Why the Cross is For Always

I comment to the Hero Hubs on the couch next to me — maybe that little one playing by the coffee table who’s acting up so much really just wants to be noticed? Just needs to know she’s loved? Her toes are always on the line, just barely on the right side of everything she’s told to do or not to do.

He invites her to come closer and she stretches her four-year-old frame out, she looks so tall, her head in his lap, blonde ponytail stretched to one side, the willing recipient of a little back rub. After a moment or two, he asks her to sit up in his lap. He looks her in the eyes and tells her how much we both love her. How special we think she is. How precious she is to us.

I watch all this unfold, watch as he holds her close, and the whisper in my mind is: “Mother and Daughter. I’m going to fail at this thing. So many times.”

Years ago, I sat at a tiny table cupping a coffee between my palms, across from a friend who was a mentor, a gift to my soul, in my earliest years of seeking to truly walk with Jesus. I asked her to please keep mentoring me, to look at my life and be honest about what she saw, to keep pointing me to Jesus.

It was less about being hungry for God, and more about being eager never to make mistakes.

She knew, somehow, (probably because I talk so much I said it aloud) and as gently and genuinely as she could, she looked across the table and told me the truth:

You are going to make mistakes.

I wanted to ask her to hush… like Bugs Bunny in an old cartoon, long ears laid back flat against his head, backing up, and shaking in a soft pleading voice facing the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s shotgun he says: Not that… anything but that…

I don’t want to make mistakes.

This week, I pondered when to put the cross out on the front door. This big burlap and blue and white fabric cross my Mom gave me usually makes an appearance in the Spring. At the beginning of Lent? At the beginning of the Holy Week? On Maundy Thursday or Good Friday? I didn’t mean to have a theological conversation inside my own head about something as simple as this, but these things just happen sometimes.

Eventually it struck me: the cross is always. And the cross is for always.

And this is the thing I don’t like about parenthood, the thing I don’t like about Christianity as a whole: it’s that I’m going to fail. I am going to make mistakes. I am going to close doors when I should open them. I’m going to raise my voice when I should lower it. My mouth will be wide open when it out to be tightly shut until it is certain what words will come out.

But this is what makes it all so glorious.

Before the kiss of betrayal, before the Last Supper and the Greatest Commandment, before Palm Sunday and the hosannas and cheers, even before Jesus was tried and tempted in the wilderness those 40 days, there was the Cross. Before the Incarnation, there was the Cross. Even before Creation, yes, before the whole world was spoken into existence, there was the Cross.

When the blood of those lambs was spread on the doorposts at the first Passover — the plan had already been set into motion.

An all-knowing God knew it all along — this is where this whole thing was headed all along. 

It’s in our nature, our human nature, to make mistakes, to fail and to fall short.

God wasn’t surprise when He first walked in the Garden and asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

He knows it all. He knew where they were. But He wanted them to know where they were.

The plan of Reconciliation was already set in motion.

And our relationships, these failures? They are opportunities for Reconciliation, both with the God who wants to connect with our souls for always, and with the loved ones we care about and fail.

Jesus went to the first Cross, the Cross that would save us all, the Cross that would make a way for all of us to be reconciled to God.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” {Luke 9:23}

His Cross made our salvation possible, our forgiveness possible, our Reconciliation possible.

Our crosses?

They make us a little more like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross. {Heb. 12:2} Sometimes our crosses are the pain of admitting we were wrong. Admitting we failed, and saying we are sorry. Sometimes they mean closing tight our lips when we want to say all the wrong things. We deny what we want, and we try to live for what God wants. The world is better for this. And so are we.

As we sit between a Hard-But-Good Friday and the Sunday of life and Resurrection — let the symbolism leave an impression on your soul. If you take up a cross, and die a little to yourself, God has new life for you on the other side.

Every Cross can create a Resurrection.

This is the new life we’re invited to live and it’s in the living of it, that we somehow become the recipients of it.

I die to myself and say I’m sorry to the child I’ve wronged. New life is breathed into our relationship. Broken things are mending.

We forego the thing we want to give to someone who needs. New life is breathed into our soul, and fresh gratitude helps us give thanks for what we have already.

