Lessons from my children

DSC_1377It was a Saturday morning after a late Friday night. Husband out of town. Schedule packed with kids’ activities and cleaning my messy house (I don’t mind laundry or dishes, but whole-house cleaning brings out my nasty).

I was still in bed but mentally working through my to-do list when I heard my younger three coming down the stairs. I hopped out of bed… and discovered I’d gotten up on the wrong side.

I was grumpy—from the get-go!

They came in with iPad in hand, a Youtube Disney music video blaring.

More grumpy. “Can’t you guys start off the day with a book or a game? Why do you have to go straight to screen time?”

“We’ll just watch this one video, and then we’ll be done, Mom.”

I grunted my assent and went upstairs to begin de-cluttering so I could then clean.

Five minutes.

iPad still going.

Ten minutes.

iPad still going.

Deeper grumpiness, and the homework-and-craft-covered dining room table wasn’t improving my mood.

I stomped downstairs. “I told you guys to stop watching videos after that first one.”

Wide, innocent eyes. “It’s the same video, Mom.”

I looked at the screen, and, yes, it was the same 36-minute long Youtube video.

“You knew I didn’t mean you could watch a video that’s more than a half hour long!”

Still wide-eyed.

“Seriously!”

Suddenly one of my sons was right in front of me. He put his arms around my neck and held his face up for a kiss.

And, honest to goodness, this is what came out of my mouth. “I don’t want a kiss right now. I’m trying to fuss at you and your brother and sister.”

Seriously!

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

That was when the Holy Spirit smacked me upside the head.

What I’d said sunk in, and I looked down into the face of the son who is getting a lot better at reading my moods—and who wants to fix me when I clearly display my brokenness.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’re right. I do want a kiss.”*

I said my “sorry”s for my grumpiness, got my kids doing something more productive than watching videos (though they would certainly disagree with my evaluation), and went back to straightening.

But though I was more aware and cautious of my mood, I was still in it.

When I went upstairs to check on how Maddie was doing at cleaning her room, she asked me, “Mom, would you want to have devotions with me?”**

Another Holy Spirit moment: I answered, “Mads, that’s a great idea.”

We read it together on her bed.

Then we looked at each other. “That was exactly what I needed to hear,” I told her. “Thank you.”

She nodded wisely. “That happens a lot for me, too.”

In one morning I received the kiss of forgiveness and the olive branch of restoration.

Oh, the lessons I learn from my children.

 

*The reason I didn’t use a name for this child is that he is at the age when he doesn’t want too much affection in public (“Only side hugs, please, Mom.) and doesn’t want to be called “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “baby” unless it’s inside the walls of our home. So if you’re reading this and you actually know my family, don’t mention this story to any of my kids and please don’t repeat it to any kids they know. If you do, my days of hugging my son may be over for a really long time. 

**We gave Maddie the kids’ version of Jesus Calling for Easter. I highly recommend it for kids aged about 8 and up. I used it a couple years ago with high school students, and many of them still preferred the kid version over the adult one.

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It’s the little things…

DSC_0697Dave was watching football while grading papers (a common Sunday afternoon for him). I stopped as I walked by because a commercial caught my eye.

Scene: a man sits at the foot of his immaculate bed at the end of his day. He slips off his work shoes and then his socks. He sits there, socks dangling from one hand. Voice over says, “Just as Phil is about to drop his socks on the floor, as he does every evening, something occurs to him for the very first time: The clothes hamper is only four feet away, straight across from him.” Phil then leans forward and tosses the socks in the hamper. The camera pans to a woman just about to walk into the bedroom. Voice over: “Proving to Phil’s wife that miracles really can happen.” Her jaw falls slack, the shot holds for another beat and then fades to an Illinois State Lottery logo.

I howled with laughter.

Howled.

Dave raised his eyebrows at me, with a look that said, “Please tell me you don’t identify with that woman because I am NOT a slob, and if you tell me I am, I will have to remind you that I—yes, I—cleaned up after YOU in the early days of our marriage.”

When I finally stopped laughing, I said, “It’s not because it’s the husband. I mean, they could easily do it from the opposite point of view, wife for husband. Plus, for me, this is not really about you. Just think of all the things the kids do that could have been used for this commercial. I mean, if I went in the kitchen and found that someone had actually put the clean pots and pans away, I would think our house had been broken into by someone who was trying to stock their kitchen!”

