Legacy Living: Really? Now?

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A Mom to Mom leader recently asked the question: “Our group will be doing the lesson on ‘Beginning at the End: Legacy Living from Day One.’ (Session One from Inside Out Parenting curriculum) It’s been a few years since you filmed that. Anything to add from ‘on up the road apiece?’ ”

Great question! Good enough even to make me do the unthinkable: sit down and watch my own DVD teaching. Tough. If you don’t think so, just imagine watching a 30-minute video of yourself!

It was worth it, though. It reminded me how absolutely crucial these mom-questions are: What do you want your kids to remember? Who (not what, as in a career choice) do you want them to be? Whom do you want them to serve? What legacy to you want to leave? What legacy do you want to live?

Such heady questions, these. I hear you younger moms: “You’ve got to be kidding! All I hope and pray for is day-by-day (or hour-by-hour) survival! And you ask me to consider my legacy?! Right . . .” And I hear you moms and grandmoms whose children grew up so fast (in retrospect, yes—but not in those long-ago endless days and sleepless nights) and are now off and running: “Oh, yes. Yes! Yes! Yes! Ask these questions now, right from the beginning. They really do matter.” Yes indeed! That’s my answer, too.

So here are a few “big picture” observations for Legacy Living 2016:

  1. Psalm 78:3-7 rings truer than ever. The more things change in our world, the more crucial the message becomes: “We will tell the next generation . . . the praiseworthy deeds and the wonders of the Lord . . . so the next generation would know . . . even the children yet to be born . . . and they in turn would tell their children . . . then they would put their trust in God.” Our church has a pastor of “NextGen Ministries,” and I am grateful. But it all starts with you, moms, in the long sometimes lonely days and too-short (the sleeping part, that is) nights as you do what my daughter recently referred to as the “divine invisible work of mothering.”
  2. It might seem a bit early to bring up such things in the early years of parenting. Is all this an intolerable burden to put on a young mom? This summer I had an “up close and personal” look at what parenting 4 children (ages 7, 4, 2, and 11 months) is like, as our daughter, Erika, who lives in Ireland, visited us here for nearly 4 weeks. For this Nana, it was heaven. But for the mama? Relentless. Absolutely relentless. The question haunts me: Why on earth would we even talk about “legacy living” and “crucial questions” and “intentional parenting” to a mother caught up in a whirlwind?
  3. Why? First, because it really does matter—and you will be glad one day that someone brought these questions up with you before your kids seem to have inexplicably disappeared before your eyes. Second, because the same God who gave you these children will give you the grace and strength you need to raise them. Sound familiar, Mom to Mom moms? I hope so! And HE is the one ultimately in charge of your kids. Another familiar reminder: He loves them more than you do! In the midst of the chaos of your life, He is there when you can’t be. He covers your mistakes—even your desperate “I feel like a failure” mom-attacks. He knows your heart (which is both scary and encouraging). It really does help to be asking the right questions and building on the right foundation, even in your wild crazy mom-life.
  4. Finally, this all makes me more thankful than ever that we have Mom to Mom. In our groups, Titus 2 leaders can encourage you. Not with their flawless parenting or picture-perfect families.  But with their ringing reminders: Parenting is a marathon. God is not finished with them—or you—yet. His Word is the eternal rock on which we stand (or even cling to desperately in the storms). His love and His presence is a no-matter-what promise. He will never leave you or forsake you. Never.

And don’t you forget that!

The Party’s Over . . .

The house is quiet now. Way too quiet. And way too orderly. Only the ticking away of my Mom’s grandfather clock, reminding me that time moves on. 

For 38 glorious days, our home has been filled with the voices of children. My ten favorite children, to be precise. Shouts and giggles and fun and laughter and crying and bickering and “time outs” and whispered conversations between cousins coming from the “craft closet” (our master bedroom closet, repurposed) and loud games interspersed with “No, it’s my turn!” . . . You get the picture. 38 days of glorious chaos.

