Psalm 103:8

PLEASE DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

It is well worth the time to dwell on God’s truth, letting each word flow softly over your heart. When we slow down and savor the specific truth within, our soul sits at the banqueting table.

THE LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…

It is THE LORD, not a LORD. He is the only One who is worthy of the title.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The LORD, Yahweh, the great I AM, the One who has no beginning, no end, and is utterly independent of anything outside Himself. Who else can make this claim?

The LORD IS merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He IS merciful. It doesn’t say He can be, or might be, or is able to be merciful. It says He is merciful and we know that God does not change.

The LORD is MERCIFUL and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He is MERCIFUL. He is full of mercy. Mercy is this:  kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly; kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation. Isn’t that you? I know it’s me.

The LORD is merciful AND gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He is merciful AND gracious. Not either. Not or. AND.

The LORD is merciful and GRACIOUS, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He is GRACIOUS. Full of grace. Grace is this: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification. It is something we don’t deserve. We can’t earn it, can’t work for it, can’t buy it.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, SLOW to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He is SLOW to anger. He doesn’t act under impulse, sudden emotion, or fatigue. He is slow, patient, ready to wait, ready to extend forgiveness.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to ANGER and abounding in steadfast love.

God does, at times, display His ANGER. He restrains it, of that we can be sure. As we bask in His patience, though, we would do well to remember His own glory is on the line and He will see justice prevail.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger AND abounding in steadfast love.

His slow anger has a counterpart: love. He is slow to anger AND He abounds in love for His creation.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and ABOUNDING in steadfast love.

He is ABOUNDING in love for us. Teeming, profuse, plentiful. His love won’t run out, dry up, or be unavailable. It is ours in abundance.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in STEADFAST love.

His love for us is STEADFAST. Abounding (NIV), unfailing (NLT), plenteous (KJV). HIs love will not change, grow weary, or fail.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast LOVE.

From the Hebrew word cheçed  meaning kindness, rarely by reproof. Do you see that? RARELY by reproof. He would rather extend kindness toward us than correction (though He won’t withhold it when our good and His glory are at stake.)

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Dwell deeply today.

Love Letters to My Children {no. 3} : I’m Not Afraid of the Teenage Years

PTS| Love Letters No 3

 

[Our sweet Alaina turned 13 on Saturday. Although it took me a few days to finish writing (such is the life of a mother), the words, I hope, are still worth sharing. For those of you who don’t have time to sit down and read, I have added an audio transcript of this letter which you can listen to here or download.) Perhaps while washing dishes or running on the treadmill, a mama’s heart-words to her children will inspire you to create your own.]

A photo with my girl before heading out for cupcakes

A photo with my girl before heading out for cupcakes

Their words stung. I feared the look on my face would prompt questions. My mind raced and my heart pumped furiously. On the spot, I made decisions for the future of our family.

It wouldn’t be the last time those words would be heard; there would be dozens of similar conversations, all resulting in the same fortitude.

With my sweet little blondies in hand, the pile of them all still preschool age, I squeezed a bit tighter as the words spewed:

“Enjoy them while they are little, because once they are teenagers….well…just wait.”

Well, my loves, I am going to tell you something:

I am not afraid of the teenage years.

Let me say it again so you can hear it loud and clear:

I am not afraid of the teenage years.

And that’s a good thing, because they start today.

Beginning this afternoon (12:47pm EST to be exact), and stretching over the next seventeen years (at least), I will be the mother of a teenager. And not only am I not afraid, I AM EXCITED.

Today our sweet Alaina will blow out a baker’s dozen on her cake. We will celebrate the moment that occurred thirteen years ago. After writhing in pain in a hospital in Bangalore, India, I heard the most precious words I had ever prayed for:

It’s a girl!

Upon waking, Alaina found this waiting for her on the kitchen table

Upon waking, Alaina found this waiting for her on the kitchen table

And thus began my journey into motherhood, one that three miscarriages and many months of tears and questioning God’s goodness wouldn’t allow me to forge into half-heartedly.

From day one, I have loved being a mother. It’s not that I love all aspects of it, the tedious and mundane—the diapers, the nursing, the bottles, the mess, the noise, the sibling squabbles, the interruptions—but motherhood courses through my heart and mind and I love it.

You can imagine what those “just wait until they are teenagers” words did to me. You can guess, because you are my children and you know me. While many mothers would brace themselves and prepare for what they were told was inevitable, the words I heard only worked to fortify my soul. They made me choose—each and every time I heard them—to enjoy you while you were young while I waited in hopeful excitement for the years ahead. I vowed, if even only to myself, to fight for you—for your hearts and for our relationship. I determined that capturing and keeping your hearts would be priority over virtually all else.

