Category Archives: Quality Time

Life Around Here

Life Around Here |

I’ve broken the first rule of blogging: post consistently.

Thankfully, I’ve never much worried about the rules of blogging.

However, just because I have been quiet in this little space, it doesn’t mean life has been quiet. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Life has been full (often too full for my liking). However, we have been told that this is the day the Lord has made and we should rejoice in it. Although there have been many days when I haven’t felt like rejoicing, I pray for the strength each day to offer up my sacrifice of praise.

Even amidst the struggles of this life, there is much joy to be found. This is the reason I love photography: it forces me to see the little moments that make up a big life. Without my camera to capture the fleeting ages and stages of our children and our family, as well as the short-lived beauty of God’s creation in nature, I would struggle with gratitude. My images remind me I have much to thank God for, much to rejoice in.

The last few months have been filled with birthdays and celebrations, a few weeks of three extra kids in the house, lots of hiking and enjoying the beauty of the North Carolina Spring, doctor’s appointments ad nauseam, and lots of little moments unbridled joy. Here are some of our moments of joy.

Some of these have been shared on Facebook, others have not. And because it is quick, easy, and it makes me happy, I have recently been sharing more of my nature photos on Instagram.

You can follow me on either Facebook or Instagram.

Also, I have updated my photography site a number of times recently. I am seriously considering just combining the two sites. I tried to separate my “photography stuff” from my “life stuff” and I have realized I can’t. This is why I end up not posting anywhere: I don’t know if a post should go here or there. So one site makes more sense. On the to-do list…

Life Around Here |

She told me, “This is what princesses do!”

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Who knew when I was pregnant with her five years ago, I would give birth to a dog?

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Our other doggie…

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Sometimes the not-taking-naps thing backfires

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Little moments of real life

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Just one of the many puppies that are in Beppy’s “puppy pound.”

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Finally found a way to organize my Bible study and Bible journaling materials

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A trip to the zoo for Levi’s birthday

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The kids built their own little camping site in the woods, complete with shelters and a fire pit.

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One of Zach’s “callipitters.”

Life Around Here |

We haven’t had a chance to go camping this spring, but we make up for it by enjoying our big yard. A fire pit, marshmallows, watermelon, and lawn games…what else does summer need?

Life Around Here |

A little picnic spot Katie made me for Mother’s Day. She said, “I know you like the beach, so I made the water and the sand for you. But we’ll have to eat in the water or you might hurt yourself by sitting on one of the shells in the sand.” :)

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Zachy’s obsession with bubbles still goes strong!

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Do you think he likes licking the batter?

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Yummy, yummy food. This is one of my favorites…almond and parmesan crusted chicken tenderloins.

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Lots of batches of these…

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Real life around here

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A treat for the last day of homeschool co-op

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More “callipitters.” He often asks, “Where is my favorite bug?” And then he goes to find whichever one he has captured last and gives it a kiss.

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I found them like this

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A morning of missing Malaysia…Chinese pancakes and kopi peng (iced coffee)

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The $50 “baby pool for big kids” was worth every penny.

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His obsession….milk and creamer. Every day. And yes, I know it isn’t healthy. Luckily, we make up for it in other ways.

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Alaina’s birthday

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Alaina had a CLUE murder mystery party for her birthday

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When I asked Katie what she wanted for her birthday decorations, she just said “cowgirl.” I think I accomplished it. How much “cow” and “girl” can you get?

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Moms get birthdays too!

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For Caleb’s special 12-year-old trip, we surprised him with a trip to Pittsburgh to see a Pirates game. And of course, he wore his Pirates t-shirt with “Phillips” and the number 12 to commemorate his special day.

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Watching pitching practice

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Easter morning

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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.)



We choose to celebrate (especially birthdays) because:





And now for the rest of the letter…



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?


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

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!

©janetphillips_march17_2016_web-122 copy


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.

Pause, Reset, Play…

Maybe it comes from our camping ministry background. Maybe it comes from the awesome car trips all over America that my parents took me on. Maybe it comes from the fact that I love routine and I love breaking routine. Who knows? What I do know is that getting away as a family is a very good thing.

We try to do it every few months. When the beauty of routine starts feeling confining, I know it’s time. It’s time to find another place to lay our heads and new scenery to fix our eyes upon. With just over two months back in Indonesia, the little box of life and routine was starting to suffocate. Add in a sweet boy oh-so-sick with typhoid and there was no way getting around it — we had to get away.

