Thursday, April 3, 2014

My life off Facebook

I love Facebook.  I love the way it helps me connect with old friends I don’t see on a regular basis.  I love the way it helps me connect with friends I do see on a regular basis.  I love how easy it is to share pictures, or to let people know on those rare occasions when I blog. 

I love how I can ask something like, “Give me advice for traveling with my kids,” or “What’s a good book I should read next?” or “How can I keep my toddler entertained?” or “What’s a good handwriting curriculum for my preK/K student?” and instantly perspectives start pouring in that would probably take weeks to gather in person.

I like to think I have lots of intelligent friends with a variety of perspectives, and I confess my main way of keeping up with the news is by reading what they post.  I love clicking on the links to different articles, and I think I get a more thoughtful analysis than I might by turning on the TV every evening.  I don’t know, that’s just my guess.

But this is the second year in a row I’m taking Lent off Facebook, because there are some of my Facebook habits that I don’t love. 

I don’t love that when things get crazy around the house, usually precisely at the moment when I should be the most busy handling those dishes in the sink or starting on dinner or whatever, Facebook can be my escape.  When my kids get to be feeling like too much, Facebook can be my dose of adult conversation—but sometimes that means that right when my child really needs me to listen to them or train them or hug them, I’m on Facebook instead, taking a quick break from my reality and telling them not to bother me.

I don’t love how being on Facebook can tempt me to compare myself with other people or fear their opinions.  If I get on Facebook when I’m feeling low and having a bad day, chances are it’s just the moment when one of my friends is having a great day and decided to post about it.  By 9 a.m. her kids may be in gorgeous outfits helping her bake cookies, while I need to do some serious cleaning before I can see my kitchen counter, and I’m wondering where my toddler put her pants and why she’s not in pajamas like the rest of us.  In reality, our two families may be pretty similar, just experiencing different moments right then.  But Facebook is the place where we all tend to put our best faces on, and not necessarily the best place to get empathy and true fellowship.

I don’t love how I sometimes think in Facebook statuses, as if I need to tell all my opinions and complaints to hundreds of friends, as if a feeling or event is not real until it’s published or validated by an online community.  I’ve become more aware of this by doing foster care—so much of what I feel and experience, some of the sweetest pictures I take, I can’t share online.  Facebook can guess, but it doesn’t really know the highlights (or low points) of my last year.

I don’t love how I get on Facebook at night like it should be relaxing to sit at my desk, stare at the screen, scroll down my newsfeed, and clink on different links.  It might be valuable, but to me it’s not a relaxing way to end the day.

One of the perks of being off Facebook, for me, is that now in the evening, I relax into a comfortable chair, with a blanket, a mug of hot tea or a glass of red wine, and a good book.  There is something infinitely more relaxing about reading one long thing than trying to read a hundred little things.  I’ve read some good books over the last several weeks, too.

Why: The Question that Never Goes Away by Phillip Yancey about suffering and the Christian worldview.

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist—a beautiful string of recipes and personal narratives.

The Refiner’s Fire series—not the best fiction ever, but three very interesting and fairly well-written books set during the Civil War.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty—a tender and hilarious novel I raced through.  I don’t know why I haven’t heard of it before; it had me laughing and crying.

Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle—I don’t buy personality types completely, but this is a helpful book to understand and honor the three very different child personalities I have under my roof.

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray—another endearing novel about a family in crisis.

I know this list is a bit imbalanced toward fiction.  I admit that things feel so serious and sad sometimes that a fun story at bedtime is just … nice.  I hope that’s not too escapist.  Technically I have absolutely no time to read, but I’ve found my battle with insomnia goes much better when I take about an hour to relax before bedtime.  Some evenings Ben and I spend watching a show together, though not so often now that Downton Abbey and Sherlock seasons are over.  Sniff.  Once Upon a Time just doesn’t measure up and is quickly losing any appeal it had to me.  We’re definitely on the hunt for recommendations for a good show to follow, as long as it’s nothing disturbing or thought-provoking enough to keep me awake.  I know, how lame is that?

