Let the little ones come

A few years ago, I found myself sitting in the sanctuary of my church, wearing all black, mourning for the sudden and shocking death of a beloved man in our church family. This man had not only been a dear presence in my life in Birmingham, but had sung next to my daddy in the church choir in my home church in Memphis. His daughter babysat me, and his wife had sat at our table with my mother. It was the deepest blow of an already hard year. 

As people filed in, the room became flooded with familiar faces, friends both new and old.  My childhood piano teacher sat a few seats away from my childhood pastor. A few rows over sat some of my mother’s best friends that had prayed for me since the cradle. But there was one face in the group that I couldn’t name, but, for the life of me, I knew. I peered at her soft, worn face and knew somewhere deep within, “that woman loved me.” I leaned over to my piano teacher and asked the lady’s name. Judy Pepper. Lovely, but a mystery still.  

A later phone call to my mother revealed that this lady had been my Sunday School teacher when I was only three. The catch is, she moved the following year, so I had never seen her since. And yet, when I saw her face, I was struck with the peace and safety I felt in her presence. I felt known, and I felt loved. 

I’ve worked with children for years, but this was a watershed moment for me in my approach to serving the little ones in my life. As a mother of four, the last thing I want to do most days is to be responsible for more children, more instruction, or more uncontainable energy. The Sunday school lesson plans, the songs for children’s choir, the catechism questions often have seemed like more on my plate than I really want to swallow. But that day of brokenness breathed new life into my heart for the little ones around me. 

You see, I don’t have any great wisdom to impart. My Bible knowledge is elementary at best, and too many times I’ve had to answer questions with “just wait- we’re going to cover that next week!” followed by me frantically searching for the answer before the next lesson. From preschool music, to nursery, to Sunday school and catechism, I’ve covered a lot of ground, but out of all these lessons, I don’t care if they remember a thing. There are two things I want the children in my care to take away: Mrs. Lindsey loves Jesus. And Mrs. Lindsey loves me.

I’ve been in the church long enough to know that chances are, I will cross paths with these students even after they’ve moved off to college. I’ll run into them at weddings, spy them across the room at conferences and worship services, and sit down the row from them at funerals. And when they see me then, I hope they remember. Not the lessons, but the love. I hope they feel at home knowing I’m just a few feet away, and that they feel connected to God’s kingdom when they see a familiar face from so many years ago. You see, just like the heart of the Gospel, teaching children is not about religious instruction; it’s about relationship. I love the Bible. I love the Grand Story that we’re all caught up in, but most of all I love the Family and am in awe that I have a seat at the Lord’s table with saints across the ages. It’s that sense of belonging, the knowledge that I have been adopted through grace into a family, that keeps me coming back. The teaching I give and receive is my family history and the creed of my people. And these kids are God’s people- and my people, too.

Rest in the process

  (Any other rough first days of school out there? Today was a harsh reality check around here, and I imagine in some of your homes as well. I kept coming back and re-reading this piece I wrote a little while ago, needing to be reminded to keep my eye on the process and leave the product up to the Lord.)

 

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between good, soul-saturating, thought-provoking art and the cheap, fast, and unfilling stuff?  What makes bands like U2 last for decades in a world of one-hit wonders?  What separates Tolkien and Lewis from the momentary peak on the weekly best-sellers list? What put DaVinci in galleries all over the world, while so many other paintings hide in attics?

In a word, process.

If you want to create something magnificent, something so thoroughly well-done, the product cannot be your focus.  An artist who focuses on the product alone will turn out something contrived every time.  “Here is the effect I want to have, now how do I get there…?”  It might look good on initial glance, but such art usually has nothing to say, nothing that lingers in your mind hours or days after walking away.  You see, a true artist delights in the intricacies of each stroke, the mixture of the paint, the mood of the room and the music of the background.  A chef pays close attention to the quality of the ingredients, the coarseness of the chopping, and the precise heat used.  A singer must work to craft diction, articulation, posture, and presence before the sound can ever be successful.  The process is key, and it is those creators that delight in the nuances of the craft that are most powerful in communicating through it. 