He laughed then, too, and we brainstormed a couple together, but I decided to journal a longer list that, were they to change, I might just consider that a miracle:

  1. I open the cereal cupboard to find not one but two (and sometimes three) open boxes of the same exact cereal. When I look into them, I see why. There’s a little bit of cereal at the bottom of one bag. Rather than finish it off and have to actually deal with the empty box, “whoever” just opened a new box.
  2. Use #1 above and apply it to the last bit of leftovers in the fridge, the final slosh of milk in the bottom of the gallon, etc.
  3. I open the under-sink cupboard to put trash in the kitchen can and find it is overflowing. No one besides my husband and I seem to ever think of actually emptying the overflowing kitchen trash can—or at least pushing down the debris. Rather they all try to balance trash on top so they don’t have to “touch it—eww!”
  4. Apply #3 to the recycling bin.
  5. I find empty toilet paper tubes on the holder—with a new roll half-unrolled on the floor next to the toilet. (To be honest, they’re getting better about this.)
  6. “Mo-om, where’s my…?” I walk into the room and discover it’s three feet to their left.
  7. I change the kids’ sheets (confession: I don’t do that very often!) and learn the bed has become a dresser. Missing socks underneath the covers, t-shirts between the pillow and headboard, jeans stuffed behind the mattress.
  8. The top rack of the dishwasher is stuffed full—while the bottom is nearly empty, EXCEPT for the first compartment in the silverware container—which is bristling with forks, spoons, and knives stuffed in all directions! Reason: it’s more effort to actually bend over to put things in the bottom rack, and—in the case of silverware, which obviously can’t go in the top—it’s easier to pull out the bottom rack just a little bit.
  9. In the transition time from summer to fall, when the temperature outside is suddenly colder than inside, I find open doors, open doors, open doors. “Close the door!” Don’t know how many times I holler that.
  10. 10. Clothes on the floor. Doesn’t matter how often I make my boys clean them up (and I fuss the whole time), they STILL simply drop their clothes onto the floor when they change.
  11. 11. I KNOW I did this when I was a kid (and I have to remind myself of this often), but why is it that kids can take something out of its accustomed spot and never, ever, ever think of putting it back there when they are finished with said item. Then, when they need it again, they go back to the accustomed spot and assume that it will be there. (What do they think it is, magic?)
  12. 12. Question: “Mom, where are my shoes?” Answer: “Where you left them.” Question: “Where did I leave them?” Answer: “How on earth would I know?” (But I usually do L).
  13. 13. Soggy cereal in the sink. Don’t know why—but a pet peeve and one of the few things that gross me out.
  14. 14. “What’s for dinner?” I think this question should be banned for anyone who isn’t planning on contributing in some way to the dinner.

Oh, kids! Gotta’ love ‘em! And we gotta’ laugh, right?

Got any of your own? Let’s share a chuckle!

Marathon Meanderings

First sight of him at mile 17.

First sight of him at mile 17.

He did it.

My husband, Dave, along with 45,000 others, ran the Chicago Marathon Sunday. He finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, well behind the speedy wheelchair racers and the first-placing Kenyan runner—who broke the Chicago Marathon record and nearly broke the world one—and well ahead of those persevering souls who finished after marathon officials took down the barricades along the roads and picked up the timing mats at the finish line. (To read about the final finisher, Maickel Melamed, who took 17 hours to complete the course, follow this link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-final-marathon-finish-20131015,0,3488441.story.)

And here's when Em saw him!

And here’s when Em saw him!

The kids and I, along with some friends, took the blue line down to mile 17 on the course and camped out at the spot where I’d told Dave we would be. We were ahead of schedule, but that didn’t keep us from scanning the crowd for his orange-and-white World Vision jersey. We cheered for every other World Vision runner we saw as well as those who ran for Ronald McDonald and A Cure for Cancer and Leukemia and Autism Awareness and…

Our boys got tired of holding the “Go Dad” and “Go Undy” signs we’d made, so I told them to stand on the curb and hold out their hands. As soon as they did, runners began veering by them to slap their palms.

And he was off again.

And he was off again.

PJ turned to me. “Why do they do that?” he asked.

“For one second they know they will be thinking about the joy of connecting with a little boy—of putting a smile on your face—and in that moment, they won’t be thinking about their feet or their legs or all the other parts of them that hurt.”

“I can do that for them?”

“Yes, you can.”