Another benefit from being off Facebook is that I am more motivated to connect with people in other ways.  I’m an introvert who loves regular company with people, and when I’m not getting my Facebook fix, I find myself emailing more, sending someone a text to see how they’re doing, getting together for a playdate, talking on the phone, whatever.  I think being on Facebook can make us feel that our quota of “meaningful interaction with other adults” has been filled when maybe it actually hasn’t, and maybe I need a good 1-on-1 conversation with someone.

All of which to say, I’m looking forward to getting back on Facebook on Easter, and maybe I’ll even post pictures of us in nice Easter outfits, though I kind of doubt I’ll get my act together enough.  I’m sure I’ve missed a couple pregnancy announcements and thoughtful articles about the Ukraine and opinions about the movie Noah and other interesting comment threads.  I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of comments about how unbelievably cold it’s been and how nice this first real week of spring feels.

I hope I can somehow get what I love from Facebook and skip what I don’t love.  One of these days I’ll probably just quit Facebook (or whatever comes after it) and my kids will roll their eyes and say, “Mo-om,” because I’m so completely out of touch, so happy and relaxed and enjoying connecting with local people that I’ve missed the latest thing online, but that’s okay.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Foster Care: Grief

“Grief is the place where love and pain converge.”

The package came from my friend Hayley, who knows pain and has lost a son and hopes in God.  In the package was Philip Yancey’s Why: The Question that Never Goes Away.  And the green letters spelling out what I so desperately need: HOPE.

I thought I was finished with apologetics and philosophy and the problem of evil, that I’d learned that, covered that, been done with that.  I learned about a decade ago that a Christian response to the problem of evil can be classified in three ways: 1) the Augustinian idea that evil does not exist as an entity in itself, but is rather a twisting/perversion/absence of good, 2) the free will argument that evil exists because God allows human beings as free agents to choose it, and 3) the greater good argument that God allows evil to accomplish a greater good.

Studying those three responses is helpful.  But outside the classroom, none of those answers is very satisfactory.  All three ride by and leave in their wake the aching question, Okay, but why?

Yancey’s book doesn’t try to give clichéd answers.  It takes on the worst evil that the world has ever seen, and walks through hope and comfort and very raw questions.

 “Committed Calvinists strain to explain catastrophes, along with everything else, as an expression of God’s sovereign will.  I follow their arguments with some sympathy, yet wonder why Jesus never used such reasoning with the suffering people he encountered ….  Words, no matter how well-intentioned, may heap more pain on an already sad situation.”

“All things work for the best!” the lady said on the phone, when I told her we probably could not adopt our baby.  And: “That’s why I could never do foster care, I would get too attached.”

“We are too attached,” I say hollowly.  But that doesn’t sound right.  Can you love too much?  Are you better if you insulate your heart against pain?

“We must choose to stay in the redemptive story.” – Jerry Sittser

How many times have I said, “Okay this is too hard, I can’t do it anymore, I quit now.”  I finish saying this, and the clock keeps on going and nothing changes.  I’m still crying and I’m still on the way to Costco and I will still have children to put to bed when I get home.  I realize, I’m in this.  I’m in the pain.  There is no way out but through.  It is a redemptive story that God is writing, and I must choose to stay in it.

“People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis than they did at any other time.” – John Ortberg

“You’ve grown a lot since this began,” my friend tells me.

“I’m glad something good is coming from this,” I throw back, but her words are meaningful to me.  I know I have changed. 

“Because of Jesus, we have the assurance that whatever disturbs us, disturbs God more.  Whatever grief we feel, God feels more.”

I am disturbed by this.  It is unfair and unnatural and wrong that a mother can nurture a baby from a sickly infancy, through four seasons, feel his hands on her face and know exactly how to make him smile, and then be forced to give him up.  When that happens, it’s so unnatural and twisted, it’s because something and probably quite a few somethings went very wrong somewhere.

God is disturbed by this, too.

