Category Archives: Family

Love Letters to My Children {no. 4}: Why We Celebrate (part 2)

Love Letters | Celebrate2

 

In Part One of this letter to my children, I explain the first three reasons we make a big deal out of celebrations. I encourage you to read the post, as it also talks about the things that aren’t the reason we celebrate (no matter how good they are.)

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TO RECAP:

We choose to celebrate (especially birthdays) because:

OUR GOD IS A GOD OF CELEBRATION

YOU {the kids} BRING JOY TO OUR HOME

THE FRUIT OF THE WOMB IS A REWARD

 

And now for the rest of the letter…

YOUR DAYS WERE ORDAINED BY GOD

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For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
PSALM 139:13-16 (emphasis mine)

Before the world was created, God knew you. He loved you, imagined you, and took great delight in you. Before you were conceived, God wrote in His book every day that you will live on the earth. Not one day too short, not one day too long. Each and every day of your life will serve a purpose, and when you fulfill your purpose in this generation (Acts 13:36), you will then pass away.©janetphillips_may2_2015_web-14

Until then, however, we choose to celebrate. Although it is my hope and prayer that you feel loved and celebrated every day of your life, we take one day each year to especially celebrate you. We celebrate because the day was ordained by God. By His will and His will alone, you reach another milestone in another year. You have had breath and life for another 365 days. We must celebrate God’s goodness—His goodness to you (in giving you life) and His goodness to us (in letting us have another year with you!)

WE LOVE YOUR UNIQUE PERSONALITY©janetphillips_april17_2015-98 copy

With all eight of our birthdays in a three month stretch (seven of those being in just an eight week stretch!), it would be easy to just combine some of the celebrations. Why go through all the trouble of decorating eight times, shopping for and wrapping gifts eight times, making 24 separate birthday meals (three for each birthday)? Why not just throw it all together and have one big celebration?

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You are not a group, you are special and separate individuals. We do many things as a family, but we choose not to combine birthdays because we want to celebrate you and your unique personality. Each of you adds something incredibly special to our family. You are all so different and yet all so amazing. By giving you your own day, we are free to focus on and truly celebrate who YOU are. We don’t just do what is easy or convenient for us (because I can promise you, doing eight birthdays, all with special food and decorations, is anything but easy or convenient!) Instead, we do what we believe will make you feel loved and delighted in.

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We let you choose colors and gifts and food and activities (and pay little attention as to whether the food is healthy or not!) We choose decorations and presents that represent you during a particular year (even if it means buying dog bowls for our “puppy” girl). We want you to know how amazing YOU are and how thrilled we are and that your special personality, with all its blessings, quirks, and flaws, is worth a celebration all its own.

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WE DON’T BUY GIFTS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

Perhaps this reason sounds strange, but it is a big part of why we do what we do. We made a choice long ago that we would not spoil you, we would not give into your every whim and want, and we would not buy you toys and treats whenever the urge (yours or ours!) struck. Partly out of conviction, and partly out of finances, we choose to not buy you gifts throughout the year. Of course we do special activities and I will buy you small treats like ice cream or a new shirt, but for the most part, you have to wait. I don’t come home from the store with new toys and I don’t let you ask me to buy you things when we go out.

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When kids learn that they can ask, whine, and demand their way to everything their little heart desires, the result is rude, demanding, and entitled children. We’ve seen it too many times. If we purchased gifts every time you saw something you wanted, either at a friend’s house or in a commercial (the few you see), you would be amassing your toy collection all year round. Instead, we choose to teach you the art of contentment and patience.

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Twice a year you receive gifts. Only two times in a year do you have the chance to write a list, sharing the things you would love to have. Now that you are getting older and have a bit of allowance, you are able to purchase a few things yourself, but for the most part you still just have to wait in order to receive the toys, clothes, and other special items you have been hoping for.

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Because this only happens twice a year (Christmas and your birthday), we choose to go big. We don’t spend much money on your throughout the year, enabling us to save more for these special occasions. We try to purchase most of the things on your lists (it helps that you all are always within reason!) Gifts are an act of love and we choose to shower you with that love on the days we celebrate you. Your patience and lack of entitlement deserve to be recognized and rewarded!

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WE WANT YOU TO CONTINUE TO LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEEDS AND WANTS

This last point goes along with the point of above. On your birthday (and Christmas), we purchase and gift you with your wants. During the year, we purchase your needs.

Learning the difference between wants and needs is one of the greatest gifts we, as parents, can give you. Most children—and most adults—have never learned to discriminate between these two vastly different things.

