Piles of washing and mountains of love

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Piles of washing, still waiting.

I probably should have spent the morning at home. There are dirty dishes in the kitchen and piles of washing waiting to be put away on my bed. I haven’t even finished unpacking from our mini holiday last weekend. But this morning called us to something better.

Over the years our homeschool life has gradually grown from a very free, natural learning style to a more structured approach. This has suited our family well, and helped us continue to love learning whilst also maintain a forward momentum. We have a rough plan, which involves Prince and Princess completing all the work on their ‘learning fun’ chart each day, preferably in the morning. This is mainly self-directed work, allowing me to get housework and other chores done as well as encouraging Prince and Princess towards autonomous learning.

This structure and set work has many benefits. Even though it isn’t always as ‘fun’ as I’d like to believe, the kids both work at it with very little complaining. It is good for us all to have some discipline and work ethic, and I wouldn’t want to drop it all together at this stage of our lives. But at the same time I never want our homeschool to be school at home. In the midst of structure, we still have space for freedom and flexibility. We have the blessing of being able to look at a sunny spring day and throw everything else aside to delight in it! And because we can, we did.

As we walked around Nymans with friends this morning, I smiled. “No one ever regrets spending ‘too much’ time with their children – only too little,” I said.

Prince’s drawing of him and me; mountains of love.

We all know that children grow up fast. Way too fast.

So sometimes it’s best to leave the piles of washing and bask in the mountains of love we share on our journey, together.

The secret of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

I love how the apostle Paul expresses himself. Here he is (in prison, no less!) telling the people of Philippi, “Be joyful in Jesus ALL the time. Did you get that? I say, be JOYFUL!” I think I get why he puts such emphasis on this point. I crave for my children to feel the joy of the Lord in their spirit. Because I know that once they’ve tasted real joy in Jesus, they will never want to let go.

Have you ever watched Veggie Tales’ DVD ‘Madame Blueberry‘? It’s about a lady (or rather, blueberry) who tries to buy joy. She knows it’s out there, but she doesn’t know how to get it. Until one day she sees a little boy rejoice despite his circumstances. Suddenly, Madame realises that joy is closely tied to thankfulness. She is well quoted in our house: A thankful heart, is a happy heart. Proverbs 17:22 tells us the same thing: ‘A joyful heart is good medicine.’

Paul tells us we should be joyful always. If joy is tied to thankfulness, that means we should be thankful, always. Not just when we live in peace. Not just when we are well. Not just when we get what we want. Always. We can be barren, threatened by terrorists, or plagued by illness, yet we can rejoice.  The secret is keeping that eternal perspective. ‘Joy in Jesus’ is because of Jesus, and not dependent on anything this world can or can’t give us. His sacrifice and victory and freely offered grace are the source of an eternal joy that we can know and live despite our circumstances. However saddened we are by the situations we are in, they cannot and should not rob us of true joy.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

The question is, how do we impart this joy to our children?  I have shared before some practical ways to encourage joy in our children. We also need to be living joyfully ourselves. On top of this, I believe teaching our children to live life God’s way will help them access joy, as it says in Proverbs 19:8 (emphasis mine):

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the
heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Most importantly, we need to infiltrate their lives with the Good News. Grace should be woven into every conversation. We need to talk about it as we sit in our house, as we walk along our way, when we go to lie down and as we wake up to each new day. It should be inextricably bound up in our words and actions. It should be sprinkled throughout our home.

As our children go through life they experience all its frustrations, fears, temporary pleasures and empty promises. We must be there to help them see things from the right perspective. To help them grasp that yes – life will fail them. But this is not the same as God failing them. Because God looks at the big picture, the forever. And with regards to eternity, He has sorted it out on our behalf – eternal joy.

