The Screens are Off

My kids get two full weeks off for Christmas break this year, which apparently isn't the case for many of my friends, who didn't start Christmas break until Christmas Eve. (In which case, I don't know whether to feel sorry for you or envy you. It's a little of both, if I'm honest.)

All that to say, Natalie and Connor have been home for more than a week now, and the cabin fever is setting in. Yesterday was the culmination of a week of lazy: We sat in front of screens - television, laptop or Leapster - from dawn until dusk.

By the end of the day, I was so antsy and crabby, my skin itched from the inside out. I told Corey before I went to bed last night, "I'M BORED!" (All caps entirely appropriate, trust me.)

Which is often code for: I need a plan. I'm lonely. I'm tired of sitting around.

Today, I woke up determined to do something different. We let the kids watch a few Nick Jr. programs and play a computer game this morning. But as of now, the screens are off for the day. (Maybe the week.) The kids are playing with their new toys. And I'm working on a way to get everyone outside this afternoon. (It's a tad complicated when one doesn't have a yard but I'm not accepting that excuse today.)

I can't say I've shed the cloak of irritability yet. But I think we're headed in the right direction.


I wrote this two weeks ago, but somehow, it feels appropriate to post today, as the Christmas euphoria fades. Funny thing -- my house looks almost the same now as it did then. I promise I picked up after I wrote this! But a clean house waits for no man.

The milk sits on the counter next to the coffee creamer. The bread is still out, next to the still-open jar of peach jelly. The blackberries are on the stove top and the washcloth is on the high-chair next to the soggy Cheerios. The table where I’m sitting with my laptop is covered in small sticky spots that are probably dried milk from breakfast.

The living room is wall-to-wall Little People. Legos and cars and scraps of paper from Natalie’s latest self-invented game cover every flat surface.

Home as metaphor. Life unfinished. A work in progress. Two steps forward, one step back. Messy. Active. Always on the go.

It’s my reality these days.

I love being a mom to four. That sounds a little trite, a little too easy. But it’s true. My heart soars everyday to see these sweet little face. (This despite the fact that I’m so tired, it feels like I wear exhaustion like a wet pair of jeans.)

Kieran is growing so fast. He’s sitting up solidly now (after a few weeks of sitting up and then randomly falling backwards and knocking his noggin). He’s got two toofers. He is starting to get up on all fours and rock (hold me), and he’s pretty good at scooting around the living room on his belly. (Evidence: Last night, I set him down in the middle of the room. Five minutes later, I found him near the Christmas tree with an ornament in his mouth, a pink foam creation I made when I was in kindergarten. If a disease wiped out in the mid-70s is rediscovered in our house next week, you’ll know why.)

And Teyla. Oh my goodness. She grows more Teyla-like every day. She walks around my house, all giggles and sass. She bosses the dog. (“Keh-nole Sami! Keh-nole!”). She bosses her Dad. (“No Dadee! I no want to wear dat. I want dis one!”) She bosses her siblings. (“Kids! Put on yowr shoes now!”) She bosses me. (“I not going to bed Mamma. I play witt my amials instead.”) Her little voice slays me, and her zest for life drives to me consume two cups of coffee a day, minimum.

Combine those two with their older siblings and a traveling husband and a winter that’s come early bearing gifts, and you probably sense why I’m unfinished. I just don’t have enough time. Enough energy. Enough me.

There was a time in my life when I would have been frustrated by this way of life. To wake up each morning brimming with stories and idea and never have a free minute to sit at the computer. To make dinner each night and have most of it get cold before I can eat it. To pick up all the toys after the kids go to bed only to have them scattered hither and yon again before 9:00 AM. To move the items on today’s To Do List to tomorrow and act like that’s the way it was supposed to be.

And yes, I can get annoyed. My inner control freak has been known to grumble at the chaos. I get itchy when the clutter gets thick. And there are days when I rush everyone into bed so I can sit on the couch and hear … nothing for just two seconds.

But most of the time, I don’t live frustrated. I live fulfilled. In the midst of the crazy, God’s glory shines. I see the gifts before me and my breath catches.

My heart’s palette has been retrained by the Holy Spirit to crave the soul-satisfaction of gratefulness. And like manna, that dish is best eaten today. Even in the chaos. Even in the mundane.

My life is unfinished. But God has given me today.
This is God's work.
We rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it!
This is the very day God acted—
let's celebrate and be festive!
Salvation now, God. Salvation now!
Oh yes, God—a free and full life!
What grace.

Where's the Line to Hate the Christmas Schmaltz?

On my way home from Bible study and Trader Joe's yesterday (both a spiritual experience, let me assure you), I heard the semi-new song "Where's the Line for Jesus?" on our local Christian radio station.

I made it through approximately 1.5 verses before I rolled my eyes so far back in my head, I saw my spinal cord.

Seriously people. What is it with the Christmas schmaltz? Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but I have no tolerance for it anymore. (Hey you, kids wearing pajama pants at the bus stop: Put on some real clothes! It's 5 degrees outside! And get off my lawn!)

I understand Christmas is largely an American, secularized holiday at this point. It's 85% Santa, shopping and sweets and 5% snow and lights and 10% the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. I truly believe you could remove the Gospel narrative from most Christmas celebrations and the majority wouldn't blink -- or even know something had changed. This realization helped me a lot last year when I realized some of my bad attitude about the holidays stemmed from too much blending of the two Christmases in my soul.

But I don't understand the need to make Christmas -- either of them -- a cesspool of sentimentality.