Needs are items and opportunities necessary for your physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual growth. These are the things you need in order for you to healthfully grow and be good stewards of your body and appearance, your feelings and emotions, your mind and education, and your growth in your relationship with the Lord.

In case these categories confuse you, a few examples of needs:

Physical needs: Clothes, shoes, toiletries, haircuts, and other items needed to care for your appearance, always striving to be modest (a concept that means far more than most people understand…a topic for another day.) A not about clothes and shoes: We purchase these when and if you lack a necessary item and/or have grown out of things. These are not clothes you want in order to stay fashionable. However, if you do need an item of clothing, we try to purchase something you really like and will enjoy. Amy Carmichael, missionary to India and “mother” to hundreds of children, wrote her supporters and friends in England and said something along the lines of, “Don’t bother with sending ugly colors [of clothes]; there are too many beautiful colors in the world to bother with the ugly ones.” I agree wholeheartedly. We are frugal, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy clothes we hate. It is a joy to teach you, especially the girls, that you can be wise stewards of your money and purchase clothing that makes you feel good about yourself.

Emotional Needs: This one can be tricky, and I pray for wisdom and discernment regularly. I know that sometimes one of you needs just a little extra  something special. A trip out for coffee, a new shirt that you love (but don’t need), a new football. I choose to purchase these, though not very often, when I sense that one of you needs an extra display of love from me. It’s clear you don’t the items. Instead, I want you to see that I am giving them to you because of love, to show you how special you are to me. These are never things you ask for, rather things I choose to give. You’ve all known since you were little, if you go to the store and ask for things, it is guaranteed I won’t buy it.

Educational Needs: All items needed for your education, including notebooks, pens and bags, are purchased for you. We also occasionally purchase books or other things intended for learning. And as I said with clothing needs, as long as we are buying it, it might as well be something you love.

Spiritual Growth Needs: If there are items or experiences we see as valuable for your spiritual growth, we will purchase them. This includes Bibles, notebooks for church, activities with church or with our homeschool co-op. We will also occasionally purchase music on iTunes. We take you events, including concerts.

In short, we choose to celebrate because God delights in you and so do we. May you always feel loved, valued, and celebrated.

Love Letters to My Children {no. 4}: Why We Celebrate (pt. 1)

Love Letters | Celebrate

We are smack dab in the middle of birthday season. With eight birthdays in three months (with seven in eight weeks!), we stay very busy this time of year. I spend many days cooking and shopping and decorating and cleaning up. I am sure I could make all of this much more simple; I choose not to. As exhausting as it can be (and I’m sorry, poor Caleb, for always being last in the birthday line up. I really do try to save some energy and creativity for your big day!), I continue on each year, making birthdays a really big deal.

March 22

I don’t do it because I love to cook (which I do.) I don’t do it because I love to decorate (which I do.) I don’t even do it because I want to make you happy (which I do.)©janetphillips_march6_2015_web-5

No, I make a big deal of birthdays for other reasons.

These love letters are being written so you know not only the whats of our family (which are recorded in our photo albums and scrapbook pages,) but also the whys. Most everything we do as a family has and intention behind it. For some things, of course, the intention is simply to have fun and be together. God has given us all things to enjoy! However, the majority of our decisions, activities, and purchases, are based on deeper reasons and rationales. I want you to know these, both so you can learn more of the heart of your mom and dad but also because even now, I want you to start thinking of your own future families. Great things don’t come without a plan and purpose. If you want a strong family, you can’t just show up and expect it to happen. Even with the best plans, no one can guarantee a great outcome (Proverbs 16:9). Without a plan and a purpose, though, the road to anywhere will be much more arduous.©janetphillips_march17_2015-30

So, kids, I want to share with you the reasons we celebrate. I’ll be focusing mostly on birthdays, but some of these reasons span to other holidays. I’ll give the first few today and the others will follow on another day. This subject is far too vast for one entry!

“We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate.” — Nöel Piper

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[One note for both my blog readers and my children: I am sharing about why we celebrate. In that, of course, some of how we celebrate will also be shared. Please keep in mind the difference between saying celebration is important and saying celebrating in this specific way is important. Like most things, I celebrate in ways that are in line with my personality, skills, and interests. Your method of celebration might look much different.]

OUR GOD IS A GOD OF CELEBRATION©janetphillips_march23_web-36

You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.” — Leviticus 23:41

It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” — Luke 15:32

“Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; Pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely.” — Nahum 1:15Katie2

Over and over again through Scripture, God commands celebration as an act of joy and remembrance. He knows we—as mere humans—far too easily forget the good things He has done for us. Celebration causes us to set aside our current reality and focus specifically on God’s goodness to us in the past. When we consider all the ways He has cared for and blessed us, our hearts and minds are fortified with faith that He will continue in that care and blessing.

“Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”  1 Samuel 12:24

©janetphillips_march23_2014_web-97Not only does God declare our duty to celebrate, He also reminds us through many Psalms and sermons of the New Testament that we are to verbally remind ourselves and our families of the specific ways He has worked on our behalf. This is why we love to reminisce with you about your birth and the years we have spent with you.

When we celebrate your birthdays with gusto, we are following the advice of the Lord to honor and remember our special and extraordinary days. Of course, every day is worthy of celebration (Psalm 118:24), but a day of commemoration is the be marked with special rites and traditions.

YOU BRING JOY TO OUR HOME©janetphillips_march23_2013_web-33

From the day of your birth, you have brought us joy.

PTS | Why We Celebrate

Celebrating your birthday is a way to visibly and verbally affirm the joy you bring to us. Although we make known to you on a regular basis that we love you and see amazing qualities in you, we want to take your birthday to especially celebrate you. We want you to know you are loved, honored, wanted, and treasured and that you are a special and integral part of our family.

THE FRUIT OF THE WOMB IS A REWARD

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Psalm 127:3

When we celebrate the day of your birth, we are praising and worshiping God.

We recognize you are a gift from God to us. He has given us the honor of being stewards of your hearts and minds and to visibly and tangibly represent the love of Christ. We choose to recognize and show our gleeful appreciation of the gift you are. And we give you gifts because He first gave us the gift of you. ©janetphillips_march17_2016_web-83
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Part 2 to come another day…

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

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.

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.

I Almost Forgot

©PreparingtheSoil | Almost Forgot

 

“…stop rushing to get the to do list done because it never leaves. The kids do.”

It was a rough summer. Even after I started feeling myself again, we had some other issues that took up most of our time and energy. The unrelenting North Carolina heat didn’t help matters much. The summer is mostly a blur as I try to figure out what exactly we did.

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We’re normally a happy, do-stuff-together type family. We love to camp, hike, and be outside. We like to let the kids get dirty and have fun. We like days with no schedule, yummy-not-so-good-for-you treats, and finding critters that the kids beg to bring home as pets.

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But this summer?

I almost forgot.

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I almost forgot what it felt like to be me. To be us. To let the kids run free, get wet, and be kids. I almost forgot what it felt to walk a few paces behind my family as my camera captures the little moments I want to remember forever. I almost forgot what it was like to be intentional in just watching. Watching my kids love each other. Help each other. Encourage each other. I almost forgot about all the little ways they show their love and how blessed they are all to have one another. I almost forgot about the way their individual personalities shine through during unstructured play: the adventurous ones being adventurous, the introverted one enjoying the peaceful scenery, the little ones entertaining themselves with the same activity over and over (and over).

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On Saturday, though the to-do list was longer than anything that had any hopes of being accomplished, I knew we needed it. We needed time. Time together. Time outside.

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We chose something close: the local river that runs through the county. An access point is just ten minutes from our home. We walked. We let the kids play. They got wet and dirty and full of sunshine. I watched them and I remembered. I remembered who we were and what fills our souls. I am so glad I remembered, because I almost forgot.

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Oh the bliss! May I never forget the little moments. The watching. The seeing who my family is.

 As another writer so eloquently mentioned:

“…stop rushing to get the to do list done because it never leaves. The kids do.”

All I Wanted

PTS | All I Wanted

 

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to go camping.

This was my twelfth Mother’s Day. And after all these years, I know myself and my family very well. I have no need of breakfast in bed (seems silly when I wake hours before everyone else!) I don’t need to be showered with gifts (we have far too much stuff as it is). I don’t need a fancy Sunday lunch (we had our favorite New York Style pizza because it’s what we all love).

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All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be with my family, doing what we love best: camping.

Back in February, after returning from a camping trip to the Everglades, I wrote this:

LOVE camping…what I love about camping is that it strips all the extra stuff away. I don’t worry about doing laundry. I don’t worry about cleaning up. I don’t worry about checking email. I don’t put on makeup and I often don’t even bother changing clothes. When all of those little tasks are taken away, you are just left with time. Time to read, time to play, time to sleep, and time to talk. We did all of those things.

Yep, it’s all I wanted.

