Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

It seemed to have been a bad day.

My teenage son sat at dinner and told me he’d walked to the bus that morning in the slush and rain, soaking his shoes right through. He felt just mediocre about how his classes had gone and then said,

“Coach was yelling at me a lot during practice.”

“What about?” I asked.

“Keeping my back straighter.”

My son is a novice rower, and learning the correct technique is what this year is all about.

“Was he disparaging or encouraging?”

“Mmm. Encouraging,” he admitted.

“He wants you to get better?”

My son nodded.

“And did he single you out, or was he yelling at others too?”

“He was yelling at others too.”

“Right. I see. You know, I heard on the radio today that the average American has 60 bad days a year. That’s slightly more than 1 per week.”

My son looked up from his plate and gave me a begrudging grin.

I left it at that.

Sometimes we need to hear a few well-placed questions and a relevant tidbit to help us turn our perspective slightly, from a jaded to a more positive point of view.

The same is true in the spiritual life. If I consider all my trials as personal attacks, I will become disheartened.

But if I recognize that in my human condition I am not alone in my suffering, I can take a step toward seeing things more clearly.

There is Someone Who is willing to carry my burdens for me and give me His strength in return for my trust in Him. I can draw new strength from Him to carry on, and someday He will show me the reasons for my trials.

Cast your care upon the Lord,
Who will give you support.
God will never allow
The righteous one to stumble.
(Psalm 55:23)

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

The small voice spoke from the silence of the back seat.

“I am thankful for Mike.”

“I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say?”

“I’m thankful for Mike. He told me how to get the cars on.”

“Which cars?”

“The new ones. For my Anki Overdrive. I didn’t know how to get them on right and he told me today at lower lot. I’m so thankful for him.”

“Oh. Oh yes, that was certainly nice of him. So, you’re thankful for him, and his friendship.”

“Yes.”

End of discussion.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see my little boy smiling to himself.

My son received a car and track system from Santa at Christmas, and got a couple new components for his eighth birthday this past weekend. I didn’t know he had any questions about how these supplementary pieces would work, because he never had questions before. But with kids, sometimes things are hidden from you.

In any case, he has a friend. A friend who helped him. Gave him a few directions while they stood in line, waiting for their parents to pick them up from school.

And my young son is vocalizing his gratitude about that friendship.

Letting his gratitude LIVE in his heart, and not be a fleeting moment of forgotten, “Thanks.”

Wonderful.

Why do we – as adults – make so little of gratitude?

And find it so hard to verbalize it?

Or allow ourselves to get hung up….

On what others might think if we just said the words, “Your kindness means so much to me”?

Or on the timing of such a remark?

Or on the “appropriateness” of it?

Why do we let the moments that touch us – go?

Isn’t life lived in the tiny, every day moments?

Shouldn’t we be most grateful when they are undeniably beautiful?

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

How She Made a Good Choice

imageAs parents, we’re all doing our best to convey our values to our kids. And if we have faith, we are also hoping they will grow to share that faith in time.

Once in awhile, I am blessed with a reminder that my efforts are being rewarded.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer doing routine admin stuff when my daughter appeared at my side.

“I thought you were at Emma’s* house, honey?”

“I was. But then she and the others started watching a show I didn’t think you’d like me to watch. So I left.”

“Really? What show was it?”

“I don’t know.”

She awkwardly pushed herself into my lap – and she’s ten, so she doesn’t fit there so easily anymore. I hugged her and asked,

“What was it about?”

“Ghosts, I think. It gave me a bad feeling. I thought I shouldn’t be there.”

“A bad feeling where?” I asked, suspecting she wasn’t talking about a ‘Scooby-doo’ ghost.

She pointed to her stomach.

So I asked,

“Do you know why you felt that? Do you know Who was talking to you?”

“God.”

Yes,” I said. And I am so proud of you for listening to Him. It took courage and strength to leave that situation, and I am amazed and so glad that you did.”

She gave a big smile of relief and went off to spend the rest of the afternoon with her brothers. By bedtime last night, the three of them were worn out from laughing and wrestling so much.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on for our children’s hearts. And  today, I am so thankful my daughter is growing strong and skilled in fighting back. She heard and obeyed the Voice that has promised to lead her on the path of peace and joy.

On the way of wisdom I direct you,

I lead you on the straightforward paths.

When you walk, your step will not be impeded,

and should you run, you will not stumble.

Hold fast to instruction, never let her go;

keep her, for she is your life.

-Proverbs 4:11-13

*Not her real name.

Easter Sonrise

1997, Washington, DC, USA --- Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument --- Image by © Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/CORBIS
1997, Washington, DC, USA — Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument — Image by © Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/CORBIS

I’ve only attended one Easter sunrise service in my life, but looking back I can see how very blessed and privileged I was, for it took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, overlooking the Reflecting Pool, in Washington D.C. I was with my dad and I think I was about 13 or 14 years old. The sunrise looked something like the one pictured here. Pretty. Spectacular. Pretty spectacular.

