Tag Archive | repentance

Lost in the rock and roll

Here’s the song reference.

Yesterday brought both my Aunt Gerri’s funeral and Bugaboo’s birthday party.  I had explained to Bugaboo previously that while the two events were happening during the same time frame, and that nothing less could keep me from her party, I needed to be at a celebration of a different sort, but that if the Lord would make a way, I would be there for at least the last little bit of her festivities at the skating rink.  Bugaboo is a loving and understanding little girl, and she understood first that sometimes grownups have to make difficult choices, and second that Mommy habitually keeps her promises.

I learned a lot about my Aunt at her funeral, not the least of which was that she and I share a common passion for feeding the hungry.  I also got the backstory on a question that’s gone unanswered since Granny’s memorial service in 1990.  Aunt Gerri loathed the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” but I never understood why until the minister who was eulogizing her told the story of how he and she had planned her final celebration together.  As it happens, she could not stand the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me,” because it was her stalwart belief that none of us are wretches, and that we are all beloved of God.

I love her logic.

It’s hard for me to write much more about Aunt Gerri’s homecoming party right now, but I do want to share something else that will remain with me for the rest of my life.  For the recessional and the procession to the memory garden for the interment of her ashes, my Aunt chose a song I sing with my children, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”  All those present clapped, swayed, and sang as her ashes were borne from the church, and the singing and clapping continued until the last congregants had left the sanctuary.

When I leave this earth, I want there to be as much rejoicing in the assurance that I am with my Lord as there was for my Aunt.  As joyful as it was, I could not hold back my tears for all those years that we could have shared in each other’s work, in each other’s love.  While I know that she forgives me, and the Lord Himself forgives me, it’s harder at times to forgive myself for my trespasses.

I left the church and headed down the interstate as fast as I could, in order to honor my promise to Bugaboo.  Suffice it to say that after some extremely frustrating moments in traffic, including one memorable exercise in un-Christian language (which I am grateful the tribe did not hear) directed at a driver who blocked the exit ramp while consulting his GPS and a test of the speedometer in my mom van, I did make it to the day’s other celebration, to Bugaboo’s unbounded delight and Mr. Man’s unbounded relief.  I forgot that in his two years, Mr. Man has had exactly two days when Mommy wasn’t there — one for an uncle’s funeral when Mr. Man was but a week old, and the other the day Baby Guy was born.

All of our children, their friends, and extended family had a terrific time at the skating rink, and the girls are now pretty comfortable on skates.  The older family members were all smiles from watching the passel of pint-sized people play, sing, and delight in glow stick jewelry and disco balls.  Again, it’s hard right now to write much, but I thought my heart would explode when each of my children in turn ran to me for hugs and kisses.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for such a morning as You gave me yesterday, filled with a loving family, most of whom I had never met before.  Thank You for the gift of the beautiful life of Your child and my Aunt, Geraldine Williams, for the beautiful example of covenant marriage she and Uncle Alusine built, for the beautiful gift of Daniel with whom You blessed their marriage.  Thank You for the blessed assurance that she is in Heaven this day with You, as will all those who keep Your covenants and commandments be.  Thank You for the gifts of song, dance, and laughter that You have given us to mark our celebrations for each other, and for You.  Help me teach Your blessings to love all Your gifts without qualification or reservation, simply because they come from you, and that none of us who live in You are wretched.

The evil ego and the vice of pride

Yesterday was the last game of Beanie’s maiden soccer season.  I don’t know how much she’s actually learned about playing the game, but I do know she’s had a stellar time running around the big field with a dozen balls, twenty-some little kids her age, a half-dozen or so teenaged girls, and the boundlessly encouraging Coach Jackie.  As soon as she had wolfed down her breakfast, she sped off to her room to change into her royal blue shirt, white soccer shorts, tie-dyed socks, and her pink shinguards over her socks but under her Hello Kitty sneakers — then proceeded to carom around the house, knocking into things and shrieking randomly.  Her excitement was hilarious, if a little nerve-wracking.  Poor old Bo fled downstairs and curled up against the washing machine.

