25 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” – Anne Frank


Twenty five years…a quarter of a century…yet a mere bleep on the screen of history. That’s how long I have been a parent. From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to newly married… I have very few regrets. But even with the best intent, I am a broken human. I haven’t done it all perfectly. But here we are in the shadow of life and laughter, tears and heartache, compassion in disagreement, faith in fury…but still love and more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 25,000 things being a parent has taught me or 25,000 things I’ve done wrong…but I will choose to see the beauty in living and learning:

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines img_9638would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart. Being a parent made me a better person.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and 4 year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own6413dd73-88c3-4c82-9f36-bb23bdf4b46e children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, being flexible, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people. Tears will dry but laugh lines remain forever.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. Be consistent and reliable. (Not perfect) As their parent, coach, cheerleader, and advocate. Be firm in conviction and what really matters, but always be a soft place to land and a safe place to rest. Then you will have a friend for the rest of your life.
  22. Pray. What could be more important, life-changing, heart-softening, and faith-building than lifting your children above a sea of chaos and confusion and into the watchful eyes and tender care of the One who made them and loves them most? “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” -Corrie Ten Boom
  23. Feel the pain. A loss, a heartbreak, a failure, an unrealized dream, a prodigal… With love and life comes pain. It means you’re alive, you care, and something matters. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
  24. Don’t walk the journey alone. Find a tribe, a village, a support system, a rock when you are weak and drowning in a sea of confusion, pain, or overwhelming burden.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might img_4817prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc 4:9-12)
  25. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

Remember…

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers. -John F. Kennedy

There was another leader thousands of years ago who urged us to remember. King Solomon also challenged us to reflect and to remember:

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Today is a time to remember…but what does it mean to remember?

It’s a verb…showing action or intention: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).

Memorial Day… Is it more than a day off work, a picnic in the park, time together with friends, the beginning of Summer, a day at the pool, and some good food on the grill? All those are great, but is there more?

Decoration Day was first celebrated (unofficially) in the few years following the Civil War, the deadliest. most close-to-home, war ever affecting the United States…dividing communities and tearing families apart. It was a day to remember, to pray, and to adorn graves with flowers to remember the sacrifice. Memorial Day wasn’t  officially recognized as a national holiday until 1971…more than a hundred years after people began the tradition of remembering all those who had lost their lives serving their country.Arlingtonandoldpic 011

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

I remember…I grew up in an Army town. Young men with crew cuts, tattoos, fast cars, and fast lives were ever-changing parts of the backdrop. Seemingly ordinary lives and faces, they were such an familiar part of daily living that I failed to see the glory and sacrifice played out in everyday encounters. I was totally unaware of the tremendous sacrifice and the risks involved in being a soldier. I failed to understand the scope of service and depth of their commitment. Practically kids, they were torn from their families and relocated all over the world. Driven and treated harshly, often viewed with suspicion and contempt, they were armed, equipped, and sent to the front lines to wage wars that would never end and could never really be won.

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,Washington, D.C 205

Strong and courageous, creative and daring, bold and fearless, fragile and broken…this human life and condition present varied experiences, challenges, opportunities, and chances for pain and wounding; but “a time to heal” and “a time to build” offer the promise of hope. We remember the past to honor sacrifice and to build a better future.

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

cellpixJuly2014 163I remember… Washington D.C.  is one of my family’s favorite cities to visit. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and remembrance, the city is built upon two hundred year old stories, legendary history, and extensive monuments that surround it like soldiers guarding their charge.  They stir us to remember.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

The streets, the shadows, the monuments shout echoes of patriotism, pride, loss, regret, and what should or could-have-beens.Washington, D.C 085

So many conflicting feelings and words: united, one nation, under God, liberty, justice for all…but also: division, anger, hatred, death, loss of hope. We are fearfully and wonderfully made but we are also needy and broken, We live, we love, we laugh, we lose, we hurt, we wound others. We remember

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

My family loves history. We travel to former presidents’ homes, Civil War forts, museums, and scattered landmarks. We gaze on old relics and tattered pieces of history with awe and admiration and reverence. We remember

 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,flags

Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the tattered flags, the eternal flame, the cold grave stones… They are silent. They are somber. They remember.

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace

Love and hate. War and peace. I hate war. I love peace. War within, war without. War is costly. Peace is costly. Today we remember the toll that both have taken on our country, our communities, our young people, our family, our friends. Will we really remember?

IMG_3883Will we remember to train up our kids, to tell them of God’s faithfulness and the sacrifice of generations who have gone before? Will we talk about it with our children and impress it on them when we are walking down the road, when we are at home, when we lie down and when we rise? Will we write it on our doorframes or on our very hearts? For what beliefs, lifestyles, and freedoms have our sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers laid down their lives?  Mindfulness demands thankfulness. Count your blessings, count your freedoms, know that freedom is bought with a price, and be thankful. Remember..