This year, I'm doing my best to enjoy cultural Christmas without losing focus on the original reason for the holiday. We have enough snow to guarantee a white Christmas. The kids and I are baking and decorating holiday cookies. We have a gorgeous tree taking up half the living room. And I'm almost done buying presents to tuck under it.

But I'm also reminding myself every day that advent, the coming, implies waiting. And not just waiting for presents. Waiting for hope deferred. Waiting for the wardrobe doors to reveal Narnia. Waiting for the Promise to come.

It's the farthest thing from contrived sentimentality you can imagine. It's real. It's true.

God's Christmas is so much deeper. It's an audacious rescue, a passionate love story. It recognizes the darkness, the sinking hopelessness that would swallow us all whole if not for the birth of this tiny babe.

Personally, I don't want to go to the mall and stand in line to see my God. Santa can have that gig.

I would rather leave the masses at the cathedrals to materialism and go instead to the humble stable and there


So We Got Some Snow This Weekend

So we got some snow this weekend.

Twenty-one inches, to be exact.

The fifth largest snow in Minnesota history. The biggest dump since the infamous Halloween Blizzard of '91, one of the classic "where were you" events in Minnesota history.

I know some people hate snow. It's a pain to shovel and scrape. It's cold and slippery and it makes driving treacherous.

I used to share the sentiment. When I was in college, winter held as much appeal as an IRS audit. It was long, bitter and tedious.

But … I don't know. Something has changed in me as I've gotten older. Maybe it's because I lived in snow-free San Diego for eight years. Maybe my inner weather geek is taking over. Maybe I’m turning into my mom, who is more Minnesotan-at-heart than most natives.

Or maybe ... now, I have kids.

And to kids, snow is magic.

Lately, I share the sentiment.

(Extreme babywearing, no?)

All this snow: It's GORGEOUS.

Even if it makes my driveway look like this.

It's crazy. What used to be frustrating now delights me. Instead of being annoyed, I'm amazed. My most frequent phrase this past weekend: Wow. It's so beautiful.

I have a feeling, most of life is, when seen through the eyes of a child.

How NOT to Raise a Pharisee

My oldest daughter, Natalie, is best described with one word: sweet.

She is nine years of sweetness and joy held together with art projects, Puppy Place books, giggles and a fierce love of all things horse. She is compassionate and sensitive, eager to do the right thing and quick to step in when someone needs help.

She’s also a Pharisee.

I can say that, because I’m a recovering Pharisee myself. (I think many oldest children struggle with Pharisee tendencies. That kernel of responsibility planted in us by our birth order often grows into a tree of self-righteousness. For more proof: See the Older Brother in the story of the Prodigal. Notice he wasn’t the younger brother. Interesting.)

A few months ago, Natalie and I were talking about sin on the way to school (not a daily occurrence, I assure you), and she said something like, “Well, I’m glad Jesus died for those people who are bad. But I’m not a bad person. I’m good.”

Inwardly, I smiled with understanding. Outwardly, I reiterated what we say often in our house: We are all born with a twisted heart. No one is really good. Some people may look better than others on the outside. But our souls are infected with a fatal illness. Jesus is the only antidote.

And in my marrow, I was convicted once again that my job as a parent isn’t just to raise kids with good behavior. I want nothing less than changed hearts. Even a Pharisee can look good. Only a God-believer can
be good.

Enter "Spiritual Parenting" by Michelle Anthony. I was given the opportunity to review this book last month. I don’t do many reviews these days, because my life is scattered right now, and I’m trying to maintain a healthy dose of margin.

But this book? The tagline is “It’s not about perfect behavior. It’s about passionate hearts.”

Yes please. That’s a parenting book I wanted to read.
At its core, Spiritual Parenting then is not merely a book on “how to parent.” It’s far more than that. It’s a book about how to view your role as a spiritually minded parent, the God-given role that is yours alone. Essentially, it asks the question, “What is my end goal in raising each of the children God has entrusted to me, and then how will I parent them with that end in mind?”

With that perspective, I can take my focus off a series of day-to-day events and set it on the bigger picture of passing on my faith. Each moment of every day becomes an opportunity to parent toward my God-given goal. I parent in a way that does not simply spend my hours but allows me to invest my days toward eternity.
- Michelle Anthony, "Spiritual Parenting"
Oh my word. AMEN! That’s how I want to parent my children.

Michelle goes on to (rightly) say that we can do little as parents to truly change our children’s hearts. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. But we can give the Holy Spirit room to work. To that end, she details ten “environments” we can build into our home that will allow our children to “not only hear God’s words but also have the opportunity to put them into practice.”

Intrigued? "Spiritual Parenting" is on sale right now on Amazon for only $10.19. Or you could win a copy of Michelle’s book and her corresponding children’s book, "The Big God Story" by leaving a comment on this post. David Cook has graciously agreed to send one of my readers an early Christmas present. I think its wisdom will encourage you, whether you have a Pharisee or a prodigal.

David C. Cook supplied me with a copy of "Spiritual Parenting" and "The Big God Story" for the purposes of this review. My opinions are strictly my own. The links in this post are also Amazon Affiliate links, which means I will earn about two cents if you buy one of Michelle's books by clicking through my blog. Comments will close Sunday, December 5 and a winner will be chosen at random that evening. I will let Natalie draw the winner. Because Pharisees are especially good at rule keeping.

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations to Amy from Occupation: Mommy. Your books will be in the mail shortly!