"Barakel sticky buns" were the brunch request (she didn't want to be awake early enough for breakfast)

“Barakel sticky buns” were the brunch request (she didn’t want to be awake early enough for breakfast)

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I saw problems with the mindset advised to me:

  1. I didn’t want to have the years of your sweet and silly and say-all-the-funny-things childhood to be shadowed by a looming fear of what “those years” would bring. How could my heart be fully attentive to the now if I was silently dreading what was to come?
  2. The assumption that my children would become less like Christ as they matured instead of more like Christ was contrary to what I understood in Scripture about the sanctification process. The world operates with expectation on entropy (things move from order to disorder.) Like all things in the Kingdom culture, sanctification operates in the opposite fashion: those who have been saved in faith move from chaos (our sinful state) to heavenly order (sanctification.)
  3. I understood the dangers of self-fulling prophecies. This might not be a term you all have heard, kids, so here is  definition for you: A selffulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. In short, something becomes true because you believe it to be true. It’s a real thing. If there is a very real correlation between what we believe will happen and what actually happens, wouldn’t it make more sense for us to believe that you will be pretty awesome teenagers? That we will still love each other, laugh together, and serve one another?

My mind was made up and my course was set: I would not be afraid of the teenage years and I would instead live with joyful expectation that the incredible toddlers who were bringing joy to our family would grow and mature into young adults who would continue to bring joy as God’s plan for their personalities and purpose became increasingly clear.

It’s day one, I get that. One day—out of seventeen years—doesn’t mean anything. But I’m still not scared. ©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-15

I remember being a teen. It was hard—harder than almost anything else I have ever done. I know the emotions, I know the struggle. I know the desires and the dreams and broken hearts. I remember the insecurity. I remember the awkwardness. I remember the deep questions of the heart. And because I remember, I know some of what you all will face as you make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Growing isn’t always easy or fun.

We’ll have bumps along the way, of that I am sure. We’ll struggle. We will disagree. We will feel frustrated at times. You’ll question our motives and we will question yours. How else could eight sinners all live under the same roof?

But I’m still in this. I am still your mom. I am still here to love you, protect you, and teach you to fly. The imperative wing clipping will might feel hindering (or even debilitating) at times. You might even resolve to take a test flight out of the nest, assured of your readiness. You’ll jump. You’ll flail. You’ll fall.

And this is what I hope and pray—with God’s grace and patience with me fueling the desire—I will do when you fall.

Bruised and beaten, I’ll come to you. I’ll brush you off, scoop you up, and bring you a hot cup of coffee and allow you to—without fear of further insult or injury—recount your crash landing. And then I’ll say two of the most powerful words a human can offer to another: “Me too.” With humility and vulnerability, I’ll make you laugh and cry with stories of my own ungraceful landings. If you think the “paint the sweater so my mom didn’t know I stole it, stained it, and bleached it” story was bad, you’ll be comforted in learning my list of failures, faults and fluttering attempts  grows exponentially from there.

And there is one more thing I promise to do, and it is so very important. Important, but difficult, and I may need reminders. But this I promise: I will ask for forgiveness when my sinfulness has influenced your own. I am just like you: a sinner saved by grace in faith alone. The only difference between us is that I am an older (and hopefully wiser) sinner with much more experience falling and striving to rise strong with only grace and forgiveness as my strength. I will fail you. I will hurt you. I will, at times, be self-absorbed and uninterested. It won’t be my intention, but my sinful nature assures me it will happen. In those times, I pray that grace and forgiveness has been modeled for you enough to know how to extend them yourselves. I’ll need them.

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I’m hear to listen. I’m here to care. I will empathize when I can and sympathize when I cannot. Your hurts and struggles and questions of the heart are real and they are the weightiest experiences you have encountered thus far. I will not belittle them. I will not brush them aside. I will not lay them alongside an adult’s struggle and conclude their insignificance.

[More on this in a letter to come, though you’ve heard it all before. It bears repeating. In fact, it needs to be written and then proclaimed to every adult who will ever interact with a child or young adult.]

Even with the struggles and frustrations to come, I still choose your heart. I still choose our relationship. I still choose to meet you where you are and to ask you to help me understand what what you see on “your side of the book.” And I will ask you to allow me to share what I see on “my side of the book”. And together, we’ll grow. We’ll learn to be more loving, more forgiving, more patient, and more grateful that God chose us to be family.

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And so kids, on this first day of parenting a teenager, no fear resides in my heart. Only excitement. Your unique personalities are each starting to rise above the horizon. I see glimpses of the men and women you will become and I wonder and pray about the path God is blazing before you. As much as I adore the little kid years, the foreshadowing of your adult lives thrills my heart and soul. Even now, as we joke and talk and enjoy the mundane tasks of life together, I know the the next seventeen years will be a testament of God’s grace and growth in your lives. How could my anticipation be anything but elation?

