Love You Forever

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Life is changing.  Quickly.  I always knew it would.

These boys.  They don’t stay little long.

Quiet bedtime routines are rare in a house of 3 boys.  Bedtime used to be such a sweet, soothing time.  It is no longer.  They are older, bigger, rougher.  But their hearts are still little, soft, and gentle.

I hear the loud footsteps before I see the boys.  Giggling, chasing each other down the hall, as they tug back and forth their towel.    Another sings and splashes loudly his favorite Christmas carol, with words he feels are a better fit.  The volume is loud.  Boys are loud.  Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and thank God they are healthy enough to be this loud, that I even have them at all.

Retreating quietly down the steps, I leave them to their wild play.  I need to retreat from the chaos, steal a few minutes of peaceful calm so I can be gentle with them at their heart’s most tender time of the day.

I glance around the kitchen.  It’s a mess.  It’s ok.  Deep breath.  Banging, thumping, squeals echoing down the stairs.  It’s time to reign them back in.

Slowly walking up the steps, I can hear them.  “Here she comes, hurry.”  Whizzes of little boys throwing dirty clothes into the basket, running to brush teeth, and leaping into bed.  As I round the corner, my littlest has a beaming smile.  He’s 4 but thinks he’s 9.

“Here’s my story.”  He hands it to me.  My shoulders drop as I reach for this old familiar book.  This book that I received as a gift while pregnant with Jacob.  This book that had my husband in complete sobs the first time he read it to our child.

Love You Forever

“No, Mom, that book makes me cry.”  My eyes find his.  This boy who wants to grow up yet doesn’t.  This boy who still shares every tiny detail of his life with me.

“I know, it makes me cry too.”

Andrew is curled up in my lap like he does every night for his story.  Zachary is nestled close into my side.  And Jacob is across the room on his own bed with his own book in hand.

We read the account of this new baby and this mother who holds him and sings this song to him, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”  I use the same sing-song voice I’ve used every time I’ve ever read this book.  I swayed back and forth with Andrew in my lap like I’ve swayed my boys every time I’ve ever read this story.

We read the account of when the boy turned 2 and he drove his mama crazy.  The older ones laughed, “Just like Andrew!” And Jacob gently lays his book aside and makes his way gradually closer.

Then we read when the boy was nine and Jacob shouted, “Just like me!”  That mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  And Jacob moved closer.  Now he is perched on the bunk bed ladder peering down at us reading beneath him.

Then he was a teenager.  Zachary chuckled at his strange friends and strange clothes.  They no longer could see themselves in the story.  But I could.  And that mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Just like she always did.

The room was very quiet now as all 3 boys listened closely.  They listened as the teenager grew into a man and moved away.  We read how she picked up that grown man and rocked him back and forth.  Andrew piped up, “Hey, he’s not a baby anymore.  He’s a big man!”

Jacob was quiet.  His face serious as he studied the picture of that mama, old and gray, rocking her great big boy.

Then she got sick and she needed her boy to take care of her.  And he did what she had always done for him.  He rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

And he carried the tradition on with his new baby daughter.

Even the smallest of traditions make a lasting impression. That mama sang a simple song as she rocked her baby.  Yet it developed into so much more.

Traditions provide bonding opportunities.  In a world that is chaotic and distracted, family traditions provide stability, acceptance, belonging.  And love.

More than anything our little ones need to know they are loved.

And my 9-year-old boy, the one who is so much like I was as a child, this boy who in the last year has decided he doesn’t need to be read to, climbed into his bed and called out to me, “Hey mom, can you start reading to me every night again?  I mean, I still like just reading to myself, but can you start reading to me again?”

“Of course.  It’s always been my favorite thing to do with you.”

Traditions form a tight grip.

A Father’s Christmas Blessing

Years ago my sister introduced me to their friends, the Ropers.  Kathryn was one of the first people who shared her knowledge of all things health and opened my eyes to a world that was foreign to me at the time.  Through the years I have learned much from this family through stories my sister shares with me.  They are a family that lives out the gospel, lives intentionally with their children, and is surrounded by people who love and respect them for the way they live their lives.

Today I’m sharing with you the words of Tracy Roper as he shares a heartfelt Christmas tradition in their family.

I can’t wait to begin this tradition in our own family this year.  I can’t imagine a more special gift to receive.