Now take this, and consider this quote from author S.D.Smith:

“Your family is the most potent art you’ll ever be a part of creating.”

That’s right, this parenting thing, these long days of scraping cheerios off the floor, these endless carpool lines, this is part of a beautiful work that you are helping to create. And if you’re anything like me, chances are you spend a lot more time worrying about the final product than delighting in the process

For me, product-oriented parenting looks a lot like worry.  Worry over how my kids will turn out in light of my school choice.  Fretting over the diseases they’ll get from the GMO Fruit Loops they had for breakfast.  It also looks a lot like anger.  Anger over them fighting yet again over the same dumb toy. Anger at the teacher that misunderstands or the kid in their class that picks on them and might just destroy their precious self-esteem.  And a lot of times, it looks a lot like control.  White-knuckling in circumstances where I should probably let go.  Feeling defeated by the permanent crust that is my kitchen floor and wondering what kind of adults they’ll turn into if they get accustomed to this filth.  Cringing and imagining that this ugly moment right here might just be one more thing they tell the therapist one day.

But dear ones, we are not in control of the final product.  We were never meant to be.

In her excellent book “Teaching from Rest,” Read-Aloud-Revival leader Sarah MacKenzie gives weary mamas this gift of a word: Diligence.   She reminds the reader constantly that our job is not to secure their future, but to walk diligently step by step with them. Coaching them through the next melt-down. Helping them with this one page of homework. Guiding them through this difficult friendship.  It’s about being with them in the process, not trying to control the product.

What would our homes, our families look like if we would put our stories into the loving hands of the Author, and trusted that he was faithful to complete the work he started?  What would life look like if we took each moment as a small step towards unforeseen greatness?  If I could focus on being patient in this one moment instead of worrying about what this tantrum will look like when they’re teenagers?  If I could abide through suffering and allow my children to endure hardship, knowing that it may be the very ink in their most beautiful chapter?  Perhaps the brushstrokes of monotonous, daily living are the background of a masterpiece. It may be that these bedtime stories read long after I’m tired will add more flavor to their childhood than any elaborate family vacation ever could.

Instead of a contrived life of control and worry, what would it look like to rest and abide, to simply take the next step before us? To be swept up in a story far grander than what we could scribble ourselves?

What our children need is not for us to snatch the pen and force our way to a happy ending.  They simply need us to take their hands and walk through the pages with them, pointing out the hand of grace as the story unfolds, and teaching them how to read it themselves.

Like all good art, it will take a fight.  It will take scrapping one thing and trying another.  It will take meticulous attention the most mundane details.  And like most masterpieces, it will end up differently than what we initially pictured.  But by God’s grace, it will be beautiful.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

When He doesn't roar back

I caught her at it again today.  Blonde curls and white little bare feet, standing on the deck in the sprinkling rain and roaring into the forest.  Roaring with all her 4-year-old might, then traipsing back into the house, bottom lip quivering. "He didn't roar back." "Who, baby?" "Aslan. He just won't roar back."

She comes by it honestly.  We named our Wildflower after C.S. Lewis' little heroine, the one who followed Aslan though dark forests and across the sea and up into the heart of heaven itself.  It's been our prayer since her name was first spoken over her that she would fiercely love and chase after the King the way her namesake did.  But today, her precious trust and tender faith were met with silence, and I didn't know what to tell her.

IMG_1611.JPG

 

I lost my Papa last month.  The night he died, I sat and watched old family videos, listening to his booming voice as tears poured down my face.  Christmas morning, family vacations, there he was towering nearby as I played and danced and sang, the same age as my Wildflower is today. His death has felt like a wall crumbling, like a piece of the foundation under my feet breaking away.  It has been the biggest blow in a hard season, a season where I have asked many times "Why isn't He roaring back?"

We want that so much, don't we? We want our fears and anxieties to be met with a strong roar, a conquering and victorious word, a declaration of power.  We want the promise of the not-yet to be the right-now.  We want Thy Kingdom Come, and we want it soon.  

