Posts Tagged ‘family’

Unseen? Or Not?

Unseen

Do you ever feel invisible? As if somehow your children don’t even see you running around the house like the energizer bunny? As if your husband is entirely oblivious to the mighty work you are doing on his behalf? Certainly the world outside your home is quite unaware of the miracle of survival inside your four walls every day. Especially in January.

A common mom dilemma. Perhaps that’s why I was so attracted to the title of the book I’d like to recommend this month: Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed, by Sara Hagerty. This little gem is not a book on parenting, though it is written from a mom’s perspective. Rather it is a call to return to our Maker, to remember that there is One Who sees us even in the most invisible places. One Who actually invites us into those invisible places so that we can see Him better.

In a culture which continually celebrates our achievements—what we can produce—it is all too easy for us as Christ-followers to think that’s what He values most as well. Whatever our workplace—home or office or classroom or even ministry—we feel the need to have something to show for our work. Great kids. An organized home. A shining witness in the office. Ministry successes. After all, doesn’t God want us to perform well for Him?

Not as much, it turns out, as He wants us to hide in Him. Yes, hide. It seems He wants us to know Him even more than He wants us to work for Him. The invisible places are often where we see Him best. Sara illustrates this great truth as she weaves her own life—transition from ministry to a seemingly much more mundane job, years of feeling unseen in the deep valley of infertility, and now her “invisible” role as mother to six kids, four of them adopted from Ethiopia—into what is really a “God story.”

It’s a book for all of us. Whether God is currently “hiding you” in a chaotic household full of kids, a seemingly mundane work cubicle, or in a chapter of caregiving for one you love . . . this hiddenness is not wasted. Or rather, as Sara asserts, maybe it is just the kind of “wastefulness” God desires. Kind of reminds you, as it did the author, of Mary’s lavish “wasting” of luxurious perfume on Jesus’ feet.

As I read this book, I kept hearing ancient words from the book of Genesis ringing in my ears. “I have now seen the God who sees me,” exclaimed Hagar, the lonely slave girl running away from her abusive mistress (Genesis 16:13b). And when we see the God who sees us, it changes everything. As Hagerty puts it, “Being elbow-deep in soapsuds and breakfast sausage looks and feels different when we know God sees us there.” (p. 57)

So how do we get to this point? How do we train our eyes to see Him seeing us? The last couple of chapters of the book were my favorites. They flesh out the principle of what Sara quotes one of her kids saying to her with pleading: “Up, please.” It begins with desire. When we echo Sara’s prayer: “God, I barely know You and I want to know You more. My life is found in connecting to You, not in following what I think I already know about You.” (p. 205) Prayer “laces our hearts to the unseen” (p. 208) and grounds us in what is truly most important.

I hope you will read this book. We all need reminding on a regular basis of what Sara Hagerty writes that she already knew but needed to hear again:

“. . . the story of God and me is my most significant story. His eyes on me and into my life are the source from which I draw everything else. Whether I am folding laundry or speaking from a platform, my exchanges with God are always about His reach for me and my reach in return, again and again. The rest of life is the overflow.” (p. 212)

The overflow. Indeed. And Amen!

Home for Christmas . . . or Not?

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I almost wasn’t brave enough to put it up this year. Do all hearts come home for Christmas? Really? In this season of life, I’ve actually given this question considerable thought. Slowly, I am learning that hearts can come home even when bodies don’t. Good to know.

These days we do not often have our whole family together for Christmas. Our kids are doing what we loved to do when they were young—celebrating Christmas in their own homes, building family traditions and celebrating Christ’s birth in ways that give us great joy. Some years we travel to celebrate with them. Some years we get to celebrate with our nearby New Hampshire kids, and this is happily one of those years.

So why was it extra-hard to put up my favorite Christmas sign this year? There are a number of reasons, I know. But chief among them is what I wrote about in the last post—that we haven’t been able to travel this fall and thus haven’t seen our 8 distant grandchildren for way too long. Too long for this Nana, at least. I miss them deeply. Viscerally. Physically.

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I am also approaching the 10-year anniversary (on December 19) of the Homegoing of my mom. My beloved mom, who was, next to my husband, my best friend. I am taken back to our last days with her in hospice. The song comes back: choking back tears, I remember singing to her “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, ‘Come home. Come home. Ye who are weary, come Home.’” More a grief-strangled croak than a song, really. But I think she heard it. And she did just that. She went Home.

All these thoughts about home. And Home. And suddenly it hits me. What we celebrate at Christmas is actually not a coming home. It’s a leaving Home. The One whose birth we celebrate actually left His Home to come to our earthly home so we could one day go to His. Our true Home. Another song: “Thou didst leave thy throne and thy heavenly home / when thou camest to earth for me . . .”

