Receiving!

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Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

The Wonder of New

This summer, our family of five embarked on a great adventure! I like to call it “camping without the tent.” It was Will’s idea to take us to the Marriott in Muscle Shoals, and we were thrilled for the kids to experience their first night in a hotel.

As we packed, I said to them, “Now, this is something very special, so I want you guys to be nice to each other and do what mommy and daddy say, okay?!”

They nodded with wide eyes.

John kept asking if they had an indoor pool in the car. We told him we would see. As our minivan pulled around the circle at the grand entrance to the Marriott, John said, “Ohhhh noooooo, mommy.”

“What baby?” I asked.

“There’s other kids here!”

When I described the hotel and showed him pictures online, he thought we’d be the only people in the whole place. Bless him!

His sadness melted away when we walked into the lobby. One look at the grand fountain in the entryway and he was squealing.

“They do have an indoor pool, mommy! They do! Put my bathing suit on!”

I had to pull his little arms out of the fountain and steer him to the elevator. He and Mary were completely enthralled with the elevator and gold luggage rack and bellman. When we opened the door to our room, Will and I were a bit surprised. We had gotten the last room in the place which, it turns out, had just one queen bed. We remarked about this to each other and Mary, who had never heard beds described in sizes, picked up on one word; “queen”.

“We get to sleep in a queen’s bed! John, we get to sleep in a queen’s bed with mommy and daddy!”

Poor baby Anna was irate not to be included in the queen’s bed. We woke up to her greeting us from her adjoining pack n play letting us know she wanted in. It was 6am. Will called down to the desk to ask what time the pool opened and the woman told us 7. Lucky for us! The pool actually opened at 8 and we were thrilled and shocked to be the only ones there. It is a huge pool with no entry, a real waterslide, bridges and fountains. We had the entire thing to ourselves, much to the surprise of everyone who got the memo it opened at 8. This was totally in line with John’s grand vision!

And then we discovered the hot tub. Mary and John had never seen one and thought it was amazing. When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Mary said “the hot pool.”

The kids had never seen a breakfast buffet either and could not believe all of the options under those golden covers. They piled a massive amount of sugary cereals, pancakes and syrup onto their plates, and tried a few new foods too. It was like a royal feast for those of us who slept in the queen’s bed.

We have been blessed to travel to some neat places this summer, but Mary and John agreed going to the Marriott was their favorite thing. Will and I cherish the memory and hold it dear. There is nothing more precious than seeing a familiar experience made new through the eyes of child!

Lord, open our eyes to see the wonders of your world every day. Awaken us to see the blessings You give us with child-like appreciation. Captivate us with how You transform the ordinary into brand new. May we learn from our children to appreciate this amazing life, and appreciate You, our Amazing Daddy. Thanks for making us royal. Amen.

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“For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:2-5‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Are the Wild Things Scary?

I was reading one of my all-time favorite children’s stories with John this week, and he dressed up in costume to fully experience “Where the Wild Things Are”.

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“Are the wild things scary, mommy?” he asked.

“No, they are not.”

“Why not, mommy?”

I thought about it. They looked scary. They had big, yellow eyes, sharp teeth, crazy claws and were three times the size of Max, plus they outnumbered him. I thought about it more and then replied to John, “They are not scary because Max isn’t afraid of them.” As the words came out of mouth, I realized they were profound!

Scary is not defined by claws, teeth and size, but by what we are afraid of. If we don’t have fear toward things; they are not scary. Our thoughts toward fears define them. While they try to size us up, really it is us who gets to size them up. And we decide.

Does this mean we should be unwise and careless? No! But it means we can be strong in the Lord and trust Him when He says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

And what happens when we are not afraid? Those monsters in our lives:

-Having that hard conversation

-Telling that secret that has been locked in the dark

-Stepping out in faith when it’s scary

-Giving more than is comfortable

-Taking a chance on someone

-Forgiving when it means letting go

-Saying you are sorry

-Pursuing that God-given dream

-Trusting when it doesn’t make sense

Once these are looked straight in the eye with courage, they aren’t that scary any more. Our very fears can transform into things that bow down to us; they recognize us as royalty.

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As believers, we can celebrate this!

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What’s more, they become great adventures!