And now they’ve all gone home. As I write this, I shiver with remembrance of that unforgettable sentence about Hannah after her annual visits to the temple to see the son she had dedicated to God: “Then they would go home.” (1 Samuel 2:20b) Not quite the same, for sure. But still, the going home.

Our recycling and trash tell the story. Well, part of it anyway. Yes, the party’s over and they’ve all gone home. But I am left with so much more than the after-the-party remnants. I am a different person. More exhausted, to be sure. But so much more. I am a grateful Nana filled with new memories made over the past 5 weeks.

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Games of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and Sorry and Animal Bingo. Stories read, some by me and some by the children, who range in age from 10 years to ten months. Pirate stories told by “Farfar” (their name for Woody—“father’s father” in Swedish). Trips to splash parks and playgrounds and petting farms and the gorgeous York Beach in Maine—and the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear and the much-loved Superstore of Used Books. Diapers (“nappies” to my Irish crew) changed and tears wiped and grievous wounds cured(!) by Dory or Star Wars bandaids and nights of protest (“But it’s not bedtime yet!”) and disputes of nearly international scope about who got the most wiffle-ball pitches from Farfar. What seems like hundreds of hot dogs and PB&J sandwiches and pizzas and birthday cakes and ginormous ice cream cones consumed. 

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Ah, summer with grandchildren. I really didn’t want it to end.

Yet as I write this, I am reminded of summers long ago when I felt a bit more ambivalent about summer’s end.  The start of school looked pretty good then!   So as I ponder (the end of the annual summer visit) and miss (all of them!) and cherish (such precious memories), I also think of all of you moms out there. Some of you also missing grandkids who’ve gone home. Some counting the days ’til school begins (please Lord, soon!)—or wishing your kids were old enough for school! Others celebrating because school has already begun in your world. And then those moms who’ve made that first long journey (long whether an hour away—or thousands of miles) to college. For all of us, those mixed emotions that come with being a mom/grandmom.

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May we always be grateful. May we always savor the memories. And may we always have the necessary strength that comes only from the Father of us all (and the joy as well). Summer, we salute you . . . it’s been oh, so lovely.      

  

Whatever he’s doing . . . Happy Father’s Day!

A little boy is on the phone in a long-ago kitchen with his best friend, Adam. It’s Saturday morning, and Adam is trying to persuade Bjorn to come over and play. “Not today, Adam,” Bjorn says. “My dad’s off this weekend and that means we get to spend the morning with him.” Adam is insistent: “O come on, Bjorn. What are you going to do this morning anyway?” Bjorn: “I don’t know, Adam. But whatever my dad is doing, I’m doing.”

Woody and his two young sons

“Whatever my dad is doing, I’m doing.” The words have echoed in my heart through the years. So many memories of Woody’s Saturday morning adventures with the kids. Sometimes they’d drive up to the rocky coast north of Boston and climb the rocks and collect sea glass and make up imaginary stories of sea kingdoms and castles and fairies and monsters. Or go to the historic Concord bridge and climb around the banks of the river throwing sticks in the water and just “mucking around.” Or, in the winter, sled down the fearsome hill at Tower Park. Or just hang out in the basement with Dad while he cleaned up down there—probably making a game of it somehow. Or at least drinking root beer in the basement and having (OK, I said it) burping contests!

Three Anderson children at the beach

Later, being with his children meant Woody needed to go where they were—to soccer games near and far; to a college apartment 10 hours away to arrive early on a 21st birthday to take a very surprised daughter to breakfast before turning around and driving back in order to teach Sunday School the next day; to many a college mailbox and computer inbox with hilarious cards and encouraging—or entertaining—emails. 

Always, the theme verse in Woody’s head was Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” When the kids were little, he loved carrying them everywhere in a backpack. Of course they quickly outgrew the backpack. But he continued to pursue creative ways to let them know they were beloved and secure. It was meant to be a picture of their Heavenly Father and how HE carries them from here to eternity “between his shoulders.”

