Building Community, One Kindness at a Time

 

I was at the library with my little children recently, they understand our rules and so I let them have some space to search in peace. My tiny was even chasing after her sister so I had time to look for the constellation books we wanted to pick up without needing to keep her from pulling every single book off of the shelf. We have a large library and there is always a fair amount of noise in the children’s area. On this day I could hear a baby fussing and crying, and, honestly, I was not feeling patient for it at all.

I continued my search with the hope that the child would settle down quickly. As I finished up and my kids were discussing audio book choices I found the baby, he was in a stroller and his momma was overwhelmed. As I stood there making silly faces at the boy she picked him up and continued working at a computer station with her little guy on one knee, she had a bottle out, a pacifier, plus the contents of her wallet spread out next to her. While I didn’t try to see what she was doing, I could tell she wasn’t just casually surfing the web while her baby yelled from his stroller. I thought to myself how hard that is, I remembered the days of having no internet at home and needing to use a library computer to complete important tasks. I know how difficult and stressful that can be, and I never had to try to do it while bouncing a fussy one year-old on my knee.

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I stood there at the end of the audio book aisle as my children discussed the benefits of listening to books and I was convicted. The Lord spoke into my heart asking me to help this over-stressed mother. I will admit that I was hesitant, this woman was not like me, the differences between us were evident. I had dirty knees from coming out of the garden, the gypsy just doesn’t wash out of my hair, and my kids dress themselves. I wondered if I offered, would she accept? First because of my appearance and secondly because as a mother myself I rarely take people up on their offers of kindness, feeling instead that I should be able to do it on my own. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing I gathered my courage and approached her.

I wasn’t sure what I would say so I just said “Hello, could I hold your baby for you?”

She turned from the computer screen, looked me over (probably contemplating all of the societal reasons that she should say no), thanked me and handed me her sweet boy. Can I please take a minute to tell you how completely adorable this child was! He was the sweetest, chubbiest, most squeezable baby you have ever seen and I was immediately glad that I took the risk. I sat on the floor with her baby while the woman went back to what she was doing, she had clearly been flustered trying to complete her task with this squirmy little guy in her lap so it took her awhile to find her place as she thanked me and told me she was struggling with the document that she was working on. My children would happily live at the library and so I told her to take her time.

Baby boy and I rocked and bounced and sat playing “this little piggy went to market” with his sweet little toes while his mom was able to finish her work, get help from a librarian with printing and begin to make a phone call. It wasn’t long but he was trying to escape from me too, and I could better understand why he had been buckled into his stroller earlier. Clearly the baby just wanted to move and explore, he hadn’t been being naughty or yelling for the sake of hearing his own voice, he was simply bored. I was reminded once again that I should never assume intent without first trying to understand. His mother was, of course, so thankful to me, but I thanked her when I handed her back her squirming, giggling, smiling baby. I’m sure she had no idea why I offered to help, why this strange (dirty) woman offered to hold her cranky baby while she filled out paperwork in the middle of her own personal mess.

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It was a gift and a reminder to me that we all need help sometimes, and the mother’s grace in her acceptance quieted my doubts about offering in the first place. How often do I avoid these situations where I could actually help someone based on my own uneasiness or fear? How often do I deny someone else the gift of helping by saying “no thanks, I’ve got it.”? I can’t even begin to guess at the answers to those questions, but I have made a decision that this day I will do what I can to help whoever is in my path. I briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to help well because I have three little people in tow at all times. Then I realized that in them I have three extra sets of hands to hold doors open, three little voices reminding me to hand a bottle of water to the homeless man on the corner, three willing participants in this spreading of joy. My children don’t have to stop me helping, they have the ability to help as well.

We can’t do all of the things, and we will miss opportunities, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ask me to do all things, just the next thing. If I do that task then He’ll have another for me at the exact right moment. In my mind I can see the baby’s adorable face as I sit here typing about him, I’ve been praying for him and for his momma. I hope that they are on a good path, that she knows God treasures her above all else, that earthly situations in no way reflect the breadth of Gods love. I also hope that the fifteen minutes of my time was seen as the pouring out of God’s love for her.