When we saw runners who’d printed their names on their shirts, we personalized our cheering. “Nice work, Carlos!” If they wore anything distinctive, we referenced that as well. “You rock, Superman!” “You can do this, Lady with a Tiara!”

People smiled, gave thumbs-up, got a little perk in their step, made it round the corner a little easier.

It was fun.

But the entire time, we were looking for Dave.

And here he is after the finish.

And here he is after the finish.

Somehow I missed him until he was almost upon us. I had the camera perched on my left palm and was scanning the crowd to the right, wondering if he hadn’t received the text that told him which side of the road we would be on. Then, suddenly, he was there, just a couple steps in front of me. I jerked my camera up and fired off a couple fuzzy shots, but I failed to capture the brilliant smile that jumped onto his face when he first caught sight of us.

He came around the barrier and joined us for a minute, telling us he was feeling “good, just sore in one calf.” We gave him a hard candy to suck on and handed him the roller massage tool to work on his calf, and then he was off to finish the final nine miles.

We waited for a break in the flow of runners, hopscotched our way across the street, and cut straight across to the finish line. We stopped for ice cream, knowing that several blocks south of us, runners were slogging it out, and we still made it in time to find a shady waiting spot beneath a tree at the reunite area.

I got a text from the Chicago Marathon telling me that Dave’s microchip had crossed the finish line (presumably with him attached to it), and then another shiny smile when he came down the steps (oh, the cruelty of having marathon finishers walk DOWN steps) and saw us.

So many great memories from the day! Emily, our 13-year-old, gave me one when she said, “Mom, it’s really cool watching people push themselves to accomplish something really hard. It’s inspiring.”

One man, running for cancer research, gave me another when I looked at his back and saw he’d pinned a couple dozen ribbons on his back, each one in memory of a person.

But I have to say the best ones have to do with my husband. The moments of seeing him at mile 17 and just after the finish are memories that sparkle.

Great job, Babe! You did it!

You can still donate to World Vision on Dave’s personal page. Proceeds fund clean water initiatives. Here’s the link: http://team.worldvision.org/site/TR/TeamWorldVision/TeamWorldVision?px=1375760&pg=personal&fr_id=2120

Thanks for reading!

Jen

From one generation to the next: advice from my mom

Long ago, when I was a middle-school student, I disliked a girl in my class.

“Krista” was sweet, kind, and genuine. She had a transparency to her that was unusual in my Southern “Christian” upbringing.

I think she revealed my own shortcomings to me. When I was around her, I didn’t seem so “nice and sweet.” She did.

And that was why I didn’t like her.

Though we had been friends, I suddenly found myself annoyed by all kinds of things I’d never before noticed. In my head I judged her clothes, the way she walked, even the way she looked. I could hear my inner voice making catty comments about her. I don’t ever remember saying any of this out loud, but my attitude manifested itself through my withdrawal. I answered her questions with one-word answers. I didn’t encourage conversation. I kept a blank face when we talked.

I knew what I was doing was wrong.

But I tried my hardest to shift blame.

I told myself that her sweetness was too “over the top” to be real, that my critical spirit was simply my ability to see through her.

I almost convinced myself.

But I didn’t fool my mom.

I was planning a party, and my mom noticed “Krista’s” name wasn’t on the list. “Why not?” she asked.

I said something like, “She’s just kind of annoying, Mom.”

She raised her eyebrows. I went on.

“Like, she doesn’t get anybody’s jokes.”

The eyebrows went higher.

“Well, you know how it is when some people…”

I don’t remember what all I said.

But my mother’s words are clear in my memory. “There’s no good reason for you not to like her, and I’m not going to listen to you talk about her. But I am going to give you some advice: Pray for her. It’s really hard to keep a hard spirit toward someone when you’re praying for them, especially when the problem is in you and not in them.”

That was all she said, but she might as well have delivered a sermon on the first part of Matthew 7.

A few weeks ago, one of my kids was trying to explain away a jealous attitude and mean behavior by pointing the finger at the other person. (I just “love” how I can see my own faults so clearly in my children!)

I interrupted the rather clever blame shifting.

“Sorry, kiddo. I think the problem here is in your own heart.” (I’m a little more blunt—and way less “Southern”—than my mother.)

My child’s eyes went round with shock at my lack of sympathy.

“It’s pretty easy for me to recognize it because I struggle with the same issue. I don’t want you to lie to yourself. Nothing will change until you admit the truth.”