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“Whatever he’s doing . . .” Being present with our kids, and being a model of a Godly man (not perfect, you understand—but God-directed) with Godly values, and loving God in ways they watched—all the greatest gifts Woody could give our kids.  All the more important in these parenting days. A much-needed contrast to the “20 minutes of action” philosophy!

And now the next generation is passing it on, living out Deuteronomy 6, each in their own way with their own kids. My greatest joy in this world is watching this happen. So, as Father’s Day approaches, I want to give a shout-out to the dads in my family—Woody, Bjorn, Lars, and Richie. They all do it in such different ways, but each of these dads is living life with his kids in such a way that my grandchildren are getting to know their Father’s love through the love of a human father.

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Another very important shout-out: I feel huge gratitude when I see Christian dads reaching out to those around them who don’t have a “present dad” in their lives.  For a host of different reasons (so many of them heart-wrenching), many kids in our world do not have a dad who is able to be with them and model their Heavenly Father’s love. I also want to give a shout-out to moms who are marvelous conduits of God’s love to their children; many single moms I know are Jesus-in-the-flesh to their children with a grace and power that astounds me. But it is a gift to us all when Christian dads come alongside these kids to do fun “guy things” and model the love of our Father in masculine ways. We need reminders of the stunning love of the Father we all have through Jesus. No matter what. The real reason I can wish every one of you a Happy Father’s Day!

One little bonus: As I was writing this, our son Lars posted this on Instagram: 

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 A great idea for celebrating with the dads in your lives!     

  

Can Prayers Be Only Tears?

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A sweet mom from across the country posts the question on Facebook: “Can prayers be only tears?  Cuz that’s all I’ve got now.” Yes, my friend. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.

I know from experience. My own—past, present, and most likely, future. I also know from the shared tears of many friends. Turns out we’re in good company. Job’s eyes poured out tears to God (Job 16:20). God told King Hezekiah, “I have heard your prayers and seen your tears.” (2 Kings 20:5) The Psalmist said God even kept track of his tossings and tears: “You have kept my tears in your bottle.” (Psalm 56:8 ESV) Sometimes tears are all you have. 

Or even groans.  Or stony, dazed silence. I am taken back to dark moments long ago when I sat up all night in a little apartment staring into space, unable to pray.  Even—for that one night—unable to cry. The pain of loss was just too deep. The feeling of betrayal was paralyzing. “Why, God?  Why? Why? Why?” Actually, to be completely honest, I guess there was one prayer I croaked out: “I just can’t talk to you right now, God.” 

In the long hours of that awful night, three thoughts penetrated my numbness. First, I knew friends were praying for me when I could not. Second, I thought I remembered reading somewhere that Jesus “intercedes for us at the right hand of God.” (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 10:10-12) And I had long loved that verse in Romans that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Wordless tears. Deep groans. Lonely loss. The times when—at least for quirky poetry lovers like me—you remember random lines from Emily Dickinson. “I felt a funeral in my brain . . .”  And “After great pain, a formal feeling comes/The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs . . .” 

For most of us, unlike Emily, at times there simply are no words. But there is God.  He knows our ragged hearts: “How long must I wrestle with my tears and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2) He hears our sighs: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9)   He sits with us in our sorrow. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s plea from Lament for a Son comes to me: “Come and sit with me on my mourning bench.”

HE sits with us. And He does even more. He gives us hope. Sometimes earthly hope. There’s so much ahead that we cannot see. Tears are blinding. But—I have to be honest here—sometimes it’s not earthly hope. But always, always eternal hope. “. . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:18b-19a) Eventually we learn to take hold of that rope offered to us. Like those toddlers holding on to the rope as they follow the teacher, we learn to hold on. And no matter what, He holds the end of that rope.

So, my sweet Facebook friend—and every other friend whose prayers are only tears right now, here is my prayer for you (borrowed from the Apostle Paul): “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

There will come a day when there will be no more tears.  But we’re not there yet. So in the meantime, cry when you need to. Just remember Who is sitting alongside you.          

Watching God at Work … Happy Mother’s Day!