I’ve wondered since we left if she had been praying before I offered to hold her sweet baby.  Had she been sitting there mumbling something like, “Lord, please shut this boys mouth so that I can get us the help that we need and finish up on this computer…”. While I’ll never know for sure, I can trust that God knew her heart and her need and used me to meet that need. Not because I’m awesome or anything, simply because I was willing. I didn’t shy away from the nudge He gave me. I often think about the village that is missing in my mothering walk, and while that is a post all in itself, I am hopeful that for a few minutes I was able to fill that role for this woman. That I was able to remind her that there is a community around her that will lift her up and help her right where she is. After all I can’t expect others to build community for me, I have to actively take part in the process.

Naps, Quiet, and Joy

This year I have kept a “joyfulness journal”- you know, basically you write down all of the little things in your day that have made you smile. A few years ago I read Ann Voskamp’s Christmas devotional; The Greatest Gift which brought me to her blog and taught me this insightful way of looking at life. I have sporadically kept a list of what I refer to as my blessings-of-the-day ever since. It helps me when I swing toward the sadness end of the pendulum arc. As I look back through it, I’ve noticed a few repetitions and have spent some time thinking about why these things are moments that I count as joy.

First off; naps! My own, my children’s, my husband’s, it doesn’t matter. If someone was sleeping I probably made note of it. This one seemed so obvious to me, though I felt there had to be more to it than just a baby (or older child) giving me a short reprieve from caring for them. My two-year-old still naps, praise God in heaven!!, she went through a rough patch where she fought her nap and bedtime which brought about long, exhausting days! I began allowing her to nap on the sofa in the middle of our daily chaos and she has blissfully rested nearly every day since. The change for her was the power I gave her in allowing her to choose where she napped. I’ve read that around 24 months toddlers discover and begin to assert their autonomy, truly all she wanted was to have some small piece of control in her napping situation. When I see my older children struggling through a hard day my “go-to” cure is suggesting that maybe a nap would help them feel better. They rarely see the wisdom in my advice, they do however, accept my second suggestion with much more ease and even happiness-quiet time.

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Quiet time. I can say those words out loud and they cause me to take a deep breath as if I am filling not just my lungs with air but my soul with peace. My husband works hard so that we can school at home and I am very grateful for all that he does to ensure we are well cared for. His job is not the only way he provides for us though, he also strongly suggests that I take time for myself. He will take all three of our younger children to the grocery store, he will spend the afternoon with them while I go for a walk with a dear friend, he suggests time out of the house or ensures the quiet at home if that’s where I’d rather be. He is very good at this because he knows that the days of mothering are spent at an intense volume, and that I need the silence for my very sanity! It was for this reason that over the past winter I intentionally encouraged my six and nine year old to seek out their own quiet, I helped them to be aware of the times of day when they wanted things to stay quiet around them. I encouraged them to read in their beds before sleep or before coming upstairs to start their day. They are rambunctious, loud, high-energy, normal kids, but they both seek out the quiet in their days now and I count this as a great joy.