Since Beanie was the first kid on the field, Coach Jackie let her pick her own “coach” for the practice and the game.  It was hardly surprising that the smallest player picked the tallest teenager to be her coach, to a cascade of giggles from her adolescent compatriots.  While coaching Beanie is definitely the most physically demanding job on the field, as she has predilections for sprinting off towards the woods if she sees butterflies and climbing the net anytime she finds herself within arms’ reach of a goal, I’m told that the benefit of abundant Beanie hugs and kisses for the person who fetches her back are a good offset.

While Beanie was cavorting on the soccer pitch with the rest of the boisterous midget mob, Mr. Man was exploring the perimeter of the field, Baby Guy was cheerfully disassembling my diaper bag, and Bugaboo was pouting because big sisters of players don’t get medals or trophies on the last day of soccer season.  I tried to engage her with an extra soccer ball, to no avail; instead, she informed me that she needed to find a potty.

I’ve missed a lot of soccer practice this season taking Bugaboo to find the potty, which is inside the school building, about 200 yards from the soccer field.  At roughly yard 199, Bugaboo informed me that she did not actually need to use said potty, but had merely wanted to go for a walk with me, and that she was tired of everyone playing attention to Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy.

I took a deep breath.  Then I took another one.

As we headed back to the soccer field, our oldest daughter and I had a bit of a chat.  I reminded her that, last spring, Beanie had faithfully stood on the sidelines for each of her big sister’s games, and no one had cheered louder.  I also reminded her that when she needs help with her schoolwork, I gently ask her siblings to wait while she gets the assistance she’s requested, that she is the only one allowed to use the shower unassisted, the only one who has a stash of books she doesn’t have to share with anyone, was the first to go roller skating, the first to have a drawing grace the wall of our upstairs hallway — it was a pretty lengthy litany of special attentions paid to our first-born child.  Then I explained, as gently as I could, because this is a very, very big flashpoint in our extended family, that being born first does not cause the world to revolve around a given child, that we love all our children, and that while each one of them will have moments when she or he is the center of all our attention, that centering in no way diminishes our love for the rest of them.  I also reminded that part of being part of both our family and the Lord’s family is that we share in each other’s joys and sorrows, choosing a share in our collective happiness instead of choosing to sit, sour-faced, on the sidelines.

I’m not sure how much of it penetrated Bugaboo’s cranium, and I’ll wager the speech will be repeated, perhaps with different verbiage, several thousand times over whatever years the Lord sees fit to grant me.

After a brief stop to pick up a couple of lunch necessities, we headed home to share a meal, with two tired and hungry little boys singing a wordless duet about their troubles in the middle of the van. As I was flinging plates and food towards each child, the phone rang, with a call that, while it was not unexpected, was no less sad.  My Aunt, of whom I wrote in a previous post, had passed away while our branch of the family tree was on the soccer field.  I stumblingly asked my cousin if there was anything he and my uncle needed, kicked myself mentally for stumbling, and told him I love him.  If you have the time and the inclination, please pray for him and my uncle.

Here’s the song reference.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, please have mercy on Your child, Geraldine, and welcome her to a joyful reunion with the family who preceded her into Your Kingdom.  Please comfort her husband and her son, and all of us who mourn her passage from this world.  Please soften the hearts of those who refuse to mourn, and fill them with Your loving grace.

Lord, thank You for the four blessings You have given us to raise.  Please help us teach them that while we are all part of a greater family in You, their first and best friends are the siblings with which You blessed them.  Please grant them hearts that are humble and forgiving towards all people, but most especially towards each other — and please, Lord, grant my husband and I the grace to show them, daily, what mercy, humility, and love look like in action.  Keep us mindful that no one of us is greater than any other in Your sight, and that to believe otherwise is to make the grounds of our souls fertile land for the seeds of envy, wrath, and pride, all of which serve to separate us from each other and from You.

Color our world

Yesterday was sort of an odd day, but it did involve a lot of sleep,which was a definite plus.  We’ve had a lot of early morning thunderstorms this week, which has led to the tiny people waking too early and snarking their way through days.  I’ve had my share of cranky moments, too.  The boys slept until almost 10:00 (this is rare — Beanie and Bugaboo are generally up by 7:00, while Mr. Man and Baby Guy usually make their presences known by 8:00), and by the time they awoke, the girls had giggled their way through several art projects, several stories, and an interesting round of make-believe starring Bugaboo as Camomod, the Flying Hero Girl (the name is her own creation) that I had to interrupt to tell my oldest daughter that she was not permitted to practice her flying skills by jumping off the headboards of the beds.