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C.S. Lewis said it best: “We may ignore, but we nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with Him.  He walks everywhere incognito.”  (from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 75) 

Yes, He often walks incognito through our world. But now and then we get glimpses.  I’ve had more than a few “God glimpses” recently—and most of them seem in some way to involve mothers.  

First, there is the flurry of activity among mama birds in our neighborhood. We walked by a picturesque little robin’s nest a couple of days ago. We also have a mama bird (I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe) building a nest in our front entrance. It’s really quite a mess (not at all picturesque like the robin’s). But I have learned that warm and cozy and safe homes don’t need to look Pinterest-worthy.  They just need a mama.  (I don’t dare try to take a picture of this one, BTW, because mama bird is very skittish and protective, and I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship.)

Then there are other mamas through whom I have seen God lately.  Mamas who embrace their children with God’s love even when they are lonely (Dad’s gone again for work?) or chronically sleep-deprived (Whaat? This 7-month-old baby still isn’t sleeping through the night?) or even comforting their children (“It’s going to be all right, honey”) when their own heart is shattered by grief into a million pieces (All right? How can it be all right when the love of my life, the father of these children, is snatched away from me in one tiny terrible moment?)  Through these mamas—and so very many others, I see God. He’s the only explanation.

Last Thursday I had the joy of hearing moms at a local Mom to Mom share their hearts about this past year. These are just snatches of what I heard (composite paraphrase):

  • I’ve recently come to see how different parenting with God is from parenting without Him. Also how different parenting alone is versus sharing the journey with other moms.
  • This is the church being the church. It is my primary source of spiritual nourishment.
  • Mom to Mom has ignited a fire within me that has been simmering for a long time.
  • Here I can be completely myself. I am listened to without judgment. I am reminded that I am not alone. Both my Titus 2 leader and the very practical biblical teaching help me release my burden of perfectionism and trust God with my kids.
  • Moms suffer from a kind of occupational irony. We spend our lives continually caring for others. Who cares for us? This is the one place in my week where I don’t have to prepare anything: coffee, goodies, or childcare.  Here I am not only cared for but also given dignity and confidence in my role as a mom. A rare gift in our culture.
  • In this past year, not much has changed in my circumstances. But a lot has changed in my heart.

Two recurring themes in what I heard: We are cared for. We are loved and accepted—even welcomed—here, just as we are. No matter what. Really. No matter what. And our hearts are changed.

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like grace.  Sounds a lot like God. “Surely the Lord is in this place . . .”  (Genesis 28:16a) Because the deep deep love of Jesus flows through the “Titus 2 Moms” who have themselves received that love, these moms feel loved. And they can pass that love along to their children.

One reason, I would guess, why “the world is crowded with Him.”

So, as Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, a shout out to all of you who love your children, another mom, or even a would-be mom (I have not forgotten) with His love. Through you we see glimpses of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Cross and the Lily

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In the midst of Lent and as Easter approaches, a brief reflection from the past. And for the present. And the future.

I was a craft-challenged mama. Sort of the anti-Martha Stewart. The very words “Next week we’re going to do a simple craft” struck terror in my soul. When it came to “making things,” my fingers just didn’t seem to work. The fingers that could play the piano and write essays and turn book pages by the hour simply froze when the popsicle sticks and glue came out. My heart just wasn’t in it. It’s a good thing Pinterest wasn’t around when my kids were small. I can’t imagine how I would have beat down the false-failure-as-a-mom (please note the word “false”) feelings. 

I was also a tradition-oriented mama. I loved creating family traditions that would make memories for our kids and help them remember the things that really mattered. I believed deeply that children often remember feelings more than facts. I also knew my three children had very different learning styles. One remembered every word ever read to him. Another wanted to build things and take things apart (and put them back together—the only one in our family who could do that!). Our third loved—and remembered–anything you could sing and dance to.

So what do our kids remember about Easter? A cross and a lily. Every Easter morning (well, most Easter mornings), they awoke to something special for breakfast (the kind of “special” that you can manage when running off to teach Sunday School classes before church). And Easter baskets accompanied by an “Easter book” which was a Bible story of some kind. But also—and maybe especially—an Easter lily with a simple white cross in it. I even made the cross—very simply cut out of cardboard and planted in the midst of the lily.