Thirteen years ago today my dear Alaina made me a mother. And today, as we watch the clock turn to 11:17pm in Bangalore, she will make me the mother of a teenager. I was told to “just wait until they are teenagers.” As the adage asserts, “Good things come to those who wait.” Well, I’ve waited and this is what I see: a beautiful young woman with an inner spirit that inspires. I see her serve her family, be attentive to and diligent in her studies, think and inspire others about modesty, laugh at her dad’s corny jokes, beg her little siblings for hugs and kisses, take initiative to help when she sees it is needed, goof off with her brothers, love and encourage her friends, and express gratitude to her parents. Good things indeed.

Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad...her favorite!

Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad…her favorite!

And the rest of you who are tailing closely behind are equally incredible. I can’t wait to see how these next years continue to build on the foundation of our family and each of your individual measures of faith. God has begun a great work in you (in us!) and He will carry it on to completion. Of that I am sure.

 

Love Letters to My Children {no. 2}

Love Letters | I Never Wanted Boys

To My Sweet Boys,

I have a confession to make: I never wanted to have boys.

I am sure I briefly considered the concept and I am sure I knew there was a likelihood that I would have boys someday, but I never wanted to have boys. I never dreamt of being a mother to boys or wondered what it would be like to have you in my home.

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Boys were dirty. And loud. And ill-mannered. And boy clothes? Well, let’s just say that the thought of shopping for boys was about as exciting as me being out in the snow. And we all know how I feel about that. 

I’m sorry. Instead, my dreams were filled with little girls—lots of pink and bows and tights and braids. I imagined a cute little tomboy, but an actual boy was not something I wanted—ever. Girls, I get. I understand them because, well, I am one. They talk a lot and they are emotional and prone to drama and they get hurt and they change their clothes no less than five times a day. I know. But at least I know and understand.

Who can understand boys? Who can understand the noise and the mess and the weird noises and the sense of humor and the sports and the clothes that don’t match?

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Boys are just different and weird. In my mind, there wasn’t anything to do with a boy. No tea parties, no playing dress-up, no sweet snuggles on the couch.

I’ve been wrong about a lot of thing in my life, but probably never more so than this. I’m almost twelve years into this mother-of-boys-thing and let me tell you: It’s awesome.

God knew I needed you. He knew that my life would be filled with so much fun, so much laughter, so much adventure (and yes, so much dirt and noise.) The thought of not having you boys in my life makes my heart ache. Each of you are so unique and yet so completely boy. 

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Caleb is our obsessive passionate one. First it was trains. Then it was matchbox cars. Then it was knights, swords, and pirates. He moved on to Legos. He went through phases of intense love for soccer, for being a goalie, for office supplies (one of my favorites), for Star Wars, and for running. He then moved on to —and is now still entrenched in — the world of sports. He knows all the players, all the scores, all the teams, and all the games. Me on the other hand? I just learned there is a pro-football team in North Carolina. I love Caleb and all the passion and excitement he brings to our family. He’s a mini-me.

Caleb is also our creative one. Where other people see trash or chaos, Caleb sees something incredible. He has been creatively solving problems since he was little. When he was four, he was frustrated that his bike wouldn’t stand up (Indonesian bikes usually don’t have kickstands.) He looked around the yard, found the perfect stick, and then shoved it up under his bike so it would stay standing. When we went to India in 2010, I had to spend the three weeks telling Caleb that no, he couldn’t bring trash back to Indonesia with us, no matter what cool thing he planned to build out of it. Caleb’s Lego creations are nothing short of amazing. Working trap doors, moving parts, intricate detail (I’ve had to learn not to touch these inventions since I have a tendency to break any Lego creation I touch.) Caleb—or as he is known around our house, Cabe— has an incredible mind and heart and sensitivity and I can’t wait to see where his passion and creativity take him.

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Levi is our funny one. If Caleb is a mini-me, Levi is a mini-dad. Levi’s entire existence, I am sure, depends on the ability to make himself laugh. If it’s not funny, it’s not worth saying or doing. We’ve had to spend time over the years making sure that Levi’s laughter isn’t at the expense of someone else, but for the most part, it really is all fun and games with Levi. I’ll never forget Caleb perfectly lining up all his matchbox cars through the living room and Levi, not quite eight months old, crawling as fast as he could toward them in order to bring disorder to Caleb’s perfect order. And he did it with a huge grin on his face. And then there was that time Levi threw his underwear on the ceiling fan and when I walked in, he flipped the switch so the underwear would fly through the room. That’s our Levi.

But you know what else is our Levi? The boy who helps his little sisters make pink and purple pancakes. The first time it happened is a moment that will forever be etched in my memory. I came downstairs in our house In Wanggsa and I saw the little girls standing their in their aprons. Levi had gotten everything ready and he was helping them make pancakes. Pink and purple food coloring had been used at the girls’ request. Not quite how most seven-year-old boys spend their time! Levi is sweet and gentle and his eyes sparkle when he laughs. Everyone loves Levi and his seems to be the glue that holds the rest of us together. Life is just more fun if our Beaver is around.

