Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Everyone Knows What That Stands For!

Ever had one of those mornings when you forgot to set the alarm and wake up, panicked, only a half-hour before your oldest child has to be in school?

Yep. Things were hopping at the Stair house today.

Fortunately, Boo is a pretty responsible kid, and most days she’s able to get herself ready in the mornings without major meltdowns over outfit choices or hairstyles. (Like her mother, she’s happy with jeans and a sweatshirt, and a ponytail!) She usually sets her alarm for 6:00 and is dressed and ready for school in just a few minutes, giving her plenty of time to finish any upcoming homework and write notes to her friends before school. (I did mention that she loves writing notes, didn't I?)

BRAGGING ALERT: In fact, I was so proud of our little Boo when she was presented the “Responsibility Award” for first grade at a school assembly last Friday. :-)

But did I mention that somehow we both forgot to set our alarms this morning?


That’s why today, at 7 a.m., I awoke with a start, looked at the clock, freaked out, briefly debated whether it would be okay for Boo to be tardy . . . sighed, and then crawled out of my electric-blanket-heated bed to head upstairs as fast as my groggy legs would go.

We still managed to have a good morning, with Boo getting dressed and having breakfast, along with her regimen of eye drops, in time for me to drop her off at school. (Hooray for our new elementary school, which is just five minutes from our house!)

But she didn’t have time to finish her homework before school, as she usually does. Not to worry; this particular assignment was not due until her next GATES class, which is on Friday. Still, I grabbed a pen and her paper on the way out the door and decided to let her do it in the car.

The assignment: “The ABCs of Thanksgiving.” Come up with something about Thanksgiving for every letter of the alphabet.

Most of these are really easy, and I have to admit, she came up with some good answers. I mean, "cornacopieas"? Regardless of the spelling, I'm impressed she even knows the word. Um, mostly.

As we were working our way down the list, thinking of all the yummy food on Thanksgiving—from “A?” “Apple pies!” to “S?” “Sweet potatoes!” (That’s my girl… she knows my favorite dish!)—we got to the letter “T.”

“That’s easy, honey,” I said from the driver’s seat. “Everybody knows what T stands for.”

Turkey! I thought. That's an easy one.

“Oh, you’re right!” Boo responded brightly, writing on her page:

Of course!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Giving Thanks

(This article appeared in my column "Haslet Faith," in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Haslet Style magazine.)

“Mo-om! Where’s my school T-shirt?” my first-grader asked on her way downstairs. “I can’t find it anywhere. Tomorrow is spirit day, and we’re supposed to wear our shirts!”

I was in the kitchen, washing dishes from dinner. “I don’t know, honey,” I said over the running water as I scrubbed pasta sauce out of the skillet. “Go check the laundry room.” I glanced at the dishwasher, trying to figure out how I could fit the skillet in the already overcrowded bottom shelf.

“Hey, Mom! It’s a shower night!” I heard my five-year-old call as she bounded past me on her way to the bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed she was holding a satin summer nightgown.

“Sweetie, it’s going to be forty degrees tonight. You’ll freeze in that nightgown.” I raised a soapy hand and pointed upstairs. “Go back upstairs and get some warm pajamas.”

“But Mom, I love this one! It’s my princess nightgown!” she pouted. I gave her The Look. She reluctantly headed back upstairs.

I finally managed to find a spot for all the dishes, squeezed a dollop of detergent, and shut the dishwasher door. As it hummed to life, I grabbed a damp dishcloth to wipe the table.

I’d only taken a couple of steps when a tiny hand grabbed hold of my pant leg.

“Mama! Mama!”

I stopped midstride and looked down at my two-year-old. Sigh. “What do you need, honey?”

“Wa-der, Mama. Pleeease?” He was holding his empty sippy cup, his wide blue eyes sparkling with hope. Honestly, could this boy be any more adorable?

“Okay, sweetie.” I sighed, tossing the dishcloth in the sink. I grabbed his cup and headed to the fridge to fill it with water. He merrily trotted along beside me.