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation.  It remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.  God does not fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The baby is gone for a couple hours, and David and Elanor are both anxious for him and asking when he will return.  They argue with each other, but they share an adoration for the baby.  He’s like the glue that holds them together.  He’s ready to play with either of them.  And in his eyes and smile I can see he loves them just as much.  How can you lose that?  I don’t even know how.

“A person who is connected with a caring community heals faster and better.”

I’m realizing how much I need people.  I’ve never known how to respond to loss and grief before, and have always either said something awkward or said nothing at all.  Sometimes pain is the elephant in the room.  I’m realizing now how helpful it is to talk about it, how nice it is even to hear the awkward statement or question that really means “I care,” how much it means to know that other people love our baby, love us, are praying.  When a lady I hardly know in my Bible study group came up to me and said, “You have the foster baby, right?  I prayed for you and him this week”—it was like being given a lifeline.  Yes, thank you for telling me I am not the only one praying.

 “On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a Son.”

  (All the quotations are from Yancey's book)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Little Pink Coat

“If you follow the King, you will follow Him into broken places.”

One hour I’m drinking coffee, putting on my makeup, and picking out clothes for church.  Before I know it, I find myself driving to one of the worst areas of town, where the houses stand thin and old by the train tracks, and a little girl wearing a pink coat is crawling into my back seat.

As we drive away, I ask her how she’s doing in school, and she immediately starts talking.  “I’m reading chapter books.  Whenever Pawpaw starts arguing, I just run upstairs and read my chapter books.”

“That’s a good idea,” I answer.

She pauses reflectively.  “Pawpaw says we have nineteen days before we need to leave, because the house doesn’t belong to him.”

“I’m sorry about that.”  My answer sounds lame to me, but I don’t know what else to say.

She keeps talking.  “I’m glad we’re going to church.  I know about God.  I read the whole Bible before my brother tore the pages out.  But now it’s like I’m reading the Bible in my mind.”

I don’t even remember how she gets to the topic of her parents, but she keeps right on talking.  “My daddy will get eight years if he gets caught in Virginia.  So he only comes to Virginia to pick me up.  My daddy is a good man.  But my mommy is mean.  Was your baby an emergency C-section?”

“Umm …”

“I was born emergency C-section,” she continues without waiting for an answer  “They had to get me out and away from my mommy.  My mommy was on drugs, so my daddy got me.  When I get older I want to help babies.”

“Like be a mommy, or a nanny?” I ask.  “Or a nurse or a doctor?  A pediatrician is a doctor who helps babies.”

“That’s what I want to be!  A pediatrician!”

After a conversation like that, I feel distracted during the worship service.  “Into the darkness You shine ….  Our God is Healer, awesome in power, our God.”

We all keep singing, and I think, It takes a lot of faith to really believe that.

I try to change my distraction into prayer for this little girl, and for our foster baby.  Our God is Healer, shining into the darkness … but we live in such a broken world.  Let Your Name be hallowed in their lives … may Your kingdom come in their lives, let Your will be done in them … give them each day their daily bread … forgive their debts, and help them to forgive their debtors … lead them not into temptation, but deliver them from evil … Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

When the music ends, she wants to go to a Sunday school class, but when we walk in, she is shy. The teacher is telling the story of Joseph.

“I promise I won’t leave until you feel safe,” I whisper to her.  “Have you ever heard the story of Joseph?”

She shakes her head.  The teacher asks what a famine is, and a little boy on the other side of the room raises his hand and says, “It’s when you don’t have enough food, and you feel hungry.”

I look around the room of privileged, well-fed children like my own, with their correct Sunday school answers, and I realize the little girl beside me who has never heard the story of Joseph is probably the only one who knows what famine feels like.

“I’m scared, can we go?” she whispers to me.

We walk out and she says, “Those doors by the stairs look just like the doors in the jail when I went to visit my daddy.”

After church, when I drop her off back near the train tracks, she takes a long time unpeeling her name tag and handing it to me.  “Here is for you!”

I look into her face and say, “I will remember you and pray for you.  I hope you can come back.”  But I wonder I will ever see her again.

