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.

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The refining pot of marriage

There’s a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it: Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas. The tagline for the book is ‘What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy’.

Wow.

After writing about Dating, marriage and lists last month, a friend of mine made a great comment,

“I strongly support the idea of having a list; you’re certainly right that it keeps us focused on what’s most important. But I also have recently learned the value in having a list also for myself if I have a list for my potential spouse. Who do I want to be to my future wife? Can you write one sometime on who you’ve striven to become before and in marriage?”

These ideas about marriage being an opportunity to refine our own character, and not simply a selfish ‘get what I want out of it’ union, is, I think, exactly what God intended.

Wedding

Young, in love and ready to be refined!

If we look right back at the beginning of time in Genesis we see that Eve was created not simply as a companion but as a helper for Adam. And so that the men reading this don’t get to full of pride and power, God clears up any confusion in Ephesians 5:35 where he says: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her’. The love referred to here is 100% sacrificial, guys – to the point of humiliation, torture and death.

One of Satan’s biggest, most successful lies is that being selfish (i.e. focusing on what I want before what I can offer others) is the way to happiness. Now there are many opportunities in life to find out that this is total rubbish, but perhaps none so effective as marriage. When you live with someone every day for the REST OF YOUR LIFE; when you are confronted with all their ugly character traits which you never saw during dating life (because don’t we all put on our best behaviour on a date?); when you are so vulnerable that you expose all your own ugly character traits – this is when true love kicks in.

Proverbs 117:3 says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” God is reminding us of the extreme value he places in making our hearts right before Him  And 1 Peter 1 tells us why. In verses 24-5 he says “All flesh is as grass,and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Emphasis mine.) We need to go through the refining pot because the spiritual is foreverThe physical – marriage – is ultimately temporal but it’s value in refining our hearts is eternal.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Perhaps the most famous love passage in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I once was told to read through this passage, replacing the word ‘love’ with my own name. Yikes! It was sobering. We are free with the words “I love you” to our spouse. But do we really know what love is? What if we measured our love against this description? We say, “I love you so much I would die for you.” But do we love our spouse enough to live for them? In the everyday frustrations of opposing opinions, of different priorities, of conflicting personalities? That is where we really learn to lay down our life.

Marriage is not there to ‘make us happy’, but when we let it make us holy, happiness happens. Take it from me – in my eleven years of marriage I have always been happiest when I have lived closest to God’s definition of servanthood. When (if!) we can conquer selfishness, there we find true joy.

Go read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with your own name. Pray for true love. Live it out.

The window to your heart

“And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire.”
James 3:4-6

Words. Many lessons have been written on the power of words. The tongue has been called the strongest muscle in the body, and the Bible speaks of its power in the book of James, likening it to a rudder which can steer the whole course of a ship, or a fire which can cause devastation.

wordsAs a homeschooling Mama my kids hear a lot of my words! We talk about everything from history, to meals, to Lego, to toilet habits… I’ll stop there 😉  Being with my kids more than your average UK parent has made me think carefully about how I speak to them. I have noticed that it is easy to slip into the ‘I’m busy but I’ll nod and say “uh-huh” even though I have no idea what you said’ mode of conversation.  There are plenty of comic strips and Facebook images which joke about this. It seems to be a universal Mom thing. But it’s not funny. Now I know that you and I are busy people. But what do our conversations tell our children about our hearts… and their value?

When we speak to our children, we are showing them a little of our heart. Our words are a window. Not just our words, in fact, but our tone of voice, eye-contact, expression, and all those other non-verbal communication attributes. If I am staring at my computer and say the glazed “uh-huh” when Prince comes to tell me about how the latest GUP is the coolest thing, what are my words and actions telling him?Here’s a list off the top of my head:

  • I am selfish
  • I value other interests above him
  • I have no self-control
  • His effort is unimportant
  • He is not interesting to me
  • He is not high on my priority list
  • Computers are a god
  • It’s okay to ignore people