“Mom! I can’t find my shirt in the laundry!” My first-grader appeared in the kitchen, clearly miffed. “There’s too much stuff in there! I can’t even open the door!”

I handed the sippy cup to my son. “Honey, I’m sorry,” I told her. “Your shirt is probably in one of the clean clothes piles, but I don’t have time to look for it tonight. Just wear something else instead.”

“But Mom! I need my spirit shirt! Tomorrow is Friday!”

I took a deep breath and reminded myself to count to ten before responding. One—two—three—

“Mama! Mama! Mama!” I felt my son’s familiar tug on my pant leg. —four—five—six—

“Mama!” The tugging continued, more insistent now. —seven—eight . . . Oh, forget it.

“What?! What do you need now, sweetie?” I tried to keep my voice from sounding as aggravated as I felt at the moment. If I have to do one more thing right now, I think I’ll—

He looked up at me with a broad grin. “T’ank you!” he said brightly.

I stood there for a moment, his sing-song words of gratitude echoing in my mind as I watched him happily totter down the hall with his cup of water.

We’ve tried to teach our children the courtesy of simple manners. How many times have we reminded them, “Remember to say please and thank you”? But something about hearing those words that night brought everything back into perspective.

Thank you!

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

The apostle Paul instructed the church, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV; emphasis added). I’ve known this verse for many years, but I have to admit that “Give thanks in all circumstances” doesn’t always make it on my daily to-do list.

To be honest, the last thing on my mind that frazzled evening was gratitude. I was too busy focusing on the dirty dishes in the sink, the ominous mountain of laundry, and my three children who needed to be bathed, dressed, and put to bed—on a night when my husband was at a church meeting and unable to help. It was a hectic night, to be sure.

But the apostle Paul’s command is not for us to “give thanks for all circumstances.” Instead, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

All too often we get so caught up in our daily circumstances—whether good or bad—that we don’t take time to acknowledge the blessings God has given us. Yet God wants us to thank Him for His abundant provision and grace in our lives every day.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally; that’s why we have to teach our children to say thank you. Thankfulness is something we choose, even when life is difficult.

Psalm 50:23 says God is honored when we offer Him “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Whether we’re digging though a pile of laundry, taking a sick child to the hospital, or watching our IRAs disappear before our very eyes, gratitude gives us a chance to look beyond our present circumstances to see the big picture.

See the Big Picture

So in the middle of that busy evening, with a kitchen that still needed cleaning and piles of laundry still taking over my house and children who still needed to be bathed and put to bed, I took a moment to step back and see the big picture of God’s plan and provision for us.

  • Thank You, God, for the dishes in my sink tonight. They remind me that You have provided food for our family and a house where we can gather together for meals.
  • Thank You, God, for that gigantic mountain of laundry. You have blessed us with plenty of clothes for our family, clothes that keep us warm on these chilly nights.
  • Thank You, God, for the church meeting Brett is leading tonight. Thank You for calling us to start The Church at Sendera Ranch and for how You are building Your church here to reach this community and to change lives for good.
  • Thank You, God, for our three beautiful children, whom you have entrusted to our care. As I give them baths and put them to bed tonight, help me to remember that each of them is a precious gift from You.

As I began to “give thanks in my circumstances,” I was amazed at the difference in my perspective. In spite of my frustrations, I began to see God’s faithfulness. Instead of regretting the petty things I didn’t have, I was truly grateful for the priceless things I did have.

Everyday Thanksgiving

Showing gratitude for God’s gifts to us shouldn’t be limited to the Thanksgiving holiday. Our heavenly Father is honored when we choose to thank Him for the many things He provides for us every day.

In this busy holiday season, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on God’s goodness. How has He blessed you this year? In what specific ways can you give Him thanks in your circumstances right now? Express your gratitude to God in prayer, and consider jotting down those blessings in a “gratitude journal” to remind you of God’s provision and grace.

And no matter what 2009 brings, let’s choose to keep this attitude of gratitude all year long. After all, we have so much to be thankful for. As we celebrate at Christmas, “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Now that’s a gift that deserves a big “Thank you!”

