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Author: Sara Dutilly

Small Ones

Small Ones

As I write, I know I’ve failed. In so many ways. Inconsistencies everywhere. Disappointments. Rolled eyes. Mine and theirs and probably yours.

Yet hope remains at the core. Every day, hope that the next day will be better. Right now, the disappointments of this day grip and need refreshment.

Right now it is nap time. It is mostly quiet. Mostly calm. I am sitting on my bed, legs covered. Leaves sway outside my windows, caught by sunlight and shadow. Waving. Dancing. Ferocious. Caught by the wind but stuck to their tree.

How I made my children sit and wait. How I scolded tiny curious hands and big adventurous spirits. I stood at the edge of the kitchen counter, caught by the wind of frustration but stuck to walls of reality, where small fingers held globs of butter, where lunches were being eaten quicker than I could make them. What’s the big deal? My kids were gobbling carrots. I can’t even remember why I was so angry.

Can disappointments be kindling for new fire? I hope so because here I am and though I see beauty and greatness in my young-mother season, I also see an army of chaos and noise marching to the disappointments of my own unwarranted reactions.

Who was it that said we should celebrate the small victories? That, as mothers, there are always millions of things going on. Work and friendships and laundry and dishes, trying to keep up with spousal dates or even just time alone. Then, hobbies, those things that we are drawn toward. Our passions, our gifts. We are constantly working on things for our own lives and also in the lives of our children. Is there ever enough time? Though one child might throw meatballs at lunch, all the other children clear their plates with glee. That’s a small victory.

We are constantly demanding, “Stop hitting.” “Quiet your voice.” “Stay in your room.” “Choose kindness.” We are always tying shoes or digging out splinters or wiping noses or bottoms or asking for a path to be cleared to the beds. There is always more to do, more to work on, more to demand. Yet the small victories are the ones we will only see if we sometimes slow down and watch. If we sometimes remember.

Small victories always add up to one big victory.

None of my kids can tie their shoes yet, but they can untie their shoes and get them on and fill their own thermoses. Small victories. Baby steps. Like when my six-year-old’s nose started bleeding a few weeks ago, it splattered on the ground and made a hilarious spray of a mess on the floor. I was trying to help the nose but also didn’t want the other children’s feet in the mess so I said (probably yelled) that the two non-bleeding children should stay in the kitchen. As I gave tissues to the bleeding son and took wet wipes to the floor, my four-year-old hugged his little sister and said over and over in the most sure and calming voice, “Stay with me.” And she replied, just as sure,”Okay.” The floor still had to be wiped clean and the nose still needed pressure, but that calming voice of small victories rang.

Perhaps all my frustration is just a result of misplaced expectation. I want too many things and I think I can have them all right now. Instead of being stuck to the visual reality of this every day life, maybe get stuck to the idea that wholeness sounds more often than it looks, remembering that here is where the wind of small victory catches.

Oh, I remember now. Small Victories is the name of Anne Lamott’s newest book (which I have not read but want to because I love her!). But I also read it somewhere else, from someone who was speaking of mothering small children. Perhaps it was Rachel Jankovic. Just trying to give credit to the original.

 

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

I could tell you that we bought a house, but unless you have been standing next to us, you wouldn’t understand the victory wrapped up in these walls. It’s just a house, a residence, a thing made from wood and nails. You might have one too. Maybe when you think about a house, you just think about to-do lists and Saturdays filled. Maybe you think about the decorating and the furnishing. I have. Exciting colors or monochromatic schemes to soothe or brighten. It’s exciting, scary, big. That’s what you might say because if you weren’t there for the battle you can’t understand the weight of winning.

I could tell you how we were led to pray daily for a year, “Thank you God for Egypt.” As if we were slaves. As if we were forced by whips into the life we had. We weren’t forced. Not really. Yet somehow there we were, thanking God for our Egypt. For where we were. “Thank you God for Egypt.” For our slavery. For the precursor to our freedom. For the time before walking into a promise. Then one day, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For the promise.

One day our four-year-old drew a picture. He started with half a circle. He said, “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” But he hadn’t drawn food yet. The image of the sun wasn’t even complete. And yet there was the sun, shining in the mind of my little boy, warming a table full of food that hadn’t shown up yet.

Another half a year went by. We fell for two houses. We were sure of them, but we waited and found that neither one was right.

Still saying, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For a land that He would show. A place to which He would lead us. Two other houses, a nudge to keep looking, a small flood in an attic. God said keep looking, so we did.

