“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” Mother Teresa
Lost in my thoughts, I moved from counter to table and table to counter as I was hurrying to get dinner on the table. I wasn’t mad or happy. I was simply in a state of action. Dinner. I came to a complete halt when I noticed my 3-year-old intensely watching my every move. My fast, hurried, frazzled moves. Moves that sent a message of stress rather than control. Our eyes locked momentarily. I tried to pull away, but I couldn’t. His look was so intense I had to say something. “What is it?”
“Mommy, are you happy or mad?”
“I’m happy. Why?”
“Then why is your face doing this?” He made a most serious facial expression that I must say was one fine mad face.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not mad at all. I was just busy making dinner. I’m very happy.”
His shoulders relaxed, his face broke out into a smile that covered his face, and he hugged me.
He needed to know I was happy. His sense of security seemed to be tied to the state of my emotions.
Later the same night, I was in the same state of preparation for bedtime. Clothes were being gathered for the morning, rooms tidied, children prepped for bed. This time it was my 7-year-old.
“Mom, are you mad about something?”
“No, honey, why would you think I’m mad.”
“Because your face looks mad. I wondered if I had done something to make you mad.”
“Not at all. Sometimes I guess I just am not really thinking of anything and my relaxed facial expression just might not look happy. But I am!”
I reflected on their comments later that evening. I thought about what a smile does to me. When a stranger shoots me a little smile, my spirit is immediately lifted. When my children walk in the door with a smile on their face, my heart is warmed. A smile encourages us. A smile sends a message to our children of love and acceptance. A smile says ‘I am pleased with you’. A smile says ‘You can do this’. A smile says ‘I’m on your side’. A smile carries a thousand messages.
If our little ones could write us a little message, would it go something like this…
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m watching you all the time. Even when you don’t notice. I love to study your facial expressions. What things make you mad and what things make you happy. I love when you are happy. I love to see you smile at me. When you are smiling, I feel safe. I can relax when I see you smile because I know you have it all under control. When you smile I know you are pleased with me.
I can’t control my emotions very well, and I have tantrums that embarrass you. Please forgive me. I’m a child in training. Model to me how to control my emotions. If you yell at me, I might think that is how I am to handle my frustrations with you.
You are the center of my world. My comfort comes from you and I desperately want to make you happy. I will make so many mistakes every single day. Please be patient with me. I really want to do what is right, but I need help in figuring it out. Please speak gently with me. It scares me when you yell.
And please don’t ever give up on me. Even when you think I don’t want you. I will always want you and need you.
When you smile at me and speak with a gentle voice, I feel loved by you. I love you.
Smile even when you don’t feel like it. It will make you feel better. And the little ones watching too.
(My mom making fall arrangements with my oldest son in 2008)
Eager to spread my wings and fly, I graduated my senior year of high school 6 months early in December of 1994. My high school sweetheart, now my husband, graduated the prior June, and I was ready to join him in “the real world”. My original plan was to become a lawyer, so I figured I needed a head start in order to make it through 7 years of school. I had teachers who strongly advised me against this plan. My mom, however, never did. She must have seen the determination in my eyes. She must have known that with my stubbornness and hard head, she would likely not convince me otherwise. After all, I was 17, fully capable of knowing what was best for me. Maybe she decided since it wasn’t a decision that jeopardized my safety or well-being, then our relationship was more important. Maybe she believed it actually was the best thing for me.
I don’t know all that went through her mind the day I shared my idea with her. I do know that I never considered the fact that I deprived her of having me home the last half of what should have been my senior year. She watched me play high school soccer and serve as junior class president, planning the senior class prom. Was she sad that I wouldn’t be home to go to my own senior prom or run for senior class president? Were these things important to her? Or did she see that I was chasing something bigger than prom dresses and soccer victories?
Did I never consider the effects on my mom of me cutting high school short and heading off to college because she never showed me anything but encouragement and support? She didn’t discuss with me her feelings of her first-born leaving home, for which I’m grateful. It would have been a burden I was not ready to carry.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity over a phase of life ending for her, my mom celebrated whole-heartedly with me a new, exciting phase that was on the horizon. We shopped, we decorated, we planned, and we stayed busy.
I think about the day that I will drive my boys to college, Lord willing. I hope to follow my mom’s example when it’s my turn to send my boys off into the world. I will show them my love with joy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. Because I will remember that it is hard for them too.
We spent the fall before I was to leave in January preparing for the move. She made sure to find all the little touches of home I didn’t even know I would need. But she knew. Because moms just know.
Leaving home earlier than most, I believed that I felt homesick more than most. I was horribly, horribly homesick my first semester. I didn’t quit, though I wanted to. The safety, comfort, and familiarity of my parents’ home seemed to beckon me back. How I missed home.
Relief came with summer break. I had a new appreciation for all that my parents had done for me. I quickly discovered that being on my own wasn’t easy. In no time at all, however, it was time to do it all over again. Fall was near.