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“Many years ago, I was convicted that there was so much that I needed to do as a Father and as the spiritual leader of my home about being intentional with my words, my actions, my time, my resources, etc.  Pulling from my own life and the lack of involvement or any positive influence from my father really led me to a place where I knew I could not leave the way my children viewed themselves and their place in our family and in this world to chance. 

So many children grow up and never reach their full potential of what God truly wants them to be.  I blame most of that on the father of the family and his lack of intentionality when it comes to, what I call, “Giving a blessing to your children.”    A mom can try to do this, but to a child who does not receive this from their father, walks through their life feeling like something is missing. 

I also believe that a child’s first image of our Heavenly Father comes from how they view their own earthly father.  It was because of all of this that I began many years ago writing a blessing to each of my children for them to read and to have so that they could have in writing how I felt about them and what traits I saw in them that I felt were wonderful. 

The most important thing that I think that is in that letter was the statement that I always make sure is in the letter – I make sure that they have in their blessing every time this statement, “ If I had the chance to choose you from millions and millions of children, I would choose you every time – God blessed me with the gift of you and I would not change anything about you – God gave me the desire of my heart when he gave me you.”  Again, I try to say this in some form or another.  Words are powerful and then to back those words up with behaviors that prove that, it is unbelievable!

 The way that I do this every year is that I choose a very special type of parchment paper and a special pen – I hand write every letter.  After writing the letter, I place it on the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve with their name on the letter.  On Christmas day, I pull each child off to themselves and I read the letter to them.  Then Kathryn places each of their letters in their box where she keeps their special things.

 

Words that come to mind when I think of this and other things are:

  1. Intentional
  2. Purposeful
  3. Priority
  4. Vision
  5. Investment
  6. Development

 

I never want to leave the development of my children to chance.  God certainly does not do that with me, so why would I do that to my children?  This has been a powerful event in my children’s lives.  It is hard to see the results of this investment, but I am convinced that it has and will continue to make a difference in my children’s trajectory in their potential.”

 

The Gift of the Gift

Keeping materialism at a minimum during Christmas requires intentionality. Less focus on the gifts, more focus on the true meaning requires work.

The first step when trying to make Christmas less about the gifts is to examine what type of gifts are being given.  In the past we bought gifts based simply on what a person would like.  Or we would try anyway.  Often this would end in a frustrating shopping pursuit that ended with money spent on an item that wasn’t even needed in order to check a box.  The gift held little, if any, meaning or significance.  BUT we could mark that person off the list.

Christmas rolled around, and we had a mountain of gifts under our tree.  Piles upon piles of packages.  Inside those packages were sweaters that would never be worn, another pair of pajamas to add to an already full pajama drawer, and another toy to be placed in a closet.  January rolled around, the excitement was gone, and reality set in.  We spent a lot of money, with little to truly show for it.

Several years ago we purchased Steve’s parents a gift card to bedandbreakfast.com.  5 years later they continue to talk about that gift with us.  That gift allowed them to do something together, create memories, experience life together.  When Christmas was over they didn’t hide the gift in a drawer.  Instead, they were able to do something that drew them closer to each other.  It was a gift that we loved giving.  More importantly, it was also the first time we realized that a gift could be a stepping stone for our family to continue on the path of a less materialistic Christmas.  Another year my parents purchased the boys skiing lessons rather than a more traditional gift.  I can honestly say none of my boys can remember a toy or gift they have received at Christmas (other than the Wii), yet they still, 3 years later, remember that Nanny gave them skiing lessons.  Because it was a gift experienced.  It engraved a memory into their little hearts and minds.  So much more meaningful than a toy they outgrew.

Each year since then, we have tried to spend less money while giving gifts that held more meaning.  One year we had our blog printed into a book for each of the grandparents.  My favorite website for creating thoughtful photo gifts is blurb.

Last year we gave my favorite gift to the grandparents, which will actually be a treasure to them and my children for years to come.  Grandmother’s Memories: To Her Grandchild.  We also bought for the granddads the Grandpa version.  This book asks questions about their past and life that grandchildren might not know.  They are given a glimpse into the life of their grandparents.  Through this book, they hear stories never told.  Through this book they will be connected a little closer to their family by sharing in their life memories with them.  We can’t wait for the day we receive these back.