When bad things happen, people tend to question God's power. But for me, the question isn't "Is God sovereign?". I'm too much of a Presbyterian to get hung up on that one. No, no, the haunting question that surfaces in those quiet, lonely moments is "Is He good?" I fall under the delusion that his glory and my joy are at odds, and his power will reign at my expense.  

IMG_1454.JPG

 

We see our little heroine asking often in Prince Caspian "Why hasn't he come yet?" Around every corner, she longs to see him and with every trial and failure, she invokes his name, "But where is Aslan?" She waits for him to stomp the enemy like last time, but, just as her faith begins to falter, she instead wakes to find him dancing in the forest, beckoning her to simply enter his presence.  They walk and she buries her face in his warmth and realizes that his nearness alone is the victory.  He is bigger and grander than ever before, His power more majestic as she becomes more aware of the weakness within herself.

You see, we have a King who does more than roar. We have in Jesus a Savior who sits by the graveside and weeps bitterly with his friends. We have a Master of the Feast who turns common water into the best of wine. We have a Healer who gently touches our open sores and walks among our lepers. We have a Leader who sits with the outcast and broken, and gives them a home and a name. The victory of the cross has sealed us, and one day, there will be the final triumphant shout of victory, and then, dear hearts, will the real roaring begin. 

But until then, this is what I will tell my Wildflower: in those moments when you most want to hear him roar, quiet your heart and listen. Listen closely, little one, and in those moments of rest and waiting, that is when you will hear him; not roaring, but singing.   

You'll hear a song that began before the stardust settled into place, in a voice sweeter and richer than the heavens themselves.  You'll hear a love song with your own name in it, a song of rescue, devotion, sacrifice, and redemption. A song of delight and rejoicing. A song of promise and of hope.

Your job, my little lioness, is not to roar into the darkness, but to enter his presence and sing along. It's the best battle cry I know. 

 

IMG_1665.JPG

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Life-giving books about death

Death. It's a topic few want to talk about, but one that nobody can avoid. Especially with children.  

I know I've often shied away from the harsh reality of it with my own little ones. "No, sweetness. The bee isn't dead, he's just sleeping." But this approach is dishonest and leaves our children unprepared for when reality undeniable and unescapably hits close to home.  

Last year, when my children were 5,4, and nearly two, my cousin passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was a fixture in our home, often at our table for dinner, and never missing a single birthday or event. She was at our home one day and discovered in her apartment 2 days later. It was like having the wind knocked out of us and our children, particularly our oldest, who had no tools to cope. We were in crisis mode for several months, but thankfully through the wisdom of our family and church family, the guidance of the Spirit, and the healing passage of time, our children, and we as their parents, have walked away with a deeper hope in the Gospel and a less frantic view of loss. 

The sweetest gift we received in those early days was the gift of vocabulary. We decided immediately to use the word "broken" to describe how death happens. We told the children that Syndee's body broke, and that she went to Heaven where Jesus made her whole again, but that she had to stay there. We were careful to avoid words like "sick" and sleeping" as these would lead to greater anxiety for our children later. "I'm sick...am I going to die?" "If I go to sleep...will I not wake up?"  Later, as we have prepared the children to say good-bye to several of their great-grandparents, we've avoided the use of the word "old" as that's a very relative term to children. We've told them that as time goes on, your body breaks from the inside to where it doesn't work anymore. Your body can break from the inside (illness or age) or the outside (injury). 

Another disservice we do to our children is telling them that death is a natural part of life. It's anything but. It was never meant to be this way.  We were created for eternity and the curse of sin wrecked that. Telling children that death is supposed to happen is more bewildering than it is comforting, and it robs us of our need for hope and denies our yearning for redemption. Sit with them in their sorrow and acknowledge that this was not how it was meant to be- that death was never part of God's original plan, and then point them to the hope of the Gospel. 

