Monday, June 16, 2008

Hopping Off the Merry-Go-Round

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:4

This weekend, I had one of those rare mothering moments where I realized I was standing squarely in the light at the end of the tunnel. I made it all the way through, and it was beautiful.

Our town holds an annual festival with carnival rides, funnel cake booths, live bands and craft vendors. It is a big event that attracts not only the entire population of our town, but visitors from neighboring areas as well.

Ever since our kids were tiny, my husband and I have held them onto merry-go-round horses during these yearly festivities. We’ve jammed our long legs into the miniature Dragon Wagon and spun around in cars shaped like elephants so we could help them through their early experiences with “thrill” rides.

This year, for the first time ever, my husband and I bought no carnival tickets for ourselves. We happily stood on the sidelines, watching our kids spin. We laughed at the way our oldest throws her arms in the air with wild abandonment, while her little sister holds on for dear life—literally “white knuckling” every ride. We waved every time they rode past us, and smiled and cheered for their successful adventures.

As we enjoyed watching the action swirling around us, we realized we have reached a beautiful stage of parenting. Our kids still enjoy doing things as a family, but they don’t need our constant companionship. They are secure in trying things on their own, but still like the reassurance of having us close. They aren’t yet embarrassed to admit they have parents, but are confident enough to enjoy the ride with some independence.

I bet God feels the same kind of joy as we hit developmental milestones in our spiritual maturity. I’m sure He smiles when we grow to the point of knowing He’s always there, sharing and enjoying life with us, yet we’re strong enough in our faith and in the Word to venture out while avoiding trouble. He probably thinks, “Phew! We made it to the end of this particular tunnel, and now I finally get to share my light in this area of her life.”

For my fellow mothers who are still jamming their legs into choo-choo trains and bumper cars, I say to you, “Hang in there. It is a lovely ride that is well worth the wait.”

Monday, June 9, 2008

Doing Great Small Things

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

When my first child was born, I quit my corporate job to pursue work as a full-time mom. I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to spend the day caring for my family and my home without the pressures of my office job looming over my head. Thoughts of afternoons in the park and play dates with other moms danced through my mind.

It was all perfectly lovely, until my husband and I went to one of his work functions and someone asked what I’d been up to lately. I faltered. Did she really want to know about my ongoing battle at mount laundry, or my pride and joy of the week—a new vacuum cleaner?

After spending so many years as the interesting woman with a story to tell, I suddenly realized what I became when I decided to stay home. Boring.

I recognized in that moment how my circle of influence shrunk exponentially when I left corporate America, and my impact on the world was now limited to my husband and my daughter. Yikes.

However, after giving myself about nine months to get into the routine of being a stay-at-home mom, I began reaching out of my own home. I joined a Bible study and a couple of mothering groups, and began connecting with my community in my own little ways. And over the years, my influence, as well as my friendships, has grown.

Yesterday, my pastor did a wonderful sermon on how God uses the little things we do to make a big impact for Him. He said the very word “ministry” comes from the Latin root for “small things,” as in miniscule.

Jesus gave us several examples of using small things for big purposes. In Luke 13:18-19, we read, “Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” From a tiny seed, about the size of a pinhead, comes a twelve-foot tree.

From our own tiny efforts in our own homes and communities, we can grow and encourage many believers. A friend of mine once said she was disappointed she didn’t have the opportunity to become a full-time missionary before having kids, until she realized she did have a mission field—right in her own home, to three little growing Christians.

You are more important and more valuable to God’s kingdom than you realize, mom. Enjoy your calling as a missionary to your own family and in your own community, and live it out in your own small, yet great, ways.

Monday, June 2, 2008

When Self-Control Goes On Summer Vacation

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. – 1 Thessalonians 5:6

Summer vacation is one of my favorite times of year. I love letting my kids stay up a little later than usual to watch a movie, then having them sleep longer in the morning. I appreciate the freedom from school uniform maintenance and sack lunch monotony. And while I am a person who thrives on routine, I enjoy the temporary lack of schedule summer offers.

The problem with this break from school-year life, however, is that I also seem to take a break from self-control. For example, last week I stayed in bed every morning until my kids got up. Since I am normally the first one up, this change meant I got very little writing done, and spent even less time reading my Bible. And while I managed to turn that temporary habit around and get up on time today, I stayed up so late last night that everything looks a little blurry this morning.

When school gets out, my brain seems to go somewhere with it. Last Tuesday I completely forgot to go to the Bible study meeting I have gone to every week for the past five years. How does someone forget a five-year habit?

Consistency with my kids seems to slip a little in the warmer months, too. Last night my youngest daughter didn’t eat dinner. I told her she did not need to eat if she wasn’t hungry, but that there would be no more food available until breakfast. My husband reminded me of this comment as we all sat at Dairy Queen and I wiped the chocolate dripping from my little one’s chin.

But perhaps that is part of the mystique of summer. Of course, we don’t want it to go too far, but maybe relaxing the standards a bit is part of what makes the long break special. More hours of daylight allow for more fun when we loosen up the reins and enjoy this season with our families.

I know myself well enough to know that if I make sleeping in a summer-time habit, then I will curse myself in the fall. That is an area where I can’t budge. However, I am pretty sure no one ever died from eating ice cream for dinner, so we will take another voyage to Dairy Queen next week. We will also have our share of late nights and blurry mornings, and enjoy every one of them. And not only will we have out-of-the-ordinary fun this summer, but we will happily look back on these memories when we need some mental refreshment to get through the school year ahead.

What changes does your family allow over the summer? If your kids are on a year-round school schedule, what does your summer look like?