Ten ways to say ‘I love you’

Having a family is a beautiful gift. I am daily overwhelmed by the blessings God has chosen to give me!  Today I want to encourage us to remember to tell our husband and children how special they are to us.  Here are ten simple ways I thought of…

  1. Leave a note in a packed lunch.  Thank your husband for supporting your family. Tell a child you are praying for them today. Draw and colour a heart for your toddler.
  2. Plan and prepare a special meal.  It could be your husband’s favourite dish, a picnic on the dining room floor, or a themed dinner with decorations.
  3. Take time to join in a favourite activity.  Suggest an evening of computer games to your husband. Ask your children if they want to play hide and seek. Say ‘yes’ without hesitation if asked to join a family member in something they are doing.
  4. Say it. Say ‘I love you’ when your husband leaves and when he come home. Say ‘I love you’ when your kids wake up and when they go to sleep. Say ‘I love you’ at random times through the day. And when you say it, say it whole-heartedly.
  5. Go on a date.  Find a babysitter and take your husband out to the movies. Treat each child to a special one-on-one time at the park, McDonald’s, or Dairy Queen.
  6. Honour a person for a day.  Choose one family member and put and pictures of them around the house, leave encouraging messages for them on the fridge, pray over them at meal time. The next day/week/month choose a different member to honour.
  7. Be understanding.  If your husband comes home exhausted, offer him a hot bath and the remote control instead of expecting him to help with the kids. If a child is disappointed over something you consider insignificant, make the effort to see things from their perspective and offer support rather than simply dismissing the issue or disciplining unfeelingly.
  8. Save treats for your family.  If you make brownies for the neighbours, save some for your husband and children. If you knit blankets for charity, knit one for your family too. Don’t offer to others what you are not offering to your husband and kids.
  9. Create a family night.  Whether regular or a one-off, choose a night to devote to your family. Watch a movie with popcorn. Have a board game marathon. Tell funny stories. Eat homemade snacks.
  10. Serve with joy.  Sing while you wash dishes. Smile when you serve up lunch. Mention things you are thankful for instead of things that frustrate you.

What can you add to this list?

A joyful heart

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

The life of a child is like a swing – they seem to go from having the best of fun to total disaster in one quick swoop! One of the challenges as a parent is helping them learn to moderate this roller-coaster of emotions, identify what the important things of life are, and make the choice to have a positive outlook.

My prince is going through a time of particular challenge in this area at the moment. It seems as soon as something doesn’t go the way he would like he reacts as if his world has just come crashing down. I don’t say this in jest – in actual fact it is something I find hard to deal with. It is tough to balance understanding that little things are important to children, with teaching them to respond well to disappointment.

In hopes of encouraging both myself and others, here are seven ideas for dealing with the emotional downs in our children’s lives:

  • A joyful heart is GOOD!

    We love the Steve Green ‘Hide ’em in Your Heart‘ Scriptures songs. One that we often use when one of our kids is feeling down is ‘A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine’. This reminds children that being joyful can work like medicine, making us feel better.

  • Make it a habit to talk about what the most important things in life are – not just when the kids are upset, but also when they are enjoying something. Reinforcing this over and over will – hopefully! – help them learn to let the little things go and keep their minds on the big picture.
  • One of the top ten children’s movies from yesterday’s post was ‘Veggie Tales: Madame Blueberry‘. This teaches the motto that “a thankful heart is a happy heart”. We use this phrase (and accompanying song) from Madame Blueberry to help the kids remember to find things to be thankful for in every situation, and show them how this makes them happy.
  • Take time to acknowledge and understand that things can seem important to children even if they are not important to us adults. Reinforce the idea that sad emotions are okay – but that we must learn to deal with them in the best ways. By making our children feel heard and understood, we will help them to move on towards joy.
  • Something we invented is a ‘blessings walk’ – or a blessings drive, blessings lunch, or whatever else we happen to be doing at the time. When a child is tempted to be sad about something they don’t have, we take turns naming blessings in our lives and pretty soon the discontent disappears.
  • Model appropriate emotions yourself. Kids learn to imitate what the see, so as parents one of our greatest teaching tools is our own behaviour. They say actions speak louder than words, but I think what speaks loudest is actions matching up with words. When we model appropriate ways to deal with disappointment, and a heart focussed on the things that truly matter, our kids will be able to see the good fruit in our lives and be more likely to follow suit.
  • Teach the concept of choosing our emotions. Even as adults this can be tough, as we often think we are at the mercy of our feelings. Training our kids from young that we have a choice about how we feel will set them up for a more positive future.