I’ve seen the patterns of drug abuse, crime, eviction, homelessness, relational breakdown, but it’s jarring to hear it from the mouth of a precocious little girl.  And I wonder why God gave me this interaction this morning.  Is it that He wants us to foster again later, even though our first case is such a heartbreak?  Is it that He wants to open my eyes—all of our eyes—to what brokenness looks like through the eyes of child?  Is it that He wants me whenever I see her nametag to remember and pray?

I don’t know, but I admit that today I came home and cried.  I keep thinking about a little pink coat, a young and tender heart, a church, and a broken world.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Little Big Things

The Bible never stops amazing me.  Even if I have read a particular passage before, reading it again can be like approaching a sharp corner, forgetting exactly what lies around the bend, and then being completely surprised when I get there.

Reading 1 Peter 4 yesterday was like that for me.  Our sermon at church was about how we live in “perilous times”—basically a wakeup call to the Church to realize that we live in a troubled world and that we should live accordingly.  (At least I think that was what it was about—I admit to being a little distracted/interrupted by a crying baby and my own thoughts.)  With that in mind, I read in 1 Peter 4:7 yesterday:

“The end of all things is at hand.”

At face value that phrase can seem a bit alarmist.  The end of all things is at hand?

The end of my material possessions is at hand.  Someday this house, these cars, the clothes I’m thinking of buying, the valances I’m trying to get hung at every window—none of that is going to last forever.

The end of America is at hand?  It can certainly seem that way, depending on who you’re reading or what news you’re watching.

The end of the Western World is at hand?  The end of logical thought is at hand?  This is the end of the world as we know it?

There are all kinds of dramatic ways that phrase could potentially be interpreted.  And it’s easy to jump from that idea to a feeling that if this is the end of the world, I must do something big.  Now.  I must make some sort of splash that is big enough to save the world and to turn the tide back to all things good.

This line of thought usually just paralyzes or disillusions me, because there is nothing big that I can seemingly do right now.  I might hear something sad or disturbing on the news, and there is really nothing I can do about it.

It’s when I keep reading in this passage in 1 Peter that I’m surprised.  “The end of all things is at hand; therefore …”

What do we do when it’s the end of the world as we know it?  How should we live?

“Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”  Keep praying.  Live a lifestyle such that you can really focus on and engage in prayer.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  When I hear some end-of-the-world piece of news, what can I do about it?  Above all, love my husband.  Love my kids.  Love my family and friends and those God brings into my path.  This is the above-all important thing.  To my mind, it doesn’t always make sense that loving people around me, learning to build my marriage, figuring out how to parent these children, is really going to make such a difference in a fallen world—but this is what God tells me to do above all.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  In other words, when we feel like the world is “going to hell in a hand basket,” what should we do to make a difference?  Invite someone over for dinner.  What?!  Don’t You have something bigger for me, Lord?

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace ….”  What do we do when it’s the end of the world?  We use our gifts to serve people.

“…that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes I have such messed up ambitions.  I feel like if I can’t do something big, I may as well do nothing at all.  (Maybe that's because I'm really seeking my own glory?)  I forget that when God says, “It’s the end of the world,” He then tells me, “Here is what you should do” and it’s the little things like …

Be nice to my husband.

Read David a story, give Elanor a hug, feed Baby a bottle.

Have I texted back that friend who needs encouragement?  Maybe we could get together for coffee.

Have I prayed today?

Invite that family over for dinner.

I have the gifts of teaching and caring for children.  I can use these to serve.

These are the little Big things that God calls me to, that are going to bring change around me.

Over the past couple months, I have been really tempted to disillusionment.  Sometimes the work I’m doing doesn’t seem to matter.  I don’t see it making any difference.  It’s in those darkest times that God calls us to keep being faithful, keep doing those little things, because we don’t realize how in God’s economy they are actually Big things, and He is working behind the scenes in ways we don’t understand.

I guess I’ll close with a picture of my husband doing a little Big thing.  Aren’t they cute?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Foster Care: A Continuing Journey

Dear Baby,

You and I sit in early morning darkness, and only by the light of the Christmas tree can I see your face.  You smile up at me, and your tiny fingers wrap tight around mine.