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons. First: Because of Mom to Mom, I know—and love—scores of young moms. Very dedicated moms. Very gifted moms. Very busy moms. They want desperately to make memories for their children. To help them know and treasure in their hearts the things that really matter. They have tons of great ideas for ways to do all that. They do, after all, live with Facebook and Pinterest. And, those glossy magazines illustrating all-you-can-do-with-your-kids are still there at the checkout. And most of them are probably not craft-challenged like me. But these moms also have children. And, as you may have noticed, children can be very time-consuming. And they tend to get sick at holiday seasons.

So I want to commend to you the simple lily and the cross. Not elaborate. Very simple. But they remember it. Also the reading of the Easter story. Again and again. From different age-appropriate Bible story books with different styles and illustrations. Act it out. I still remember our 4-year-old on our back porch instructing his mystified (but learning!) friend in his role in their self-directed little Easter play. (“No, Mark. You are the angel. You say “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”) Build the story with blocks. Use some of their action figures to represent the major players.  Sing it. With “He’s alive!” hand motions if possible. Or maybe dancing.

Because here’s the second reason I’m telling you this. The cross and the lily are, in the end, what matters most about Easter. In any season of life. In the good times and the bad. When you have a houseful of kids or grandkids. And when you don’t. Jesus died. He rose. He lives. All for the love of you and me. And when you “get” that love (and help your kids to), it makes all the difference. As one physically-challenged young mom told me years ago, “Linda, here at Mom to Mom I have understood, for the first time, how much God loves me. And when you get that—really get it—it makes all the difference.”

Yes it does, sweet mom-friend. The cross and the lily. They make all the difference. From here to eternity.

Happy Easter!

    

  

Heart Talk on Hurting Hearts

Photo by Flickr user bored-now

Photo by Flickr user bored-now

It’s February. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m thinking about hearts. But my thoughts at the moment are not the stuff of Hallmark cards or romantic gifts or candlelight dinners—though I actually do love all those things.

This year my thoughts are overtaken by other kinds of hearts. Broken hearts. Anxious hearts. Losing heart. Or more accurately, not losing heart.

It seems a lot of precious people I know are grieving. Deeply grieving. Daughters for their mothers. Parents for their sons. A brave, beautiful, Godly young mother of four for her beloved husband, gone from them all in an instant. Too many broken hearts in my world. And, I would bet, in yours, too.

And so many anxious hearts. Some await the results of the next biopsy. Or they wonder what the next doctor’s appointment will bring. Hope for their husband? Help for their son? Better treatment options for the disease or depression?  Many hearts I know cry out “How long O Lord, how long?” Will this last IVF finally work? Will the adoption ever be finalized? Still others worry about finances and employment (or unemployment) issues. Is there really a job out there to support their family? Or their marriages, breaking apart at the seams though no one else knows. Can this broken place be mended, this marriage restored and made new?

I hope you are still reading after this gloomy start. Because God has been reminding me that hearts are His business. In His Word, He talks about the heart all the time. Over 1000 times, actually, throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted,” we read in Psalm 34:18, “and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He “heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) The Prophet Isaiah, in a passage Jesus later applied to Himself, proclaimed that “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (Isaiah 61:1)

This same God of the brokenhearted knows about anxious hearts as well. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and have sorrow in my heart everyday?” the Psalmist cried out in his angst. (Psalm 13:2) One of my favorite passages is Psalm 94:18-19: “When I said ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

Wait a minute! Joy? Joy? Are you kidding? In the midst of grief and pain and anxiety . . . joy? Not happiness, you understand. Joy. Author Walter Wangerin says it best:

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must, for those who depend on it) disappoint us.” (Reliving the Passion, p. 31)

Maybe, just maybe, this is the key to not losing heart, which is the third thing I’ve been thinking about. How do we help one another not lose heart? It’s certainly at the heart of the mission of Mom to Mom: encouraging moms—all moms (whether with rejoicing hearts, broken hearts, anxious hearts, exhausted hearts—all kinds of hearts) to “not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)  We’re called to “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong; do not fear; your God will come….” (Isaiah 35:3-4) We’re called to walk alongside, listen more than talk, love and pray and cook and care for kids and . . . so that we point them to the only One Who can give real joy.