It’s only a house, you might say, though we all know that buying a house has its own weight. The abstract idea of a mortgage, money that we don’t yet have but over 30 years we will have found. That’s longevity and it takes another measure of faith.

A table set, but not yet drawn. A meal not yet harvested. The sun had only half risen and yet was providing warmth. This is the plan. God doesn’t respond to need, but to faith. Those are not my own words, but true ones. We have seen it. We have been without, cried tears of desperation at the slavery of metaphorical Egyptian kings.

God said, “Let my people go,” then Moses spoke it. Again and again he spoke it, bringing plague after plague on a stubborn nation unwilling to let go of their free labor.

When you don’t believe in a cause, you can’t possibly give your whole self to it. You can’t possibly do your best work. When you are forced, mistreated, abused, you can’t possibly be serving cheerfully.

Slavery? I have been reluctant to use that word because we are free people living abundantly in a nation of wealth. For us, Egypt seems to have been the physical place we lived for several months, a place of transition for our family.

God never forces us, but gently leads us into areas we would never tread alone. The Red Sea was vast, a powerful giant carrying life, yet humans cannot naturally survive in the sea.

God showed himself faithful, gave freedom to a nation filled with people who would betray him, continuing the battle of the human condition, onward to grace and mercy.

The war isn’t over. Only one battle won. “Only.” I am not trying to diminish it, but bring perspective. God’s glory shines through ages. Victory brings its own battles. The Israelites had to fight for their promise. We all have to continue in daily thankfulness. Daily praise. Daily remembrance of the wonders we have seen.

I could tell you we bought a house, but that’s like saying the Israelites just moved. They didn’t just move. They walked out of slavery. They stood on the floor of the ocean. They were covered by cloud, led by fire, and fed by manna. They were given the land of milk and honey, not without trials, but neither without God’s hand.

And I hear the words of my four-year-old again and again. “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” Hand still drawing, a promise yet to see.

THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

This morning, I woke up with a headache. Even before my head left my pillow, my eyes were having a harder than usual time.

It was the opening they couldn’t do.

Now, as I sit wide-crosslegged on my carpet, typing away at the coffee table in my living room, I think my early morning experience is kind of funny. My eyes were having a harder than usual time.

Lately, it’s everything else that has been having a hard time. I have felt like I can’t do anything. I can’t process things correctly. I can’t think or organize (well, the non-organized part is pretty usual for me). I can’t respond. I can’t focus.

Why? Maybe because of this hectic world I’ve created. Too much on the plate. Not enough calm. Not enough space. Not enough rest.

Because my life is like yours. There are too many crumbs on the floor. Too many dirty clothes. Too many questions. Too many mouths and not enough spoons. Too many dishes and not enough hands. Well, sometimes there are too many hands too.

Like tonight.

But before we get into that story, I’m going to back up.

I woke feeling terrible. I was forced to step back. To put on The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space and lie down on the couch so I could close my sore eyes. To make whatever food was easiest. To back away from the kitchen as soon as possible so I could stop using my legs.

Right before lunch, my 4 year-old (who never stops jumping and has tantrums like The Hulk) said he wanted to go to bed. He said that both his stomach and the back of his neck hurt. These were my exact symptoms.

“Okay,” I said. “Would you like some pizza first?” Today’s lunch was homemade frozen pizza, and Super Healthy Kids jello. And cucumbers. All foods that this boy loves.

“No. I just want to lie down,” he sagged down the hall to his bed, hugging Red Monkey all the way.

After naptime, I was feeling better but this boy had a fever. So we snuggled and played cards.

What took my attention was the fact that he did everything right while he was sick. He didn’t get impulsive and flip over our game of war. When he went to the bathroom, he didn’t pee on the floor, and as soon as he came out of the bathroom he told me that he washed his hands and flushed the toilet. He didn’t once raise his voice. Not all afternoon or evening.

So, he does know what he needs to do. He just chooses not to do it.

Kind of like me. I know that I need to rest. I need to stop focusing on what my life should look like. I need to use more paper plates and I need to buy more packaged foods. I need to let go of the desire for homemade, at least in a few areas.

After dinner, we were all feeling somewhat better. Our bellies were full of eggs and bacon and sautéed kale and fruits. (Well, only mine was full of sauteed kale. Kale goes with everything. No? 🙂 )

I decided to step in the kitchen and empty the sink so we would have some clean dishes. My feverish boy brought a chair and helped as best he could. Ah! How does a 4 year-old help wash dishes? Some of you probably know the answer, but in that moment I was shaking with uncertainty.