Once Mr. Man and Baby Guy woke and devoured pumpkin butter sandwiches and bananas for breakfast, it was time to head for the grocery store.   Armed with a list that was longer than it strictly needed to be (Grandma and Grandpa will both be here today, so I wanted to have a few extra dinner ingredients on hand), a pocketful of coupons, and a bottle for Baby Guy, I challenged the three walking children to a race to the van.  For the first time since Mr. Man learned to walk, I didn’t have to herd any lollygaggers after I buckled Baby Guy into his seat, so I’ll have to remember that tactic.

The tribe was delighted to discover that their campaign for a car cart was successful, and there were a couple parked directly in front of the store.  After a brief dust-up over who would get to share the car portion of the cart with Mr. Man (Bugaboo prevailed, and I explained to Beanie that whining and screaming in the parking lot will not procure her heart’s desires), we were off.  Beanie’s annoyance at being denied the second steering wheel was assuaged by my assurance that since she was walking instead of riding, she would get to be the big girl helper and put things in the shopping basket.

We entered our neighborhood grocery through the produce section, which is always a fun place to be with the tribe.  Mr. Man has been working on the names of colors lately, and Bugaboo was cheerfully quizzing him on the colors of carrots, peppers, and bananas as I perused.  Beanie carefully selected a bag of dark green avocadoes, inquired about the quantity of bananas we had at home, and needed a little help getting the five pound bag of carrots into the cart.  Once the cart was about a quarter full with fresh fruit and vegetables, I looked at the next item on my list, which happened to be pudding cups.

I do not normally buy pudding cups, but there were a few factors in play.  Factor one:  I had coupons which reduced the price of each pack of pudding cups to about thirty cents.  Factor two:  our grocery store has weekly features where, if you buy a certain number of items on the list, you get twenty cents per gallon off a gasoline purchase, and pudding cups were one of those featured items this week.  Gas is still close to $4 a gallon here, and my van has a twenty two gallon tank.  Factor three:  we do a lot of picnicking in the spring and summer, and pudding cups are nice to have on hand for lunches in the park.  Factor four:  the food bank is looking for dessert items, and pudding cups fit the bill and the budget.  Four factors, four wins, eight packages of pudding cups.  Stewardship comes in sweet, small, preservative-laden packages sometimes.

Beanie literally jumped for joy when I informed her that she had the awesome responsibility of picking out the eight packages of creamy goodness since she was, after all, my big girl helper.  Pudding cups of every flavor went flying into the basket, and somehow, she managed to take requests from Bugaboo (caramel) and Mr. Man (CHOCKWIT!!!!!).  I was delighted that she even remembered that the puddings with the blue label were “Grandma’s pudding,” and carefully selected a package of sugar-free cinnamon pudding, with an admonition to me not to forget to give it to Grandma (Grandma has diabetes, but enjoys a nice pudding cup from time to time).

As we proceeded down the canned fruit and juice aisle, Bugaboo convinced Beanie to trade places with her, so Beanie could ride in the car and Bugaboo could be my helper.  While they were trading places, Bugaboo informed me that Mr. Man had removed something from one of the store shelves and was refusing to replace it.

There are rules governing very small children and objects removed from grocery store shelves when I still have a couple dozen items on my shopping list.  First rule:  check to see if the object is breakable or openable by the child.  If it is, replace it with something else of a similar size, weight, and color that is on the list anyway, which cannot be opened or broken by the tiny person.  Second rule:  remind the child that we have to pay for whatever is in our cart at the end of the trip.  Third rule:  if it’s something I was planning to get anyway, thank the child for helping and remind him or her to ask before rendering any further assistance.

Fortunately, Mr. Man had acquired a plastic jar of unsweetened applesauce, which he loves almost as much as hot Italian sausage.  He cradled it gently in his wee hands all through the store, and briefly surrendered it to our smiling checkout lady, holding it up to her with a hopeful, “Pay take home eat?”