All so that one day, one day, for all hearts who trust in Him, “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10)

In the meantime, keep looking to Him “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) OK, moms, I know you are weary. Of course you are. It comes with the job.  But you know what I mean by not losing heart…

Planet Nana . . . and Back

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Oh, the joys of “Planet Nana.”  We had all our family under one roof for a few fleeting hours (actually, it was a couple of days, but they flew like hours).  All 18 (!) of us crammed in our little condo.  Ten grandkids aged 3 months through 10 years, four of them in diapers.  Four in Pack’n Plays, six sleeping on our bedroom floor in sleeping bags.  Glorious chaos.

Overlapping visits with various family combinations spanned a period of 2 ½ weeks.  We celebrated Jesus’ birthday with Bengt reading The Story, and we had a birthday cake for Jesus.  Olaf the Swedish Surprise Bear mysteriously dropped off presents.  Once again nobody saw him, but there were those footprints in the snow.  We wished for more snow, but the kids made noble attempts to build snowmen out of mostly ice.    

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We read stories and played Sorry and Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and Christmas Bingo.  Amazing Lego sets were constructed, admired, and deconstructed for travel home.  We ate and laughed and sang and changed countless diapers. The washer and dryer and dishwasher provided constant white noise.  We played trucks and trains and dinosaurs and store and told spooky flashlight stories in the dark closet. 

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We found children in all kinds of places. 

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Two of them go home with a new game: “Hey Evey, you wanna sneak?” was a prelude to finding children in remote spots with guilty little smiles eating marshmallows or cookies or unwrapping candy wrappers.  I still find candy kiss wrappers under the bed, and I smile.

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Gabriella summed it up: “Nana, this was the best Christmas ever.”  Yes, Gabriella, it was.

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And now it is January.  They’ve all gone home—to their homes in Ireland and Virginia and New Hampshire.  The house is cleaner.  And way too quiet.

Yet there is a quiet joy.  A January kind of joy.  I have precious memories.  More than ever.  Many moments stored up to keep and ponder in my heart.  Mary was on to something there (Luke 2:19)  I feel blessed.  Very very blessed.

But there’s more.  I come back from “Planet Nana” to my Real Life, my real January life, with something more.  December was a refresher course on what it takes to be a mom with four kids.  What it takes to be a mom no matter how many kids you have . . . even one will do it.  It’s exhausting.  Completely exhausting.   Also exasperating and hilarious and rewarding (there is the occasional “I love you so much, mommy” or the huge unexpected hug) and lonely and completely chaotic. 

So I come back from Planet Nana with renewed resolve to love and encourage moms.  Any moms.  Especially Mom to Mom moms.  As heroic and amazing the moms I know are, they need our love, support, encouragement and, above all, our prayers.

My January challenge to you:  Love on a mom in your life. Whether you’re in Mom to Mom or not, there is a mom in your life you can reach out to.  Do it.  She’s waiting.

Home for Christmas

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So there it is.  “All hearts come home for Christmas.”  The sign I have so loved for years.  Well, most years.

Last year I almost didn’t put it up. None of our kids or grandkids were “home for Christmas.” Not in our home, that is. They were in their own homes or sharing Christmas with a spouse’s family in their home. All as it should be. A reality of this chapter of life, whether I like it or not.  And so I rationalized about my sign last year: in their hearts, I know they come home for Christmas. More importantly, they know where their True Home is. 

Funny, isn’t it, how Christmas always bring thoughts of home? For some, it’s a flood of warm memories of childhood Christmases: the music, the warmth, the food . . . maybe even the magic.  For others, maybe not such warm thoughts of Christmases past. There’s pain and darkness in the memories. Or maybe there’s just not much there at all.  Christmas thoughts conjure up more of what wasn’t rather than what was.