But his chair was already there and his voice was so sweet.

“Can I help you, mom?”

I have been thinking lately that maybe it’s not the daily chores, but how I do them. I often rush through chores with speed, trying to get them done before one son slaps another. Before voices are raised. Before toys are thrown. I rush through tasks because I don’t have enough time to slow down.

But there is no lack of time. There is a myriad of time. And rest requires that revelation.

As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, it would benefit my whole family if I slowed the chores down. These are teaching moments. Learning to make a dish clean is learning to love. Caring for a home means caring for the family, for the people. Though tasks are numerically abundant, they can hold another kind of abundance, too.

This is the kind of abundance that makes our hearts flow at night’s end, and uncovers joy within the chore of a.m. eye-opening.

A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

Most recently, in our home school, we are doing a tiny course on nutrition. This has been in my mind for a long time, but then I found Usborne’s “Why do we Eat?” at a consignment shop for $0.75 and decided it was time. My kids and I read that book a few times, then I printed this nutrition book from The First Grade Sweet Life. We worked on filling it out, then today we went grocery shopping. I let my kids think of things we should buy, according to the variety of foods that we should eat to make our bodies function. We started our list yesterday, and went this morning.

There was nothing particularly terrible about this morning. It was just that… maybe we should have stayed home.

Do you ever have days like that? When you start to do something–whatever it is–you think it’s going to be easy and fun but it ends up giving you a small heart attack instead?

My kids were tired. We didn’t eat a big enough breakfast. And the always-always-always part of my life where I don’t know how to give directions was glaring at me.

Do my kids really understand what we’re doing? Did I explain it well enough to each of them? Of course, my two-year old wouldn’t really understand, but I may have neglected to tell my 4 year-old anything, relied on him hearing when I read that book with my 6 year-old. They might just think this is a regular shopping trip. 

Our list was made of only good things, a guide for real-life nutrition lessons:

Cucumbers
Carrots
Bananas
Oranges
Strawberries
Cantaloupe
Potatoes
Yogurts
Granola bars
Rice cakes

Whole foods. Not Whole Foods, but foods that are whole and untainted with chemistry. Strict biology, here!

But somewhere in the putting on of shoes and the checking for shopping supplies and the actual driving to the store, I just started freaking out. Things were so unclear.

Life things. Grocery shopping things. Self things. Kid things.

My mind just went around in swirls.

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Sometimes swirls are beautiful, but more often they look chaotic. This is the creative way. More, though, this is the way of life.

We are a series of connected, tumbling, intersecting, up and down lines that have no end and whose beginnings are often hard to locate.

Where does life go next?

There is no pattern to swirls. They dip and peak and then they dip lower and peak higher. To peak means to reach the highest point, but here I’m talking about the point that is highest at that moment, and moments change moment to moment.

That makes sense…

Guys, I admit that I’m just thinking here. This is a blog. Not a published book that has been checked and backed by others. I’m talking about my day, my emotions, my thoughts. I’m using my life with the admonition that my life is different from yours because we are all different people.

Yet we live in the same world.

Somewhere in the writing of all this, I’ve come back to the whole foods list. We made a list of foods that are untainted with chemistry. Strict biology.

We can learn how plants grow and how animals multiply, but life is so swirly. Chemistry happens. Even if no one pours vinegar into a bowl of baking soda, a bottle might spill. Then what?

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged to diagram my faith race.

As in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (from Hebrews 12).

I was challenged to diagram my obstacles, my hindrances, my sins.

I had a hard time with this. First, I drew two lines:

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

But I didn’t think these two lines accurately represented my path. They were just a starting point because I didn’t know what to draw.

What is my path? I thought.

I thought about my life. It’s pretty common, when you sit down and put words to my actions:

Kids
Dinner
Dishes
Laundry
Writing a novel
Writing other things
Marriage

Perhaps my path is straight like the above lines, but my mind goes in swirls. Perhaps it’s not my feet that wander but my eyes. Instead of looking straight at Jesus, I look up at the clouds and I pause to listen to the leaves of trees. Then I find myself out of breath because I’ve gotten distracted. One minute I am breathing oxygen and the next minute I’ve stuck my head into a pond because I want to see how far the bottom is (total metaphor, guys… that’s just creativity). Today as I drove my children to the grocery store, I just found myself saying, “Jesus help. There has to be a way.”

A way to life. A way to mother. A way to streamline the never ending groceries. A way to end the swirls. A way to breathe. A way to think clearly in the midst of tiny obstacles.

These obstacles that I face, they really are tiny.