Baby Guy’s milk lasted just long enough for us to complete our selections and pay for our purchases (one of these days, I’ll post my standard grocery list as a help to any readers who struggle with grocery budgets; we feed our family of six on under $400 a month, and each meal includes at least one serving of some fresh produce item), and we headed for home with plenty of food and everyone chuckling over Mr. Man and his applesauce.  Groceries were stowed while the tribe demolished the lunch we’d picked up at the store; after that, Mr. Man and Baby Guy were ready for a nap.

Unexpectedly, Bugaboo was ready for a nap about an hour later.  She hasn’t really napped since just before she turned 3, which is why we have “quiet time” while the boys are sleeping.  Reading, TV time, or quiet crafts (or the balance of seatwork, sometimes) can fill those two hours, but only on very rare occasions do either she or Beanie actually sleep.

Beanie took a quick snooze, too, but Bugaboo’s nap was of the three hour variety, so Beanie got a lot of “I have Mommy all to myself” time.  We read her favorite stories for a while, and then she asked for some paints.  It irritates her when her colors get muddled, so she’s been practicing cleaning her brush with water and a paper towel between colors; she’s also determined, for reasons known only to her, to figure out how to paint a completely straight line.  For about an hour and a half, she adorned big sheets of paper with her practicing, presenting each one to me with a chirpy, “I made this just for you!” and receiving my smiling, “You do lovely work, sweetheart.  Thank you for thinking of me when you make something beautiful.”

I love my job.

Here’s the song reference.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, we know how important and beautiful the rich array of hues in Your creation are because, in the beginning of Your creation and the beginning of Your book of love letters to us, You made the rainbow as a sign of Your promise.  Thank You for the healthy eyes You have given us to see and appreciate them, to admire the beauty of Your handiwork, and thank You for Your little blessings who delight in them.  Help me teach them that every shade You have made is a reason to celebrate, that there is beauty and purpose in every hue in the heavens and on earth, and to see the blooming of flowers and the browning of leaves as parts of the glorious rainbow of Your promise of Heaven if we walk in friendship with You.  When we err, as we will do, give our eyes the grace to see the colors around us as reminders of that promise, calling us to wholeheartedly seek the happiness You promise us we will find through earnest repentance and return.

And thank You, Lord, for the days of simple pleasures and the grace of a heart that sings with joy at the simple knowledge that You are.

Stories without words

Bugaboo and I had a bit of a struggle yesterday morning over, of all things, sight words.  She was pretty adamant that she had forgotten all of the personal pronouns she’s been picking out of books since she was eighteen months old, and I was equally adamant that this was a required part of the day’s schoolwork.  After a couple of hours of tears and demands on her part, and redirections and seating changes on my part, we finally got through the list just in time for lunch.  I’m partly to blame for the problem; normally, I set the girls on their lessons while I’m making the morning phone calls (I check in with my mother and mother-in-law every morning, just to see how they’re doing and share the previous day’s funny grandkid stories), but yesterday, I opted to let them play during those conversations.  Oops.

The morning’s dispute ended up being a periodic topic of conversation throughout the rest of the day; I overheard Beanie admonishing her older sister, “You shouldn’t be ugly to Mommy like that.”  I chose not to bring it up, except during a quiet moment while Bugaboo and I were alone, reading a story together, when I asked her, “Honey, was it really worth all that?  We could have had an extra hour of stories and maybe even a craft this morning.”  She looked at me and sadly muttered, “No. I’d rather have the stories than a fight.  And I’d much rather do a craft.”

After dinner, the tribe settled in for a long storytime and a big bowl of popcorn.  One of the first books we read was Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon.  Mr. Man received the book for Easter, and when I bought it, I had assumed it was a retelling of the St. George and the dragon story; since Mr. Man’s given name is, in fact, George, it seemed like a fun and appropriate gift for the big guy. I was surprised to discover that it is a far gentler tale, and I’d encourage you to read the review linked above.  At least half of the story is told solely through illustrations, and Bugaboo, Beanie, and even Mr. Man himself had a great time filling in the story in their own words.  At the end of the story, Bugaboo asked me, “Mommy, why did the knight and the dragon want to fight each other?”  I answered that they probably thought it was what they were supposed to do, since there are so many stories about knights fighting dragons, and even in the book, both parties found lots of books in their libraries about how to fight each other.   She replied, “I’m glad they decided not to fight.  I like that they opened a stand together instead.”