A friend mentioned a hotel in a nearby hill resort town and I was able to get a great deal on it as a last minute booking. It was perfect. A two bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, bathtub, dining table, glass walls, and endless views of tea fields. And all for $80.

Deep breaths of beauty, gratitude, and hope filled my weary soul.

When we get away as a family, whether it is for a night or a week, we are able to do some things that we can’t seem to do at home.

First, we pause. The schedule and the to-do list are set aside and we catch ourselves with nothing to do but embrace the stillness and the  silence (well, mental silence anyway…with six little ones, actual silence doesn’t ever happen). When we pause, we remember why we love each other the way we do and we are intentional about enjoying that love.

Second, we reset. Armed with a remembered and focused love, we are able to remind ourselves of the big things in life. When most of our days revolve around history and math review, making meals, and keeping a two-year-old from destroying the house, the truly important things often get lost along with the shoes and pacifiers. When we get away, however, and remember who we are as a family, what we stand for, and what we want out of life, we are able to reset and make sure our compass is pointed in the right direction.

And third, we return home and push play again, letting our days follow a familiar pattern infused with a renewed commitment to who we are and where we are heading.

I love getting away.

Busy Week!

Can I just say that all of you mama’s (especially those in large families) who manage to get up every morning, get your kids fed, dressed, homework collected, and lunches made have some kind  of  magical powers that I just do not possess?

This week is SPIRITUAL EMPHASIS WEEK at the school where Jason teaches. It is also our annual WEEK WITHOUT WALLS.  I am doing all of the speaking for the elementary students and we wanted our kids to go on the service projects, so, they have all been in school all day. It’s been quite  shift from our normal, slow-to-get-started routine. Getting all of the kids up and ready to leave by 7:40 is wearing me out! I usually get up early but I finally had to set an alarm (the first in years!) so that I would be able to get in all my regular morning stuff (Bible time, walk, shower, etc) AND get everyone else ready. The kids are exhausted too—which is why it is 6:20 pm and they are all in bed! It’s been a great week and I am glad we are doing it but I will be VERY happy after Spring Break when life gets back to normal (which includes school often done in jammies!)

I have some posts in the works —things that have been mulling around in my head — but I need to get back to planning my final talks for the week. I have been speaking about our theme for the week: RESTORE, RENEW, REACT and I have been talking with these precious kids about RESTORING OUR JOY through forgiveness and gratefulness, RENEWING OUR MIND by watching over our heart with diligence, and REACTING in obedience. It’s been good for me to be reminded of these things in my own life  and to be challenged to strive for more.

So, since I can’t finish my other posts right now, I’ll just leave you with photos from Saturday’s walk.  Jason and I had had an unexpected surprise of a morning out together, so we went to the Dago caves, where you can see an ammunition store carved in the stone by the Japanese during WWII and also caves dug by the Dutch. It’s  a great walk and we had a good time talking, exploring, and even doing a little geocaching. The best part was finding a cache and then learning the next day that it was actually planted by friends of ours!

Hope your week is going great!


She’s Four, Pt. 2

We are officially in birthday season around here.  Alaina starts us off at the end of January and then the rest of us celebrate six birthdays in eight weeks!  It is crazy, fun, and totally exhausting.  By the time May 2 rolls around and we are done, I am SO thankful that it is another nine months before I have to think birthday again.

That said, we have tons of fun!  We always do our best to truly celebrate the lives of our children.  They get to pick the meals for the day and they get to choose an activity that we do as a family.  They look forward to it and often have their idea planned out months (if not a year!) in advance.

In addition, we try to do a few other special things on or around their birthday.  One-on-one time with mom and/or dad is a must.  With five children in the family, it is important to take time to spend time with them individually.  We LOVE being a big family and think that there are many benefits to growing up among siblings, but we also want to ensure that our children know and understand that they are treasured as an individual.  Birthdays are a great way to do that.

Katie’s birthday celebrations were a multi-day affair.  Her Daddy forgot to look at the calendar when planning his biggest event of the year at school (Elementary Sports Day) and set it for Katie’s birthday.  So, we stretched the celebrations over a few days, which made Katie insanely happy.  Even now, she refuses to admit that her birthday is over.

