What Seven Days on A Farm Taught My Son About Life

It was a last minute plan–to send my 12 year old son to spend a week on his grandparents farm. It was the first time for him to go alone, without the comfort (and irritation) of sisters.

Farm days in August can stretch long. But the alternative was another routine week at home, so he jumped at the chance to get away. A couple of days before, my father-in-law hurt his arm badly and was waiting on surgery. My son said “Maybe I can help out.” Which is code for I want to drive a four wheeler or kill something.

(He got to do both).

We met halfway to hand him off  in Dallas and I put the family phone we keep at home into his pocket in case he needed to reach me. But we both knew it was more for me than him.

I knew this would be a special week.

photo copy 3

Knowing my son, I knew it would be special time for his grandparents, too.

Every time I talked to him, I could hear the smile in his voice. I listened to adventures and laughed at his stories.

We only had one text conversation the whole week:

“I miss you.”

“Can’t blame you,” he replied.

“Ha. You’re so funny. What are you doing?”

“Sitting in a hayfield, playing Candy Crush, eating puffy Cheetos with Nanny,” he said.

“I think that’s what Heaven will be like: a serene hayfield, Candy Crush, Cheetos and love.”

“With Jesus.”

Oops. Yes.

photo copy 4

Here’s what seven days at the farm taught my son about life.

  1. Listen to the wiser, older people in your world. They can teach you a lot. People don’t always listen to the elderly, but they have a lot of good stuff to say. He loves to retell their stories.
  2. Hard work produces results. Food you plant, watch, grow, harvest tastes better than any you can buy. He walked the garden rows for hours, filling buckets with vine-ripened tomatoes, snapping off fresh okra and picking cucumbers. It was the best kind of work.
  3. When you don’t know what to do, find something to do. There’s always something to do on the farm. Exploring, roaming, imagining and hard work cures boredom.
  4. Slow down to appreciate the beauty around you. Sitting in a field on a hot August day, watching the wind whip and roll the grass like waves with crystal blue skies as the backdrop is hard to ignore.
  5. Helping others helps yourself. It felt good to help out, to be needed, to learn from someone older willing to teach someone younger. Helping makes you want to help more and that feels good.
  6. Time away from the people in your life makes you miss them. Every time I heard my son talk to his sisters on the phone, I smiled. It’s hard to disagree or argue when you simply miss being together.
  7. Life is better with gratitude. Since returning home, my son has referenced his grandparents dozens of times. He’s shared kitchen and gardening tips he picked up and offers new thoughts on life from their perspective.

photo copy 5

I have no doubt the week changed us all.

The Problem With The Child-Centered Home

I held up a finger when she opened my bedroom door, reminding her I was on an important call and didn’t want to be interrupted.

But she ignored my attempt to quiet her and asked the question loudly as if MY ONE FINGER in the air meant nothing.

I pointed again, more forcefully. My 7 year old kept right on talking.

Even my most threatening face didn’t stop her.

This must be really important, I thought.

I said excuse me to the professional on the receiver, covered the mouthpiece and whispered through gritted teeth, “WHAT IS IT?”

She took a tiny step backward and said, “I don’t know what to do. I’m bored.”

Y’all.

It was nearly a poltergeist moment for me.

“Go play. Give me 5 more minutes,” I said seething.

“But mom, I need you to tell me what to do.”

The rest of the phone call occurred with me sitting on the closed toilet behind a locked door.

When I hung up a few minutes later, I kept thinking about my daughter’s words. I need  you to tell me what to do.

I’m not a stranger to a child-centered home. For years, we let our kids determine restaurants we ate at, we gave them ample choices, we backed down from consequences, we centered our lives around their extracurricular activities, we added fun kid stuff to every weekend so they wouldn’t be bored, and when they asked us what they were supposed to do for fun, we told them. Some days, we still reap the effects of it.

And then, a few years ago, we started to shift to a Jesus-centered home. Instead of child worship, where we bowed to every whim and demand from our kids, we refocused and prioritized our lives. My children didn’t stop being important. We didn’t stop loving them unconditionally or stop meeting their needs. We just stopped trying to fix every problem and giving in to every desire.

Last week, I told you how serving turned our home right-side up. It’s never too early to start or too late to try. We started by picking a few things off this list:  100 Ways to Make a Difference As a Family.

Listen, humans are naturally self-centered. We want what we want. Our kids are no different.

If we build our home around their every want, they will let us.

And it may seem easier because kids who always get what they want seem “happy.”

Until they don’t get what they want.

And then watch out.

My greatest calling is being a mom. I love my children and I’m grateful for them. But that doesn’t mean they are the sun and I should orbit around them in submission.

Children having picnic

When we center our homes around the wants and demands of our kids, we are actually hurting them, not helping.