The simple answer was right there. “I am the way” (from John 14).

While we might expect to live the natural way of other living organisms, chemistry just works its way in.

The composition of our matter changes because we are not the way. We are only the vessel.

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

Is it really possible? I mean, Christmas is a day. December 25. And days always begin and end without human help.

But as humans, we so often act like we need to do all these things to make Christmas. We need gifts and trees and cookies and we need to drive around looking at lights and we need the happy music and the steaming cocoa.

In my household, we have Christmas traditions. They’re pretty usual. We make forgotten cookies. We watch all the movies. We look at Christmas lights. We give as much as we can. We have fun. This year, I thought we’d also spread  Christmas kindnesses across our community, and we’d make a Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the bigger story. We started the tree, but have not been faithful, and my almost 6-year old reminds me daily. “Mom. We forgot to read our Bible story.” We’re stuck on Moses.

Surely, I thought, I can just incorporate kindnesses into our wintertime life. “Hold the door for the person behind you.” “Pay for someone’s coffee.” “Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.” I even sat down and made a list with my children. A whole list of completely plausible ideas. And we talked about why we wanted to show kindness.

“What is kindness?” I said. And we decided that kindness means considerate and willing, nice and helpful. We wrote our list and have done none of it. Not even the simple, free things. Because life happens without trying.

December 25 will come.

This year, the forgotten cookies crumbled. Our tree topper didn’t light. Our children have cried and screamed and talked through all the Christmas movies. When we drove around to look at lights, we had to stop for gas and for air in the tire. Our 4-year old was being nasty and my words weren’t getting through to him so I took him out of the van and sat him on the curb to have a little chat. It was really fun. (Not.) Really? Don’t you know this is Christmas? I thought. The roads for the best lights in town were blocked off, so we left that neighborhood early and got dinner at a food truck. Our kids hated it and ended up eating bananas instead. Our Jesse Tree is empty.

By trying to make Christmas, it seems I have unmade it.

But our tree is up (no topper). Our ornaments are hung (except one that likely got thrown out with our last tree). The air is cold. Forgotten cookie crumbs are filling a box on top of our fridge.

And my boys are not being kind or selfless like I want them to be. Like I want. “I” is such a selfish word.

Really. Do you have to do that? It’s Christmas. 

But is’t not Christmas. It’s only December 16. We’ve got nine more days.

Nine more days to make up my lack of follow-through. Nine more days to get it right.

Then, I wonder if we need that Jesse Tree anyway, or that list of Christmas kindnesses. Do we need cookies that hold their shape? Whether eaten by finger or spoon, they still do the sugary trick. We have tried. And now we’re going out of town for a pre-Christmas vacation, and we won’t be home to complete any of the things on our list. Really, we’re out of time for preparation.

Only one kindness has been done. This is one truly random, unplanned kindness that lets me know that my children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s Jesus. It’s a savior. It’s peace on earth. Good will toward men. It’s glory to God. It’s the best gift ever wrapped up in cloths and presented by angels. It’s everything before Him and everything after Him. It’s unfailing love and a call to do the same. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

Last week we went to Costco. Among other things, we bought a box of gummy snacks. They are a treat for my children, and that day I had splurged on organic ones. I gave one gummy pack to each child after seat belts were buckled. We made our way to the line of cars sitting stopped at a red light. Crowded and waiting to turn. To go home. And my 6 year-old said, “Mom. What does that sign say?” pointing to a woman on the curb wearing drab cloths and a shivery frown. A woman ignored.

“Pregnant and hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” I read.

I’m seeing these signs everywhere now.

“Oh,” said my son. “Can we give her something?”

“I don’t have any cash,” I told him, “What could we give?”

“Gummies!” he said, and he reached back into the trunk, stuck his hand into the box of gummies and grabbed a handful. As many packages as his fingers could grip, and he handed them to me. His precious gummies.

This kindness wasn’t even on our list.

But I rolled the window down anyway, letting in a chill, and I handed the gummies over. The organic ones, given in an organic way to a woman who said thank you and walked away and stuffed her hoodie pocket with them.

We search for meaning, for ways to make Christmas special. But meaning is only found in the manger, where animals roam and hay is scattered. Where life exists opposite from humans trying.

Life is not a human creation, but a gift.

So maybe I’m not actually failing at Christmas.

Somehow my children know, though they don’t often act like it, about peace on earth and good will toward men. They know about generosity and love and glory to God in the highest. They know.

