independent child of mine will choose to live at home while she goes to college.  I don't think she'll be torn about her decision to leave home when the time arrives.  And I don't think she'll be taking her stuffed animals with her.

What I do know is this:  parenting tween and teenage daughters is difficult.  Most days, I feel like I've suddenly been put in the deep end when all I know how to do is dog paddle - or tread water.  I fear that I mess it up as often as I get it right.  So I want to remember last night.  I want to remember laying cuddled on my daughters bed (a bed that is so filled with stuffed animals and blankets that I have called it her nest) and hearing her say that she doesn't want to leave our home to go away to college.  I want to remember, in the days when I am once again alone with the man I love, that my daughter loved being here.  That she loved me.  That her eyes filled with tears at the thought of going away.

She'll still go.  She should go.  That is, after all, what we're raising them to do.  To go.  And be who they were made to me.  To be gloriously, uniquely themselves.  And I have no doubt I will love the B she turns in to.  This daughter (each of my daughters, in fact) is so full of surprises that when she asks J and I what job we think she might have as an adult, I find it hard to choose one from the dozens of possibilities that pop into my mind.  There are so many things she could one day be.

But I'd like to remember her like she is today.  Today she is a girl who has given up fighting with her sisters for Lent.  She is a girl who teaches her mom how to draw trees and creates elaborate etch-a-sketch creations.  She is a girl who hates to take showers, but loads the dishwasher without complaint.  She is a girl who loves stuffed animals - and loves me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting

Growing up as a Methobaptist in a predominantly Catholic part of the country, I knew what Lent was - it was the time right after Mardi Gras.  From my point of view back then, Lent and its observance were an old-timey kind of thing.  We still celebrated Mardi Gras (and got days off from school to celebrate it), but talk about Lent and its season of abstinence and self-denial were quaint customs we had moved beyond as good Protestant.

As an adult, I started what would become my own journey of faith in a Presbyterian congregation - one that was Reformed (note the capital R) and didn't observe Lent or any other seasons of the church that came too close to smelling like liturgy.  Yet the more I journeyed, the most I was drawn to Lent and the other rhythms of the church.  Despite my church's lack of observance of Lent, I commemorated it in my own way - giving up chocolate one year (that Lent was during a pregnancy, too - I don't recommend trying to give up chocolate while pregnant).  Two years ago, I had what I would consider my most meaningful and transformational Lent.  I gave up negative self talk.  For forty days, every time I would catch myself being unkind, harsh or overly critical, I would put a stop to it.  It wasn't an easy task - this was a pattern years (decades?) in the making - but it did help.  If nothing else, it heightened my awareness of how often I am prone to speak negatively to myself.  And I think that, by and large, the changes stuck.  I wouldn't say I never engage in negative self-talk anymore, but I have come to better recognize the sneering tone of voice and the biting way of thinking for the poison that they are.

This is not the way I typically see Lent approached - giving up an internal habit that no one else sees or benefits from.  Lent can sometimes be showy: "Our family is giving up television, movies, computer time, the Wii and fiction.  What about you?" or wear an air of self-flagellation: "For Lent, I am going to run three miles every day... before dawn."  As Lent approached this year, I wanted to be intentional about how I approached this season now that I am in a denomination that observes the rhythm of the liturgical year - and about how I introduced it to my daughters.  I started with one on one conversations with A and B, where I shared some of my own Lenten journeys.  I encouraged them to think about what they might want to put off (give up) or take on (adopt as a spiritual practice).