The eyes narrowed then. “Other mothers would be nicer about it.”

I grinned then. “Well, God didn’t give you a different mother. He gave you me.” I suddenly remembered my own story. “Your Mama D told me the same thing once.” (Okay, maybe she was a little nicer about it, but it was kinda/sorta the same.)

That perked the interest, so I told about “Krista.”

And my mother’s words were just as wise and powerful now as they were then.

Thanks again, Mom.

Missing the Mom Gene

Yesterday Patrick squatted like this and asked, "Mom, can you do this?" Um, NO.

Yesterday Patrick squatted like this and asked, “Mom, can you do this?”
Um, NO.

“How did this happen?” I ask Dave when the house is particularly noisy and chaotic (which is much of the time). “How did we get so many of them?”

Fourteen years ago, when we were nearly eight years into our marriage, we’d actually begun talking about having our first child and then we discovered she was there, splitting cells like crazy in my belly. Seriously, though, God tricked us into all the rest. Three years after Em was born we’d just about made the decision we were supposed to be a one-child family when, surprise! Four months later the ultrasound technician shocked us into laughter when she said, “I assume you know you’re having twins.”

My father-in-law often jokes the Lord gave us two-in-one because if He hadn’t, we would never have had a third child, and He nearly wrote the edict for Patrick’s adoption on the wall to make that entirely clear as well.

It doesn’t really matter how they all happened. They’re here—as are Judy and Kelly, our two international students. I’m a mom—whether I planned it or not. I love them, deep down in my gut, all the way to the ends of my fingernails, and with a ferocity that surprises me at times.

But I didn’t exactly “plan” them (that word makes me laugh!), and I’m not an especially nurturing person. I’ve never read a parenting book cover to cover; I don’t put little notes in my kids’ lunches; I completely space out sometimes about their activities; I tell them, “yes, eat the cookie” because it might allow me to push back dinner or—I admit it—get by with fixing a snack instead of a full meal.

When my kids were little, my mom kept sending me outdated  Parenting magazines from the lobby at my dad’s office until I asked her to stop. All the pictures of “good” moms making cute crafts with their kids simply made me feel guilty.

Thank heaven, we’re past the “cute craft” stage, but I don’t do what I’m supposed to in this one either, it seems. Not long ago a co-worker complimented me on getting all my international students’ school paperwork in before the deadline.

“I have to,” I told her. “I have this two week window in the late summer when I drop everything else and do all my kids’ school ‘stuff.’ If it doesn’t happen in that window of time, it doesn’t happen. Don’t ask me for things in October. The window’s closed, and I won’t do it.”

Her eyes got a little goggle-eyed until I told her I was kidding.

But I really wasn’t, not completely.

I don’t enjoy volunteering at my kids’ school activities. I’ll read to kids, but that’s about all I like doing. No one has EVER asked me to be a room mom—there’s a reason for that, you know. Last year I sent in a special day snack to the wrong kid’s class and I completely forgot to show up for kindergarten lunch relief one day.

All of this can make me feel like I’m not a good mom, that other moms are better, but I’m not writing this to ask for affirmation  or for advice on how to be more nurturing. I’m writing it because I think a lot of other moms the feel the same as I do.

Last week a friend told me, “I think I’m missing the ‘mom gene.’” At her son’s football game the week before, the team mom passed out lanyards with laminated photos of the individual boys. My friend’s immediate thought was, “How did she even think of that?” but then she realized all the other moms were oohing and aahing over the pictures.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I told her. I was talking to myself, too.

And because I think we’re not alone in this, I’m talking to a whole bunch of moms (and dads) who get stuck sometimes on who they are not as a parent instead of who they are.

am mom to Em, Jake, Maddie and Patrick. I am host mom to Judy and Kelly, acting as a support to their beloved mom, Josie. I am equipped with a specific and correct ‘mom gene’ to fit each of these kids and their needs and personalities. I can trust God didn’t forget to complete my DNA; He didn’t match me with the wrong kids; and He doesn’t require me to act like some other mom to be a good mom—the right mom—for the ones in my home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this is easy—far from it. Parenting Em is different from parenting Patrick or Maddie or Jake. Daily I need wisdom, grace, patience, and love—most of all love.

But even in motherhood’s perplexing and frustrating moments, even when one of my own children says to me, “Well, so-and-so’s mom does it different,” I can know that “so-and-so’s mom” would not be a better fit for  my kid.