I’ll never forget the first fall weekend I came back home for a visit. Windows down, I drove as fast as my little RX7 would take me.
The moment I entered the door, the warmth of home enveloped me. It was all so familiar. So comforting. So wrapped in love. The smell of fresh air throughout the house from mom opening up all the windows, filling the rooms with the new coolness. The dimly lit house radiated a warm glow. Scents of pumpkin and cinnamon drifted throughout from candles she had burning in every room. Little candy dishes could be found from room to room inviting you to take just one candy corn or marshmallow pumpkin. The latest fall magazines would be found on bedside tables or living room coffee tables. Pumpkins, gourds, and leaves graced the mantle. Table centerpieces were handcrafted of rust and golden flowers.
Maybe fall holds a special spot in my heart because it was my last season at home before heading to college early. Or maybe it is because that is the season I got married. Or maybe it’s because my first son was born in the fall. And my 2nd son. And my third. For all these reasons, I love the fall, which holds so many special memories.
To this day I am still washed by that same feeling when I smell the scents of fall. The temperature is dropping. Fall is being ushered in. I open my windows and smell that smell. That fresh, crisp, fall smell. I light a candle and fill the house with cinnamon. The boys walk in from school and say, “It smells so good in here.” Inside I’m smiling. One day they will smell these smells and they will think of home. I pray the feelings evoked from these scents of fall are of love, warmth, and acceptance. And I pray they will take the love they’ve received and pour it out on their own families one day.
“Hey, Mom, can we talk?”
“Hey, Mom, I have to talk to you about some stuff.”
“Hey, Mom, wanna chat tonight?”
I hear this daily from one of my children. I have another child who just talks when he needs to talk. But one feels the need to let me know he needs my attention. He invites me in. And I want to be sure to make the experience one in which he feels safe enough to invite me back again.
What I’ve discovered with boys is they don’t like questions. They want to talk when they want to talk. And they don’t want to be interrogated. Nothing stops the conversation faster than when I begin asking questions. The quieter I am, the more they talk. When I am simply there with them, quiet and available, they open up. When I begin interjecting and quizzing, they clam up.
The best way I know how to share my heart back with them is to write. The only way I know to fill their hearts is to pray.
My Sweet Boy,
You are only 8 (soon to be 9), yet your understanding of people and life at times ages you far beyond your young years.
Your life is a collection of seasons. Without the harshness of winter, would you appreciate the spring? Without the heat of summer, would you appreciate the cool of fall?
You will experience seasons of life full of joy and ease. And you will face seasons just the opposite. If all the seasons looked the same, how you would grow into the person God is molding you to be? If all the seasons looked the same, how would you discover new things about God and about yourself?
You are in a season of great change right now. I know you are frustrated right now, and at every turn, you are facing a challenge that seems too tough. But that is what develops great character. The people I most respect are the ones who had to fight through tough circumstances, overcome challenges, and dig deep.
If everything was easy all the time, we might forget our need for God. And He loves us too much to allow that to happen.
Today’s challenge may be math and grammar or making a sporting switch and learning a new game. Tomorrow’s challenge may look completely different. No matter what the challenge is, if it’s important to you, it’s important to me. And it’s ALL important to God.
Your grades don’t make you who you are. Your athletic ability doesn’t make you who you are. It’s your heart that makes you who you are. The depth of your heart where you allow God to do amazing things. That is what makes you who you are. Your acceptance is not based on your performance. Know who you are in Christ.
Enjoy the ride. Don’t fight it. Enjoy learning new skills. Be excited to look back and see how far you’ve come. Look forward to the feeling of satisfaction that comes from hard work and perseverance.
Everything worth having takes time, effort, and patience.
God has a great plan in store for you. Give thanks in all circumstances. Focus on what you are grateful for, not what you are frustrated by.
Work hard, don’t quit, don’t give up. Pray. Ask God for your every need. And give Him all the glory. Remember this life is not all about us. It’s all about Him.
You are loved.
Photo courtesy of Dave Dunford
“I can’t do it. It’s too hard!”
“Yes you can do it. You are a big boy. You can get your pajamas on all by yourself.”
I could hear the cries reverberating down the hallway as my husband worked with our 3-year-old in an effort to help our son gain greater independence.
“I wish he didn’t have to cry. I wish Daddy would just help him. He needs him.”
I looked into the eyes of my 6 and 8 year olds as they looked back at me with pleading eyes. Eyes that begged the question ‘Will you go rescue him’.
Struggles seem to last an eternity.
The 2 older boys and I waited until we heard silence. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. To us, it felt like an hour. We wanted to race down the hall, hug that sweet boy, put his clothes on for him and make it all better. But what would that accomplish in the end? Physically he could do it, he just needed someone to believe in him enough to demand he do it himself. The only way for him to learn was to struggle through it himself.