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

I was really comfortable sitting in my van. I was outside of Lowe’s, texting a friend, sitting on a heated seat. Then someone appeared at my window.

“Excuse me,” she said. I looked. She was a stranger, and I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers. But there’s a compassion in me for the destitute that I can’t shake. Besides, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, a book that chronicles the Hatmaker’s journey toward compassion for the homeless. There’s a whole book of explanation, but it begins with a prayer and the verse where Jesus says, “Do you love me…. Then feed my sheep.” It’s possible my compassion was swayed because of this book. But also, my only options were to open my window and give this stranger a chance, or ignore her and give her disgrace.

I rolled the window down.

Her face was small. Her cheeks sunken. A face with visible bones. We all have a skeleton, but everyone I know has enough substance to cover. I’ll say it again; her face was small.

Now I’m trying to remember her words. I can’t. Just the gist of them in conjunction with the image I saw. “My daughter and I are trying to get a meal and some blankets. We’re homeless. Could you help us out?” She looked me in the eyes and spoke in meek desperation.

I had just returned something at Lowe’s. I didn’t have the receipt and was expecting store credit, but it was under $10 so they gave me cash. I hardly ever have cash, but at that moment I had $9 neatly folded on top of my purse. $9 that I hadn’t expected. Easy to grab. I handed it to her and looked in my backseat. She said she needed blankets too, and since I never know what I’ll find in the back of my van, I looked. There was one blanket. One blanket that one of my kids had dragged in. And a winter hat that didn’t fit me, but had made my daughter laugh one day. I considered giving the blanket, but it was an Avenger’s blanket. One whose presence would be missed. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t give away my kid’s blanket.

“Okay. Thank you. Keep us in your prayers,” she said.

And we parted ways.

I didn’t say much to her. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure what to do. After she walked away, I finished composing my text and I thought, Why didn’t I give her that hat? And what was her name? Couldn’t I have given her some dignity by shaking her hand?

I drove around the parking lot looking for this woman, mostly wanting to give her my winter hat. It was pink and blue and would have covered her ears.

I couldn’t find her.

Then I started wondering… she said she had a daughter, but where was she? Maybe they lived in their car and her daughter had stayed put when the mother came to ask for money. Or maybe there was no daughter. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe this woman was not who she said she was. Maybe she was just a beggar. Was I contributing to the discomfort of other middle class Americans by giving $9 to a beggar?

Then, “We are all mere beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread.” -Martin Luther

I was going to make bread today, but it has not risen enough to bake. What’s wrong with it? I know the recipe. I’ve made this same bread for years, but now it’s suddenly winter and sourdough bread responds differently to cold, dry temperatures. For sourdough, 70-85 degrees and humid is perfect. In other words, sourdough bread wants to live in San Diego, but mine can’t. It has to adjust, or I have to adjust it. I just didn’t think about adjusting today, since it’s not very cold yet. So two loaves have been in my kitchen, rising slowly, all day. They are minuscule. Stout. Dense. Like there is nothing in them to procure the loaves I want. Like the wild yeast of my sourdough starter didn’t take. Like the loaves are unleavened.

It’s not Passover. I’m not Jewish. I don’t have personal experience with either, but I’ve read Deuteronomy, and I could stand to read it again.

“Observe the month of Abib by celebrating the Passover to God, your God. It was in the month of Abib that God, your God, delivered you by night from Egypt. Offer the Passover-Sacrifice to God, your God, at the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Don’t eat yeast bread with it; for seven days eat it with unraised bread, hard-times bread, because you left Egypt in a hurry—that bread will keep the memory fresh of how you left Egypt for as long as you live. .” ~Deuteronomy 16, the msg

Unleavened bread. The bread of affliction (from the same verses, in the ESV). The bread of pain or suffering. At the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Unraised bread. Hard-times bread. That bread will keep the memory fresh.

Maybe she was a beggar. Maybe she was a drug addict. Maybe she was promiscuous.

Does it matter?

We are all beggars.

Hard times are hard times, even if we create them for ourselves.

My bread is unraised.

It’s hard-times bread all around.

And I’ve been trying to sort all this out while sitting in a Starbucks. It’s not my place of choice, but it’s the only coffee shop open past 9:00 in my area. They’re playing jazzy Christmas music. They’re creating sweet aromas. The floors are clean and the people are well-dressed and my cup has a picture of snowy trees on it. I’m warm. But not too warm. This should be perfect conditions. Could be my San Diego.

But somewhere a woman has my $9, or something of equal value.

The bread in my kitchen is not unleavened but it is uncomfortable tonight. The yeast to make it rise is yearning for different conditions.