If there are 365 days in the calendar year, there are 365 days that the Cross can hang on the door — and more importantly, teach my soul how to find life that is the realest real.

We need not look afraid at the mistakes we’re going to make, the ways we’re going to mess up as we walk through life as mothers, fathers, employees, friends. Our failures are the reason for the Cross. And on the other side of the Cross, every willing soul can find a Resurrection.

xCC

Bad News About the Good Stuff {The Stuff You Need to Do}

For the following download of information to make any sense, you’re going to need a little backstory. So here ya go. I’m a Mom of four. People like to say “You’ve got your hands full” which I do not enjoy hearing, but that’s a conversation for another day. Most days I don’t feel like my hands are ridiculously full, except for Tuesdays.

If this post were animated, a scary duh, duh, duhhhhhh sound would happen right now.

On Tuesdays, {duh, duh, duhhhhh} we have our community day with our friends in Classical Conversations. I’m the director of this tiny community, and, even though it’s tiny, that still means I do a lot of stuff, think on my feet a good bit, and go up and down the stairs inside our church’s meeting spaces dozens of times for that one other thing I forgot upstairs. Or downstairs.

Wherever it is it is never where I am.

Okay. So after our community time together on Tuesdays, the kids play on the playground and I chase the toddler who is picking up speed very quickly and never wants to be where I am. Go figure.

Sometimes I shove almonds and a clementine in my mouth while chasing the toddler and feel good that I had something to eat.

And then I scurry home and put that toddler baby down for her afternoon nap, and if I’m lucky I sit on the couch for five minutes, and then I round up the other three kids, because homeschool P.E. is also on Tuesdays. The rest of the week does not feel rushed. But ohmygoodness, Tuesdays.

So we scoot off to homeschool P.E., which is great for the boys who are old enough to participate, but is hard for the four-year-old girl who is not old enough to participate. She is not six years old. So she is supposed to sit on the bench with her Mama and play nicely with the toys I bring for her. She could also eat the snacks I bring. She wants to play with the big kids instead.

Sometimes I keep her on a tight leash and say no.

Sometimes, when it doesn’t seem to matter too much, I don’t go and fetch her when she sneaks off into the midst of the crowd and participates with the bigger kids. Because. Y’all. It’s Tuesday. Is she really hurting anybody? Plus, it’s Tuesday. duh duh duhhhhh

Now the last part of this backstory is this part where I admit something I wish I didn’t have to admit.

Close your ears and forget I said this.

Remember that scene in the movie Gladiator where the Caesar, Marcus Aurelius tells his wicked mess-of-a-son “Your faults as a son, is my failure as a father.”? Well, I could totally turn to my mischievous four-year-old princess right now and say, “Your faults as a daughter are my failings as a Mom.” Am I being hard on myself? Maybe a little. But the truth is, if we are inconsistent in the way we manage our kids’ discipline, if we sometimes let it slide and other times deal with it, we raise children who simply tend to gamble with bad behavior, because experience has taught them that less than half the time, there probably won’t be the consequence there should be.

For example. I didn’t introduce consequences quickly enough, and one kid decided it would be appropriate for the greeting “You’re stupid, [insert sibling name here]” to come out of that kid‘s mouth each time a particular sibling walked into the room. The behavior went on uncorrected until it became a habit. And goodness gracious habits are hard to break.

So, before I digress any further, let’s get back to last Tuesday. Where, in additional to the normal director responsibilities I filled in for our tutor who wasn’t able to be there. Basically just picture a frazzled, exhausted run-ragged Mama. Got it? That’s me. And action.

Enter the four-year-old who joined me at P.E. and briefly watched from the sidelines while the older siblings played. She starts out doing her usual “running along the sidelines” (which I allow), but quickly jumps into the action and forces me to go and fetch her. I fetch her, sit her down with the toys we brought and continue my conversation with a friend. She takes off again.

I notice a Mom on the other bleachers giving me a kinda harsh look. I ponder the situation for a moment. And y’all, it is Tuesday and the last thing I want to do is correct that cheeky four-year-old’s behavior.