When the crying stopped, he met us in the hallway. With red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, one corner of his mouth turned up forming a smile that said, “I did it all by myself!” The sparkle shone through those teary blue eyes telling me everything I already knew.
The struggle had a purpose.
As we all rejoiced and celebrated with him, my husband took the other boys aside to explain what had to be done. “Zachary, I did the same thing when you were his age. He can do this. He just needs to know he can do it, and he needs to practice it. We can’t always do it for him.”
As a mother I naturally wanted to swoop to the rescue. God gently restrained me as I watched my husband lead our son to victory. He didn’t abandon him. He was right by his side the entire time. Encouraging, cheering, and coaching.
God never abandons us in our struggles.
He is there with us every step of the way. The road may feel long and lonely at times, but we don’t walk the road alone.
Through His creation, God gives us a vivid picture of just how critical the struggle is.
A young tree newly planted needs the wind to blow to develop strong roots. The more exposure to winds, the greater the chance for a strong tree. Trees that are staked and protected from the storms develop weaker root systems and have a shortened life span.
When a caterpillar sheds its final layer and wraps itself in a chrysalis, it waits while it is being formed into a butterfly. When ready to emerge, it is crucial for the butterfly to struggle its way out of the chrysalis. Without the struggle, the butterfly’s wings will not gain strength, and it may never be able to fly.
Struggle is hard. Struggle is painful. Struggle is lonely.
When we cling to God in our struggles, we are strengthened in the process.
The struggle develops strength. The struggle develops character. The struggle develops beauty. The struggle develops perseverance.
When I was a bystander to my son’s struggle for independence, I struggled with the struggle. I wanted to rescue him. I wanted to make everything right in his little world. Because I love him. On the other side of that struggle, I watched in the following weeks as he became a different little guy. For once, he didn’t feel like a baby anymore. He was capable like his brothers. He could handle his clothes just fine. He was confident, and tantrums became a thing of the past. The struggle provided the path for a breakthrough to occur in his development. And it was a beautiful thing to watch.
The beginning of a new school year allows a little more time for us to get our homes in order. Here is a system we use for organizing some of the kids’ items that works well for us. When we deal with the clutter in our homes, our minds can focus a little bit better. When our minds are more focused, we have more to give to our loved ones.
Summer is coming to a close and a new chapter is waiting to begin. For some, summer is not over until the calendar says so, which is around September 21st. For others, the end of summer is made official Labor Day weekend. And for others the end of summer is when the kids go back to school. Even if you’ve already moved into a new fall schedule, it’s not too late to celebrate the end of summer with your family. Here are a few ideas that are simple to put together, yet are very effective in creating lifelong memories and traditions with your loved ones.
- Backyard campout– Camping is a great family activity. It forces to you unplug, be in nature, and be together. For kids, camping is all about the tent and the marshmallows. So why not celebrate the end of summer with a backyard campout. Pitch a tent in the backyard, or if that isn’t an option, set up an indoor campout! We’ve even set up a tent on our screened in porch when we didn’t have a backyard. Sit around the fire sharing favorite memories from the summer, retelling funny stories, and simply enjoying the time together before the hustle of the fall begins.
- Bucket List Ceremony– If your family created a Summer Bucket List, pull it out and spend an evening celebrating and reflecting on the memories created. Facilitate the conversation by going around the circle giving each person a turn to share their favorite memory from each bucket list item that was checked off.
- Ice Cream Party or Treat Buffet– Summertime equals massive consumption of ice cream. It’s even acceptable to have popsicles for a morning snack in the summertime. Have an ice cream party with the family to say good-bye to summer, hello to school year. If ice cream doesn’t do it for you, set up a “treat buffet”. My son planned one of these for my husband and some friends of ours last year, and it was a huge hit. Set up a table full of sugar in different varieties: candy, cookies, and plenty of ice cream topping choices!
- Date – Have a date with each of your children before school starts. Before my oldest started kindergarten, I took each boy on a 1/2 day date alone as a celebration to a fun summer and a toast to the new adventures ahead. I had each of them give me a list of what they wanted to do. We played tennis, went to lunch, and out to ice cream. Even though we have had many special dates since then, they still talk about that one. If school has already started, it’s not too late. Celebrate the end of summer and a great beginning to the new season!
- Special night-before-school dinner– This is a great tradition to start. Celebrate the night before school starts with a family favorite meal. For our boys, we did comfort food, which is agreeable to all around our table. Meatballs, gravy, biscuits, spinach salad, and apple pie. While we ate dinner, my husband used our bucket list to spark conversation so we all had turns at sharing our favorite moments from the summer.
- Fireworks– Why not close out the season with a bang? Have any leftover fireworks or sparklers? If so, use them up for a summer send off explosion.7. Create a summer time capsule. Fill a bottle with pictures, mementoes, and written experiences from the summer.
What are some ways your family celebrates the end of summer? We’d love you to share your ideas with us!