Here are five risks of a child-centered home:

  1. It gives kids the false security that the world is about them- We can build our world around our kids, but the world won’t return the favor. Sooner or later-in school or at a first job, they will discover life isn’t always fair and they can’t always get out of sticky situations.
  2. It puts a strain on our marriage-it’s easy to put children in front of spouses and when we put kids at the center of the home, things get out of balance, including our marriages.
  3. It reinforces selfishness-kids don’t need to be taught selfishness. “Mine” is usually one of their first words. But constantly letting the world revolve around their demand and wishes, only reinforces selfishness.
  4. It puts a responsibility and pressure on children they weren’t meant to carry. Kids weren’t designed to carry the burden of getting their way all the time. Not only is it unhealthy, I believe kids want restrictions and guidelines. It’s another way we show them how much we love them.
  5. It makes them a challenge outside of home (school, church, etc). Enough said.

Refocusing our homes, centering them around Christ instead of our children isn’t easy. It takes consistent, hard work. And when our kids are begging for us to tell them what to do, we should hide in the bathroom. Or give them time to answer their own question.

Oh, and I found the perfect thing for my daughter to do. Her room has never looked better.

4 Ways Serving Others Turned My Home Right Side Up

My day started long before my kids awoke.

When they stumbled down the stairs in search of breakfast, I was meeting with someone at the kitchen table, notepads out, laptops open. I asked my kiddos if they slept well and then pointed them towards a do-it-yourself breakfast.

I returned to my meeting for the next hour and they got ready for the day and entertained themselves upstairs.

The rest of the day looked much the same–a Skype session in Kenya, and a Fair Trade Friday planning meeting. I was busy and they kept themselves busy with library books, Legos, laundry and Minecraft.

Thankfully, I have a flexible schedule. This isn’t my everyday, but it’s often because I work from home.

At one point, I had a pang of guilt at my busy day, even though most of it was built around serving others. I remembered the countless summer days in the past where we spent most days doing something fun–either crafting or at the local pool with snow cone breaks and day trips in-between.

Of course, we still have those days.

But something amazing happened when we transitioned from a child-centered home to an others-centered one with Jesus as our focus: my kids stopped demanding that every day, every moment, be about them, for them.

I did, too.

My husband led Bible Study a couple of weeks ago for families in our weekly House Church. I cringed when he described how we spent the first 15 years to ourselves. We rarely invited people over to our house. We rarely reached out to others. Everything was about us. It wasn’t all bad either–we did devotions with our kids, attended church regularly, led a safe and comfortable life. But it was missing something.

We served only ourselves.

But when we refocused our home and made Christ the center, it changed everything.

servingothers

A normal day now might include rolling yarn balls during movie time that we will pass out to the refugee class we serve at on Fridays. That’s not to say we don’t have idle hours and leisure days–we do. They are a must!

But I don’t think we realized how often we served ourselves until we began serving others. It’s hard to do both–put yourself or even your family first when you’re putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Serving has changed our family. It has turned us right -side up.

We are still a messy family. But I’m learning everyday that “God wants us right in the middle of our mess because it’s the perfect place for Him to shine through our imperfections.” Rhinestone Jesus.

serving

4 Things Serving Will Do For Your Family:

  1. Serving will reveal our family’s ingratitude- Yeah, yikes, huh? Nothing has exposed our humanity and self-centered ways more than serving others. There have been many instances when we just didn’t want to put others before ourselves. There has been grumbling and complaining in the midst of serving. It’s revealed selfishness in my family. But we can’t improve without realizing first how hard serving actually is.
  2. Serving will get our eyes off ourselves- It’s harder to be selfish and only think about ourselves when we are exposed to those who have less and need more, it’s changes our perspective. A change of perspective is one of the best gifts we can offer our families.
  3. Serving will ignite compassion for others- Even if we don’t see it immediately, serving changes our family. We can’t always see growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When we make serving a part of our regular lives, it can’t help but change us.
  4. Serving will renew our family’s gratitude- Just as serving brings out our ingratitude at times, it also give us an opportunity for gratitude. It feels good to give to others and reminds us of the blessings in our lives.

 

What I Want My Daughters To Know About My Wedding

Dear Daughters,

A few months ago you were both in a wedding and between that and all the popular TLC bridal shows on Netflix and the breathtaking wedding boards on Pinterest, it’s got you asking questions about my wedding.

So, I want to tell you about it.

First of all, it was ugly.

No, really, it was. It was 1994, so that didn’t help.

Neither did my temporary romantic love for the Victorian era. My accent colors were mauve and forest green. Yeah. They were interesting colors against the burnt orange pews of the church and twinkling Christmas trees on the stage. (It was a December wedding).

The bridesmaids wore handmade mauve tent-like dresses that could accommodate an array of sizes, including a very pregnant bridesmaid. I’m pretty sure they were burned while I was on my honeymoon.

I had always planned on wearing a long-sleeved ivory Victorian gown. But instead I fell in love with a white off-the-shoulder sequined contemporary one. I had multiple themes going on.

Remember when you found my dress in a box in the attic a couple of years ago and asked if you could try it on? That kind of stuff is hard on moms.

photo-600x600

The reception was in the small, dimly-lit fellowship hall. There wasn’t dinner or dancing or enough satin to cover the drabness of the room. There was some sort of Sprite punch, a delicious wedding cake, groom’s cake (with a plastic fisherman on top) and some mixed nuts.