And there is one memory that stands out for me the most, aside from the triumphant Easter music and the rousing sermon.

During one especially moving song, I glanced up at my father’s face. Tears streaming from his eyes reflected the morning light. I was caught off guard and mystified.

‘Why is Dad crying? Is he ok?’

The questions boomed in my mind like thunder, but I was paralyzed. It  seemed completely wrong to ask him – to interrupt what was clearly an important moment – so I didn’t. I held my tongue. But I never forgot.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I was sitting at my kitchen table with my own 13-year old son after school. He and I have been having pow-wows to go over his assignments as a way of staying on top of the demands of middle school. At the end of our discussion, I found there was something on my heart that I needed to say.

“You know,” I began, “You’ll be leaving my house in 5 years, and there are things I want you to understand before you go. What do you think is the ONE thing I really want you to know?”

“That you love me,” he said, rolling his eyes while giving me a charming half-smile.

I laughed.

“Yes, yes. Ok, that. But what else.”

“That I should get a job.”

“Ha! Ok. That too. What else?”

“I should go to church.”

“Well, sort of….I mean, yes that’s good and all, but what’s more important is that you have a relationship with God. That you KNOW Him. That you understand our God – Jesus – is FOR you. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think so.”

“Ok, we’ll discuss this again. Because this, this is the most important thing I want you to know. In this life, you are going to encounter stuff that Dad and I can’t help you with, and your friends can’t help you with, and whoever you marry can’t help you with. Only God can help you. He is the One who can meet all your needs because he created you. This is why I tell you about Him, and why He’s so important.”

The conversation kind of ended from there, and that’s ok; I’ve found that faith is best fed to kids in small bites.

What my dad knew that Easter morning so long ago is exactly what I wanted to explain to my son: Faith in Jesus is a personal experience. It’s a one-to-one encounter with a risen Savior. It isn’t a community deal. It isn’t a cultural tradition. It’s SO MUCH BETTER than that.

Jesus rose from the dead to prove to us His absolute authority over the powers of this world. We can totally rely on Him. He is our Protector, Provider, Defender, Champion, Friend, Redeemer…the list goes on and on. And all we have to do to know Him is turn our hearts to Him and ask Him to enter in.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

-John 3:16-18

I railed against this Truth for a long, long time. I understood it to mean that God would condemn me to an eternal torment if I did not follow his Son, and I just couldn’t square this with a loving God. I couldn’t even see that I could ‘perish’ in the here and now – that life today could be far less than was envisioned for me.

But I finally came to a point where anger, depression, and fear burdened me so much that I fell to my knees and cried out to God – and guess what? He answered. I found I could trust in his name. His name has a rock solid reputation of Love. Every single time I turned to Him, He was there. And the condemnation I had been suspicious of in Him, was actually in me. With my lack of faith in Him, I had condemned myself to life without Him, and it was bleak indeed. 

I went back and re-read John 3:18, and then I understood.

“For every cross, there is a resurrection,” the saying goes, meaning that  with Christ, all burdens, no matter how impossible they may seem, can be mitigated or overcome. A man who can defeat death can do anything. Don’t ever underestimate Him.

This Easter, let’s surrender our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to Our Risen Lord – Jesus Christ – in full trust that He is worthy, because He is absolutely FOR us. 

Geometry Lesson

imageOh my gosh it was hard.

It was all I could do to stay calm.

Truly – I thought I might rip my hair out.

Or break my own fingers in frustration.

The situation? Helping my oldest son study for a geometry test.

It wasn’t the material that was difficult. It was my boy.

He was angry about having to study. Seeing nothing but red because he didn’t like the questions. Literally throwing his hands up in the air and raising his voice in contempt – at the book – and me.

The triangles on the page were congruent, but he and I were emphatically not.

His temper when he’s threatened surges – just like mine.

But there was hope and I so desperately wanted him to see it.

“What you already know – in part – can help you move forward.”

I whispered words over him.

“Take the information you are given and work it step-by-step to arrive at the answer.”

“Breathe. Believe you can follow the path to the end – and you will.”

“The given clues and the ones you uncover are guides, pointing you toward where you need to go.”

I wanted him to see that I could meet him in all the angles he was trying.

Because I’ve been there. Walked this same path. And he is like me.

I GET him and I GET the struggle.

And as I sit here today and pray for patience and for my son to do his best, it occurs to me that there is a corollary. Another similarity.

The Lord looks down on me and says, “Why do you think I came?”

 

Holy Moments – Day 12 – London Town

I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.

I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.

Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.

Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.” 

But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartener came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.

My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.

She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”

Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.

I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.

Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.

But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.

What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.

IMG_2715

I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:

  • Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
  • Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
  • Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
  • I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
  • I love you.

Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.

Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.

 

Knowing Hope

I was flabbergasted by the conversation and didn’t want to forget a word. So I grabbed the closest piece of paper, my gym’s class schedule, and intermittently scribbled down what he’d said as we stopped at red lights, making our way to vacation Bible camp.

image

We’d been talking about how we’d be giving some money to a family with a sick child. To help them afford medical care. If a large sum was raised by tomorrow, the child’s father would shave his head at the closing ceremony.