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And then there is sweet Z-man. I wasn’t so sure about having another boy. I had learned how amazing boys were, but my only experience had been with two little boys (the two-year age difference barely noticeable). After watching Caleb and Levi spend their entire lives playing and laughing and roughhousing together, I was worried about Zach. With two sisters just older than him, would he miss out on all the fun you older boys had together? I worried he wouldn’t have anyone to play swords with, to build Legos with, or to throw a football with.

But one day it dawned on me: Zach may not have a brother close in age like Levi and Caleb, but he has something neither of them had— two older brothers. Two young men to look up to. Two young men to care for him. Two young men to show him and teach him everything he wants to know. And seeing the three of you together, well, let’s just say my heart ends up in a big ‘ol puddle on the floor.

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Zachary is just about the cutest kid alive. He looks like Caleb. He acts like Levi. And he has a spunk that I am pretty sure came from Katie and Bethany. He is adored by all. We all know of the email I got when I was pregnant with him, someone telling me they felt sorry for Zachary because of how he would be picked on by his older siblings. Your non-confrontational mama got extremely confrontational and typed those keys a little harder than necessary as she carefully explained that’s just not how we do it in our family. And was I right, or what? Zachary is loved by everyone. All of you fight over him. You beg for his kisses and cuddles. You insist it is your turn to sit next to him. He has all of your our  hearts wrapped around his chubby little finger.

I’ve learned a lot in these past twelve years, my sweet boys. I didn’t know how incredible it would feel to be the mother of boys. I didn’t know my heart would burst when I looked at you. I didn’t know that the snuggles of a little boy are the best drugs on the planet. I didn’t know the fun and laughter boys could bring to a family. I didn’t know I would spend time dreaming about the day when my sons are taller and stronger than me and they come home, put their arm around me and say in their deep voice, “Hey mom.” I didn’t know I would passionately pray for the women you will one day marry and hope that I can bust apart the mother-in-law stereotype. I didn’t know boys could be so sweet, so caring, so creative. I didn’t know my boys would bring me a brush and ask me to do their hair before church. I didn’t know taking two boys shopping for clothes would be so much fun. I didn’t know I could feel this way.

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I never wanted to have boys, but now…

To my Cabers, my Beaver, and my Z-man: I love you with a love so deep, so fierce, so raw that there are no words that even come close to being able to describe it. To be your mother is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. And to think I didn’t want this…my heart trembles at the thought.

Love Mama3

Love Letters to My Children {no. 1}

Love Letters | no 1

Dear Children,

I want you to know something: we really, really like you.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it is.

You’d be hard pressed to find parents who don’t love their kids. But liking their kids? That’s another subject altogether.

But you all…we really, really like you. We like spending time with you. We like playing with you. We like eating meals around the table and playing silly dinner games like Goober Goat and Mrs. Mumbles.

Sure, there are times when the noise level gets to us and there are times mom and dad want time alone. Spending time with you, though, is not just something we have to do, it’s something we want to do.

And the reason is simple: we think you are really amazing kids. At least once a week I say to dad, “We have really great kids.”

Yes, you are kids. Yes, you make mistakes. Yes, you can be loud and crazy and forget your manners (though Bethany likes to remind us all that she has manners.) But you are some of the best kids I have ever met and I don’t think I am saying that simply because you are ours (and the fact that others regularly tell us how great you are attests to this. It isn’t a coincidence that the park ranger in most of the campgrounds where we have stayed come to tell us how great you all are.)

You are kind. Every day I see you helping one another. Whether it’s getting milk for the littles or saying, “I’m making bacon. Would anyone else like some?”, you are always thinking of others. You aren’t mean to each other. We rarely have hitting or yelling and we don’t call each other names. You build one another up instead of tearing each other down.

You are obedient. When we ask you to do something, you do it. You be may be sluggish about it at times and you may not be excited, but you do it. You never argue with us, say, “no,” or complain that “it’s not fair.”

You are helpful. I have made it a point since you were little to differentiate between me giving you a command (“Bring me a diaper”) and making a request (“Would you mind bringing me a diaper?” If I give you a command, I expect you to obey. But if I make a request, I am giving you the permission to say yes or no. It’s important to me that I am not just barking orders at you. The thing is, 99% of the time you still say yes and do what I asked. I apologize if I ever take this for granted. I need to be better about not asking you to do things simply because I don’t want to do them. You all are so helpful that I can get lazy. I’m sorry.

When we are getting ready for homeschool co-op and we have to be out the door at 7:15 after being up late on Wednesday night for homegroup, you all are so incredible about helping to get everything ready without me even asking you. Katie packs Zach’s things. Alaina does the little girls’ hair. Caleb and Levi work to pack the lunch basket. You all work hard so that I don’t have to do it all alone.