We had the recent privilege of celebrating the life of a dear Saint in her final days.  Mrs. Barbara was a radiant source of light and life in our church. Her bright wardrobe, cackling laugh, and sparkling countenance brightened up the room. A broken collarbone led to the discovery of stage four cancer, and the time left was short. In true Babara fashion, she asked for a homecoming party, and boy did the church show up. What a gift it was, for us and for our children, to hug this sweet sister one last time and watch as she looked forward to heaven with hope. Reunion with her husband and loved ones.  Freedom from sin and sickness. Meeting her Jesus face to face. It was one of the sweetest celebrations I've ever been to, and a gift for our children to witness the peace and bravery that comes with hope. 

 photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

 

Broken things are meant to be mended. Hallelujah that they are.  

With these things in mind, there are two resources I would highly recommend having on hand for when (not if) your children encounter the reality of death, whether it be a grandparent, church member, friend, or family.   (Both books are available on Amazon.)

Someone I love died 

image.jpg

In the wake of our loss last year, I polled Facebook for suggestions on books that dealt with death, appropriate for preschool age. Our children's minister suggested this one, which I immediately bought. I checked the other suggestions out from the library, and although helpful, this one was the best in addressing death in terms of the Fall and in light of the Gospel. There are excellent spaces for children to write and process their own thoughts, as well as prose and Scripture. 

 

Voyage to the Star Kingdom 

image.jpg

Ya'll, I ugly-cried my way through this book the first time I read it. (And still can't get through it without choking up at least twice. Or three times.) Written for a family facing grim diagnoses for two of their daughters, this gorgeously illustrated book drips with hope.  First of all, it reminds us that we are not alone- that the Lord will send his people to surround and uphold us, and that he gives his Spirit to comfort us. It is a beautiful reminder of his love and care even in dark providence, and gives a beautiful picture of the hope that is ours in Jesus. 

 

Remember, dear friends, that in light of this topic, we have not been given a spirit of fear. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have been given life abundantly. Go and live and don't let fear steal your joy. Remember you are not alone (and neither are your children!) and that after the last tear falls, there is love. 

Holding

He did it. He met a big goal, something that stretched him past comfort, and his reward was getting to watch Star Wars. The real, grown-up one, laser guns and light sabers in all their glory.  

As he walked out to the car from school, I rolled down the windows and blasted the opening theme loud enough to wake the dead. He cracked a smile, but it didn't reach his eyes.  

"I hurt my elbow at school today." He held up his arm, brandishing a bandaid.  

"I'm sorry, bud. What happened?" 

He recounted the events- nothing more than rough n' tumble boy play, then he paused.  

"They laughed at me. All the other boys, and my best friend. They laughed when I fell." 

Hot, silent tears rolled down his face, and my mama heart shattered into a thousand pieces.  

I've known this day was coming. We've made it six years, which is a gracious plenty in light of the world we live in. Today wasn't just about embarrassment and a scraped arm. It marks the end of an era, an era in which he's walked through the world genuinely believing that everyone in the world is kind. That all those around him are with him and for him.  

I could have turned around and marched in, demanding an explanation from the teacher. I could have texted the other mama and demanded an apology. Goodness knows I've seen those scenes play out over my years as a teacher and a mama. 

But I didn't.  

I pulled him into my arms and wiped the bitter tears away. We talked about compassion and forgiveness.  About using words to build others up. I told him that what he felt was called betrayal. He perked his head up. "Like Jesus? Jesus was betrayed, too."

This afternoon, he's been careful. He's been quick to apologize to his sisters in moments of unkindness. He's been kind in his responses to hard requests.  I know this is not a permanent change, but it's been evidence of a slight shift in his heart towards empathy. 

We live in a culture that refuses consequences, that pushes against anything unpleasant, and refuses to sit through pain or endure suffering. We are quick to exact our pound of flesh, not minding the drops of blood it takes to get it.   We fight our children's battles and all they ever learn is that they are victims entitled to restitution. Yet vengeance and a demand for justice will never breed compassion or love. 

As hard as it was to watch him hurt and hear him wrestle with his feelings, I could not be more proud of how he took that pain and used it towards mercy. And, for love, that he knew he had a High Priest that sympathized in his sufferings. 