These are pretty shocking messages. Even more scary is the fact that even if I was doing something REALLY important, he is still getting these messages. As I see it, if I don’t want him to get these messages I have two options: 1) Put him first whenever possible: Stop, look at him, smile, appreciate, ask more questions (rather than hoping he hurries up and finishes talking), hug him, praise him. OR 2) if what I am doing is pressing and important: Stop, look at him, explain “I’d love to hear what you’re saying, but I’m just in the middle of something urgent. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, and you can tell me all about it, OK?” Now he knows that he is valued highly, but sometimes other issues need to take priority for a time. (Side note: we should balance this advice with make sure our children learn the importance of not interrupting, that they are not the only thing in the world which matters, etc. But in my experience this is a far less common problem, and what most of us really need to work on is giving the message of love and value.)

The busy mom syndrome is just one example of the way we talk to our children, but here are some other messages that our words & non-verbal signals may be telling our children:

  • I don’t like you
  • I’m impatient
  • I value obedience more than a right heart
  • I am inconsistent
  • You are stupid
  • You are insignificant
  • You should be perfect
  • My desires are more important that yours
  • You don’t deserve love
  • Anger can be expressed without love
  • What you do is not important
  • It’s okay to be rude
  • Self should be valued above others
I want to be my kids' best friend!

I want to be my kids’ best friend!

Again, a shocking list. And again, it’s even more scary when you stop to think that it’s not just the ‘bad’ parents out there giving these kind of messages. It’s us. We need to stop and take a good look at what we say and how we say it when we talk to anyone – but especially our children. We must not assume “they know that I love them”, but rather SHOW this in the way we talk. We must let our kids know that we respect, like, love, and appreciate them. How many kids would choose to be friends with someone who preferred the company of Facebook over them, who lost their temper with them on a daily basis, who expected them to be perfect and never thanked them for a job well done? I sure want to be my children’s best friend. And one step to this I believe is learning to speak to them in love all day long, as a friend, mentor and mother.

Our words are a window into our hearts that our children look through each day. Sometimes this window may not reflect accurately what is inside, but it is still what our children see. And sometimes this window is more accurate than we like to admit.

The God of Second Chances

 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Ezekiel 33:11

I love this verse. I remember the first time I read it, printed on the back of our bathroom door where my Mom regularly put up prayer lists and encouraging Bible verses. What stuck me then, and continues to strike me now, is the desperate love God has for His people. He desires so much for them to take strength and try again, and He wants more than anything to show them mercy.

God's love and mercy are endless!

God’s love and mercy are endless!

I also love the Veggie Tales movie Jonah. It does a fantastic job of bringing out the themes of compassion and mercy, and uses the story of Jonah to demonstrate that God both shows these to us and desires us to show them to each other. As Christians we know that God is forgiving, and that His love is never-ending, but I think this head-knowledge doesn’t always translate into heart-knowledge. The Bible is full of examples of human failure followed by Divine forgiveness:

  • Adam & Eve brought sin and death into the world – yet the world has been saved through Jesus
  • David committed adultery and murder – yet is a lasting example of a man after God’s own heart
  • Nineveh was a city full of wickedness – yet it is a story full of hope and forgiveness
  • Paul was an infamous persecutor of the church – yet he became an honorary apostle and prolific church-planter

With such a heritage of sinners and such examples of forgiveness, it should be easy for us to remember that this grace is for us, too! But sometimes, it isn’t easy. Perhaps we have a tendency to get too bogged down with the sorrow of sin. We dwell on the wrong we – and others – have done for too long. Whilst sin is always serious and requires repentance, when remorse inhibits joy and renewed enthusiasm to ‘try again’, I think we are falling into another trap which Satan puts in our path.

There are many things I fail at frequently. Some of them may not even seem important to others, and some of them are more obvious.  A personal example:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

I was thinking the other day that it has been too long since I incorporated prayer into my devotional time with my kids. I know how important it is, yet it had been months since we included that aspect into our devos! So yesterday, we started again. It is great! Do I wish I’d never stopped? Yes. But God is a God of second, third, fourth, fifth…. chances. So when I realise my mistakes, I have joy in knowing I can be forgiven yet again and move on with renewed intentions.