You are fun. You all are a crazy bunch of silly! I love to watch the games and activities you all come up with. Whether its dressing up in pretty dresses and letting your sister do your makeup (I’m not naming names here….um…cough….cough…rhymes with Bevi…) or surfing down a snow hill on a sled, you all are always making me, and each other, laugh.

You are happy. Ever since Alaina was born, people have commented on how happy my kids are. I’ve been asked dozens and dozens of times, “Are they always this happy?” I have to answer honestly: yes. You all have bright smiles that light up the room. In Elisabeth Elliot’s A Chance to Die (the biography of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India), Amy states, “Never was there a happier child than I.” I read that years before having children and thought, “If my kids can say that, I will have done a good job.”

You are grateful. Whether it is making a meal for you, making holidays special, or helping you find your shoes, you are all so quick to say, “thank you.” I should do my mothering jobs with or without thanks, but let me tell you: it’s a lot easier and much more fun to do things for you all when you express your gratitude. It’s good for a mother to know her work doesn’t go unnoticed.

You are beautiful. Maybe it’s silly, but I just love to look at you. I am not sure you could get any cuter. All of you and your blond hair. Levi and Katie’s freckles. Alaina’s gorgeous, thick hair. Your sweet smiles. I am sure most mothers think this way, but I know I am right. Even the police agree! Remember when we were stopped in Snow Camp while they were doing random checks for licenses? The police officer looked in the car and said, “Are those all yours?” After affirming they were, he said, “None of them are ugly!” See…I told you you are beautiful!

I could go on. And on. And on. You’re creative and smart and sweet and flexible and thoughtful. The point is, though, we really, really like you. We love you, of course. That’s what parents do. But I am so thankful that I also can also honestly say we like you. You are pretty amazing kids and I am so grateful to be your mama.

Love Mama3

Love Letters to My Children {a new project}

Love Letters | Introduction

Last January, a friend died. We didn’t know each other all that well, but after living in Indonesia for a few years and getting together with other young moms, we spent a good bit of time with one another. We had coffee, played with our kids at the park, and had many discussions about faith, marriage, and parenting.

Her death was quite sudden. From what I understand, the timeline from her diagnosis of breast cancer to death was less than a few weeks. She was young. Beautiful. Smart. Witty. And she was a mom. Three little kids, all age five and under and all little blondies like my own, will never get the chance to really know her.

Her death changed me. In the days after hearing the news, I was mad. I kept thinking, “It isn’t fair! She didn’t have enough time! She didn’t know!” I thought of all the things I am sure she would have wanted to do if she had known she wouldn’t get to see her kids grow up. All the letters she would have written. All the stories she would have wanted to record. All the words of wisdom she would have wanted to pass on.

We think we have forever. But we don’t.  None of us know the end our days.

Over the past year, I have thought many times about the stories I would want my kids to hear. The letters I would want to write. The rationale for decisions I would want to articulate. If God were to call me to Himself without me being able to finish raising these sweet kids, there are things I want them to know. Many of the stories of our family are in our scrapbook albums. The tens of thousands of photos we have show a mother who adored her children. But there are still thoughts and feelings and dreams that still need to be given words.

And so, Love Letters to My Children. I want to be intentional about taking the time to share with my kids the thoughts and truths that live deep within my heart. I want to make sure I take the time to articulate the whys and hows of our family, not just the whats. I want them to know why our family does the things the way we do. I want them to know why we value the things we value. I want them to understand the rationale for decisions we have made and will continue to make. I want them to know the mistakes we have made and what we have learned from them. I want them to know the dreams I have for them and the prayers I pray for them.

Not all of these letters will be for public view. Some things are better off being kept private. However, I am choosing to share some of these letters publicly. I do this because maybe…Maybe it will challenge you in your parenting. Maybe it will encourage you. Maybe it will help you feel you aren’t alone. Maybe it will help you think of parenting issues and challenges in new ways. Maybe it will inspire you to make changes in your family or in yourself. Maybe it will give you the courage to be the mother God made you to be instead of the mother the internet says you should be. Maybe you will think of the stories and truths and dreams and love you want to share with your children.

Through my years of blogging, I have often wondered about the value of sharing my words. I often fear that I am talking to hear myself talk or that others will assume that to be my motivation. We all know there are plenty of people who are so enamored with themselves they can’t help but share it for the world to see. I question my motives daily. I wrestle with adding more words to the cacophony of parenting advice which usually confuses and divides rather than encourages and unifies. I ask myself, “Wouldn’t it bet better if we would all just be quiet?”

And then I am reminded that words themselves are a gift from God. Of all the ways He could have chosen to reveal Himself and His heart to His creation, He chose words. Communication of His thoughts and will could have been accomplished in any way He imagined or declared. But He chose words as the means of communicating truth from Himself to His children. And if words are the way God chooses to communicate most effectively, then I must believe that words are the means by which we as humans are able to communicate most effectively.

I’m flawed…so much more so than I would like to admit (and probably much more than I even realize.)  I don’t always get it right…in life, in marriage, or in mothering.