And we all have suffered that.

Still Giving Thanks

Still Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over. Are you still full?

We made a turkey, cranberry chutney, two loaves of bread, and four pies.

We asked our boys what pies they wanted, and one boy said “Mince Meat Pie.” After some questioning, we deciphered his actual wish. Mint Pie. We searched for recipes. We crushed up Oreo’s. We purchased cool whip and Andes. The result was delicious. Like thin mints. In a pie. We called it “Mint Meets Pie.”

We were with our wider family all day. We saw friends. We gave thanks. We broke bread.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, I had the thought, how perfect that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. 

Then, right before we prayed over our feast, my sister-in-law said the same thing.

How perfect. 

It is no accident that before the season of gifts is the season of thanks. That before our focus is yanked toward sale signs, we fill ourselves up with one gift that is greater.

Hopefully our focus never actually makes it to the sale signs. They can provide terrible distraction unless we are filled with thankfulness. I know I need some work in that area. Some reminding. Constant reminding.

It is better to give than to receive.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

The words, “Give thanks,” lined the aisles on boards and posters. Now, the signs say “Cheer” and “15% off.” But cheer doesn’t connect with numbers. The most wonderful time of year turned into something akin to dust.

Can Thanksgiving continue?

As in, “Thanksgiving is our dialect.” (Eph. 5:4)

Are you still full?

Do leftovers remain in your fridge? Do you have so much turkey that you need to freeze some, make a pot pie or two, a big pot of soup, a casserole?

And how does our Thanksgiving feast translate spiritually?

Our tradition of abundance.

I’m wondering.

And while I wonder, I’m reminded of words that my 3 year-old son spoke a few months ago. Words that pierced me. I wrote them into an entire blog post, or I thought I did, but those words are missing now. Either I never actually wrote them down, or I have misplaced them. I have been searching because I wanted to share them. And at the same time, I am thankful for the loss. Often, it’s not the words but the spirit of them anyway. Often, the original thought lives on.

“Mom, how do you spell Grace?” he said.

Grace. The name of my youngest child. A girl who smiles and mimics and loves to be a part. A girl who squeezes when she hugs and sings when she wakes. A girl who was given the name Grace partly because it is the only female name my husband and I have ever agreed on, and partly because Grace is the most beautiful word, and now it’s a word that we speak over and over, every day. We will never forget.

When my son asked me how to spell Grace, I knew what he was asking. The answer, “G-R-A-C-E.” But the only thing in my head was “In order to spell Grace, you have to spill Grace.”

In order to understand Grace, we have to recognize the need for it. And I’m speaking both about my daughter and about the free and unmerited favor given. Two things that God has given purely because He is good.

We receive the gift of Grace when we realize it is given freely. But Grace is made whole when we give thanks for it. Because it’s better to give than to receive. And when it’s all intertwined in a great big Holy circle…

Well, are you full yet?

REVIEW OF THE LITTLE PRINCE MOVIE (SORT OF)

REVIEW OF THE LITTLE PRINCE MOVIE (SORT OF)

When I started reading The Little Prince to my boys, I was optimistic. We had already read The Mouse and the Motorcycle20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Peter Pan (adapted versions of the latter two). But my kids didn’t care about The Little Prince.

Was it too much philosophy? Too much beautiful language? Too little action?

The Little Prince is one of those books that I could read in one day, one of the few books that I have read in one day. I know it’s small, a children’s book, but now that I have tried to read it to my kids, I wonder if it really is. Though I think children can become enthralled with the fantastic stories within each chapter, to fully grasp the enormity, years must exist behind your present life.

I was shocked when someone recently told me that they didn’t care for the book. They said it was too cynical. While that comment shook me for a moment, it also formed a full-bodied question that has been flickering in my mind: is The Little Prince only useful to those of us who can identify with all the child-likeness of The Little Prince, while at the same time seeing ourselves within the vanity of the rose, the wildness of the fox, the power-hungriness of the businessman, and of course with the consequential and dynamic aviator?

Even though we hadn’t finished the book, we watched the movie. I admit that I was skeptical. Could a movie really capture everything that Antoine de Saint Exupéry shows through The Little Prince? Surely not.

Not long before we showed the movie in our living room, I had seen a display of its figures at Barnes and Noble. All the figures were marked 50% off and I considered purchasing some for my sister. She collects The Little Prince things. Things like the book itself in every language, a stuffed doll, and various artworks, stamps, calendars, etc. She is the one who introduced the book to me, when I was a child.

