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.

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


[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.


“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


Part 2 to come another day…

Walk by Faith

2 Corinthians 5-7


In the busyness of our days (school and birthdays and four days of jury duty and work and household chores and talks of the future and seeking counsel and wrestling with God and loving on my babes), I have given more thought to what it means to walk by faith in the last few months than I ever have in the past.

It’s easy to spout off: walk by faith.

But living it? That’s an entirely different thing. I’m afraid few of us truly know and understand what this means and what it looks like. Or feels like.

I often ask God why this earthly life has to be so hard. And the more I ask and dream of of a time in life when things will go smoothly and my heart will be at perfect peace, the more I grasp the reality that this life on earth will never be easy. That life, the one I ache for, is reserved in heaven for me. But for now, I must groan in this tent.

Now don’t get me wrong; there are amazing and grace-filled glimpses of His goodness just waiting for us to take notice of. They are everywhere: in the sparkle of my children’s eyes, in the blue sky and warmth of the February sun, in the comedic squirrel eating its way through the bird feeder outside my office window, in the chubby armed hugs and “I love your more” declarations of a two-year-old. Glimpses of His goodness are ours for the seeing and savoring if only we will open our eyes.

But we, as believers, are told we must walk by faith, not by sight. The glimpses of goodness we see are there to encourage us and give us hope as God reveals Himself to all mankind:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

But we can’t go through life trying to make sense of what we see with our eyes or attempting to make decisions, plans, and assumptions based purely on what is visible. Instead, what we can see and make sense of is for the purpose of building our hope and confidence in the Eternal and Divine God whose plans and purposes we cannot see.

And you know what? That is just really hard.

I am starting to wonder if the more we age and mature and grow closer to God, the less He shows us of Himself in visible ways and the more He shows Himself in invisible ways. Notice the paradox:

He wants us to see by showing Himself to be invisible.

A categorial imperative, “see”, with a mutually exclusive means of obedience: see what is unseen.

My mind reels. And this might all be a bit too deep for a Friday morning.

What we can’t see God doing, we must believe He is.

It is only when God removes our sight that we are able to obey and let faith take the reigns.

I’ll be honest: God has removed my sight and I am stumbling. Well, perhaps that is not entirely true. It’s hard to stumble when you are too afraid to move from the last place you were sure you saw. I’m spinning in the dark, waiting for Him to remove the scales from my eyes while He whispers, “Walk by faith, not by sight. Be of good cheer, my daughter, your faith has made you well.”

I don’t feel as if I am well. I feel like I did in the fifth grade when I stuffed my (very-unneeded) bra and everyone in my class knew it. They walked by me, laughing not-so-subtly and telling me in exaggerated ways how much they l-o-v-e-d my sweater. Yea, I’m that girl. I am standing in the middle of gawking eyes, humiliated and wanting to hide and yet not having any idea where I might go. I’m frozen in fear and although I have a storehouse of knowledge at my disposal, God tells me I must first convert that knowledge to actionable faith. And in the meantime, He intends to turn off the lights.

I can’t help but remember the scene from the only Indiana Jones movie I have ever seen: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The protagonist stands before a deep cavern, with only certain death separating himself from eternal life. He wants to keep walking. He has been told that if he wants to treasure on the other side, he must step in faith. He knows, in theory, that his step will be safe. But what he sees is something entirely different. Does his next step be based on what he sees or on what he believes? And the deeper and more important question, does he actually believe what was written for his instruction?

Here is where Indiana’s story and the story of Christ followers part ways: his was a one-time decision. Ours, on the other hand, is an all day, every day commissioning to do what our humanness cannot possibly do: believe what is unbelievable, see what is unseeable, and do what is undoable.

And in our silent inner thrusts for the throne, we affirm our own abilities and question our need for Christ. God help us all. 

Walk by faith. Take steps based on what I know, not what I see. What do I know? I know that God is good. I know He does not and cannot lie. I know His Word will not return void. I know I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I know I was created in Christ for good works which He prepared for me to walk in . I know that what I sow, that I will also reap. I know that He will fight for me. I know He will not let the waters overflow me. I know this: I must not lose heart.

Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

And so, I will continue to renew my inner self, day by day. I will let God’s Word be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I will trust and not be afraid.

And I will echo with Paul that, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 

Walking by faith was much easier when it was just a verse to be quoted instead of a life to be lived.

Psalm 103:8


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)

©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-12 ©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-11©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-13

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.

©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-2 ©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-5 ©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-4 ©janetphillips_january30_2016_web-6

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.


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.


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?

©janetphillips_january19_2016_web-4 copy

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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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