However, I am the mother God has chosen for these children. These are the children God has chosen for me. I must believe that even with my flaws and faults, I am God’s best for them.

I want my children to know my heart— not only for them, but also for God and His Word. These love letters will be my attempt to share the inner workings of my mother-heart. I hope I live long enough to share these stories and truths and dreams while looking into each of their eyes, but for now, I will rest well knowing that I have paired words with feelings and have written them down to be read and re-read. Whether I am with my children or at home with the Lord, these love letters will be theirs.

I want them to know.

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Because There is Snow and Ice Falling Outside My Window…

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…and because my posts have been a little heavy lately, I thought I would finally share some photos from our trip to Florida in December.

First, a little backstory:

  • Our kids didn’t want anything for Christmas. As in, I asked them to write lists and they all said, “I can’t think of anything.” It was at this point I felt reaffirmed in thankfulness for not having TV with commercials in our home. Our kids don’t even know what is out there to want!
  • I loathe winter. I am trying mightily hard to find some redeeming factors in winter by looking at the deeper lessons to be learned. I even went outside a few weeks ago to photograph the deadness of the trees and yard in an attempt to remind myself that even though we can’t see it, growth and rebirth are happening. In the end, though, the truth is simple: I hate being cold.
  • We desperately needed some time together as a family after my trip to the Philippines. Camping is always my favorite way to be together. Plus, it’s cheap and you rarely have to plan ahead. I won’t rehash my love for camping (though I never lack things to say about it). You can read some of my thoughts about it in this post.
  • Florida was warm. With the unseasonable warm fall and early winter in the US this year, Florida still had 85° air temps and 75° water temps. What more convincing was needed?

So, just a few days after returning home from the Philippines and with not a single Christmas gift planned or purchased, Jason and I decided to surprise the kids with a trip to Florida for the bulk of their Christmas present. We were fortunate to get a fantastic campsite with only a few days notice (so great, in fact, that when we checked in and the guy at the desk said, “Oh, what a great site! You booked December 9th? So that was December 9th of last year, right?” Nope. Just four days before arrival.

We wanted to really surprise the kids. So, I did a bit of Christmas shopping and wrapping. The kids couldn’t decide if they were glad to see presents under the tree two weeks before Christmas or if it was more like a form of parental torture. “Can’t we just open one?” A few days later I answered their oft repeated plea with, “Well, maybe we’ll let you open two.

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It’s our tradition to let the youngest child open his/her present first and then move up the age order. After Zachary opened a pack of beach balls, Bethany opened a bucket of sand toys, and Katie opened a new rainbow kite, we started to hear unsure whispers of, “Are we going to beach?” The three bigs were then told to grab their specially-marked gifts and open them in unison. With boogie boards open, the kids were on to us. New swimsuits were opened next.

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“Yes, we’re going to the beach! To Florida!”

To which they replied, “When?”

“Just as soon as the car is packed. Let’s see if we can make it out the door by lunch!”

Squeals of glee and frantic packing ensued. I was once again thankful for having a camper that stays stocked with everything but clothes and food. A few hours later, we were on the road.

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Let me tell you…it was bliss. Five days on the beach, our campsite just minutes away from the boardwalk. No useable internet to distract us. Easy camping food our kids love because we never buy that much sugar-laden prepackaged junk when we were home. An awesome tree that provided shade from the sun and hours of climbing fun and squirrel watching. Boogie boarding, an attempt at surfing, bird watching, gorgeous sunrises, fire and s’more by night, and lots of hot coffee (which I am sure the clubhouse regretted being complimentary after our family of eight trooped through every day.) We even got to spend a few hours with great friends who visited from Orlando.

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From where I sat (warm in the sand rather than chilly in the water), I kept telling my family, “I don’t need any Christmas gifts. This trip is the best gift I could ever ask for.” And it was. It reminded me of who our family is, what we enjoy, and how we “do life” best. There is little I like more than watching the people I love most in the world laugh and play and enjoy one another.

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And now, a photo overload. I have never been good at only sharing a few. Consider, though, that I took over 1500 photos, culled it down to 500 to edit, and I am only sharing a small fraction of those. If photos were a love language, I would claim it as my own.

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This is Better

PTS | This is Better

Every month, as I read through Proverbs as part of my Bible reading plan, I have a few days where I am reminded of some very specific truths:

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble with it. — Proverbs 15:16

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it. — Proverbs 15:17

Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice. — Proverbs 16:8

Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting with strife. — Proverbs 17:1

I won’t lie. 2015 was a hard year for me, for our family. Those who know us best still only know 10% of it; acquaintances, less. I can, and probably will, share more in the future, but suffice it to say I wasn’t sad to see 2015 close its doors.

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In the midst of the struggles in my body, my heart, and my mind, another war was brewing. It was a war on my motherhood. Most days I felt like a failure. Many days I was a failure. I was not the mother I wanted to be. Sure, I was “good enough.” But “good enough” has never been my goal.