I look at the friend I am chatting with, with a sort of imploring What would you do in this situation? look. Or maybe I even asked. Yes. I did.

She says, “I wouldn’t let her do it, because the other kids had to sit on the sidelines until they were six and it doesn’t seem fair for her to go out there now.”

It was Tuesday and that was not what I wanted to hear. My heart even grumbled a little I think. Et tu, Brute?

Now. You ever come across this Proverb?

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” {Prov. 27:6}

Such good truth. My friend told me the honest truth. When her daughter, who’s now six, was a four year old, and a five year old, she sat on the sidelines because that was what she was supposed to do. And that other Mom that gave me that harsh look? Same thing. Her daughter is now out there playing with the other kids at P.E. thanks to crossing that six-year-old threshold, but she probably had a good handful of years of sitting on the sidelines, watching her older siblings, too.

It’s not fair for my little doll baby princess mischief incarnate to run around and join the big kids in P.E., when everyone else did the hard thing that was the right thing: they kept the younger kids on the sideline because those are the rules.

Letting my kid break the rules now makes her think the rules don’t apply to her. And if they don’t apply at P.E., where else might they not apply? Well, she might as well test and see where else she can get away with whatever she feels like getting away with… because… maybe the rules don’t apply at church or Chick-Fil-A or the library!

What This Means For All Of Us In Plain English {The Bad News}

Whether or not you’re parenting small people right now, or teaching a classroom full of them, or doing something else kid-related, I’m here to tell you this is not a lesson about child-rearing techniques. {Turn to H. Clay Trumbull for those child-rearing thoughts. Way more insight than me. $.99 on Kindle.} This post isn’t about the kids — it is about doing hard things.

Managing my mischief maker on Tuesday afternoons was hard and I didn’t want to do it. But guess what? It was the right thing to do.

And this is the bad news I’m sorry I have to deliver today: {But don’t close your ears this time} All the stuff in life that is really worth doing… Yes seriously, all of it? Requires hard work. And requires you to do the hard things.

Proficiency at a musical instrument? Practice. Consistent effort over time. Hard.

Gaining the position of CEO of that corporation … and staying there? Tons of dogged effort.

A PhD in Theological Ethics? More hard work than I was willing to put in. Honest.

Eating real food that is good for your body? Man! It takes planning and preparing and work.

Raising kids that will actually listen and obey you? There are no words. Hard. Really really hard.

But get this — the opposite is also impressively true. The stuff that’s not worth it? Easy.

Sitting on the couch and watching TV every night? Easy.

Eating rubbish and putting on some pounds? Easy peasy.

Choosing not to make that phone call, write those words, say that truthful thing you ought to say because it’s too scary? Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Waste an hour on Facebook instead of cleaning the house or cooking decent food? I can do that with my eyes closed.

You picking up what I’m putting down here?

You have good and important stuff to do with this one rare precious life of yours. You were created to do great things. Big things. Awesome things. But? Achieving what you were made to do is not going to come easily.

If all of life feels super easy right now, you might want to check your compass.

You know how the good food isn’t cheap, and the cheap food isn’t good?

Well, doing the good things isn’t easy… and doing the easy things isn’t good.

Look for (and cherish) the friends that are willing to tell you the truth when you’re taking the easy road. And remember to look further down the road because the short term choices make or break the long term goals.

When P.E. starts up again in the fall? I have my heart set on doing the hard things. Because those are the good things.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: I can do the hard things. Because they are the good things.

Even on Tuesdays.

xCC

 

How Your Short Term Decisions Make {or Break} Your Long Term Goals

While texting a friend, I had a crazy flashback this week that threw me back a decade or two… maybe I’d not like to admit how long ago it was… but it threw me back a good many years to when I was learning to drive. I remember being at a friend’s house one evening in our neighborhood and admitting to a kid a year or two younger than me (named Thomas, who, oddly enough, should not have known how to drive yet at this point) that I was struggling with keeping the car going straight down the road in Driver’s Ed. I felt like I was constantly making these tiny corrections, constantly turning the wheel, and it just didn’t feel right.