After letting these thoughts sit on their hearts for a few days,  I found a lovely book at the library that explained Lent and how it prepares our hearts for Easter.  As I read it to the girls, I told them my own plans for Lent.  Actually, my plans for Lent are less mine than God's.  I am giving up caffeine and adopting the practice of making time to collage a little every day.  The former feels terrifying.  I'm not sure how 40 days without caffeine will go.  My daughters were equally concerned when I told them.  There was a collective gasp at the dinner table, followed by girls speaking over one another hurriedly:
"But what about your headaches?" A & B said in unison.
"She can take a pill," K said.
"Actually the pills have caffeine in them, so I can't take them," I said.
"Oh, well... I can rub your toes for you," B said to end the conversation (we've recently been discussing reflexology and have heard that rubbing the big toe helps ease a headache).
I'm not particularly excited about giving up caffeine.  I've been working on tapering myself down and have been caffeine free for a few days now.  I spent most of Sunday in bed with a horrible headache - either sleeping or laying in a dark room.  But I really felt a pull to give up caffeine and, in fact, felt like God just wouldn't let this idea drop until I acquiesced.  It was only after I agreed to fast from caffeine that the idea of collaging every day was offered to me.  After the caffeine wrestling debate, this felt like an offering - something I could do for Lent that would be pleasant, encouraging and self-nurturing, not scary and potentially painful.

After their initial reactions to my Lenten practices, it was interesting to see my daughters' thoughts and feelings play out.  Six year old K is, quite frankly, not thrilled about this.  She has said things like, "I don't want to give up anything.  My life is fun." or "I don't want to clean my room everyday.  That's too hard."  and (my personal favorite) "How about if I take on having dessert every night?  Would that count?" After I nixed the idea of 40 days of dessert, she seems to have settled on the idea that she will read everyday.  This wouldn't be much of a change or feel special to anyone else in our family, but as a fledgling reader, this is a Lenten practice that will bless and grow K - and she won't have to clean her room everyday or give up chocolate. Good all around, right?

Eleven year old A is giving up dessert for Lent and committing to do her devotion everyday.  These will be small adjustments for her - she already does her devotion four days weekly and dessert is irregular, at best, in our home.  But what I see in A's choices is a desire to get it right - a desire to do what is being asked of her and do it well.

B's Lent may be the one that transforms our entire family the most: my nine year old middle child wants to give up fighting with her sisters.  This was completely her own idea and she's been thinking about it for several weeks.  It won't be easy - she's nine.  Her sisters drive her crazy on a regular basis.  But she really wants to try this and she is excited about the challenge of it.

I love how B's Lenten choice gets to the heart of the season.  She will have to set aside her rights, think of herself less and live with greater humility to make this work.  Don't get me wrong:  I know this will not be a perfectly executed plan.  Please don't expect to visit my home and see three smiling daughters playing happily and contentedly without a cross word.  It's a journey.  What I do hope will come of this Lent is an awareness - for our whole family - of how to practically and regularly put others first.  I can think of few things that would bring us closer to following in Jesus' footsteps this Lent.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


3: an assurance for the fulfillment of a condition: as a : an agreement by which one person undertakes to secure another in the possession or enjoyment of something

J and I have had the pleasure of getting to know a couple from our church who is in an entirely different stage of life than ours.  Like us, they have three children.  Unlike us, their youngest child is in college, their eldest working on a post-graduate degree in Oxford.  They joined us for Sunday lunch last weekend and shared the difficult circumstances surrounding one of their children.  The details of the circumstance don't matter for the purposes of this post.  What struck me is that there are no guarantees with parenting.  Our friends admitted that their children had really been very easy to parent through childhood.  They saw no indication to prepare themselves for something like this arising in adulthood.  It was both comforting and unsettling to think about this.

I find it comforting because it's a reminder that our parenting inputs don't yield one-for-one results.  My successes and failures as a parent don't necessarily mean my children will succeed or fail in particular areas.  A friend with children younger than mine once shared her desire to not be too permissive with her children so that they wouldn't grow up with a lack of self-control and the gifts that discipline brings.  One particular experience in her own life led her to believe children with parents who were more permissive had more difficulty as adults.

Over the course of our discussion, I was a bit troubled by this assertion, but it was only later that I realized what troubled me.  Yes, I think we can do our children a disservice by being too permissive.  I see already in my children a need for guidance in self-control and self-discipline.  These are not skills that come naturally to many children.  But I don't think that parenting my children correctly means they will not experience hardships later in life.  In fact, I believe no matter how good a parent I may be, my children will go through hard things - some of their own making, some of others' making.  Even more important, I wouldn't take these hard things away from them.  Like many other people, I've been changed more by the hard things in my life than the easy things.  I want the same transformative opportunities for my daughters, even if these opportunities feel like mountains to climb, not valleys to rest in.