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Guilt, fear, and self-loathing were constant companions. I asked myself many times, “If I am going to end up failing them, are they better off without me? What if everything we have worked for as a family comes to nothing? What if my convictions about who our family is supposed to be and the decisions we have made based on those convictions turn out to be nothing more than naive idealistic dreams of a foolish woman? What if….What if…?”

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But then.

But then we go on vacation as a family, and I am reminded of who we are.

But then I see kids with smiles hanging out together out of choice, not coercion.

But then I see the bigs begging the littles for hugs and cuddles and kisses.

But then I see big brother helping little brother.

But then I hear roaring laughter coming from a bedroom where siblings are playing.

But then I see kids snuggled in a recliner, laughing as they tip themselves over.

But then I see piles of folded laundry on the school table with a little note from an 11-year-old that says, “You’re welcome.”

But then my almost-13-year-old snuggles in my bed with me as we watch Downton Abbey.

But then I hear big sister give little sister permission to sleep in her bed while she is gone.

But then.

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We have huge question marks that loom foreboding over our days. We are still wrestling with physical and emotional health. We have hopes and dreams and fears we cannot share with anyone. And yet, God reminds me of the better things in life:

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it. — Proverbs 15:17

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And let me tell you…there is a lot of love over here. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for, ever dreamed. I am so thankful that even in the midst of my struggles, my questions, and my failures, God has made me the joyful mother of children. I don’t take the responsibility lightly or the privilege for granted. I worry constantly about my adequacy as a mother, but then God reminds me of His great sufficiency as a Father.

This is where love is, and it is better.

Peppermint Cookies (aka Christmas Delight)

PTS | Peppermint Cookies

A few years ago during one of my pregnancy-induced cooking obsessions, I made dozens and dozens (and dozens) of various Christmas cookies. I even made my sister frozen cookie dough plates with about 20 dozen cookies of all varieties. It got a little out of hand.

Of all the cookies I made that year, though, these are by far our favorite. My husband took one bite and said, “It tastes like Christmas delight in my mouth!” The kids love them because they taste good. I love them because they are so stinkin’ pretty.

I actually combined a few recipes, with the original inspiration being a sweet friend who brought similar cookies to a cookie exchange. I used a different chocolate cookie recipe and then added a few steps of my own (to make it all pretty!) The end result is two soft cookies with light crispy outsides, sandwiched together with oh-so-creamy peppermint frosting. White chocolate (or powdered sugar icing) drizzled over the top and sprinkled with crushed peppermint finishes them off.

PTS | Peppermint Cookies 2

Peppermint Cookies

Yield: 20

filled cookies

Peppermint Cookies

Ingredients

    COOKIES
  • 1 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • PEPPERMINT FILLING
  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • GLAZE
  • White chocolate bark OR powdered sugar icing

Instructions

    COOKIES
  1. Cream butter and sugar on medium until fluffy (aprox 1 minute).
  2. Add eggs in one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Mix in vanilla.
  4. In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda.
  5. Add mixture slowly to the butter/sugar mix.
  6. Beat until combined.
  7. Drop spoonfuls (I prefer to use a cookie scoop to ensure same sized cookies) on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes. (I like to remove them when edges look crisp but centers still look slightly moist.)
  8. Remove cookie sheets and let the cookies stay on the sheets for two minutes before transferring to a cooling rack or paper towels.
  9. Let the cookies cool completely. While cooling, make your filling.
  10. PEPPERMINT FILLING
  11. In a large bowl, beat softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.
  12. Add 2 vanilla and peppermint extracts.
  13. Beat in 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar.
  14. Beat in the 2 Tbsp of milk.
  15. Beat in remaining powdered sugar until smooth.
  16. PUTTING THE COOKIES TOGETHER
  17. Once the cookies are cool and your filling is made, take two cookies and place filling between them, being careful not to bed or break the cookie (I fill a pastry bag with the filling and then quickly pipe the filling on an upside down cookie) Repeat for remaining cookies.
  18. Place all the filled cookies on a cookie sheet (line with wax paper if using white chocolate for glaze). Melt chocolate according to package instructions. Fill a pastry bag or zipper bag with chocolate or icing and snip a small opening.
  19. Quickly drizzle over the cookies, adding crushed peppermints before chocolate/icing hardens.

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If you find yourself with some extra time and a craving for peppermint, I can’t recommend these cookies enough. And although they contain more sugar in one cookie than I normally consume in an entire week, the indulgence was 100% worth it. One warning: if there are leftovers, the kids (and husband) just might ask for them for breakfast. You can say no if you have cinnamon rolls in the oven like I do.

Enjoy!

Back Where I Belong

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Bethany, our four year old, has quite a way with words. She always surprises us. On the way home from the airport yesterday, she told me, “I missed you as much as I love Gracie!” (Gracie is our dog.) She must have missed me very, very much for me to be anywhere close to on par with Gracie!