Memorial Day… Maybe it really is all these things:  Summer, new life, bountiful blessings, a safe place, time to play, laughter of children, a splash in the pool, a trip to the beach, cherished time with friends and family. But it was bought with a price. So remember its value. Enjoy blessings and safety, being aware that the price has already been paid. Remember and be thankful.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.       John 15:13 

Will you remember?

Washington, D.C 077

Father’s Eyes

I woke up early this morning and the house was completely img_7238still and silent. My favorite. The sun was shining, the sky was bold and blue, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day as I stood at the back door watching the morning come to life. Four bluejays, a pair of cardinals, a myriad of sparrows, and a squirrel were having breakfast at the bird feeder. A young bunny hopped through the fence and was promptly greeted by another. They immediately engaged in a game of chase…not sure if they were looking for love or for a fight but I still enjoyed the pregame show. My heart welled up to overflowing at the bounty and beauty of all the natural scenery.

Not sure why the words came…maybe because it’s Father’s Day weekend or maybe just seeing the beauty and wonder of creation; but my mind immediately began playing the old Amy Grant song Father’s Eyes:

When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say,
She’s got her Father’s eyes,
Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that find the good in things,
When good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help,
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes…

The words are pretty straightforward but, looking back, I’m not sure I fully understood the song as a teenager with limited experience and worldview.

What does that even mean? Father’s eyes? Some fathers teach their kids about football, baseball, or fishing. History, space, politics. Relation, interaction, confidence, belief. Some don’t. So they may teach them to do or to be, but what do they teach them to see?

I recently finished studying Genesis. What a way to look at the big picture through my Father’s eyes…eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around; eyes that find the source of help, when help just can’t be found, eyes full of compassion..

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

And it is so good. I have a shirt that says Life Is Good, so it must be true, right? But sometimes it’s hard too. I read it in Genesis, I’ve seen it on the news and in people’s lives, and I’ve lived it.

…Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around…

img_7253Sometimes I look at my backyard and marvel. Shortly after we first moved in, I stood in the backyard and cried. Cried. I loved the new house but the back yard was empty and houses were everywhere I looked. I felt so exposed but so alone. No privacy, no comfort. no cozy homey feeling. I was thankful, I was blessed; but it still wasn’t my garden, my Eden, my place to tend and nurture and commune with God. So… we created! Trees and flowers and birdhouses and feeders and cheap yard ornaments… Well we didn’t actually create trees and all the other stuff; but we created space, a habitat, and a view. Sanctuary.

What does all that have to do with Genesis, an Amy Grant song, and waking up too early? Sometimes I feel like the creator of my yard. I look at it andimg_7272 it is good. It brings me joy and peace and comfort. A healthy sense of pride and accomplishment. But like the real world, my little backyard world sees both joy and pain, life and loss.

…Eyes that find the source of help when help just can’t be found...

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Mt 6:26-29

img_7252Sometimes in the little picture of life, I see my back yard as a reflection of the big world. There is life and beauty and provision; but sometimes there is struggle, sickness, and death. I just want all the animals to have provision and safety and all the plants and trees to thrive. Birds, bunnies, squirrels, possums, raccoons, toads, even a snake  have all inhabited the yard and have delighted us all. (except maybe the snake) But they’ve also seen struggles, loss, bullying, predators, changing seasons. They’ve weathered harsh climate, circling hawks, empty feeders, bigger bullies, a prowling cat, and loud, clumsy dogs.

…Eyes full of compassion, seeing every pain…

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mt 9:36

Okay…maybe that’s a stretch to compare human spiritual img_7247conditions and worldly struggles to animals in a semi-controlled habitat; but it’s a picture of care that I believe God has put on my heart. The sadness or anger or hurt or injustice or pleasure or satisfaction I feel when I watch life unfold in the backyard is minuscule compared with the heart of God when He sees his creation…both the struggles and the victories, the sadness and the joy.

What does it mean to have His eyes in a sin-sick, broken, desperate world?

There’s a line in a popular contemporary Christian song that changed the way I look at people who may look or act or live differently that I do or think or expect.

One by one the enemy has told them lies and led them off as slaves…

Does that change the way you look at people? It does for me. Addiction, abuse, abandonment, hurt, just plain meanness…

It makes me want to be able to see good, the value, the potential.  It makes me want to have compassion, love, and forgiveness and to walk in truth and love.  I don’t think it’s easy or natural. Sometimes it even hurts. But it is freeing and is one step closer in making you who He meant you to be.

Well…the bunnies came back. I think they’re friends, flirting not fighting. I just watched them chew my sunflowers and then hop away happily.

My prayer is that my concern, my delight, my compassion will continue to expand well beyond my yard, my family, my circle of friends, my church, my community, the world… I pray that I will have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to help, and a heart to love.

Happy Father’s Day. May you have your Father’s eyes today.