These are some of the favorite moments of my day.

People ask if we’re doing okay with you, and I do not know how to answer them.  There is so much I cannot say.

You are doing better than okay.  You, little miracle, tiny fighter, after so much, you smile more than any baby I know.  I deeply admire you.  I don’t even know if I could have protected myself by not loving you, but if I could have, I wouldn’t.  In your first year, you need to know love.  You need diapers and bottles and swaddle blankets, but you need more than that—you need to know you are loved—and in this home you have that overflowing from every one of us.  Yes, you are doing okay.

What is not okay is the sin of this world, the brokenness and tragedy that smudges the edges of our lives and sometimes threatens to tear right through. 

I want to protect you from that, and I can’t.  You are not mine no matter how much I want you to be, and I know that sometime I will probably have to give you up.

I can’t even comprehend that right now, because I have no context for that kind of loss.

How did Abraham feel climbing the mountain?

I know Whose you are.  This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.  God is your Judge, and He holds you in the palm of His hand.  He brought you to us for a purpose, and I pray for the fulfillment of that purpose.

My faith is being tested and stretched, to believe in the face of this darkness that my little prayers could make any difference.  But I do believe.  I have heard storms beat against the window, and then I have looked at the flicker of the Advent candle.  Hope still burns bright, because we are waiting for Christ to come.

And when He came, He was a lot like you.

I never thought it would hurt this much, but I would do it all again for the chance to love Jesus by loving you, to get to know you and to watch your life transform. 

You may never remember me, but I will never forget you.  I will always love you.  I promise to pray for you every day of my life.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keeping Your Kids Healthy This Winter (without becoming a hermit)

Cold weather rolls in, and we moms start thinking the same thing: how will we help our kids stay healthy this winter?  And, is it worth going to the church nursery, the play date, or library story time, when exposure to germs inevitably follows?

 I want to share a few tips I’ve gathered along the way for helping my kids stay healthy (and still out and about and seeing people) all winter long.  A disclaimer first that some of these ideas take time and/or money—not much, since I’m busy and on a tight budget, but some.  The way I see it, though, you’re going to spend your time and money somewhere, and I’d rather spend it on multivitamins and healthy food than on sick visit copays and prescriptions.  Of course no matter how careful you are, you won’t elude all sickness, and you’ll probably have a few copays and prescriptions no matter what.  But I think you can definitely cut back on them by taking a few preventative steps.

Hand sanitize and wash after being out.  Keep a healthy hand sanitizer in your purse and/or car so that your children can sanitize immediately after church, play dates, or shopping trips.  Thoroughly wash hands with a good soap the minute you walk into your home from being out.  Help your children avoid contact with shopping cart handles, restaurant high chairs, and other things that are swarming with germs—clean with a sanitizing wipe or put a cover over it.

Avoid artificial colors and sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup).  Don’t buy anything with these ingredients.  This simple step cuts out a lot of unhealthy food.  Because we don’t actually a food allergy to these ingredients, I don’t freak out if my son has candy at Awana or colored frosting at a birthday party.  A little bit here or either is not a big deal; it’s just not a regular habit.

Minimize sugar.  Depending on where you read it, the exact numbers are different, but the basic fact is established: we eat many more pounds of sugar per year than our ancestors did.  The difference is something like 2-7 pounds of sugar per year in previous generations vs. 150 pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup per year now.  That’s a huge increase, and we’re paying the price for it.  We are getting used to having everything hyper-sweetened.  If a child starts the day with fruit juice and boxed cereal, has a pb&j sandwich for lunch, and has something like spaghetti for dinner, chances are that every single dish is sweetened—just check the labels to see what I mean—not to mention any snacks and desserts thrown in.

Make simple, small changes.  Make your own food instead of buying it packaged.  Serve homemade oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, or plain yogurt mixed with fruit instead of a yogurt cup.  Use honey, maple syrup, liquid stevia, or fruit as sweeteners.  (Stevia has a slightly herbal taste, so I don't like it in something like coffee.  However, in my baking, I can easily cut the sugar down and add a few dropper fulls of liquid stevia to make up the sweetness.)  It’s easiest of course to start a healthier diet with babies so their taste buds can acclimate.  If your kids think plain yogurt mixed with honey and orange pieces is a normal dessert, so much the better!