With all the wisdom of (I guess) a fourteen year old or so, Thomas said:

“If you want to drive straight, you can’t look at the road right in front of you. You have to look further down the road.”

The next time I got behind the wheel, I put wise young Thomas’s words into practice. I found that when I looked further down the road, I stopped making all those tiny jerking adjustments and corrections to try to make sure my tires were right between the lines, and found that as I kept my focus further down the road, I naturally steered the car exactly where I wanted it to go.

You might already know: I’m one of those crazy people who homeschool their kids. And I’m constantly inundated with ideas, methods and curriculum choices. When you’re just getting started, it can be so overwhelming you almost don’t want to homeschool at all. You can homeschool online, in a co-op, with the Classical method or the Charlotte Mason method, with Classical Conversations (my favorite), with methods that are student driven and based on the child’s interests… there’s even un-schooling. Yep, that’s totally a thing.

But the challenge in midst of the tendency to constantly want to jerk the wheel back and forth in response to this trend or that New York Times article is to focus “on down the road” and think about what the real goals are, what the non-negotiables are, and to plan from there.

I’ve fallen in love the Read-Aloud Revival site, and was listening to a class this week where I was encouraged by this G.K. Chesterton quote:

Just now there is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.

What in all that is good and fluffy does that mean? Well, we sometimes tend to forget that education is just a part of the process for preparing children to grow up and contribute to society and be responsible adults and (if we’re Christians) hopefully do with their lives what God created them to do. But what do we really want for children when they grow up? It often goes without saying (and therefore doesn’t get said) we most of all want our children to be happy, well-adjusted adults with a good family life.

Yes, we want them to be able to pay their bills and earn a living, but we know deep down that if we have raised selfish or greedy kids who expect things handed to them, they are not going to have a peaceful life at home, and one way or another, that’s going to catch up with them.

But how about if the goal is what the Westminster Catechism says? “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

When I have the glory of God in mind for my kids, I don’t skip over our morning devotional time at the beginning of our homeschool day — because I remember that these kids knowing Jesus is, in the light of eternity, more important than anything else on the to-do list. Yes, we will do school, but first? Jesus.

So, question:

Where do you want to go? What do you want to have accomplished in five or ten years? Because whatever your long-term goal, your short-term decisions will make or break you getting there.

If you want that book published, can you make it a habit to write a few hundred words every day to help get you there?

If you want a happy marriage, can you start asking your spouse what you can do to help make their day better? And doing it?

The problem is, the methods and tips and tricks at our fingertips aren’t just for homeschooling. We are all constantly inundated with options and ideas and the next way to get there fast. Wherever there is. If we are constantly trying to keep our metaphorical wheels between the lines by making those adjustments and corrections, because they say you should… and we’re blowing with every breeze pop culture tells us is the way to get there, we will find ourselves swerving all over the road.

And possibly hitting mailboxes.

Or parked cars.

So ask yourself a question about your life you should probably ask yourself when you get behind the wheel of the car: Where am I going and how am I going to get there? Like…

I’m on a journey to lose weight so I’m going to make sure thirty minutes of exercise are a part of my daily routine.

I’m on a journey to be more generous to those in need, so I’ll make coffee at home, and each of those $3 lattes will add up to enough to sponsor a child with Compassion or World Vision.

I’m on a journey declutter my home, so I’m going to spend ten minutes a day, going through the house section by section until I get there. (If that is actually a goal the step-by-step in this book is a really helpful tool.)

I’m on a journey to find a deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus, so I’m going to read two chapters of the Bible every evening, and spend ten minutes in prayer every morning…

Once you know where you want to go, you can focus your eyes down the road on that goal, and give some thought to the plan for getting yourself there.

This is the way the writer to the Hebrews put it:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! {Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message}

As we consider in the week to come, that Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, which led to the Holy Week that led to the cross, remember that Jesus knew where He was going. And He endured the trials necessary to cross the finish line, to achieve the thing no one else could achieve, but everyone else could benefit from. He fixed His eyes on the finish line. And we should fix our eyes on Him.

Don’t let the short term, day to day decisions blow in the breeze of what the world thinks you should do with your one precious life. Because the sum total of those short term decisions? That will be your whole life. Lived one day at a time.