This year our gift giving list is smaller than ever.  Knowing we have a little boy staying with us who has no idea what love looks like, gives us a grand reason to expound on what Christmas is really about while making smaller what the world makes so big.  The gifts.  The gift we will accentuate will be love.

The majority of gifts making the cut this year hold meaning and significance.  It’s either hand-made or purchased with thought given to significance, or an experience gift that we can do together to create lasting memories.

This year we will:

  • give gifts that hold meaning
  • give gifts that we created ourself
  • give gifts to support a cause or someone we love
  • give gifts that will encourage or build up a loved one
  • give gifts we can pay cash for
  • give gifts that will not overshadow the biggest gift of all-our Savior

This year we will not:

  • buy gifts simply to buy gifts
  • buy gifts in order to check someone off a list
  • give gifts that hold no value or significance
  • purchase items that will make January painful for us
  • spend our December focusing so much on shopping that we lose the time and energy to connect with what is right in front of us

With less pressure around gift giving, we can experience a much richer Christmas season.  With less focus on the gifts, we can give ourselves a true gift.   A simpler Christmas.  A less frenzied season.  An uncomplicated to do list.  More opportunities to create memories.  More time at home, less time in the stores.  Joy and satisfaction in knowing our family captured the essence of Christmas this year.

All I want for Christmas

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year.  I love everything about it….the music, the smells, the traditions, the memories, the foods, the meaning, everything.  I stretch Christmas as far as I can.  I’m not one to wait until after Thanksgiving to get into the spirit, and not because I’m rushing past Thanksgiving, but because, for me, they go hand in hand.    For both holidays I’m simply thankful.

Thankfulness is something I desperately want to create in the hearts of my children.  One of the difficult aspects of creating thankful hearts at Christmas is the materialism and commercialism which surrounds us this time of year.

I want my children to understand what it is we are celebrating at Christmas and realize it is about much more than gifts and that the holiday isn’t about them.  It’s about the birth of a Savior.  And it’s about how we can show His love to others.

Each year I find I have to work harder and harder to keep the true meaning of Christmas as the focal point of our festivities.  Each year I try coming up with a new system for raising grateful children who aren’t giving me gift lists a mile long of what they want for Christmas.  Each year I find myself saying things like, “Remember Christmas isn’t about gifts.”  Or “Remember, Christmas is a time we can show love to others and bless other people.”

My childhood Christmas memories are filled with traditions, memories, and moments with my family.  I honestly can’t tell you any of the gifts I received at Christmas.  I’m sure there were some great ones.  But that isn’t what I loved about Christmas.  I loved knowing that I would get some great quality time in with my family.  I loved anticipating the traditions that would take place each year.  I loved the decorations.  I loved playing outside, running laps around the house with my sisters, while my dad spent half the day on a ladder stapling big, fat, colored lights to our roof. I loved leaving my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve and hearing my dad talk about Santa’s sleigh being spotted, so we needed to hurry home to bed.

Rarely do gifts create lifelong, lasting memories that make an impact such as time, experiences, and moments.

This year God called our family to something we’ve never done before.  During the Christmas season we will be hosting an orphan from Latvia for 4 weeks.  The last few weeks have been very busy as we are preparing to have Viktors in our home.  Because we have spent so much time focusing on someone other than ourselves, we’ve had no time to even discuss the material aspects of Christmas.

When the boys got home from school, they were ecstatic to see some of our Christmas decorations were displayed.  In all their giddiness, I never heard them mention a single gift or want.  I heard things like, “Oh I can’t wait until the night we get to watch Christmas movies and drink hot chocolate.”  “I can’t wait to see the ornaments on the tree.”  “How long until we can open the first Advent door?”

But I kept waiting.  I just knew at any moment, it would begin.  We would begin talking about the gifts, the wants.  Jacob said, “I hope Santa puts a note in the tree that tells us to look in a different spot for something.”

“Will you be disappointed if he does that and it’s something rather small?”

“Mom!  Of course not!  I just like the note part.  In Little House on the Prairie, when Laura, Mary, and Cary received a cup, a penny, a heart-shaped cake, and a candy cane, Laura felt like they were the luckiest girls in the world.”

Zachary, overhearing our conversation, piped in, “Do orphans get Christmas presents?”

As I was forming my answer to say something about how we will not be getting many presents this year and we need to be sensitive to this child who comes from a country where materialism isn’t rampant and how he doesn’t likely receive anything for Christmas, Zachary’s eyes lit up as he exclaimed, “We can give him presents!”