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The third item that repeats itself in many different ways on my list is outside time. There are entries about time spent weeding, flower blooms, climbing rocks, hot sunshine, walking in state parks, sitting on our deck, kids splashing in the pool… It definitely doesn’t take a deep thinker to realize that I keep a piece of myself outdoors. There is only one problem with this; I live in Minnesota. We have about five months of what I would call good weather, six if I can enjoy damp, windy, chilly May moving early perennials. If. The rest of the year I have to pressure myself into going outside, I don’t play in the snow with my littles and I’m not sorry! I invite their friends over often though and provide mugs of cocoa with marshmallows when they come inside like any good (sane) mother would. I try to find beauty in snowfalls and sparkly, frozen front yards, but it is forced. My joy is not found in MN in winter and so I soak up summer. I will sit in the heat of the day allowing the sun to pour down its goodness and concentrate on saving it up for January. You do what you can! Gardening season is good for me because of the ability to create alongside the great Creator. I plant seeds and pray for growth, I divide perennials and pray for beauty. I plan out a garden bed and entrust it’s success to the only One who can provide it. I don’t weep (much) if something doesn’t grow, I know that Gods plan is greater than mine, even if it’s a plan for wild, cold hardy roses instead of candied pink, double-full, zone six, climbing roses. I should know by now that the wild always wins out in my heart over the cultivated anyhow. This gardening/creating is my most common cause to note gifts and also the cause for my sadness when it is lacking.

Using this journal as a reminder, I look at my life a little differently. I don’t always see the good, but this book helps me to look for it. On the days when I am in cold darkness (literally or figuratively) I can look through my book and see that the peace is right here in my house, in my yard. Other people have joked that little things such as pink peony blossoms or the smile of a two-year-old are not enough to live a joyful life, but I’d argue that these are the exact moments God wants us to revel in. If we stop seeing the good in the small, we will need ever increasingly large events to provide happiness. While noticing bees buzzing in the Russian sage will cause us to focus on things outside of ourselves, things beyond our control, things that were put into place as a gift from God if we’re willing to stop and look. Is cream swirling in coffee a gift straight from God? Probably not, but it can be counted good if I choose to thank Him for my awareness, my stillness in this moment. The things themselves are not the only point, it’s the way we use those moments to remind us of God’s goodness. This day I will scroll out blessings, moments, and toddler giggles in my book. And I will live a fuller life because of it.

I’d love to know what you count today as joy.

In the One who makes me…

We are, each of us, made to follow Christ and in Him to know that He will make a way through for us.

 

This kid…she is my biggest challenge. She has taught me how to be a mother and how to (start to) do it well. This week she is at Bible camp, a place that she loves. It fills her heart up and brings her so much joy. I have a sneaking suspicion that one day she will aspire to lead other campers and then I will pray over her incessantly as she will be gone all summer long. Do you know how many days that is? I haven’t done the math, but it’s a lot! She is nine and her heart belongs to God. I know this because she often tells me, which makes me so thrilled for her. Not only this though, she walks her talk and shows with her actions that she really, truly, loves God.

I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t admit that it scares me a little though. I didn’t begin chasing after God until I was thirty, even though I was raised in the church and knew about Jesus for all of my childhood. So why does it scare me that she knows and loves the Lord at this tender age? It makes me nervous as to how hard the devil will chase after her. From my own experiences I realize that the more in love with God you are the more the devil will try to trip you up. I pray that she continues to be strong in her faith and that evil never has a chance to break into her heart, but I’m pretty sure that she has difficulties ahead of her.

I know because this girl fights hard against all of the things that come easy for her. She has to really prove that she can do something. For example, I am certain she says things like; “Even though math is easy for me, lets see how many of moms hairs she’ll pull out before we get to be done today.”. Rollerblading was a piece of cake to learn so she had to learn how to skate backward. “Want to learn a foreign language girlie?” I ask. “YES!!” she replies, CHINESE!!” I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still trying to figure that one out. My point is that the girl walks the hardest line. So in her walk to meet Christ personally I feel that she will ask the hardest questions, push the most dangerous limits, and wait on God for answers longer than seems reasonable to most.

I have honestly wondered if she takes the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…” as a personal challenge. Is she really trying to find something that He can’t or won’t help her with!? I’ve read that praying scripture back to God aids in memorizing those verses we want to hold on to. I struggle with Bible memory work myself (not my sweet girl though, she would memorize verses so quickly that I had her recite in crazy voices or while skipping rope just to make it fun for her!) and I believe that by praying it back it becomes more personal, like even more of a love song because of the relationship that I attach to it.