There weren’t party favors or sparklers. The guests threw birdseed as we ran to my blue Isuzu compact car, awash with ridiculous writing and a condom on the muffler (your Uncle’s contribution). I can still remember the look on the pastor’s face as we waved goodbye.

We immediately stopped at a fast food restaurant where I dumped a pint of birdseed from my underwear on the floor of the bathroom. That was wrong. But it was itchy.

I can’t think of a single pin-worthy picture from the day.

It wasn’t trendy or lavish.

luxe-reception-decor_0

source

There wasn’t a dance floor or fresh orchids and chandeliers hanging from trees.

But I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

Somehow even with our less than glamorous wedding photo album and honeymoon on an extreme budget to exotic Arkansas, your dad and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage this Christmas.

Because we understood that a marriage isn’t about a wedding.

We discovered that a lifetime of love and commitment trumps an event any day. We learned that starting our new life together debt and doubt-free was a gift to each other.

Yesterday, I read that 70% of girls creating wedding boards on Pinterest, aren’t even engaged yet. With every other marriage ending, do we have time for all this planning and pining for one perfect day?

It makes me sad that the world you’re growing up in concentrates more on the wedding than the marriage. It’s over in a sunset and it’s easy compared to the long marathon of becoming and staying one with your one and only.

I want you to know marriage is more than a venue or a menu. It’s far more than The Perfect Day or saying yes to the dress.

And I know you will probably want all of the above some day. And that’s okay.

I just want you to spend more time praying than planning. I want you to sacrifice more than you spend. I want you to understand your commitment to the man of your dreams is more than a certificate—it’s a covenant to God.

Most of all, I want you to know love. The kind of love your dad and I have that lasts through heartache and headaches. I want you to know that you are loved. You don’t have to earn or achieve it. It’s not dependent on a good hair day or bad. It’s not something you can lose. Whether you’re swept off your feet or remain a confidant single woman, you are enough.

I have seen how fast time flies. I know the days are long and the years are short. I put away the toys and clothes you outgrow regularly. I know while I write this, one of you is practicing eye shadow upstairs and the other is practicing cartwheels in the yard, and I will blink and it will be time to give you away.

You are just beginning to dream. Don’t stop.

And on this regular summer Monday, I want you to know that my wedding wasn’t much.

But my marriage is more.

Love,

Mom

Parenting: Why It’s More Important to Be Wise Than Generous

“But, Mom, please

I knew what my answer had to be.

Sneakers and Mini Daisies

But it wasn’t going to be easy.

Sometimes right before I tell my kids no, that split second before the word comes out of my mouth, I am afraid.

I am afraid to be strong.

I am afraid I can’t follow through.

I am afraid of what will happen when I say no.

I think every parent knows this fear.

Because it’s often easier to be generous than wise.

Lately, it seems the harder we work at raising grateful, hard working kids that put others first, the harder the job gets.

And when kids resist chores and grumble about dinner, slam doors and argue constantly with their siblings, it makes a parent feel like a complete failure.

We had all of the above going on at the same time the other night.

My husband and I left our kids to clean up dinner dishes and locked ourselves behind our bedroom door. And we asked questions we couldn’t answer: Why is parenting to hard? Are we doing this right? Do we have wine?

photo

We reassured each other with these truths: It’s okay for children to be temporarily unhappy and their resistance doesn’t mean our failure.

But it’s not going to be easy.

Easy is saying yes to cultural norms.

Easy is giving in to demands.

Easy is being like everyone else.

Sticking to standards, saying no, choosing wisdom over generosity is hard.

I think parental generosity comes naturally. We want to give our kids what we didn’t have, we want to see their faces light up. We want them to be “happy.”

But when we give in too early, too soon or too much, or just because standing our ground is tough, we lose more than we might think. When we cower to an unsatisfied child we both lose.

I’m sure that’s why there are triumphant toddlers leading the shopping trips at Target, young kids playing teen-rated video games and high schoolers in brand new Mercedes. AmIright?

But generosity like this–born out of fear–can be dangerous. Because when we give too much, too soon, we exchange hard work and the hard knocks of life for the easy road. And sometimes the easy road, is also a dangerous one.

And this societal norm of giving kids what they want is causing destruction.

Generosity is great. It’s freely giving to our children. But wisdom is more important because it gives us the insight when to be generous and the courage to say no when our world is saying yes, more, now.

Back in the kitchen, I answered her question. “No, I’m sorry. You’re grounded for the day, remember?”

I braced myself and stood my ground and calmly suggested another day.

When I returned later, that same child was humming in the kitchen, making dessert for the rest of the family. There wasn’t pouting. The anger was long gone. She didn’t ask again.

Sometimes our kids ask for something or demand their way, not to get us to say yes, but to see if we will stick with no.

And sometimes our wisdom begets their generosity.

Moms, don’t give in.

But mostly, don’t give up.