Monday, November 10, 2008

God Will Help Us

Boo is a letter writer.

She has been writing encouraging notes to friends and family as long as I can remember. It’s somehow hard-wired into her brain. As a toddler, she would sit thoughtfully with crayons and construction paper and make careful squiggles across the page. She'd spend plenty of time making sure she got everything "just right." Then she would proudly bring us her paper and translate for us the “notes” she had written to her cousins or grandmother or friends.

After she learned the alphabet, Boo’s letter-writing morphed into painstaking, letter-by-letter dictation.

“Mama, I’m writing a letter to Gran," she would inform me. "How do you spell ‘Dear Gran’?”

Sigh. "D-E-A-R . . ." I'd begin.

“Wait! Go slower, Mama! What comes after E?” she'd interrupt, crayon poised.

It would take an exasperatingly long time, but together we’d eventually work our way through, letter by letter, her special messages for loved ones.

Thankfully, she learned how to read at an early age (which was a huge blessing from God, considering those dark months when we weren’t sure if she’d be able to see, much less read, after a virus inexplicably attacked her eyes and she developed glaucoma at age three. But that’s another story for another day). So by age four, Boo was happily penning her own greetings to loved ones on a regular basis. Some of her letters were mailed, some were given to friends and neighbors and teachers, and still others decorated our refrigerator. Suffice it to say, our house suffers no lack of notes from Boo.

So last Monday, as I was clearing off the coffee table in our upstairs game room to be able to use it as my work desk (note to self: I need an office), I was not surprised in the least to find it cluttered with an assortment of construction paper, scissors, glue, crayons, and markers, residuals of the girls’ spontaneous craft time earlier that morning. As I neatly stacked the pile of papers and sorted them into clean-enough-to-use-again versus toss-this-in-the-trash, out of curiosity (and downright mommy nosiness) I peeked to see what kinds of things Boo had written that morning.

Here’s what I found (minus her name):

Regardless of which candidate you supported for president (which is beside the point here), I was struck by how Boo’s simple note to her first-grade teacher had the ring of truth to it.

No matter who is in the White House, God will help us.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1 ESV; emphasis added).

Whether you are elated or disapointed over the outcome of last Tuesday's election, you can rest assured that God was sovereign on November 4. His perfect plan (whatever that may be) was accomplished.

"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:20-21 ESV; emphasis added).

And now, as citizens of our great nation and servants of the King of kings, we have the privilege and duty to pray for Barack Obama as he becomes the leader of the free world.

"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:1-3 ESV; emphasis added).

And as we kneel to pray for our nation and our president, we can pray with confidence, knowing that our good and loving God will hear and answer our prayers.

"The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord,
Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV).
Because no matter who is in the White House, God will help us.
That's absolutely right, Boo.

P.S. For those of you who are keeping up with JJ’s unending questions, here are a few she’s asked in the past few days:

  • “Why don’t people eat apple cores? Why do we eat pumpkin seeds but not apple seeds?”

  • “How do you hear God? When I pray, I don’t hear Him talk.”

  • “What happens if you mix gasoline and water?”

  • “What is toothpaste made out of?”

  • “What’s the opposite of green?”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know. . .

Several of you who read my latest post e-mailed me to say how cute JJ was to ask so many questions. And many of you shared stories about your own inquisitive little ones.

To be honest, JJ’s questions keep me on my toes! Anyone who thinks that you’d have to sacrifice your intellect to stay home with your kids obviously hasn’t ever had a five-year-old. Or at least a five-year-old like JJ, anyway. Far from letting my mind turn to mush, staying home with my kids has forced me to develop the ability to think on my feet, every day.

Just for fun, I kept track of the questions JJ asked me in the past twenty-four-hours. Apart from the relatively benign ones (“Can I watch a movie?” or “Does this match?”), here are—I kid you not—some of the things she has asked me, from the gross to the profound:

Yesterday afternoon, playing in the backyard:

· What do ladybugs eat? (Um, they eat aphids, I think. And maybe grass.)