Part one of her birthday was actually two days before. She wanted “Mommy’s Special Cinnamon Rolls” for breakfast.  They are very time-consuming so we opted to have them on Sunday morning rather than rush on a day when Jason had to work.

Then, on her actual birthday, I took her out for a special Mommy and Me birthday lunch.

That night, Katie requested cooking hotdogs and marshmallows over a fire in the backyard and then cupcakes, “with chocolate sprinkles” for dessert. Her wish is my command.

The next day, Jason took a personal day and we fulfilled Katie’s biggest wish: to go ice skating!  And before and after skating, Alaina and I took Katie on a mini girl’s day out. Starbucks, Coldstone, nail polish…what more could a girl want?

Only five more birthdays to go!  Next up, Bethany!  My girl turns ONE in eight days! Eek!



Our Saturday Morning Walk

Our family walks are one of my favorite things to do.  I love getting out into the fresh air, energizing our bodies, and taking to time to appreciate the beauty that is all around us. The kids love it too.  Yes, they get tired and say they want to go home.  Yes, they get hot and thirsty.  Yes, they sometimes say they don’t want to do it again.  But, after it is over and they are cooled down, refreshed, and clean, they always say they enjoyed it.

As parents, these walks are a great opportunity.  We have the chance to model healthy living, enjoying God’s creation, and teaching character qualities. As the kids walk and get tired, we talk to them about perseverance and diligence.  We encourage them to do their best and to not give up.  We tell them how proud we are for continuing on when it gets hard. We are intentional about mentioning what a great job they are doing. We tell them how amazed we are to see little ones—even a three-year-old—taking such a long walk/hike.  We point out the beautiful things that surround us—things that most people pass by and miss. There are so many ways to inspire, encourage, and affirm children when they are doing something this is a little hard for them. It isn’t always easy, but it is very worth the effort!

I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning!




“Just Me and My Mom”

Just Me and My Mom

by: Alaina Phillips (age 9)
February 23, 2012

We went on a walk, just me and my mom.
We saw cool trees, we  saw big flower petals, and cool bugs.
We took lots and lots of pictures.
We saw the sky light up, just me and my mom.

We caught a black bug with red stripes,
Just me and my mom.
We saw lots of spider webs,
and one had a big bug in it!

Just me and my mom saw some raindrops.
We took pictures of them with trees
That look like they were inside the raindrops.
We saw a big piece of bamboo with branches on it,
Just me and my mom.

We walked and then stopped,
Just me and my mom.
It was a fun time to see God’s creation,
Just me and my mom.

Quality one-on-one time with each child?  Totally worth it!

Involving kids in things you love?  Totally worth it!

All photos by Alaina and Janet 😉

Whatever it Takes

Levi and me, April  2010

Before I had kids, I remember having a conversation with a young mom.  It was one of those conversations that sunk straight into my soul and I knew that for some reason, I was to remember it. This mom and I were talking about her young children who were about three and four at the time.  She mentioned that they loved to play and wrestle and that her husband often did that with the kids.  I asked her if she did as well (fully assuming that she did), and she said something that I will never forget.  She said, “Oh no, that isn’t really my thing.”

I have thought about that conversation many times in my last nine years of parenting. You see, sometimes we just need to do things because it will build into the hearts of our children. Sometimes we need to do an activity because it will fill a soul.  Sometimes we need to do things because it makes our children smile and giggle and it will build the invisible bonds of the parent-child relationship.

This all came to mind as I put the boys to bed tonight.

I love my boys.  I never, ever wanted to be a mom to boys and in all honesty, it took me about two years to come to terms with the fact  that I had a son. Now, I can’t imagine life without them.  I adore their energy and enthusiasm and zest for life.  I love their fascination with sports and legos and flexing their muscles.  I love to watch them “just be boys”  and I am thrilled to be a part of raising them. But being a mom to boys doesn’t come naturally to me.  

I am not a rough-and-tumble, loud, high-energy person. My idea of a perfect day involves a lot of quiet, a lot of books, and a lot of sipping hot drinks. I was never a real “girly-girl” and yet male humor and activities have never really gotten me excited, either.  However, I want to have the heart of my boys.  I want to have cords of connectedness so strong that nothing can break them.  I want their hearts to be in tune with mine and I want to be someone they long to be with.  And that means doing things that don’t necessarily come naturally and doing things that “aren’t really my thing.”