So if you have let your housework get out of hand and feel a little guilty – say sorry to whoever needs to hear it then stop feeling guilty and take the chance to try again. If you have forgotten to read your Bible in weeks… months… years… – pick it up and thank the Lord for another chance to read. If you go to bed tonight and realise that today, like most other days, you have not been patient with your children, don’t dwell too long in the sorrow of this – ask forgiveness then praise God for His grace and for a new chance tomorrow.

And if you see someone who seems to have it all together and you start to feel guilt and jealousy creeping in – remember they are just another David, Paul, or Ninevite, who has taken another chance from the God of grace. May we always take joy in the steadfast love of the Lord, and His new mercies each morning.

Above all else

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Colossians 3:12-14

As I go through my journey as a mother, seeking to “write on the door posts” in the lives on my children, I find countless important life lessons I need to teach them. When they were babies my responsibility lay in showing them care and love, and providing them with a stable family life. As they grew I began to teach them how to interact with others. As they get older still I explain to them the value of sharing, the importance of humility, how to forgive and be forgiven. In any one day I might take opportunities to teach everything from how to put their shirts on the right way around, to the meaning of faith.

With so many things to teach my children, it can sometimes be easy to lose focus of what is most important. In Colossians 3 Paul lists many things that are valuable for us to strive for – tender mercies, kindness, forgiveness. But he highlights that there is one thing that has greater value than all the others: love.

Above all, we must teach our children to love.

Love, Jesus tells us, is the fulfillment of the law. Love sums up the law and prophets. Love covers over a multitude of sins. The greatest commandments are to love God with everything we have, and to love others as we love ourselves. If I could teach only one thing to my children, it would be to love God with their whole hearts, souls and minds, because all good things flow from this.

Day to day it can be difficult to keep this priority in mind. Satan, I am sure, takes every opportunity to place distractions in our way and make us see them as so pressing and important that we forget to teach the our children about love. As a homeschooling mother I feel the pressure of the world to provide a good education for my children. Education and careers are extraordinarily highly valued in our society. Whilst I agree it is valuable to be well educated and able to earn a living, it is not the epitome of success. True success lies in love; in accepting the love of God, and returning it to Him and to others.

May we all, as parents, teach our children the ultimate lesson of love – above all else.

Of men and muscles

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8

Every night I watch my brother and husband work out in our lounge. This started about two weeks ago, due to their desire to flatten their tummies and grow their muscles, and they are pretty faithful to do it every evening. Sometimes they even cajole me into joining them, but I have to admit I prefer to just watch… 🙂

We live in a world where health and fitness is seen as somewhat of a god. People join gyms, buy protein shakes from health food shops and sign up to all kinds exercise classes. Children are taught about the value of regular exercise, cigarettes are legally obliged to come with huge health warnings, and mothers are given information on post-partum ways to work out as soon as possible after giving birth.

Now there is nothing wrong with being healthy – if you’ve read my previous posts you will know that I myself am concerned with helping my family to stay healthy by eating the best kinds of food we can afford. Being healthy is great – but it’s value is a limited-time offer. You see, we can be the healthiest, fittest person on earth, who never gets sick and avoids cancer, diabetes and heart attacks. But in the end, health is only valuable for this life. When you die, health and fitness won’t be an issue! Godliness, however, has eternal value.

Prince takes every opportunity to strengthen his physical muscles. Do we take every opportunity to strengthen our kids’ spiritual muscles?

As parents, we need to keep this truth in mind as we train up our kids. It’s easy to spend hours of time researching how to give your kids the best nutrition for their growing bodies. It’s easy to spend money and time enrolling them into sports and gymnastics, knowing that you are supporting their physical well-being. But more than all that we need to be seeking after ways to regularly feed them spiritually nutritional food, and find ways to encourage them to exercise godliness.

One of the reasons people seek after health is to avoid getting sick. They don’t want to go down with the flu or risk a heart attack by clogging up their arteries with grease. In the same way, we need to exercise godliness so that we can avoid falling into sin. We should be aiming for peak spiritual fitness – for ourselves and our kids. We need to give our families the best spiritual nourishment available to strengthen their souls, so that they will be able to resist the harshest of temptations.