Often kids become focused on what they want because we adults are putting the focus there for them.  We are saying things like, “So what are you asking for for Christmas this year?”  We are training their minds to focus on themselves by constantly asking what it is they want.  I’ve tried to throw away the toy magazines that flood the mailbox this time of year so the boys can’t become fascinated with having to have something they didn’t even know existed 5 minutes prior.

So I want to try something new this year.  I want to not ask my kids what they want for Christmas.  I want to not ask for a list from them.  I want to spend the season talking about what we are doing to bless others.  How we are serving others.  How we are showing God’s love.

I realize they will still be asked what they want by other people.  Or they will themselves begin thinking of what it is they want.  But as parents and grandparents, we have an opportunity to guide their thoughts.

I want to enjoy the season by not weighing us down with Christmas spending, taking some of the joy away from the moments.

I want our Latvian orphan, Viktors, to experience life with us, to feel loved, and not be confused that love comes from a show of material gifts.

When December 26th rolls around, I want to wake up satisfied that we showed love, we shared love, we gave freely, and we celebrated our Savior.  I don’t want to wake up to a house full of toys that will be abandoned in a month.  I don’t want to wake up to a feeling of guilt over money spent on things we didn’t really need that could have been used to bless someone else.

I want to wake up to a house full of little hearts that grew bigger this Christmas.  Little hearts that got the message.  Little hearts that saw what was most important.  Little hearts that focused on the unseen, not the seen.

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Just Like My Kids

I wonder how many times I’ve heard my boys say, “When I grow up, I want to be…”  The answers change as they age and interests change.  I’ve always engaged in the fun speculation of what their lives may look like one day.

Listening to my 2 older boys discussing life plans, it hit me.  When I grow up, I want to be like my kids.  I want to be like them.

I want:

  • to have a seemingly blind faith
  • to see the innate good in a person-to be able to look past our preconceived notions of a person and to see the good that is within them.
  • to skip and hop as I go about my day because I’m not weighed down by the worry out to steal my joy and my moments
  • to laugh more, to take life less seriously, to lighten up
  • to be ok with good enough and strive less for unattainable perfection
  • to care less about the clock and more about the moment
  • to have an unguarded heart that cares less about the potential hurt and more about loving
  • to forgive in an instant, to let go of hurts, to keep no record of wrongs, to truly understand how to forgive from the heart
  • to say I’m sorry quickly…and mean it sincerely
  • to be a peacemaker, to work to help friends in conflict with each other
  • to give away my money freely because I haven’t come to believe in the lie that my security is tied to it-even if it means giving away the entire $20 received as a birthday gift just to see joy on the other person’s face
  • to see, really see, the beauty in nature-to shriek at the sight of the sunrise rather than rushing by assuming we will see another like it
  • to be captivated by the wind, how it blows through the trees, to stop and watch a caterpillar as if I’ve never seen it
  • to ponder the awesomeness of God, how He created the birds to fly, how He created the ocean waves to tumble
  • to ask a million questions a day because I’m truly in the moments trying to piece them all together
  • to continue to be shocked by immorality, not numbed by a desensitized culture

You see, in a way, kids have a lot of it figured out.  They just don’t realize it.  They strive to be like us.  I want to strive to be like them.

The next time my boys tell me what they want to be when they grow up, I will redirect them back to the heart.  Instead of focusing on what profession they will have or how many children they will have, we will discuss the matters of the heart.  We will focus on the areas that come naturally to them now and show them the beauty of those traits as an adult.  We will discuss how their hearts hold so much of what we adults need and have lost.

But we can get it back.  We can grow up to be like our kids.

Memories on Canvas

 

A close 2nd to memory making is memory reflecting.  Watching their expression as they study a picture  is a sweet moment in itself.  A blank expression transformed as the mind recalls the events, the moments, the feelings.  Lines soften, brows raise, smiles break through.

Experiences tie us together.  Time together draws us closer.  When we spend time reflecting on family memories and stories, we are deepening that connection.  We are aiding our children in recalling the times in our lives that create our story.  Our family story.  It’s a gift we can give our children.

A special place for our family is the beach.  Any beach really.  Honestly, I could sit on the sand for days on end mesmerized by the awesomeness of the sea.  The power.  The beauty.  The serenity.  The mystery.  Glimpses of our Father.