As I tucked the boys into bed tonight, I had to “find” one who was hiding in his brother’s bed, I “captured” one as he struggled to get free, I was tackled, I growled like a tiger, I pretended to cry when they said—in fits of giggles—that they didn’t love me, I knocked them on the head, I smothered them with kisses, and I filled their little boy-souls with rough and tumble love and laughter. And I didn’t do it because it is “my thing.”  I did it because it fills their heart and I hope that hundreds upon hundreds of these little memories will merge into one big memory that will allow them to say, “I had  a happy childhood.”

Sometimes being a parent involves us stepping our of personality, out of our comfort places, out of what’s easy and into a place where our actions can really communicate with our children’s hearts. We have to be willing to let go of our desires and our natural inclinations and instead meet our kids where they are.  Tonight, it was being silly with rowdy boys.  This morning it was with an almost-nine-year old who hates math and was in tears clinging to me saying, “I just want to be with you!” This afternoon it was playing pig on the basketball court and praying I would make it so one of the boys wouldn’t be out again.  No doubt tomorrow it will be with a certain three-year-old who will bring be an infinitely high stack of books I have read too many times. Saying yes doesn’t always come easily or naturally, but I pray each day that God will enable me to do what is best for the five little hearts I am responsible for.

Please Lord, let me say yes and do whatever it takes to hold onto their hearts, even if it “isn’t my thing.”

A Time to Say Yes

I grabbed my socks and shoes and quietly put them on.

I look forward to my morning walks.  They are my time to think deeply and pray fervently.  When I am at home, prayer seems to get pushed aside for things like diaper changes, filling sippy cups, doing school, making meals, and the million other tasks that fill my day.  But when I get outside to walk, it is then that I can—at least for a few minutes—find quiet and resolve and a willing heart.

With my shoes on, I glanced quickly at the clock, hoping there would be time for some real conversation with God before I had to be back to feed the baby. “Ahh—only 6 am—there is an upside to this insomnia and getting up at 3am thing,” I thought.  As I popped my head into the living room to tell the other early risers that I was heading out, my seven-year-old in his space jammies looked at me expectantly and said, “Can I come?”

After a moment’s hesitation, I looked at his sweet face and said, “Sure, buddy. I’d love for you to come.”

I knew there would be no time for praying.  There would be no time for deep soul-searching.  There would be no time to gather my thoughts before another busy day. But I said yes. I said yes because I know that these moments are fleeting.  There will come a day (hopefully far from now!) when my son doesn’t want to be up at six in the morning and to go on a walk with his mom.  There will come a day when his most burning thoughts and questions won’t immediately spill out onto me—mom. There will come a day when holding my hand and talking about everything he sees won’t be the highlight of his day. But that time isn’t now, and so I said yes.

Twenty minutes of straight listening—listening to his thoughts on everything from the way people build houses to how much he loves our dog to his heart-felt thoughts about Curious George.  I got all of him.  And he got all of me.

I am glad I said yes.  I am glad I said yes to my son, to a walk, to him. This isn’t the first time I have said yes and been so thankful later…

… a quick shopping trip that doubled in length because a sweet little three-year-old wanted to help Mommy.

… a later-than-hoped-for bedtime because a beautiful eight-year-old wanted to read another chapter with me.

… an afternoon of work set aside because a five-year-old who speaks the love language of “Quality Time” wanted to play a game.

… emails that went unanswered because a baby wanted to sit on my lap, play with my necklace and make faces at me.

As parents, we need to say yes.  We need to say it often.  We need to say it even when we don’t want to, when it is inconvenient, and when there are other important things to do. When we say yes to our children’s requests, we are saying yes to them as a person.  We are saying, “I value your help. I value your company. I enjoy our time together. I love to be with you. You are more important to me than the dishes, the bills, or my time alone.

There is a time to say yes.

My son and I rounded the last corner of our walk and he said with relief, “I’m glad we’re home! I’m tired!”  Then I gave him a kiss, thanked him for joining me, and told him that I was going to take one more lap and that I would be home in a bit. And then, as I walked in silence, I got the prayer time I desired.  A prayer time in which I thanked God for the gift of my children and the time He presents me with every day to say “Yes!” to them.

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