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Camping takes all the things I love best and throws them together:

family time
being offline
taking pictures
watching my kids play
lazy schedules
simple but yummy meals
playing outside
being in God’s creation
time to snuggle and read
hiking
warm fires in the cool breeze
seeing kids explore and imagine

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We left after church on Sunday and stayed two nights. Staying fairly local (a state recreation area just 45 minutes from home) meant more time to play and less time to drive. It was perfect. The kids played and explored. They founds bugs and lizards and a turtle. We swam in the lake and hiked for miles. We watched a blue heron who visited a number of times. The kids got dirty, sandy, and sweaty. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mother’s Day Gift (though the dozens of post-it notes with all the reasons they love me covering our dining table on Sunday morning comes pretty close!)

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I’m thankful for these twelve years of being a mama and all the joy these kids bring to my life.

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That’s a Wrap {Birthday Season 2015}

PTS | That's a WrapIt’s finally done…birthday season 2015. Eight birthdays in three months (seven of those being in eight weeks) is exhausting.

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People often ask if we just combine birthdays since they are all so close. And we always say, “No!”

There are many perks to being in a large family. I love it and wouldn’t ever want to change it. However, there are hard things too. Out of necessity, a lot of things in our life have to happen as a group. But birthdays? Those are a day to celebrate an INDIVIDUAL and to make that person know how thankful we are they were born. We want to celebrate the joy they bring to our life and look to the future and pray expectantly for good things to come. We take each birthday to make the day all about that one child, showering them with love, yummy food, and a few gifts.

Our tradition has been to let the kids choose the meals for the day (it used to be dinner, which is what my parents did for us, but somehow over the years it has crept into choosing all the meals. And of course, they often pick the hardest or most time consuming!) We also let them give input on decorations. They each have the choice of a family activity or a party. Over the years, we have only had three parties (two of them this year!) We love doing things as a family and that is most often their choice.

This year was a great year of celebrating each of our children (and my birthday and Jason’s birthdays fall right in the middle of all that!)  As much as I love the fun and creativity that comes with birthday season, I am usually quite happy to see it go. Now I have until the end of January before I have to plan another birthday!

Here is birthday season 2015 in review!

Alaina

Katie

Bethany

Zachary

Levi

Caleb

 

And Then There is Today

©janetphillips_april27_2015_postimageThose who know me have heard me speak of “yellow bus days.” Those are the days I dream of a big yellow bus to take my kids far, far away. I admit to daydreams of a life where the kids are gone for seven plus hours a day. Think of all I could accomplish! I could clean and there would be no one to reverse my work. I could have a cup of coffee without having to microwave it three times before finding the bottom. I could shower on a regular basis and not have to answer math questions from behind the curtain. Oh, to dream!

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Homeschooling is hard. The educational component of it alone is enough to send prayers for the yellow bus. When your child’s academic progress and future depends mostly on you, the guilt flows freely. When you have to listen to struggling readers stumble over the same words again and again, the stress builds quickly. When you realize that no matter how many times you explain squares and cubes, the child will always say that 42=8, the feelings of defeat mount fiercely.

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Beyond the academics, homeschooling is still hard. The kids are home all day. They mess up far more quickly than you can clean up. While you read with the first grader, the toddler is pulling DVDs off the shelf. When you are doing grammar with the sixth grader, the third grader has slipped out to the trampoline, multiplication tables long abandoned. When you are snuggling and reading stories to the four year old, the fifth grader can’t find any of his work and therefore asks if he can go out to play instead.

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Yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I have many yellow bus days. But then I have a day like today.

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A day when we laugh through group work because words like Hawaii and Oxygen can be said in all sorts of silly ways.

A day when wet rags are thrown and giggles abound during chores.

A day when KLove blasts in the kitchen and the kids discuss their favorite artists.

A day when the kids decide school is much more fun in the camper and they set up a home and pretend its an RV while they do their math.

A day when the big kids play with the little kids and the love just oozes from everywhere.

A day when the little ones splash and giggle in the bath and beg me to take pictures of their funny faces.

A day when we have a scavenger hunt in the afternoon and the bigs are paired with the littles and the tender moments threaten to make my mama heart burst.

A day when we can enjoy silly food during an indoor campout and the kids munch on “acorns” and “bear poop” and wash it down with “river water” and “bug juice.”

A day when I am cleaning in the kitchen and I hear wails of laughter as the kids have their first encounter with The Little Rascals.

A day when they don’t want the fun and togetherness to end and they drag their stuffed animals and sleeping bags to the camper and end their day chatting past their bedtime with their favorite people.

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Yes. There are yellow bus days. And then there is today.

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