Fix your eyes on the God who never took His eyes off you. With His glory at the center of the dreams and the goals, anything is possible.

xCC

Heads up! This post, like some posts on my site, contains affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love! 


What I’ve Learned About Trust From Math Worksheets

“I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”*

—Said by Not Me…

Hypothetical Question that I’m sure is not based in anybody’s actual reality for ya:

How does a person go from being totally worried that they won’t be able to make it through what happens tomorrow (if any of the things they fear were to happen tomorrow did) to a place where they feel like they can face anything?

I may have figured out the answer while looking at my kids’ Math worksheets.

Hi, my name is Caroline and I’m a homeschooling Mom. You probably knew that already.

Right now, I have a “Third Grader” and a “Kindergartener,” but if you are also inside the special world of homeschooling, you probably know that those are flexible terms.

My Kindergartener (almost always) totally loves Math. He gets excited about Math time, wants to breeze through two or three lessons in one sitting, and is overall just enjoying the subject at this point.

We’re just a few lessons away from finishing his curriculum for the school year, so I’m stretching it out a bit by tossing in a few extra “fun” practice worksheets in between. Usually these take the form of “Color by Number Addition.” Total fodder for developing the next Isaac Newton, right?

In case you decide to study that worksheet and discover some errors, be warned: the goal here isn’t perfection, it’s practice!

The third grader, on the other hand, isn’t super stoked about Math at present. The lessons are more involved, and they involve some analytical thinking, some brain-stretching, and generally a bit more focus than this kid is used to investing in schoolwork. (Because it mostly just comes easily for him.)

In the lesson above, I wrote down a thought to help this particular Math student remember not to try to solve a problem without first understanding what he was trying to figure out. Note to self, this is an extremely important life lesson worth writing about another day…

Okay. So you know the players: kindergartener and third grader. Now this, is the game.

Kindergartener totally wants to do third grader’s work. But? He’s not ready for third grader’s work. If you still need practice at addition, you’re probably not ready for division. Third grader doesn’t want to do third grader’s work. Because? It’s stretching him and that makes him uncomfortable.

Where do I fit in? I have a special privilege, as the parent, of making the judgment calls, and saying “Sorry kindergartener, but you’re a kindergartener, and we’re gonna keep working on what we’re working on. When we can, we’ll include you in the Math games third grader and I play, and we’ll eventually get to that third grade stuff. We just need to press on with the kindergarten stuff. For now.”

Now, sometimes, just so you know, even with the kindergartener, we arrive at a place where we don’t want to do what we need to do. Feel free to examine Exhibit C, below.

Kindergartener wasn’t really interested in working on this Math Lizard today. Math Iguana? Math reptile. He kind of just didn’t feel like it. But I was confident he had the skills (and he was allowed to use the abacus) and I wanted him to press through the I don’t feel like it’s and put some effort into it.

I didn’t give the kindergartener a third grade worksheet, but I did give him a challenge that I believed he could handle. When he tried to avoid said Math sheet in favor of playing legos, we sat down and had a little pep talk, where I told him I believed he was able to do it, if he tried, and I encouraged him with some strategies for getting it done.

I gave him the short term (pre-snack time) goal of getting all the questions on the lizard done, and with strategy and motivation, he achieved that goal before the banana was sliced and peeled.

Are you getting impatient for me to tie this together? Great, me too.

In my finite wisdom, I still recognize the importance of the process. In the Classical Conversations neck of the woods, we often talk about “Trusting the Process.” Another tangent for another day but grab this key thought: a lot of things, including our own hearts and souls, are in process. And in God’s infinite wisdom, I imagine He has a handle on what that process is supposed to look like.

Pause on this slice of Scripture with me:  “Now may the God of peace […] equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” {Hebrews 13:20a & 21}

The “Easy-to-Read” Version (yes, that’s a thing) actually says, “I pray that the God of peace will give you every good thing you need so that you can do what he wants.”

What an idea! God will give you what you need, so you can do what He wants.

Trust the process.

Maybe in some areas of your life you’re dying to jump into Advanced Calculus, but there’s a reason God’s holding you steady on Algebra right now.