So while I find it comforting to think that my parenting ups and downs don't determine the lives my children will have, I also find it unsettling.  Why am I putting all of this effort into doing a good job as a parent if there are no direct correlations, no guarantees that everything will turn out all right?  I think the answer to that is fairly simple:  it's too important a job to not give it my very best shot.  No, I can't guarantee that by affirming my children in their gifts, they'll never doubt their abilities.  But I can be fairly certain that if I never affirm them in their gifts, they will have a much harder time determining what their gifts are.  So I'm not planning to throw caution to the wind and parent in a less intentional way.

Here's where I finally have to rest my heart on these thoughts:  I can't guarantee anything when it comes to my children, but there is a Guarantor who can.  He doesn't promise their lives will be easy - or even consistently happy.  He just promises that he'll work it out for good.  That means my successes, my failures, my strengths, my weaknesses - all will be worked out for good in my life and the lives of my children.

Earlier this week, I was praying about the ashes in my life and wondering how on  earth beauty could ever rise from them.  But I felt a peace that not only will my own ashes be made beauty, the same is true for my daughters.  Think about this for a moment.  It's a comforting thought.  Until you realize the ashes will only get into their lives because they've been burnt.  I can't prevent ashes from being a part of their lives - or my own.  I can only trust in the Guarantor and his promise to bring beauty from them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


2: an object closely associated with or belonging to a specific person, thing, or office
Before I got pregnant with my first child, when I was just beginning to contemplate trying to have a baby, a doctor told me that parenting is exhilarating, but devastating.  He said one of the hardest things was to see something in his children that was a flaw of his own and to think, "I thought I managed to not pass that on to her!"  I've certainly experienced that - and anticipate far more of it during the teenage years that loom on the horizon.  But today has been about seeing glimpses of myself in my daughters - and feeling more connected to them because of those glimpses.

K is the daughter who is least like me - physically, emotionally and personality.  She has my dark brown eyes, but not much more.  She is quick to feel any and every emotion - letting them course through her veins and direct her paths (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not), whereas I long ago taught myself to stifle emotion and to never let it make it as far as my actions.  She is an off-the-charts extrovert.  I'm a bit of an introvert, myself. 

Over the course of my nearly seven years of parenting K, I have learned a great deal from her.  But I have sometimes wondered how she came to be my daughter.  I think a part of me has secretly watched her, waiting for some sign that she really is mine.  I got that sign not too long ago, and I saw it again today.

Last week, K had to write a report for Black History Month.  She chose Harriet Tubman as her topic and diligently read a book about her before writing a paragraph conveying what she had learned.  She finished her project a few days before it was due, so she turned it in the Friday before its due date.  K came home that day telling me that all of her friends agreed she had done the best show and tell ever.  I smiled and asked what she told them for show and tell.  "My report!" she said.  I pictured K sharing a few sentences about Harriet Tubman as her class sat in a large circle.  My mental picture was a tad off, as I found out when her teacher e-mailed me the image above.  Look at that tiny girl standing there so poised.

As soon as I saw the photo, I saw myself in it.  I'm not a world class public speaker, but I know how to do it and even enjoy doing it at times.  This I could relate to.  And I told K so as we prepared for her to go on her school's morning show this morning.  She was worried she wouldn't get to the point in a timely fashion (a very legitimate concern for her to have - being concise is not her strong suit), but she had written what she wanted to say in advance and it was the perfect length.  She did a fabulous job this morning.  She read from her paper instead of looking directly into the camera, but she's only 6!

I'm not proud that K has some new found skill at public speaking or that she's putting all of that talking to good use.  I'm just excited to see something in her that appears to have come directly from me.  Something that makes my heart say, "Yes!  That!  I know how to do that, too!  We do have things in common!"  It makes me happy to think that as she's growing into the person she will one day be, she is taking a piece of me along with her.