Such an unlikely story we celebrate at Christmas. I love how Frederick Buechner puts it:

“. . . the child born in the night among the beasts…and nothing is ever the same again. Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of Him again. Once they have seen Him in a stable they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of man. . . . He comes in such a way that we can always turn Him down as we could crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail Him up when He gets too big for that.” (The Hungering Dark, pp. 13–14)

His “wild pursuit of man.” Of us. It’s why Matthew reminded his readers of what the prophet Isaiah had foretold: “. . . and they will call him Immanuel (which means God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23)  Reason to celebrate, I’d say: God is with us. He came quietly. He left in both alarming violence and stunning triumph. He went Home.

And now He not only beckons us Home—eventually—He also reminds us, as He did His puzzled band of disciples as He ascended into Heaven: “. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

God with us. Always. Even to the very end of the age, our age. Surely reason to celebrate. No matter what. No matter where. Home. Or not. Because Home is waiting.

As C.S. Lewis observed, “God refreshes us along the way with some very pleasant inns. But He does not encourage us to think of them as Home.”

So, as we celebrate His leaving Home and ultimately beckoning us Home, from my “pleasant inn” to yours: Merry Christmas!

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Nineteen at Nana’s: Lessons Learned from My Grandchildren

Those lazy, hazy days of summer. Where did we get that phrase anyway? All I knew was that whoever coined it was definitely not a mom. But a quick Google inquiry tells me the words are from a Nat King Cole song title. So definitely not a mom. But the title also includes one more word. Key for moms: “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.” So the one word is right: crazy. Who knew?

Moms, of course. And, I might add, Nanas. After a fabulous four weeks of three-generational fun, one in Virginia, where four of our grandkids live, and three in our own home, with various family groups coming and going, I am more certain than ever. Lazy, no way! Crazy? Absolutely! For four wonderful days, we were all together: nineteen at Nana’s. Just for the record, Nana and Farfar (as the kids call Woody; it’s Swedish for “Father’s Father) have a small condo. Fortunately, its three levels do stretch a bit when needed. But still, nineteen, with 11 kids age 11 and under (including one baby and two toddlers) is, well, nineteen. Here are a few lessons I learned from my grandkids. Perhaps one or two will come in handy in your summer.

  • Having fun times 19 can be chaotic . . .  but it is well worth it!Collage-1Andersons2017
  • Whatever you do, always remember to eat. And eat. And eat. Collage-2
  • Sometimes you even need to sneak an extra snack. Collage-3
  • Siblings care for each other—or even borrow a cousin or two. Collage-4
  • Be sure you travel with friends . . . or find some. Collage-5a
  • Play outside as much as you can. Find water whenever possible. Collage-6
  • But sometimes, when it rains, you have to make your own inside fun.  Collage-7
  • Dress for fun. A little pizzazz never hurts!  Collage-8
  • If you are a Nana, you need to play on the floor. . . But don’t forget short breaks on the couch.  Collage-9
  • No matter how creative and flexible and fun you try to be, some days are just . . . well, you know.  Collage-10

So it’s all over now. Families have gone home to face the re-entry process (“So what are we going to do today? Are we going anywhere? Why is it always raining where we live?) You know the drill.

And Nana? She’s sitting in a ridiculously neat house that is way too quiet and lonely. But now there are even more memories in the walls. And in many hearts. Nineteen, I hope.

And in the quiet, a friend just sent me a link which reminded me of a long-favorite song, Stuart Townend’s “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” Maybe you need to play it at this point in the summer too, whether you have an empty house or a way-too-full house eagerly awaiting . . . Well, you know “Even so, come quickly school. Come quickly.”

Happy last few days of summer!       

   

Then Came February

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So it’s February. Actually, February 9 as I write this. And—you guessed it!—it’s a Snow Day. All the schools in the area are closed. In fact, nearly everything is closed today due to “heavy bands of snow” and potential blizzard condition whiteouts in some (unpredictable) spots and very cold temperatures combined with the 8-14” forecast.

I’m sitting here by my fire reflecting on all the mixed emotions I’ve always felt about snow days. First of all, I wish they didn’t happen on Mom to Mom days; I hate missing Mom to Mom. But then, there is the excitement and beauty of a good old-fashioned New England Nor’easter. I remember the glorious excitement of kids jumping up and down with joy when they see their school on the TV cancellation list. We’d celebrate with pancakes or French toast and hot chocolate. Followed by layers and layers of snow apparel to prepare for a day of sledding and

snowmen and snow forts and gigantic snowball fights and general snow bliss.

And then—seemingly only 5 minutes later—someone (or several someones) tromping in with half the snowfall attached and trailing through the house to get a drink/go to the bathroom/need a snack/have to warm up/complain about sibling injustice . . . You know the drill. Let me just tell you: A mother never forgets what it takes to undress a snowsuit-clad toddler for the bathroom break that seems to occur every few minutes. And then get them dressed for the Arctic all over again. Or what the whole house smells like at the end of the day with wet mittens and scarves and snow jackets and pants and boots draped absolutely everywhere. Unless you happen to have (sigh) a mudroom the size of a gym. Still, I miss those days.