My little boy loves to compare his muscles to Daddy’s muscles. He take joy in seeing how strong he is, and even takes it upon himself to exercise in the hopes of getting stronger as quick as possible! My hope is that I can teach him to have the same kind of passion for developing spiritual muscles, because this will last him for eternity.

Pressing on

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Paul had his priorities right. He valued Christ above all else.  In chapter 1 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (v21)  Here in chapter 3 he says that if anyone has a right to boast in the flesh, it is him – and yet he considers his worldly advantages to be as “garbage” compared to belonging to Jesus.  This is Paul’s goal: to attain to the resurrection from the dead, which Christ Jesus has offered him.

“There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives.”

I, too, have this goal.  But as a mom, it is not just for me, but for my children also. There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives. Yet daily I mess up. I fail to live up to the opportunities given to me; I make selfish choices; I prioritise worldly values; I model sinful attitudes. I am sure you fail too. And God knows this. He knows we are helpless – so he gave us a gift: infinite grace.

Because of grace, reaching our goal does not depend on us achieving perfection here on earth. We will not be saved on the merit of our motherhood, our ministry, or our self-imposed laws. We cannot save our children, either, no matter how many hours a day we spend teaching them of His love (don’t mistake me here – we should teach them this, it’s just that we cannot save them). We, and our children, can only gain the prize of salvation by accepting it. Christ Jesus came to offer us freedom and eternal salvation because of His perfect life. When we begin to understand this concept, we are blown away.

None of us have reached this goal yet, but there is hope. I want to encourage us all, to forget what is behind, and press on to what is ahead. Start each day – even each hour, each minute – anew.  Accept the grace of God, and look forward. Don’t dwell on the mistakes and failures of the past. Persevere in your faith; pray for your children. There is hope in the future.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

Selfless mothering

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:4

One of the men at church yesterday spoke about this verse in Philippians, and it got me thinking about parenting. Of course, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of looking out for the needs of others when He selflessly sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sake. But I want to look at this verse in relation to being a mother.

Prince, 18 days old.

Becoming a mother is one of the best ways to expose your inner selfishness. Even the most selfless of women will be put to the test as they enter the world of motherhood. As a new mother we find ourselves constantly having to attend to the beck and call of a tiny new person. Whether we are sleeping, eating, reading, cleaning, cooking or even using the bathroom – we are on duty and must be ready to drop our own agenda to fulfill the ‘interests’ of our babe.

As our children get older, they become more able to tend to themselves. At first this comes as a much needed break (at last! We can shower more than once a fortnight!), but I have also discovered that it can be a dangerous time. Dangerous, because it’s so easy to slip back into our old selfish ways and miss this wonderful opportunity to curb selfishness long-term.

Too many parents treat their children as an inconvenience. They complain about the strain kids put on their finances, their time, their relationships and their fun. Even those who don’t openly complain might show selfishness more subtly. Whilst there are some things that us adults need (including time alone), I find that more often than not the needs of children are ranked as secondary to those of parents. This, I believe, is wrong.

As parents, we sometimes spend too much money on our house, cars or clothes, then don’t have enough to feed our children healthy food.

As parents, we might indulge in things that we enjoy, but rarely make time to take our kids to play in the park.

As parents, we can be tempted to spend hours watching T.V, but hardly ever make time to play games with our kids.

As parents, we might prefer to leave our children with other people while we go to work or out with friends, rather than sacrifice time, money or entertainment and shoulder the responsibility of raising and training them ourselves.

Whilst none of the things a parent might do for themselves are (necessarily) wrong, they become so when done regularly at the expense of the needs of our children. Parents, we have a duty to consider the individual needs of each of our children and meet those the best we can. We must be willing to sacrifice our often-selfish desires and serve the interests of our kids. If we read on from Philippians 2:4, we see this example set for us:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:5-8)

As a mother, I need to humble myself. In my parenting, I am to have the same attitude that Jesus had when He denied His right to equality with God, and died on the cross to save mankind.  As a mother, my first and foremost motive must be the care and nurturing of my children.

Let’s leave a legacy of selfless love.

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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