Over the summer the grandparents gave a great gift to our family.  They invested time in our kids for a week.  A week of just boys and grandparents.  A week that I had alone for the first time ever in 9 years.  The memories the boys walked away with are priceless.  The rest I was able to get was priceless.  It was an incredible gift.

During that time I tried to catch up on our scrapbooks and framing pictures.  I came across some stunning beach shots from our vacations that I felt needed to be displayed in our house.  We should be relishing in these memories.  Reminding ourselves of the times we’ve been given together, the fun we’ve had, the bonds that have formed.

So I ordered 4 beach shots in 8×10 size.  Until recently they sat in my office.  I wanted to display them simply, yet beautifully.  I’ve always loved canvas art and canvas prints.  So I thought I would give it a shot with these beach pictures.

This was the easiest project I’ve ever done.  I got 8×10 canvases.  I coated the canvas with Mod Podge (a staple in my home).  Next I lay the picture right on top of the Mod Podge covered canvas.  I gently used a cloth to smooth the picture on.  Then I turned it upside down so I could press the back of the canvas to be sure the glue would adhere evenly to the picture.  I let it sit upside down for about 30 minutes.  I took the canvas picture outside and sprayed it with Clear Acrylic Sealer in a Matte Finish.  The End.  That easy.

Total time for 4 8×10 canvas pictures not including drying time: 15 minutes.

Total cost for all 4:  $30

You could even paint the edges of your canvas.  My kitchen is white, so I liked the white edges.

I love filling our home with meaningful displays from our lives.

Let’s Chat

I closed the door on 2 of my soon to be sleeping boys and snuck down the hall to have some alone time with my oldest.  He was leaning against my bed looking at a magazine on my nightstand.  He didn’t notice me coming around the corner, and I couldn’t help noticing how much taller he seemed.  Sensing my presence, he turned towards the door where I was standing.  The soft lamp light reflected off his glistening eyes.  His best efforts couldn’t disguise the crack in his voice as he began to talk.

“Why are some kids orphans?  Did their parents die?  Or did they just not want them?”

The stress of the day that caused the tension to develop  in my body simply fell away in that moment.  I felt my body soften as I watched my boy look into the eyes of a child who doesn’t feel loved.

“Each orphan has a different story.  Some had parents who died, some had parents abandon them, some had parents who hurt them, there is a different story for everyone.  It’s very, very sad.”

I reached down and hugged him so tightly. “Some have never felt a hug like this.  Or had someone look them in the eyes and tell them they are special in God’s eyes and they are loved.”

His voice still shaky, he said, “If we had an orphan in our home, I would hug him all the time.”

“I know you would.  I love that about you.  Can I lay with you for a few minutes so we can just talk?”

“Sure.”  He never hesitates.  This boy is quiet.  He will rarely fight to be heard.  He always takes the backseat to his brothers.  For him it is pointless to fight to be heard.  But he has a lot to say.  And so he began.  I said few words back.  I simply lay next to him.  I would have laid in silence if that is what he wanted.  But he had a lot to say.  He told me about school, his friends, who has a crush on who, who gets along with who.  He talked about what it felt like to pitch in his baseball game.  He simply talked.  I simply listened, nodded, affirmed.

I have underestimated the power of simply being with my children.  Simply being physically present and completely undistracted with them.

It only took about 15 minutes.  A 9-year-old can say a lot in 15 minutes.  Those 15 minutes further strengthened our relationship, built up the trust and openness.  It was a time for him to be heard.  It was a time for him to share his heart in an easy and non-threatening environment.  A time that he wasn’t listening to demands or being corrected for something or asked to do something.

We need these times.  We need to store up as many as we can.  Because times will come when the relationship feels rocky, when they are going through emotional and physical changes that they can’t understand.  We need these times to fall back on.  We need these times to create the bonds, to form a strong connection, to build trust.  We need them now, before the rocky times arrive.  It’s much harder to build the relationship in the midst of struggles.

That time with my son reminded me of what is in his heart.  Compassion is in that kid’s heart.  He deeply cares for others, which causes him intense pain at times.  This helps me to realize in those times when I question why he could do what he just did, that his heart goes deep.  And sometimes that 9-year-old tries to protect that heart.  When he allows me in, I have a chance to keep that heart soft and let him know it’s all ok.

We all want someone to care enough to listen to what we have to say.