· How long do ladybugs live? (I have no idea. Put it in your bug house with some grass and we’ll find out!)

· What’s faster: a leopard or a cheetah? ([The girls found a yellow ladybug and were arguing about what to name it.] I think a cheetah is faster. I’m not sure.)

· Are roly-polies and ladybugs friends? (I don’t know. Go ahead and stick that ladybug in the bug house with your roly-poly and see what happens.)

Last night:

· How come Gran calls it “supper”? (Because some people in the South call lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper.” That’s what GG and Papa call it too.)

· What would happen if I put my boogers in this fairy wand? (Eww! Gross! Don’t do that! Yuck.)

This morning:

· Mom, I have a secret. I asked Boo to do my art homework for me. Is that okay? (No, honey, that’s not okay! You have to do your own homework. If you ask someone else to do it, that’s called cheating, and that’s a bad choice. Besides, how are you ever going to get better at drawing if you don’t practice?)

· Are cats fuzzy? (Yes, they’re fuzzy. Technically, they’re furry, but that’s close enough.)

· (Looking in the mirror) I wish I could have Boo’s face, except not with glasses. Her face is prettier than mine. Can I have Boo’s face instead? (What? Why would you want her face? You’re absolutely beautiful, just the way God made you.)

· (Taking a bath) What makes the soap turn into bubbles? (Uh, I’m not sure. The soapy part, when it hits the water, gets all bubbly. That’s just the way soap is. [Clearly, I didn’t pay enough attention in science class.])

Today at lunch:

· Can I see my bugs now? (Well, okay. Here’s the bug house. Looks like the ladybug is still walking around, but your roly-poly isn’t alive anymore.)

· What does “alive” mean? (Um, let’s see. To be alive means to be living and breathing. To have life.)

· What’s “life”? (Life is, um . . . Life is what God gives to people and animals, to live and breathe and move. It’s what makes us different from rocks and toys and stuff.)

· So your daddy is like a rock? (Uh, no. My daddy died, but he is alive in heaven with Jesus.)

· Is your daddy in the ground, or in heaven? (Well, both, kind of. My daddy’s body is in the ground, but his soul is in heaven with Jesus.)

· What’s a “soul”? (Hmm. Your soul, or spirit, is what is inside you. It’s not your skin and bones but the inside part of you that thinks and loves and feels. The part that God made very special, in His image, and what makes us different than animals.)

Whew! See what I mean? And these are just a few of the things I’ve had to answer since yesterday.

Motherhood is a tough and often thankless job, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart—or mind. Every day, I do my best to nurture these three inquisitive children God has entrusted to us. And every day, I pray that I’ll be able to “speak the truth in love” in a way that honors God and helps them “grow up in all things, into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NKJV).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What Is God Doing Right Now?

“JJ, hold still so I can get your halo on straight!”

My younger two kids had been looking forward to the costume parade at their Mother’s Day Out for weeks. At last it was the long-awaited day, and JJ had woken up earlier than usual, bright-eyed and eager to don her costume to show her class.

It was Boo who came up with the idea of being an angel for Halloween this year. She even put an angel costume on her birthday wish list several weeks ago. And in typical younger-sister fashion, once JJ heard the idea, she immediately wanted to copy it. “Me too!”

Poor Buddy; at two years old, he doesn’t have much of a say in his costume quite yet. So upon hearing that the girls wanted to be angels, I decided it would be fun to dress Buddy as an angel too. That way, I could have my own little “choir of angels.” That would be fun! Would it be weird to have them sing Christmas carols on Halloween?

So on Wednesday, I unwrapped the costumes and began the process of transforming my kids into angels. (Not an easy process, mind you.)

Now, before I go on with this story, you have to know something about JJ. The middle of our three children, JJ is full of spunk and sparkle. She’s remarkably different from her older sister in many ways. If our children were poems, Boo would be rhythm and rhyme, in perfect iambic pentameter. She’s smart, organized, loyal, enjoyable, and (like her mother) a bit of a perfectionist. If JJ were a poem, on the other hand, she would undoubtedly be free verse. Or maybe a haiku. Something beautiful and fascinating that grabs your attention and makes you think.