Avoid stress, and get enough sleep.  These are good rules to help us moms stay healthy (though of course they can be nearly impossible to follow at times!).  But they also apply to our kids—are they getting enough nighttime sleep?  If they need a nap or quiet time, do they get it?  Are they anxious and hurried from one event to another, or do they have time to relax, read, and play?

Eat lots of fruits and veggies.  Find yummy ways to serve vegetables—broccoli or green beans tossed with olive oil and oven roasted, peas steamed with butter, or whipped carrots.  If your kids don’t love them, they can still learn to eat them—every mealtime at our house usually includes some sort of instruction like “eat five bites of vegetables and then you can have your biscuit.”  Fruits are a natural favorite for our kids, and we try to eat lots of berries and citrus especially.

Supplement.  Supplements can do more harm than good if they have synthetic ingredients that your body just reacts against and tries to flush out of the system.  Buy a completely natural whole-food supplement.  A good way to verify the quality of a supplement is to see whether or not the Vitamin E is synthetic.  We use GNLD LiquiVite, a liquid supplement full of vitamins/minerals/other immune boosters.  We’ve also ordered a similar all-natural liquid supplement from the Vitamin Shoppe, which was about half the price but also half the potency.  We buy liquid Vitamin D from the Vitamin Shoppe, and put a drop or two in a glass of juice or milk for our kids each day to keep their Vitamin D levels up throughout the winter.

Other weird stuff.  Because frankly, some of it is weird.  But it works.

Herbal tea.  The Nourishing Herbalist, probably my favorite health blog right now, gives instructions for making your own healthy herbal tea.  Again, this is the kind of thing that takes a little time and money, but once you get started, you spend only a few minutes a day.  We ordered our herbs from iherb.  Our kids love to drink it and so do I.

Raw milk.  This is a controversial one, though surveys have shown that you are just as likely to get sick from eating spinach than you would from drinking raw milk.  Here in Virginia we can only legally purchase milk through a cow share system.  Find a small farm you trust where conditions are clean and cows are regularly tested.  Raw milk is full of vitamins that would be otherwise be killed in pasteurization.  It’s also a great source of probiotics.  Speaking of those …

Probiotics.  Drink raw milk, make your own yogurt from raw milk (again, it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but once you learn, it’s very easy and saves a lot of money), and/or give your kids a probiotic supplement like FloraBaby.  (FloraBaby is great for mixing into formula if that’s how you need to feed your baby.)  Probiotics should help your children from becoming constipated.  Having one BM a day is a good goal.  If they’re having trouble, Senna is a natural help.

Apple cider vinegar and honey drink.  Use Bragg raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar.  Then buy raw honey from a local farm—you can usually save by buying in bulk, getting a gallon jar.  Once a day, or at every meal, mix 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with a glass of water.  I can’t believe my kids actually like this, but they do, and both the vinegar and the honey have multiple health benefits.

Elderberry/echinacea tincture.  This is another one from the Nourishing Herbalist.  She explains here how to make it, but I find it much easier to buy hers, which is reasonably priced.

Essential oils.  This is still a new frontier to me so I can’t say much.  Essential oils rubbed on the bottoms of feet and/or diffused into a room can really help not only in preventing sickness but in helping your kids get better when they’ve got something.  Diffusing essential oils in their bedrooms at night can be especially helpful when they have a respiratory sickness.  After doing a little research and price comparison, we’re ordering our essential oils from Native American NutritionalsOur favorite combinations so far are BreatheEZ and Serenity.  Some of their descriptions are a little weird, but their essential oils are high quality and comparatively affordable.

So there’s my smattering of ideas.  Here’s to a winter of helping our kids stay in their church and school classes and play dates and out of the doctor’s office!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cultures Are Composed of Lives

I wrote this a few weeks ago for the Patrick Henry College Alumni Association's August Tribute to Motherhood.  Now that they've published it, I wanted to share it here.