And then, in the end, like Max…we go home. We go back to our Daddy’s house. We’ll be safe in the end, and thankful for the times we didn’t stay in the boat afraid of those monsters, never knowing the great adventure in store. Never knowing they really…weren’t scary at all.

Learning to Skip

“How was school today?” I asked.

“It was good. But did you know I can’t skip, mommy? We did skipping in motor skills and I can’t do it.”

“Well, that’s okay, baby. You’ll learn. We can work on it … Do other people in your class know how to skip yet?”

“Yes mommy. Everybody can skip. But me. I can’t do it.”

“Everyone?”

“Um hmm. All the other kids.”

My heart dropped. How could every other kid in Pre-K skip but Mary? Did their moms get a secret memo to teach skipping lessons? The child walked at ten months and is an animal on the soccer field – why in the world can’t she skip? My mommy worries started to spiral out of control. I was sad for her.

None of these thoughts seemed to enter Mary’s mind.

The teacher said she was just overthinking it. Mary is definitely a thinker! About a week later, the teacher was very touched to tell me that all of the children were taking turns helping Mary learn to skip. She would talk about it every day at pick up. “I practiced my skipping with Daisy! I had fun skipping with Valen! Lane is teaching me how to skip!”

And then one day – she got it! She now skips alongside her classmates on the lawn after school in complete joy. They love showing off together. She skips around our yard in glee. She introduces herself to perfect strangers by saying, “Hi. I’m Mary and I can skip. Wanna see?”

This was a heartwarming experience that made me realize I can learn from Mary. Because when I can’t do things others can, my tendency is to retreat. I hide out in shame. I avoid that thing, or write it off as dumb and elevate myself above it. I seldom ask for help when I’m the last to learn something. I pretend. And despite my outward strength or nonchalance, I inwardly care deeply and feel inadequate.

Next time I can’t do something, I simply want to ask for help. I don’t know how to curl hair, properly install a carseat, iron a wrinkle, tie pretty a bow or sew a button. These are things I feel like I should be able to do, so I don’t ask for help. I have never played the piano and wonder if I’m too old to learn. A few years ago someone asked me to pray out loud and I couldn’t do it. I felt inadequate. Others graciously helped me overcome that, and God did too. It was an awesome breakthrough!

As as adult, I often feel the need to have it all figured out, but now I see that as a trap to keep me from a being life-long learner. I pray for the humility to step into that blessing and off the sidelines!

Mary’s classmates didn’t like her any less because she couldn’t skip. She invited them into her challenge and they became cheerleaders and encouragers who were proud to see their friend learn. It bonded them closer. When we admit our needs and help one another, it ties us together, not apart. Love unites, shame divides.

God says His power is made perfect in our weakness. In this world of hiding weaknesses and pretending, it can be so hard to embrace them and ask for help, from each other and from our Father.

I think Mary knew deep down her inability to skip did not define her in any way. She reminded me we are loved unconditionally regardless of the things we can’t do or have done. And never for a minute did she think she wouldn’t get it. There’s no time for shame when we are becoming! Like Mary, I want have the courage and humility to reach out for help. Because when we do, it’s as joyful as this:

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The Sandcastle Days

The Sandcastle Days

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Will and I took our kids to the gulf for fall break, and words cannot express the joy of seeing the wonder of the beach through their eyes! It felt like they were unwrapping one of mommy’s all-time favorite gifts. Being at the ocean always brings memories flooding back from different phases of my life and moments from each season…the playing days, the laying days, the floating days, the boating days, the skiing days, the freeing days, the thinking days, the drinking days, the sinking days, the feeling days, the reeling days, the healing days, the falling in love days. Will and I discovered this particular beach on our five-year wedding anniversary, not knowing the treasures it would hold. When we thought about our future, we could picture having a family, but we couldn’t quite imagine the fullness of these days…I have named them “The Sandcastle Days”.

This stage of life is one that is incredibly sweet and incredibly consuming all at the same time. I find myself wishing it would never pass and also wishing it would pass soon multiple times a day. It’s a fleeting season of timeless moments with little people I never knew I would love so much. Seeing our kids fall in love with the beach reminded me of the preciousness of this season. I hope you enjoy this poem I wrote to capture this time and bottle it up.