And oh, how JJ makes me think. She has an unending assortment of spontaneous, profound questions that catch me completely off guard. Often in the mornings, before I’ve had my coffee.

This day was no exception. As I began putting on the layers of her angel costume—undershirt . . . robe . . . belt—JJ started asking questions.

“Mama, what are angels?”

Tying her white sash at the front of her robe, I answered offhandedly, “Angels are special beings created by God to worship and serve him.” Hmm, should the bow go on the front or the side? Maybe I should just tie it in a knot, instead of a bow. Do angels have bows?!?

“Mama, what do angels do?” Even at dawn-thirty, JJ’s mind was spinning as she was getting dressed.

I voted for tying a bow in the middle of the robe. “Um, let’s see,” I said, heading to her dresser to hunt for white tights that still fit. “The Bible says that angels are messengers from God, sent to help those who will inherit salvation. That means that angels give people special messages from God, and they help us.” This pair of tights is too small . . . This one has a run in it . . . Good grief, why didn’t I go through her tights when I changed out her closet this week?

JJ sat on the bed, wiggling her bare legs while I rifled through the tights. “So, can we see angels?”

Aha! This pair should work! I grabbed an off-white pair of tights (close enough) and started putting them on JJ as I answered. “Well, yes, honey. Sometimes. The Bible tells us about several times people saw angels. You know, like when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her the she was going to have a very special baby.”

“Jesus!” JJ interrupted, happily interjecting the answer while I cinched up her hose around her knees.

“That’s right, baby. And remember, when the disciples went to Jesus’ tomb, they saw two angels who told them that Jesus was alive.” I started racking my non-caffeinated brain. “Let’s see. And in the Old Testament, there’s a story of how God’s people were fighting a battle, and they were scared because their enemy seemed very strong. Then God opened the skies and let His people see the thousands of angels He had sent to help them fight the battle. And they won!”

“Wow, I didn’t know God did that,” JJ said, putting on her white sandals (since I already packed away her dressy white Easter shoes when clearing out her closet a few days ago—oops!).

That left us with the final touch to her angel costume—the halo.

As I brushed her hair in preparation for the halo headband, JJ asked, “Mama, what is God doing right now?”

Trying to brush out all the tangles without making her yelp, I answered in generalities, not giving her question much thought. “Well, honey, right now God is working out His plan for the world. He is sustaining His creation, drawing people’s hearts to come to know Him, taking care of all His children, and answering our prayers.” There, that should be enough brushing for now. Now where did I put that halo?

JJ handed me the halo, which she had been holding. She was clearly not satisfied with my answer.

“No, Mama,” she insisted, putting her hands on her hips and looking up at me in all her angelic glory. “What is God doing right now?”

Oh my. Now that was a big question out of such a little girl. My first instinct was to drift into Bible teacher mode, but how could I explain to a five-year-old that God, as an eternal spirit, is completely outside of time; that He accomplished His plan for the ages before the foundations of the world; and that to God, there is no “right now”—there is only an “always is”?

I knelt down to be at her level. I put down the hairbrush and looked her directly in the eyes as I answered her, this time, very carefully.

“Honey, right now God is doing lots of things. Right this minute, God is here with you, and He loves you very much. He is taking care of you, answering your prayers, and making sure you have all the things you need, like a home and food and a family who loves you very much. He made you as His very own special little girl, and He has an amazing plan for your life. And right now, He wants you to trust Him and love Him as He works out His perfect plan for you in His time and His way.”

“Oh, okay!” JJ said cheerily, apparently pleased with that answer. She bounced Tigger-like into the bathroom to admire her new costume in the mirror and top off the ensemble with some sparkly lip gloss.

Watching my spunky angel bound out of her bedroom, I couldn’t help but think . . .

Thanks for the reminder, God!