So since I feel that this verse defines her so well I read through it and underlined it in my Bible. I also searched its translation out from the Message Bible, I read a pretty traditional NIV Bible daily, but the message version always speaks to me so personally. Here’s the surrounding text from Philippians 4:10-14;

 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

When I read it here I realized that this verse is not just Paul making some off the cuff statement. I’m no Bible scholar, but in my opinion he’s saying “Look, its great that y’all have been praying for me and your help was really, well helpful. It’s just that I know you only helped me because God put it on your heart to do so.”. “Besides, I’m okay whether you help me or not, I know where all the good things come from.” My chosen verse sits there making this bold claim; “…I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”  Paul doesn’t just say that he’ll be fine. He say’s that no matter what-with little or much, beaten, starving, imprisoned-he can make it through. He must know that the devil is trying to break him with all of these hardships, Paul must see that every day until his death will be a struggle. Yet he counts it all good, not in his own power, but in the power and love of Christ.

Christ made my daughter to be this exact person, He knows what is to come for her and each day I try to entrust her to Him fully. He has given this child an exact plan to follow, He has laid out a path for her to walk and, right now, she is striding confidently on her way. He also made her to need Him, and not in a small way. He created her soul to long for a relationship with her creator. We mess that up a lot, confusing that longing-for-Christ-feeling with a longing for earthly pleasures. As she grows I will remind her that all of the gifts she has, all of the good that fills her life is from God and not her own power, that the drive she feels to do something well was placed inside her by her Father and Creator. I pray that she will never feel like she is enough. Yes you read that right. I don’t want her to be too confident in herself, but rather to trust that God is her “enough” and that in Him she will be provided for, in Him she will make it through.

She knows the NIV version of this verse but I wonder if she knows that it is “hers”, that she can make it through anything in the One who makes her who she is? Do you know that? Do I?…  Life will cause us to stumble. Only in Him will we make it through.

 

What I want for them

What are your goals and expectations for your kids in their education?

Someone recently posted a question to a home-school board I am a part of; “What are your goals and expectations for your kids in their education?”. There was more to it than that, but after really thinking about it for a day or two, I realized that what I want for them is lofty. I thought I’d share it here (mostly so that I can find it on the hard days of mothering).

I want my kids to have a childhood.
I want them to chase their imaginations and sit with their boredom.
I want them to learn that people are (often) unkind but we get to choose our response to them.
I pray they learn self-control alongside self-indulgence and that both are necessary to live joyfully, peacefully, and care-fully.
I want them to love God first and share His love by acting in kindness toward all people.
I want them to respect life, the earth, and their grandparents.
I want them to read whatever they are passionate about-even if it’s Lego Ninjago.
I want them to get lost on dirt roads and have to follow the sunset home.
I want them to look up and recognize constellations.
I want them to see sacrifice and that a life lived differently is a good, good life.
I want them to be weird, no-I want them to be true to themselves. To have and to (really, really) know their identity.
I want them to speak out, to reach out, and to hold out for what they know deep in their soul is right. Unabashedly.

I’m (obviously) not going for main-stream, mold-fitting young adults. The world shapes young people, and it doesn’t do it kindly. My goal as a mother is to give my kids the base from which they will jump. However high or far they choose to jump is not my concern. I can show them how them to make those choices for themselves…I’m here simply to hold their hands until they are ready to take the leap.

It’s been a process of re-learning that these kinds of future decisions are outside of my control. I’ve been realizing that no matter my plans, children are people. They aren’t going to be people someday. They are people right now and I get to walk alongside them while they learn how to navigate life. They are not tiny versions of me, and their life experiences (I pray) are going to be much different than mine. This has brought me to my knees many times and I guess over the years I’ve discovered that what they need from me is safety to “try out” who they are becoming. So I aim everyday to be their base, their home, the person and place they feel comfortable and safe with, because in a strange and changing world that is what they will need. All other choices can be made and dealt with if a person has that safe place where they know they are not alone, where they know there is love for them.