The movie is not really a movie of The Little Prince as we know it, but of a post-Little Prince world. Really, it is about a little girl who learns of the book’s title character, and realizes, like the book’s narrator, that the world is so much bigger than what we can figure.

Kind of like the book. The movie is a great homage of the book, a reminder of what it is like to read the book for the first time. The movie is interesting, beautiful, even uses the exact opening words and a bit of the French language. It is tremendous, shockingly good, and my whole family enjoyed it.

This week, my 5 year-old even brought the book back to me and opened to chapter 7, where our bookmark had landed that fateful day when I thought The Little Prince was lost to my household. But we opened it back up and read together the story of the aviator’s agitation at The Little Prince’s concern for his rose’s life. This was a rose that he loved so much, he had to leave her, and then he regretted leaving. What a grownup emotion. A roller coaster. A group of feelings difficult to pin without the simplicity that childhood beckons.

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears,” I read. The aviator dismisses The Little Prince’s concern, thinks it unimportant, then realizes that it is more real than the aviator’s desire to repair his plane and fly home. The plane was tangible, breakable, would eventually, one day, be useless, be replaced. The Little Prince was human. His rose, a friend.

The Little Prince is a child, and my children are children too. I know that speculation of the book’s meaning has been made. Is it about war? Certainly, I see that in it now. Yet having read it many times with only fantasy in mind, for me the book is firstly about humanity, reminding of childhood desires and thoughts which continue to exist well into adulthood.

Yet now that I have children, my childhood exists again. It’s getting a callback. My children don’t hear fantastic beauty in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. They don’t feel attached to the allegory in the dessert. They just see a depiction of the world they know as truth.

So I smile. Thanks, Antoine. I hope you’re smiling too.

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

Lately, the reality of home school has set in for me.

And before we go any further, let me remind you that my oldest child is only just now in kindergarten.

We are using Saxon Math along with Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool (Getting Ready and Math 1). We are taking a relaxed approach because we have two younger children in the mix and, while my kindergartner could probably do math and reading all day long, I can’t keep the younger two engaged for it. We do what we can, and we take every opportunity. Like, “We have 10 gummies and 3 children. How many gummies does each child get?” Then we divide them up equally. “How many are leftover?” Then we might have a little lesson on fractions. Handwriting is often enforced when we make birthday cards. Vocabulary is learned every day. We might not have formal lessons on it, but we talk about words and what they mean as we use them. For us, this just works better.

I feel the pull toward more formal teaching, but our life just does not work that way right now.

But I also have these aches: Can’t we just sit close in pajamas, arms linked, bellies still hungry, still fasting from the night. Empty, but waiting expectantly for something delicious. Something hot. Can’t we just read books without fights about who gets to turn the page? Can’t we just listen?

I can teach addition and vocabulary, but we didn’t decide to home school because we wanted to be in charge of math lessons.

And this brings me to the crux of this post: What do we (my husband and I) actually want our kids to learn in “school”?

Here’s a list I came up with, and I’m sure we’ll add to it through the years:

  • to find joy
  • to live thankful
  • to marvel at God’s creation
  • to listen to opposition while remaining steady (not erupting) in truth
  • to say no to fear
  • to cast out thieves
  • to hear the voice of God
  • to love all people
  • to stand up for the weak
  • to respect authority
  • to make sound decisions
  • to value family
  • to build

These things are much harder to teach, and much harder to test. It takes time. It takes training. The answers to the questions tied up in these teachings are not so straightforward. There is no teacher’s manual, and while we teach these lessons, we are also learning them.

But we continue. And every once in a while we see that our children are learning.

Like when that song “Break every chain” comes on the radio and my kids stop everything to participate. “There is power in the name of Jesus,” they sing, “to BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain.”

Of course my destructive children love the word break more than any other here.

It’s the verb. The action. The thing that moves the sentence and gives force. (That’s a grammar lesson, guys!)

My children LOVE this song. And I know they’re not the only kids who do. Kids everywhere seem to cling to it.

To be honest, I don’t like when my kids break things. Be it glasses or toys or remotes, or the button on a pillow my diseased grandma made. But the power to break has a place. There are many things in our city, in our world, that need not remain. I know my kids are looking for these things because the library we live near is a historic school and at one flight of stairs, a chain hangs. I have no idea what it’s for, but it is probably a piece of the historic charm. My 3 year-old grabbed it one day and pulled. “BREAK every chain,” he said.

Luckily, the actual chain didn’t break, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that library came across some extra freedom that day.