Because the best mom for my kids is me .

Even when I send the special snack to the wrong classroom.

Everyday Gospel, continued (part 2 of conversation with Jake)

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure. Because he's a nine-year-old boy? Good answer.

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure.                       Because he’s a nine-year-old boy? Yep, that’s probably it.

Sunday night Dave took the crew out for ice cream. Jake decided to stay behind. As soon as everyone left, I found out why.

“Mom, I need to talk to you about something.”

He’d been waiting for just such a quiet moment.

“What’s up, bud?”

“I think I have an idol.”

It took me a moment to process that one. It’s not a phrase a 9-year-old boy often uses.

“Where did you hear…? Never mind. How ‘bout we sit down together.”

After we were snugged into the chair-and-a-half, with Jake’s hand rubbing the back of my hair, I asked, “What do you think your idol is?”

“Legos.”

“Why do you think Legos are an idol?”

“Because I think about them so much. I would rather play with them than read my Bible. I know that reading my Bible is good, and Legos are keeping me from doing as much of it as I should. I think they’re an idol.”

Ah! A repeat of our conversation the week before.

I held my hands up as if they were scales and launched into an explanation of how we can never do enough “good” to earn God’s acceptance. It’s impossible, which is why He made another Way.

But the anguish in Jake’s face stopped me.

I thought of what I’ve learned through spending time with believers from other cultures—how our Western view of salvation as a transaction is not the only way God presents the Gospel in Scripture. It is justification, yes, but it’s also reconciliation and restoration. It’s relationship, made possible through Christ.

“J-man, what do you think your dad would say if you told him, ‘Dad, I know you’re a runner, so I’m gonna’ start running four miles a day to make you love me more’?”

Jake’s face screwed up as if I’d bought him a hot pink shirt. “Mom, Dad already loves me. That’s not gonna’ make him love me more!”

I grinned.

He was quiet, his brain connecting the dots, seeing in them a picture, a constellation of beauty.

We talked more, about how we know someone loves us, then specifically about how we know God loves us. We talked about God’s joy in Jake’s enjoyment of Legos, how Jake’s creativity, imagination, and collaboration please God; they are gifts from God. We talked about how good things CAN turn into idols (and I thought, “Even Bible reading, clearly!”) and what we do about that.

At one point Jake said something truly beautiful. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like this: “So God wants me to read my Bible so I can know better that He loves me! It’s NOT so He will love me more! That’s not it at all.”

I laughed aloud in delight.

But part of my heart grieved.

Not at his words, but at this truth: my son, like I, will forget, time and time again, that God loves us simply because HE IS LOVE. Jake, too, will wrestle with guilt over “not doing enough.” He will lose the joy of being loved freely by God. He will equate “doing” with relationship, and he will wonder what he has done–or not done–to feel so far from God. He will assume God has withdrawn in anger and fail to realize that his own efforts and guilt have actually pulled him away from God rather than to Him.

I am grateful, not only for strange but wonderful conversations with Jake but also that God is revealing my own tendencies through my son.

But I still don’t want him to wrestle with my struggles. I want him to feel as sure of God’s love for him as he is of his dad’s (and, boy, am I grateful for that!). I want him to draw near to God with full confidence in His grace and mercy.

I want him to fiercely love God—because he knows God first fiercely loved him. I want him to know that God never, ever stops loving him.

I want for him what I want for myself.

And I can be confident that God, Who is a far better parent than I, wants the same for both of us.

Monkey Bars and Broken Wrist

Here's a pic of PJ I took a couple weeks ago--he's hanging on monkey bars--how appropriate. I'll post a pic of him with his cast when we get the permanent one on. Each of the siblings is lobbying for a different color! We'll see.)

Here’s a pic of PJ I took a couple weeks ago–he’s hanging on monkey bars–how appropriate. I’ll post a pic of him with his cast when we get the permanent one on. Each of the siblings is lobbying for a different color! We’ll see.)

Yesterday on the way to school we read the kids’ version of the devotional Jesus Calling. It was about troubles. “You’ll have them,” the devotional reminded us (I’m paraphrasing). “I promise you will, but I also promise you I will use them, and I will go through them with you. I will even enable you to smile in the face of trouble.”

At noon, when I picked up PJ, holding his left wrist carefully away from his body, to take him to get his arm x-rayed, I asked him, “Do you remember the devotional from the morning?” He didn’t, so I read it to him again.