There are times when our children will need us to stand up and step in. There are times they will need our protection and advocacy. But there are also times to let them experience the brokenness of this world and run to the arms of their Savior who promises he will make all broken things new again.

So while today might have been the closing of an era, it's the dawn of a new one in which I pray the gospel will be richer and deeper in his life.   

Holding back sometimes means holding out hope. 

 

image.jpg

Step by step guide to adding a fourth baby

Here is your handy-dandy guide to absolutely rocking it with your fourth baby and making it look effortless at the same time.  

Step one: Getting your looks back

The key component to returning to your pre-baby glory is to set the bar low to begin with. Go ahead and get those around you acquainted with the no makeup, unwashed hair, yoga-pants vibe before conceiving. Add a splash of sour milk under your neck to establish your signature fragrance, with the slight whisper of baby powder for a touch of elegance. 

Return to your original physique with these simple rules: start out "curvy." Wear flowy clothes. Bask in the amazement of others when your original burkas, kimonos, and ponchos cascade right over those extra 20 lbs. 

Step two: Keeping up with chores

To keep your house looking tidy, make sure to deliver the baby around Christmas time for some serious crap camouflage. The house will be so bedecked with macaroni ornaments, glitter trees, garlands of seizure-inducing lights, and more wrapping paper than Hobby Lobby that the assortment of socks, toys, and dog hair will coordinate with the rest of the festive accessories. 

Eliminate the growing mountain of laundry with a two-step system. First, leave laundry in the dryer for as long as possible and have family "shop" directly from the freshly (re)tumbled batch. Second, dump all remaining laundry on the floor and instruct the little "cheetahs" prowling about to put the laundry away in predatory fashion. Ignore the wrinkles, saliva, and bite marks. Mary Poppins would be proud.  

image.jpg

 Step three: Punctuality

Nothing says "I have it together" more than showing up on time or early. To accomplish this, give a 10 minute warning to your children to get their shoes and coats on and get in the car before leaving. Do a quick verbal confirmation that everyone is buckled before skidding out of the driveway, but above all else DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR CHILDREN. This is crucial to your timeliness. When you arrive at your destination, stifle your gasp when you realize your toddler is in footie pajamas and sandals and has attempted to copy the Joker's signature look with your lipstick. Disregard that the older children are wearing flip flops and costumes in 30 degree weather.  

Step four: Time Management

In order to nurse the baby, maintain the home, prepare food, and supervise the children, you'll need a little help from your friends. These friends will become like family to you as you will see them more than your own flesh and blood. My dearest companions include the Wild Kratts, Daniel Tiger, two delightful boys named Phineas and Ferb, and a sweet princess named Sofia. Without them, showering would be impossible. 

Step five: Food Preparation

Since the Toddler's new favorite phrase is "I'm hungry," providing healthy food options for your children is a frequent and necessary task. Since the baby refuses to be put down, meal prep must now be done one-handed. Fear not, though, as "picnic" and "buffet" meals are a favorite among everyone. Simply open every available snack food and place on the table. Spread a blanket on the floor. Let the children select from a healthy variety of fruit snacks, crackers, and cereals and enjoy lunch with the aforementioned "friends". 

Step six: Keeping your sanity

Remember to live "momently." A dear friend coined this word, and it's the best gift I can give you. Remember that each of these moments, the sweet and the challenging, are fleeting.  Know that nothing lasts forever. You'll be able to get your routine, your house, and even your body back to a healthy place again, but you'll never get this day with your little ones back. Hold that baby and laugh at the kids. Call someone to tell them the toddler's latest stunt just to hear someone else laugh about it. Show up to church and school and play dates without feeling the need to look good, just to be around the people you love. Let people into your home in all its chaotic glory, and let them hold the baby if they ask (they really do want to).  

Just rest in the love you've been given and the knowledge that you were loved unconditionally as a Daughter long before you were ever a mother. And remember that your children are loved and cared for just the same. 

image.jpg