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Later she told me, “I missed you to the last number!” She later wanted to clarify her statement so she was sure I understood the extent of her missing me: “Mom, you know the numbers never end, right? That’s why I missed you to the last number!”

Right back at you, kiddo.

My trip to the Philippines was amazing. I talked with so many people and listened to so many stories. The work going on in Davao is truly inspirational. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to travel there, spending twelve days learning more about the work and location than I would have been able to do in months if my family were with me. Most days I woke up with few plans and little idea of what the day had in store, and yet each day managed to be filled with new people and new stories. I definitely wasn’t bored, nor did I play the tourist. Instead, I sought the stories of those living and serving. I was not disappointed. I also appreciated the time I had alone, the time to read and write and process and pray. God did some pretty amazing things in my heart as He and I wrestled deeply with questions of ministry, purpose, God’s will, and the power of God’s Word.

I will be sharing more about my trip in the coming days, but for now, suffice it to say, I am back where I belong. As amazing as the trip was, I was incredibly grateful to step off my 12th flight in as many days and walk out of the airport to see my people. Oh how I missed them! I missed their hugs and snuggles and kisses and I missed their creativity, sensitivity, and maybe even a tiny bit of their hyperactivity. Our home is loud and crazy and filled with all sorts of uncertainties, but of this I am certain: my place is with them. My family is such a gift and I can’t imagine doing life without their love and support.

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I’ve spent the last 24 hours just soaking it in. The kids had a welcome home party planned, complete with cupcakes and a talent show. The Christmas tree was up, just waiting for me to return so we could decorate together. Although I had been joining the family for Advent lessons via video calling, it was so much better to be with them in person as we learned about the way people celebrate Christmas around the world. We played a Japanese Christmas game and laughed at the little ones’ antics. Today Jason took Katie to the store and the rest of us cuddled on my bed as we watched silly pet videos on youtube, laughing as Gracie tried to get into the computer to the other dogs.

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I’m back where I belong and it feels so good.

Hard to Know

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Today is my last full day in Davao. I am just itching to get home to my babies and yet I am sad to leave, knowing I have only seen a small portion of the work that is going on here.

When you visit or move to a new culture, lots of information is thrown at you. Many missionaries refer to this as “trying to drink from a fire hydrant.” The metaphor works.

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I have spent nine days trying to see both the big picture of the work here in the Philippines as well as hear the specific details in the myriad of stories I have heard from individuals who serve here. It is humbling, encouraging, overwhelming, and inspiring all at the same time.

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There are people who have served here only a few months and those who have served for decades. I have read and listened to the stories of Bible translators, media specialists, teachers, medical workers, tent-makers, administrative staff, pastors, mobilizers, orphanage staff, anti-sex trafficking workers, evangelists, social workers, and more. I have talked to people working with kids, mentally dialed adults, orphans, sexual abuse victims, missionary kids, Filipino Christian youth, Christians, Muslims, the poor, the wealthy, the forgotten.

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And the fire hydrant just keeps spewing water.

Sometimes it is hard to know where you fit into the big picture of what God is doing. We struggle all the time. We wonder, “What can a PE teacher and a stay-at-home-mom who likes to write and take pictures possibly do to make an impact on the needs of the world? How we make a difference here in the Philippines? How can we help those in the States make a difference right where they are?”

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Our human tendency is to want to see impact in a straight line. If I do this, follow the line, the impact will be on the other side. We want to know that doing A will cause B. From here to there. If this, then that.

But missions (and life in general) doesn’t work that way. We may never see a direct line from action to impact. And it’s only our pride that cries out for it.

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Just this morning (well, my morning, it’s still evening in America) Bob Creson, CEO for Wycliffe Bible Translators, posted some images from a conference he is attending for Every Tribe Every Nation (an organization whose sole purpose to eradicate Biblical poverty.) On one of the slides he shared was a term I had never heard, a term most appropriate: knitworking. Not networking, knitworking. Just as a blanket or sweater is not made from a piece of yarn merely stretched from end to end but rather through the careful handiwork of knitting needles weaving strands and colors into something of value, making disciples of all nations is done by the careful handiwork of God who weaves people and places and passions and purpose into a beautiful piece of artwork that will only be revealed when we get to the awe and wonder of Revelation 7:9.

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And so, as much I long sometimes to see how exactly we fit in and the difference we can make, we’ll be content to be a single strand of yarn, given up for the cause of this great knitting project. We’ll trust in the handiwork of God. God, who through the beauty displayed through the mountains and the seas and the birds and the trees, leaves no doubt of His capabilities. We’ll offer our loaves and fish to a God who is able to take them and feed the masses.

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God has knit each of us in our mother’s womb and he will knit each of us together in such a way that every nation, people, tribe, and language will know that salvation belongs to our God.

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