Taking joy

Children are a gift from the Lord;
babies are a reward.
Psalm 127:3

I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent who would disagree with this verse. Children are such a blessing! But while we might all say we agree and acknowledge this truth, there are times we forget it in the everydayness of life.

Sleeping baby Prince.

When my children were babies they were notoriously bad sleepers. My first child, Prince, would wake me up every hour of every night for the first 21 months of his life. The only thing that would comfort him and put him back to sleep was milk, from me. My Princesses was also up every hour most nights, but only until she was about 12 months. I even remember some nights where I was woken every 30 minutes. I remember times I would try not to feed them, but it would either result in me walking around the lounge for two hours, singing, rocking and patting before finally giving in and feeding them, or else go straight to screaming.

Needless to say, I was a pretty tired Mama during those days! Sometimes in the night, when I was desperately sleepy, I would get frustrated and angry. I certainly wasn’t thinking of Psalm 127 THEN. I was thinking how unfair it was that other people had babies who slept through the night from 2 weeks old! But one day, something made me change my outlook. I don’t remember what it was, but I began to realise that if I was awake so much of every night, I might as well make use of it.

So I began to use my nights for God. Sometimes I would pray. I would pick a person – usually one of my kids or my husband, and all the time I was up pacing or patting or feeding I would be praying for that person. What a way to spend an hour in the middle of the night! Other times I would plan lessons for the girls’ group that a friend and I ran in the local community. And other times I would think up new designs for my online store, Upstream Christian Designs. And whilst these things didn’t make me any less exhausted, they did make me much less frustrated, and a much better Mommy.

As my kids got older, sleep (eventually!) got easier. But as happens in life, when one problem is solved we quickly find more to take its place of discontent in our hearts. Things such as fussiness with food, arguments between siblings, meltdowns over things that seem so unimportant to me, having to repeat the same things over and over and over each day and just wishing they would learn and remember what I say, are all situations that can rob me of taking joy in my children today. But when I stop to think, I remember that they are just children. They are small, fragile beings who need me to gently help and guide them as they learn about life.

Fun family day at the beach!

I think God made sleeping children so beautiful because he knew that parents need a daily reminder of how precious they are! It’s so easy, when they are sleeping, to delight in them. What really counts is keeping that joy when they are awake. This is one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years: love your kids fiercely and delight in the simple things. Last weekend we took a family trip to the beach. There was a moment on the sand when I stood still and watched my children playing, and listened to them laugh. They have such infectious laughs! In fact, we were in the car recently and Prince was showing Princess how to force a pretend laugh, but it quickly turned into real giggles and soon all four of us couldn’t stop laughing! Precious memories.

There are so many opportunities every day to enjoy our children and remember the gift that they are. Instead of letting tiredness, stress and frustration rule our hearts, let’s choose peace, and joy, and love. This is not just a one-time choice – “I choose joy!” – but a choice we make many times every day. When my kids are having a disagreement I can choose to sharply reprimand them and feel resentful that they can’t agree on something as simple as who should carry the box of toys. Or I can remind myself that these things which mean so little to me are very important to 3 and 5 year-olds; that they are still learning to conquer selfishness; that I have a teaching moment in front of me now, that I am about to model the way to deal with a problem. As it happens, I have just dealt with that very situation right now, and am relieved that I followed my own advice! As a result, both kids worked to sort out the problem with calm voices and discussion, both are now enjoying playing and being together, and I am feeling full of joy and peace 🙂

It’s so much more fun to choose joy. Let’s encourage each other to choose it every day!

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