“Wow,” he said. “God was right. Trouble did come!”

Yesterday’s “trouble” came when PJ, upside down on the monkey bars at school, slipped as he was trying to pull himself upright. He broke his fall with his left arm (his dominant arm). X-rays revealed that the wrist is broken (a “buckle” break on the ulna) but the elbow is fine.

He was a trooper during the entire process of check-in, x-rays, the fitting of the temporary cast. It helped that he got to watch The Lorax, which he loves, and that the aide gave him an orange popsicle when he was done (which he promptly dripped onto his cast!).

When I walked into his classroom this morning to talk with his wonderful teacher about what he’s not allowed to do right now (definitely no more monkey bars for awhile), she apologized. “I’m so, so sorry,” she said.

“It’s fine,” I told her. “We’re surprised it’s taken him this long to break a bone!”

And actually, as long as the Ibuprofen is pumping through his little body, PJ’s even smiling!

And here's one of my crazy boy with a dirt clod he found at a soccer game last week.

And here’s one of my crazy boy with a dirt clod he found at a soccer game last week.

Heads up!

Here's our flooded backyard! But our basement is dry. Very grateful! a lot of people around here are flooded!

Here’s our flooded backyard! But our basement is dry. Very grateful! a lot of people around here are flooded!

As I read the devotional Jesus Calling early this morning, one particular sentence stood out to me: “I (God) designed you to need Me moment by moment.”

Hmm, I thought, that is the complete opposite of human parenting–or at least of my version of it. I am trying to get my children to be less dependent on me, to be more self-sufficient each year, to increase their problem-solving skills. I often tell them, “Before you call ‘Mo-om!’ immediately, ask yourself if you can do this on your own.”

But God wants me to be more aware of my dependence on Him, more aware of my lack of self-sufficiency and of my inability to control anything.

I jotted these thoughts in my journal, worked out, made sure all the kids were up and moving, fixed Patrick’s breakfast… and then learned that school was cancelled because of all the flooding in our area. My kids literally went off like fireworks. I think you could have heard them from the street.

Was I happy for them?

This bird seemed a little confused by all the water. So it perched on our back deck (and, yes, those are still Christmas lights. Honest, though, all the other Christmas stuff has been put away for ages.)

This bird seemed a little confused by all the water. So it perched on our back deck (and, yes, those are still Christmas lights. Honest, though, all the other Christmas stuff has been put away for ages.)

Ye-es.

But I must admit I had to readjust my idea of the day I thought I was going to have. Better get ready to hear “Mom!” all day long, I told myself.

And then I laughed! Because I remembered Jesus Calling and my lesson of the morning.

It was very nice of Him to give me a heads-up!

Jake, PJ, and the Marble

DSC_0887-2“PJ’s swallowed a marble!”

They–five of the six kids–greeted me with this news when I stepped in the back door Monday evening.

PJ was front and center in the group. He was just as loud as the rest. “I swallowed a marble, Mom! A marble!”

“Well,” I said, “since PJ is talking clearly and nothing is obstructing his airway, I think we’re okay.”

That’s when Jake lost it. “Noooo!” he wailed. “He swallowed a marble! I don’t want my brother to die.” He buried his face in my shirt. Behind him, big sister Emily was nodding her head and mouthing, “He’s been really upset–way more upset than PJ.”

I tried reason first. “Jake, hon, PJ is fine. Just look at him.”

He continued to shake his head. “His birthday is next week. I want to celebrate it with him. I don’t want him to di-i-i-e!”

He was completely serious.

It was, in some ways, beautiful to see. I’ve always known the two brothers loved each other (though when Jake pushed PJ off a deck over a toy, I had my doubts), but this was very real anguish.

I picked up Jake and hugged him. “Honey, a marble is smooth, with no sharp edges. Since it didn’t get stuck on the way down his throat, it will most probably just pass through him. No problem.”

He didn’t believe me. “Do you want me to look it up online?”

Yes. (What does that say when your 8-year-old trusts the Internet more than his own mother?)

I Googled “What if your child swallows a marble?” and read the headings aloud to Jake (all of them said what I had said).

Jake stopped crying and looked at me. “So he’s just going to poop it out?”

“Yep.”

He was off to find PJ. “Do you need to poop? It’s just going to come out of you.”