Maybe in some areas of your life you feel like God has you doing Advanced Calculus and you wish you could go back to Algebra. Like, yesterday, please God, and thank you very much.

But if I, with my simple little finite mind am able to recognize in my own children how to foster the process of their growth, in our conversations, in our reading choices, and yes, in our Math studies, how much more can I trust our All-Knowing, All-Loving, great God who is our Father, to foster a process of growth in my life to help me become who He created me to be?

Can you see the possibilities truly believing that opens up in your soul?

You could trust that whatever happened — from that time you ran into a neighbor’s mailbox while dropping off a kid at a friend’s house (oh, wait, that was me!) to that time your boss called you into his office to tell you he just didn’t think you were doing a decent job (also me) — was part of God’s process.

And all that hard change we talked about yesterday: losing loved ones, moving towns, finishing school or watching kids leave the nest, you could trust that God’s hand was right there, you could trust that He could work all of it together for your good.

How much would that change our perspectives on change?

If we truly trusted God with our process, with all the days of our lives, then we might somehow come to a place where we could wholeheartedly say:

“I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”*

— Originally said by Mother Teresa, but maybe someday also you and me…

Believing God is there, able to do great things with all the hard, the scary, the change? Could change everything.

The kindergartener made some great progress on that Math Reptile today. Tomorrow, I’ll gently hand it to him again, and if he’s willing to trust me enough to listen and give it his best, I think tomorrow it might be filled out, colored in, and we’ll continue with the process.

xCC

 

*Mother Teresa, as quoted in Come Be My Light {Read This Book!}

This post, like some posts on my site, contains affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love! And a small disclaimer: we loved Mr. Stink but there’s a little bit of potty talk. Make it a read-aloud and skip that part! (wink)


Before You Put Your Behind in the Year That’s Past

I’ve heard there are just a few things in this world that you can watch and watch and never grow tired of watching: Falling snow, waves at the beach, and babies. Maybe there’s one or two more, but there’s definitely babies.

And I have a 14-month-old one that has taught me a few things, when I’ve given her some focused attention. She has this funny little habit that I don’t remember the others having — silly as it sounds, I’m always surprised when each new kid is unique and different and not a miniature version of the older kid in our crew of the same gender. Anyway, she has this habit of picking things up, observing them ever-so-briefly (guess they aren’t things you can watch forever) and then just chucking them behind her with gusto before moving on.

Get out of my way, Baby Einstein book!

Move off, My Little Pony!

Sayonara, xylophone! 

She once managed to snatch the bib off of her little neck and turf it with such impressive NBA-behind-the-back-pass skill, it landed perfectly in the space between her little high chair booster seat and the chair it is strapped to.

I’m going somewhere with this, so let me just move on and tell you when this little habit of hers is the most amusing. When our beloved little Kittycat is in the bathtub, and loses interest in a toy in the tub, she promptly says Get Behind Me! and gives it her characteristic behind the back toss. But the movement creates a bit of a whirlpool, so give it a few seconds, and the rubber duck she’s chucked behind her back will be back in front of her again.

Which is kind of a lot like life, am I right?

Maybe you’re ready to put the year that’s past behind you. Maybe things didn’t shake out the way you’d hoped. You didn’t achieve the dreams or accomplish the goals. Maybe you lost a relationship or a job or even someone you loved.

I have one Hero of a Hubs who was pretty ready to tell 2016 not to let the back door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha. (Except he’s not southern so it would’ve sounded way more posh.)

But knowing that rubber duck of a year hasn’t disappeared just because I threw it behind my back in the bathtub, I’ve been asking myself questions. Now that I’ve made another trip around the sun, what have I learned? What do I need to do differently if I want different results at the end of this collection of 365 days? And what do I need to have in my soul so that the hard and the hurt don’t come back to haunt me?

Back in December, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend who lives a couple of hours away — one of those friends with whom, although two years have passed since you’ve seen them, you still pick up right where you left off. We got on the subject of processing our childhoods, and she shared that she and her sister had completely different perspectives on their lives growing up, even though they were in the same house with the same parents, and they’re quite close in age.