It’s a quiet early summer morning.  The windows are flung open.  The floor is strewn with toys, books, and dusty sandals from watching monster trucks at the county fair last night.

Elanor woke up too early again this morning; Ben went in to help her; and since the room is now quiet, I guess they dozed off together.  Ben does editing and website management for a small DoD contractor.  I’m grateful that today, as usual, he can work from home in his office downstairs.  Tomorrow he will drive to Fort Meade.  He is an imaginative and patient father, and I am thankful to be married to him.

Our daughter Elanor Joy just turned one.  She is spunky and affectionate.  Almost walking, she wants to do everything her older brother can.  We’re going over one of those bumps on the parenting road—which I keep telling myself, like any bump, will not last forever—when Elanor would far rather cuddle and be attached to her family than play independently, sleep, or follow a workable routine.  Several days of the past few weeks I remember only through a haze of frustrated exhaustion.

I know any minute I will hear David’s call, “Okay, I’m awake now!” (a phrase we taught him as highly preferable to a sudden shriek).  I will bring into his room a cup of milk and a cup of juice, and he will start his day by listening to the audio CD of the Jesus Storybook Bible.

David Peregrin just turned four.  After going through a difficult season of tantruming, he has finally emerged as a cheerful and helpful little guy.  He thinks we are all super heroes, loves to play with Transformers and Legos, adores his little sister, and is just learning to read through home school preschool (my dignified title for trying to teach David phonics while Elanor crawls on top of us).

And that’s our family.  When I was a teenager, I wanted to “lead the nation and shape the culture” by writing a bestselling novel.  Only now looking back do I realize how much my adolescent ambition was a craving for the affirmation of other people, and an unstated belief that my life would not matter unless I achieved measurable recognition.

In my twenties I exchanged this for a “pebble in the pond” ambition—you know, gradual influence through a ripple effect—but I think in the back of my mind I wondered if I was “settling.”  Only recently have I realized what a huge ambition it really is simply to live one life well, as a disciple of Christ, breaking free from bondage and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

Events in my life over the past few years have shown me how broken humanity really is.  Beneath our wealth and consumer mentality, beneath our cynical apathy or rage, we are walking wounded.  What pierces the postmodern armor is not a stronger argument or a greater success, but a deeper love.  I want with my one life to make a difference by showing that love.

Unfortunately that ambition can sound so cliché as to seem almost meaningless, but it’s true.  I remember our pastor sharing with us how he felt that in our generation more than ever before, people were changed not so much by sermons or Sunday school classes (though of course those are important) but through relationships, or as my mentor says, “life on life.”  I want to live that kind of life.

It starts with my husband and children.  I believe that Exodus 20:6 is true, and that by following the Lord in faithfully loving my family, I can impact (if He tarries) a thousand generations.  That’s a huge influence, and it starts right now in these first few exhausting and beautiful years of my children’s lives, when research shows that so much of their personality and character forms.  That gives new purpose to a routine that revolves around diapers and high chairs, car seats and cribs, preschool worksheets and toys underfoot.

But it doesn’t end with my family.  We have no desire to perpetuate an ingrown Christian subculture, even if the hearts of our children would be captured by such a small-minded vision.  Ben and I want to reach out beyond and through our home, both individually and as a family.

We are plugged in to a local body of believers.  And I am grateful for the opportunity I have to teach literature to home school students two hours a week.  This spring Ben and I completed the training and approval process to become foster parents.  The Lord hasn’t placed a needy child in our home yet, but we know the call could come any day, which lends an exciting flexibility to life.  (A few days after I first drafted this, we welcomed a foster child into our home.)

That’s what my “leading the nation and shaping the culture” looks like right now.  I have dreams for what I might do when my children are grown, but right now in this happy-and-hard season of life, my dreams are primarily at home with them.  They are all awake now on this no-longer-quiet summer morning.  It’s time for those ambitions, about which it’s so easy to theorize, to be worked out in the reality of a messy breakfast and a busy day.