I had to explain to his that it wasn’t immediate, but for the next two days, Jake asked the question nonstop. “Have you pooped yet?” (I once asked Dave when the boys would outgrow ‘potty humor.’ He rolled his eyes at me and pointed at himself. “Jen, look at me! Boys NEVER outgrow potty humor.” He has a point.)

After things settled a bit, I asked PJ how he had come to swallow the marble. I assumed–being PJ–that this had been a purposeful experiment on his part, but no! He had peeled and segmented an orange and was eating the pieces as he watched Jake and Maddie play a game with marbles. Without looking, he reached down for a piece of orange and picked up a marble instead. He swallowed it and then said, “I think I just ate a marble!”

I asked him. “Didn’t you notice the orange was awfully round and hard?”

He just shrugged.

There is never a dull moment in this house.

The Nativity Wars

Besides the five nativities with movable figures, I also have several small, fixed nativity ornaments or sets. Here are two of my favorites (plus a star) that I have hanging on my bamboo plant next to my kitchen sink (I haven't managed to kill it yet!). My sister bought the dark wood ornaments for me in Africa, and on a recent trip to Ten Thousand Villages I treated myself to the carved gourd nativity made in Peru. So beautiful!

Besides the five nativities with movable figures, I also have several small, fixed nativity ornaments or sets. Here are two of my favorites (plus a star) that I have hanging on my bamboo plant next to my kitchen sink (I haven’t managed to kill it yet!). My sister bought the dark wood ornaments for me in Africa, and on a recent trip to Ten Thousand Villages I treated myself to the carved gourd nativity made in Peru.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving we decorated the house for Christmas.

Our three youngest were in charge of putting ornaments on the tree, a chaotic process because the youngest, PJ, gets a little over-excited (I told my sister he was like a bunny rabbit on crack, which made her howl with laughter—not because of my description but because she could easily imagine it.) Plus, since none of them is over 4 ½ feet tall, there are a lot of territory skirmishes over the lower half of the tree, and it ends up a little bottom heavy—until the older ones come in and help them rearrange.

While the kids were busy with the tree, I put out the rest of the “stuff,” which includes a lot of Christmas books and five nativity sets: one I received as a child, painted by my Mammaw (yes, I’m from the deep South); three others Dave and I received for our Christmastime wedding more than twenty years ago; and one that the twins’ Sunday School teacher gave them when they were in first grade.

I arrange them just-so, in careful semi-circles so all their faces can be seen…

And then I wait for the nativity wars to begin.

The first attack this year was sneaky. I didn’t even see it happen. I walked through the dining room and noticed a clump, not a semi-circle, of figures on top of the piano.

He’s been at it, I thought.

I checked the others. Two of the remaining four had been rearranged.

I put them back in semi-circles, but just a few hours later they were all huddled together again, a crowd rather than a scene.

Son Jake and I love nativities.

We just like different arrangements.

So every year we do “battle” during the Christmas season.

We start out with sneak attacks, but pretty soon it becomes open warfare.

Last week we had a longtime friend over. She noticed the crowded nativity on the kitchen counter and began to rearrange it. I noticed what she was doing and laughed.

“It won’t stay that way.”
“What?”

“Pretty soon Jake will come in here and push them all together again.”

“Why?”

And, suddenly, it hit me, the why. I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before.

“Because he wants them all close to Jesus, that’s why.” I was stating my revelation more than answering her question.

I tested my theory later that day.

“J-man, why do you like all the figures clumped like that? We can’t see their faces when you put them that way.”

His tone made it clear he thought he was answering a pretty dumb question. “But they can’t see Jesus when they’re all spread out.”

Aah!

After all, what’s more important—that we see their faces or that they see Jesus?

It’s a busy, busy season, and we tend to get a little caught up with the celebration of it—and, often, with how others see us celebrate it.

But what’s more important—that they see us or that we see Jesus?

So gather as close as you can, crowd into Him, stretch high on tiptoes, do whatever you need to do to fix your gaze on HIM.

Because not only is that the absolute best for us, it’s also when others get glimpses of Him, too. When we press close to Jesus they want to see what we’re so excited to see. In our wonder and awe, they catch some of the fascination of Christ’s love for us.

It’s a fascinating love, isn’t it!

From glory, He put on flesh—such limitation!—and then “humbled Himself…” to “death on a cross.”

All for love!

All for us!

 

II Corinthians 8:9 “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”