Their different recollections of experiences prompted her sister to ask once:

“Were you even there?”

And I filed that thought away with a question: what is it that can make two different humans walk through the same experience and take away two completely different things?

Last night I came across these words in this book and wondered if they might be a big part of the answer:

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.*

What you remember and how you remember it.

What you remember and how you remember it.

Will I simply remember 2016 as the year I didn’t accomplish a lot of the goals I set for myself — or the year I wrote my first book proposal, did some great stuff with my kids, and listened to Jesus trying to help me understand faithfulness?

Will 2016 stick in my head only as the year we said goodbye to my precious, amazing father-in-law, or will I remember it as the year the Lord gave us three more wonderful weeks with him — which in incredibly glorious timing ended just days before he breathed his last breaths?

Is anyone expecting to arrive at the end of the year to say, “Wow, that totally went exactly how I planned it?” Because — really? And…is that the life you really want?

In a fallen, broken, heart-breaking world, perhaps the weight on the scale shouldn’t weigh as heavily on your heart as the weight of your mission. What in the world are you here for? Are you welcoming His glorious goodness in? Pouring it out with love?

I just finished this profoundly powerful book, Come Be My Light. It’s filled with the private writings of Mother Teresa — letters she wrote, things she often said, woven together with the story of her calling and her journey toward Jesus. One of her many firm resolutions was:

I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a Big Smile.**

Knowing the deep interior trials she journeyed through (I’m sure this will be more fodder for conversation in another post), it is an incredible act of faith for her to say these words.

For now, I just want to challenge you with this thought. Before the year that has passed is long and far behind you, join me, and let’s ask our souls a few questions:

What did I learn in 2016? What can I celebrate and give thanks for?

Where do I feel I missed the boat in 2016? What should I repent for? Are there people I need to ask forgiveness of?

What’s the one thing that strikes me most deeply about 2016, and how can I process it and move forward? Is there a loss I need to give myself permission to grieve? A mistake (or several) I need to forgive myself for? Somewhere I need to work for reconciliation? Does it seem like something was missing last year that I need to start looking for?

It challenged me deeply to consider that it’s not so much what happens as what you remember and how you remember it. I hope you can list out a string of blessings and gifts from the year that passed twice as long as a list of grievances… and guide your one precious heart to move forward well, joyfully, gratefully into the year that is to come.

Soak in these words deeply, friends, and ask Jesus to help you live them…

Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. {Prov. 4:23, NLT}

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*Gabriel García Márquez, quoted by Ann Voskamp in The Broken Way. (36)

**Mother Teresa in Come Be My Light, (235).

My posts sometimes contain affiliate links. Today I’ve included a few of my most favorite recent reads (some mentioned in this post) which are in a banner below. When you click on those links to make your purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!


One Great Way to Unwrap Presence This Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

We do our best to do give our children some {read: not a lot of} meaningful, purposeful gifts this season (I’m planning another post to share some of our favorite useful/educational ideas with you) but what I don’t want Christmas to be all about at the Collie house is presents.

I keep asking this one thing:

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

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Years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Two years ago, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

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Sometimes right after breakfast, sometimes when we’re back in PJs at the end of the day, we dive into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Starting December 1st, we’re led through a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments (more on those in a second) that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But when we took the time to sit down together, to be still and to think and to talk, it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

In the sitting still and reflecting I just felt like… this is what I want to do most in this season.

I want to point to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

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Last year I hot-glued some felt to some cardboard to create the most awesomely rough-looking Jesse Tree you’ve ever seen… but my children love it.

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I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

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So friends, if you’re hoping to introduce some new traditions into your Advent Season, or if you’ve been on the fence pondering this book for a while, please consider this my whole-hearted recommendation. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift has been a gift to our family, and I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season. I’m genuinely excited to share it with you!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

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P.S. In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released two years ago. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming. If you’re looking for something special for yourself in this season, perhaps for that early morning cup of coffee on the couch moment, I highly recommend this!


 

This post contains affiliate links, but I’m sharing my honest-to-goodness heartfelt opinions. When you click on those links to make your purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!