At this point I’m guessing some of you are nodding in recognition of all I’m describing. Others are probably gloating and thanking God you don’t live in The Land of Snowsuits. And others may be a bit envious. Your kids would love to play in the snow.

Somehow this snow day feels like a microcosm of the mixed feelings February generates. For those of us who love the snow (or at least love looking at it out the window if we don’t have to go anywhere or have kids with very large bladders who love being cold and playing out in the snow all day without needing breaks at 15-minute intervals), let me say it: It IS beautiful. And February seems to be the month that brings the most snow drama—at least here in New England.

February also brings Valentine’s Day. I for one have always loved Valentine’s Day. I liked making Valentine boxes and exchanging valentines in school. Especially if there was candy involved. Years later I loved the great “excuse” for romantic dinners. And more candy. I especially loved making Valentine cookies (I did do that some years—right, kids?) and having special Family Valentine’s Dinners. And now I love sending Valentine boxes to our 11 distant grandchildren.

But not everyone loves Valentine’s Day. For some it is most dreaded or best ignored. Maybe it’s long ago hurt and scarring associated with this day or it could be recent loss and pain—or maybe a lifetime of feeling alone more than ever at this time. This is a hard time—and February is a hard month—for many.

So it is that as I sit here looking out at the beautiful snow and feeling a strange mixture of delight and melancholy in the memories of many years of February, I find myself praying for all the moms I know. For joyful fun in the snow (or joyful gloating in the sand). For patience and endurance when the Snow Days (or any days) get long and lonely. And for healing of many hurting hearts in this February. Psalm 34:18 keeps coming to mind: “The Lord is very close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

For all of us, a reminder that both snow and hearts bring to mind our loving God. The One Who inhabits “the storehouses of the snow” (Job 38:22). The One Who loved us enough to die for us, that our sins, as bright and deep as scarlet, might be “as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And The One Who also “loves us with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

An old hymn comes to mind: “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.” Quiet rest? Are you kidding? For moms? In the heart of God, yes. Yes. Yes.

Feel loved this February, in the snow or not. Because you are.

What Song Shall We Sing This Thanksgiving?

“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”  In our family, we’re singing a new song this Thanksgiving. Woody and I have just welcomed into the world our 11th grandchild, Bjorn and Abby their third son. Now we are nineteen!  I’d like to introduce Lars Wheeler Anderson and his very grateful little family:

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God gives great gifts, and we are overflowing with gratitude.  It’s easy to sing a song of Thanksgiving just now.

But thanksgiving doesn’t always come so easily.  Especially if we see the giving of thanks as dependent on particular circumstances in our lives. The interesting thing is that God calls us to more: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) In everything . . .  How in the world do we do that? How in this world do we do that?

At this time in America when our country is election-weary and future-wary and fractured down the middle in so many places, how do we do that? It’s hard for Thanksgiving songs to be heard amidst the chaos. It is, after all, an American holiday. And yes, more than a few people are finding their thanks-giving voices more than a little bit strained.

But the question becomes much more personal for so many people I know and love—and pray for every day. How do we give thanks amidst deep personal loss, terribly sick children, scary financial stresses . . . you know the list goes on and on.  But still, we are called to give thanks.

Maybe sometimes it’s easier to sing it. I always think of Martin Luther’s friend’s advice to Luther amidst struggles with depression: “Let’s sing the Psalms, Martin.  Let’s sing the Psalms.” 

So what song shall we sing this Thanksgiving? I offer you my favorite. A favorite because it is so very real. It reflects the good times of life as well as the bad and the sad. But I love it mostly because it reminds us of the true basis of our gratitude. And above all, the One we should thank every day of our lives. It’s an old Swedish hymn, one we sang at the Fall funerals of both of Woody’s parents. One that sings in my heart often.

See the words below.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link.

1. Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side.

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and dreary fall.

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul.

2. Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply.

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair.

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare.

3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain.

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity.

So there you have it: 24 reasons to give thanks.  In the good times and the bad. In a word: Our Eternal God . . . with His Everlasting arms underneath. Always. Forever.

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I’d like to leave you with a picture. It’s a picture that embodies much of my heart this Thanksgiving. It includes so much that I am thanking God for at this time of year. The pilgrims on the table were Woody’s mom’s. They joined our every Thanksgiving celebrated with her. The chairs in the background were my mom’s. I sat in them and admired them each time I visited with her in her little Florida condo; and when she moved to hospice, they were still there . . ., and now here. I love the view out our window. And how I cherish the family God has so graciously given us! Us . . . the ones who once wondered whether we would ever have children!

A thanksgiving challenge for you: Take a picture of things for which you are thankful. Make a list. Sing a song. Maybe sing a new song . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!    

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!     

  

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!

    

  

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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