The Sandcastle Days

Mommy, come and play with me.
Let’s build a castle by the sea!
Hold my hand while I touch the wave,
Mommy, mommy I’m so brave!

What is on the other side?
What does it mean when you say tide?
Are there fish and do they bite?
Where do they sleep when it is night?

Look, here comes a great big wave!
Mommy, will you carry me?
Can we dig a great big hole?
Make it big and bury me.

Look I found a little shell,
I hear the ocean like you said.
Can I take it home with me?
Can I keep it by my bed?

There’s a book you want to read,
a picture you should take,
but mommy come and play with me,
this castle needs your help to make.

Mommy, this is so much fun!
There is no need to sit and sun.
Who is that friend you’d like to call
when our castle is about to fall?

Mommy you’re my favorite friend!
I think you hung the moon.
It’s hard to imagine the others
I’ll run to play with soon.

Someone else to fill my mote,
to take me riding on their boat.
You’ll be watching from the shore
wishing for a minute more.

These are the sandcastle days.
Time will wash them far away.
One day we’ll look back and say,
I sure am glad we got to play.

Mommy, you’ll have time alone,
quiet and no hassle.
It’s true, I’ll be leaving you…
so glad we built that castle.

And one day down the road,
I’ll have little ones too.
And when I take them to the beach
I’ll always think of you!

 
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Mud Puddles

It was a day with little plans, overcast skies and a soaking wet ground; a potential bad combination for a mama! I let the kids out in the backyard to buy some time and figure out what to do with our adventure day. And within about 15 seconds, they found them….the two puddles in the back of the yard. And they plunged RIGHT IN.

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Oh dear! Too late to stop them! Do I run them inside and clean them off? Hmmmm. On second thought, we had nowhere to be and since they were already covered in mud, we made a morning of it. Boy, did we! They giggled and squealed and rolled around and had a ball.

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It brought back fun memories from my childhood of playing in the mud, and I still cherish the pictures my mom took to capture those carefree days.

As my kids laughed and splashed, I stood at a distance puzzled about why they react so differently to mud puddles than I do. Here are the thoughts that ran through my mind:

I am wearing borrowed white maternity pants that they better not ruin

Will their new shoes ever look the same?

Is the grass ever going to grow back in that spot?

How will I get them into the bath without getting mud on the rug?

What if I change clothes and get in with them?…No, a meeting with the financial people to talk taxes later and I’ve already showered.

Those thoughts that came into my mind did not come close to my children’s little brains. They saw: Fun. Water. Irresistible adventure. So simple. They did not hesitate one minute to step into it. They did not think about their clothes, how they’d get clean or what came next. And why should they? They have me, don’t they? Has there ever been a mess I couldn’t clean up? They trusted I would be there to clean them off and make sure they are clothed tomorrow. Or, perhaps they intuitively understand that cleanliness is not an exterior thing at all. They trust they are taken care of…and they are…so they don’t worry.

On days like this, I realize that while I am teaching them about life, there is so much that they teach me. I hope I am always a mama like Mary who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NIV)

As I looked at my kids, I wondered…when did the shift in thinking about mud puddles happen for me? I think with responsibility, we become less free-spirited and childlike. And that’s a good thing in many ways. But as responsible adults, do we really believe Jesus when He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… But, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 33-34)

When God offers me adventures, do I jump in? Do I trust there is nothing to worry about because I’ve got Him? Or do I see all the reasons why not to? Do I see the abundant life He freely offers, or just the consequences of stepping in?

How quickly we can talk ourselves out of what God puts right in front us. God puts these interruptions in our lives…people to share our faith with, ministries to give our resources and time to, people who are hurting on the side of the road…messes everywhere. And when we rationalize why we can’t go all in, we stand on the sidelines of an abundant life. Do we have to jump in to be more approved by our Father in heaven? Absolutely not! But we get to! And it’s more fun! He has called us to live in the present tense, to trust Him and not to worry, to follow Him right now, to become like little children and to enter His kingdom.

Father, thank You for children. Thank you for telling us not to hinder them. Thank you for providing the most simple opportunities to live an abundant life in our backyards. Please open our eyes to the messes you would have us step into, renew our minds to trust Your provision, and give us childlike faith to let go of our worries and follow You in wild, pure joy.