Sometimes we have to start where it’s easy, where it’s natural or literal, before we can get down deep into uncovering the actual lesson.

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

I had a friend in college who used to say that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher because she loved kids. Then she would clarify that she actually only loved kids who sat and listened. She loved nice kids, the kinds of kids who practiced the art of the inside voice, kids who only used their hands for hugging and giving. Kids who would never hit or pinch or pull hair and didn’t tap your shoulder every five minutes asking for lunch. Kids that never said mean things like “Shut up you stupid head.” Kids who would never talk about butts or junks at the dinner table, not even on a triple dog dare.

In other words, she wanted the yoga body without doing the downward dog. She wanted a garden of roses without getting down in the dirt. All the benefits of well-behaved children without the work of training them.

My friend knew this was unlikely, albeit impossible. But I suppose one can dream.

The reality is, children rarely act how my friend dreamed. Children have to be taught (and they will be taught something no matter what!) Children have to be trained to be functioning adults.

Train: To guide the growth of. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of; bring up; rear. To instruct so as to make proficient or qualified. To prepare or make fit.

ttt

 

Perhaps my friend was somewhat justified. It is not necessarily the teacher’s job to guide a child’s life. At least not solely. Teachers are mostly supposed to teach. Though I believe with all my heart that teachers can be highly influential people, really, kids need parents.

Wait just a minute…

I’m a parent.

So you’re telling me that I have to train my kids? That they’re not going to sit quietly and only use their hands for nice things unless I train them to do so? You’re telling me that I have to train my kids? What does that mean? I didn’t sign up for this. I just wanted to go to story time, to snuggle and play dolls.

Yeah. I know. And I don’t have the answers for how to do this. I am figuring all that out for myself. But I do know it’s important. I know that a parent who does not discipline is a parent who does a disservice to their children and to society. I know that, even if I told you how to discipline your kids, it probably wouldn’t make a difference unless you spent time with your kids, observing who they are and what their specific issues are, figuring out exactly what kind of training works for them.

One thing that we are dealing with at my household is the “I WANT” monster. He comes out almost every time we do anything. For example, yesterday when my kids got up from their naps, I offered a slice of apple dipped in caramel sauce and crushed up nilla wafers. I said, “Come over here! I want to show you what I made while you were napping.” And I took a slice of apple and dipped it in sugary goodness and handed one to my 3 year-old, who ate it with gladness. Then I did the same for my 5 year-old, who immediately screamed and cried “I wanted to do it myself!” Which spurred lots of nasty reactions and eventually brought me to explain to him that when someone gives you a gift, you say thank you and you take it. You don’t cry because of how the gift was given. You simply, and graciously, say thank you.

Hold on. My kids are each a gift, so does this little lesson apply to me to?

Maybe. Just maybe it does.

Though my children (and yours) were given wrapped in nausea and discomfort, then with sharp pains, with goo and crying and squirming about, they were a gift. Though they were, and are, much more needy than generous, they are a gift. So I shouldn’t whine about the requirement of training them. Maybe the training is even a gift.

Do you think so?

Can we choose to call our children blessings, even when they are screaming at the good things given them? Even though every single day they hurt us and their siblings and they break everything their hands touch?

The same friend I mentioned in the beginning of this post would initiate a game called “I want.” It went like this: while driving, or while lounging around in our dorm rooms, she would say, “You know what I want? A doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts,” and we’d sit around just like that for a few minutes coming up with increasingly improbable wishes.

I should probably tell you that, at that time, the closest Dunkin’ Donuts was 30 minutes from campus. It was not an impossible desire, but it was not easy to meet.

Truly, the “I WANT!” monster is a monster of destruction. A monster who is never satisfied, never thankful. This monster breeds the opposite of joy. That’s mysery, discouragement.

Lately, when the “I WANT!” monster grabs my 5 year-old by the teeth, I try to stop and look at his face. I try to remember to think about what is happening in his heart (though, truthfully, at least once a day I just erupt and send him to his room because I get tired of training kids). I try to ask, “Do we always do what you want, or do we operate by what is good for the family?” This usually gives him a chance to think about what he’s asking. Sometimes, even if his request is reasonable, it’s just not doable because there are five people in our family and we have to think about the good of the whole, not just what the individuals want.

I guess the conclusion of all this is that we are to train our children, not to throw them off the train, no matter how slow the one-locomotive, two-locomotive, three-locomotives are moving.

And I know from personal experience that these trains can be painfully slow. But they’re never stopped. Not completely. And I’m one of them, too.