Or Christmas past elicits aching loss.  The missing of people once around our tables who aren’t there now.  I have on my heart this year many friends whose loss is not a long-ago aching but the searing knife-edge of raw, recent pain. Sons who died tragically and way too young.  Beloved spouses who slipped away sooner than anyone expected.  In the past few weeks alone, several friends of mine have lost their mothers. A different kind of Christmas. Very different.

Which leads me to memories I have of Christmas 2007, which was a very different Christmas for our family.  As my mom struggled valiantly with metastatic breast cancer, we arranged for all our kids and grandkids to gather that year in condos near where Mom was in hospice.  We would have Christmas in Florida so she could be with all her family. 

But God had different plans.  On December 19, just six days before Christmas, she slipped away from us.  She went Home.  In her own way she had prepared us.  When we first moved her into her hospice room, she looked around and commented, “This is a very nice B&B, isn’t it?  I could go right to Heaven from here.” And she did.

I remembered C. S. Lewis: “God refreshes us along the way with some very pleasant inns.  But He does not encourage us to think of them as home.”

So this Christmas all the kids—and all ten (!) grandkids—are coming home to our home at Christmas time.  I’m ecstatic.  Joy comes easily.  But the deeper joy, the kind that lights not only every Christmas but every day of our lives, comes from knowing where True Home is.

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Another sign in our house: “Life brings you to unexpected places.  Love brings us back home.”  That’s it: His love brings us home. His leaving His home to come to ours, nasty and dark and dirty as it can be.  His dying on a cruel cross and then rising from that cold tomb to provide the way to our True Home.

That’s a lot to celebrate, whoever—and whatever—is home this Christmas.  Dorothy Sayers famously observed that “Christians can laugh better because they know the end of the story. “  Surely we have more reason than ever to celebrate Christmas.  Home is always waiting.

Merry Christmas!

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Thanksgiving Light

Darkness

In the last few weeks, the world feels suddenly darker than it was even a month ago.  Truth is, it’s been this dark all along.  But when jumbo jets blow up and suicide bombers shatter marketplaces and the “City of Light” erupts in the dark night of terrorism, we can’t ignore the darkness and go merrily on our way raking leaves and planning holiday menus and making Christmas lists. You have to notice the darkness.

Darkness is cold.  And scary.  It can bring out either the best or the worst in us.  The intensity of it in our world often slams into us from behind.  It surprises us.

But it doesn’t surprise God.  Long before our current terror-crazed world, Jesus observed that “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” (John 3:19)  Jesus knew all about our dark world. That is, in fact, why He entered it with His darkness-shattering Light.

Maybe all this is the reason that I’ve been thinking so much about light lately.  November light.  The shaft of light across the pond in back in the early morning hours.  The brilliant sunshine pouring in our windows even on a cold November day.  The rosy light across the pond as the day is ending, the darkening shadows punctuated with brilliant splashes of color here and there.

All reminders of what I am most thankful for as this Thanksgiving 2015 approaches. I’ve always thought of November as my remembering month, as I’ve written in previous posts.  Of course, remembering leads to ever-growing “thankful lists” in my heart.  This year the list seems longer than ever.  But at the top—right there at the top—is Light.   Jesus.  The Light of the world.

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Light that penetrates even the darkest darkness. Light that floods my soul with hope even as dear friends slip away from here into eternity. Light that promises His presence every step of the way on a foggy path. Light that can dispel even the fear of darkness. I need a lot of help with that, Jesus—dispelling the fear. Overcoming the fear. But you did promise . . .

So, I’m celebrating the Light especially this Thanksgiving. I’m not only thanking Him for bringing Light into our dark world, I’m also asking Him to show me—show us Christians—what it means to reflect His light in times like these. 

Lots to be thankful for! Lots of food for thought this Thanksgiving. And a great way to prepare our hearts for Advent. It’s just around the corner.

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