Even though my son is only five, he understands illness. I just didn’t know what else he knew.

As we’re driving along at 9 a.m., suddenly he says:

“The medicine is not what works. God is actually the one.”

My heart starts pounding.

“Why is that?” I manage to ask.

“Because God heals.”

“How do you know that? Did you learn it somewhere? Or do you just know it?”

In a small but confident and reverent voice that takes my breath away, he says,

“I just know it.”

And there is nothing more to say.

Because Amen. It is certain.

Jeep daBeep!

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Red!”

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Silver!”  (Or Blue! Or Black! Etc.!)

In the case of this one (see photo), a small argument ensued:

image

Child 3 (with utmost enthusiasm): “Jeep daBeep, the color’s Light Tan!”

Child 1: “No, it’s not. It’s Brown.”

Child 2: “No, Cream.”

Mom: “Whomever calls it first, calls the color. It’s light tan.”

And I smile. Because this simple game has me smiling all the time. Silly, but true! The kids have been playing it for several weeks now. Every time a child sees a Jeep Wrangler (Cherokees don’t count) he or she shouts this, in an “inside voice.” (Yes, we’ve had that discussion too. I am driving after all.) There is no point to it all, no score keeping whatsoever. And in time, more car games have been folded into this one. They yell out these as well:

“Zingo!” – a lime green car, but taxis don’t count

“Bingo!” – a yellow car, but again taxis and cars with corporate logos don’t count

“Buggy!” – a Volkswagen bug

“Red Booster!” – my littlest guy’s own creation – any red car, but trucks don’t count

And the best of all – “Bingo Buggy!!” – a yellow VW bug.

I’ve noticed that the pace of this game has picked up dramatically in the last two weeks, and a rationalist might say that it was going along at this same rate for awhile and I just never noticed, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. I actually think my kids’ enthusiasm for spotting particular cars is part of the answer to a little prayer.

A couple weeks ago, in my study time with God’s Word, I just offered up a small request – for a little more joy in my everyday living. I have many ‘serious’ prayer requests every day: for an end to violence against women and girls around the world, but especially those suffering at the hands of ISIS; for persecuted Christians; that families would be healed and brought back together; for friends and family in need….The list goes on. But I also asked for more joy. It was right at the very end, almost like an afterthought. But you know, God sees and hears everything. I sometimes forget that, even when I’m giving him my list of supplications.

Just recently, I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus cures a paralytic and later a man who is blind and mute. The crowds are astounded. But in both cases, Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities – in the first case, the scribes, and in the second, the Pharisees. Both times, as Jesus speaks with these critics, a verse in Scripture is repeated: “Jesus knew what they were thinking,” (Matthew 9:4) and “But he knew what they were thinking” (Matthew 12:25). Standing there among men, having assumed the human form, the Lord knew what was in their minds and hearts.

This is the marvelous mystery of prayer. In turning to Him, we begin to express what he already knows about us, and we enter deeper into that intimate relationship which He so desperately wants to have with each one of us. And He misses nothing. Not even the half-uttered last sentence before the ‘Amen.’

The past two weeks have been chock-full of fun for me, and I am really looking forward to this summer. In several social events and even small visits with friends, I’ve caught myself laughing – deep, rolling belly laughs – the kind doctors say are good for your health. My life is happy, yes. But it was happy before. This is different. I’m a fairly reserved person – now one who is smiling a little bit more. Because I asked for JOY. And He presented me with many opportunities to feel it and live it. He is the Great Giver. Oh how He loves to give!

And in the past couple days, as I’ve understood that a prayer was answered, I’ve added on to the kids’ game too. Now, when one of them yells, “Jeep daBeep!” I grin and think to myself, “Praise God!”

“Jeep daBeep!”  Praise God! 

What He Sees

 

The room was dark, and I snuck in as quietly as I could with a pile of warm, folded clothes. I avoided the squeaky floorboard in front of the dresser, carefully opened drawers, and put away little socks, t-shirts, and shorts. I was just about done when a sleepy young voice called out from under the bed covers.

“Thanks…cleanin’ my clothes, Mom.” 

He was three. My oldest son. I had tucked him in a half hour before, and thought he had fallen asleep. Guess not. 

That was nine years ago. But I will never forget how his simple ‘thank-you’ touched the very deepest part of my heart. 

On days like today, as the laundry piles up, I’m scrubbing bathrooms, and washing dishes, I am so thankful when I remember his words. When once again, I hear his little voice.  

We can be tempted to think that no one sees what we do. That our everyday ‘behind-the-scenes’ work doesn’t amount to much. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God sees us. He appreciates our efforts. 

And He knows our hearts. He’s talking to them….through other people, in quiet stillness. If we listen, we can hear Him. 

He can even encourage us through memories that He knows bear messages we need to hear again and again. And our hearts, tethered to God, recognize those messages as divine Truth.

As Jesus told us, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)