We read a lot more stories before we prayed, sang songs, and bundled the tiny people into their beds.  That particular story, however, kept coming back to me, because it reminded me of our morning struggle with the sight words.  Yes, Bugaboo needs to know her sight words; yes, she needs to learn to follow instructions; yes, she needs to learn that sometimes the tasks set before us are not our favorite things to do.  That said, my job is to encourage and teach, and perhaps, in simply giving her a list of words and telling her to read them to me, then digging in my heels as stubbornly as she dug in hers, I taught her a lesson in inflexibility instead of the personal pronouns.  There will, of course, be times where a certain thing has to be learned in a certain way; this morning’s vocabulary exercise wasn’t one of them, but because I insisted on making it so, it turned into a cause of strife.  In Ephesians 4, I’m reminded that my words should be uplifting and edifying.  Telling a little kid she’s being stubborn isn’t particularly edifying; it’s analogous to telling water it’s wet.

The lessons of the lesson were still on my mind this morning as I sat down to write, and it finally occurred to me why I couldn’t get the incident out of my head.  I pulled up the Bible in another tab, and looked up St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Sure enough, there it was, right in the middle of chapter 3:  “Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged (Col 3:21).”

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the kids and I have been studying the parable of the prodigal son.  This morning, I’m the prodigal mommy, as I have been before and, I’m certain, as I will be many more times.  By meeting stubbornness with stubbornness instead of a gentle turning, Bugaboo and I ended up as the knight and the dragon in Mr. de Paola’s excellent story — with one of our heads stuck in a rock and the other stuck high in a tree.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the means and talents to educate Your blessings individually, here in our home.  You have given me tools, knowledge, and wisdom, and have granted me every grace when I have asked it of you.  Please help me remember that each of Your blessings is a unique, small person, as You created no two of us alike, but all in Your image.  When I try to insist that one of Your blessings must learn a certain thing in a certain way, please remind me that even You had to speak in parables at times, so that Your people could understand You.  Thank You for the reminder from a friend that each of Your blessings has his or her own particular beauty, and that while part of the trust You have placed in me involves making sure they walk in Your ways, another part involves making sure they have an example of the love You give us, one they can see always before them.

Please, Lord, grant me the grace of knowing when to shut my mouth and let my actions speak. Thank You for little blessings who are quick to forgive, and please help me think quickly and speak slowly enough that I might minimize the number of words for which I need to be forgiven.  Please infuse all of our lessons with the joy that comes from having You as my supervising teacher.

Serenity prayer

There is a prayer, popularly known as the serenity prayer, that goes, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I’ll be teaching that particular devotion to the tribe early and often.

My mother has one sister, who is married and has one child.  I had not seen any of them since my Granny left us in 1990, because of a disagreement between my mom and my aunt.  Because the disagreement escalated to a point where Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin have little to no contact with Mom’s side of the family, they hadn’t had any word of me since the early 2000s.

When Pop-Pop went to join Granny in 2009, I finally learned their last name.

After a modest amount of Internet sleuthing, I located a young man who I believed to be Cousin.  Since I wasn’t completely sure it was he, and wasn’t sure he, Uncle, or Aunt would welcome contact from me, I set a couple of bookmarks so I could contact him later if it seemed advisable.

Last weekend, I happened across a post by him on a website I read periodically, indicating Aunt was in the final stage of a fatal illness.  The advisability of attempting to contact Cousin was no longer debatable.  I posted a quick summary of the situation on Facebook and asked my friends for help in finding good, current contact information for Cousin.

The Lord is good, and sometimes tells me His will by what help He sends.  I contacted Cousin through an online messaging service he uses. He was quite surprised that I had managed to find him, although not displeased, and invited me to visit.  As it happens, they live less than an hour from us.  Cousin and I agreed that whatever else happens, the feud between our mothers will remain between our mothers henceforth.

We visited them yesterday.  Uncle and Cousin assure me that Aunt knew we were there. Cousin conveyed Aunt’s request that Mom not visit her.  My husband and I agreed to honor Aunt’s wishes. We have not yet told Mom of Aunt’s condition.

I hope there will be time for me to visit Aunt again in this world.  We will make the time for Uncle and Cousin.

As it happens, Uncle and I share a profession; we are both educators, although he teaches at the college level.  Cousin shares all of our love of music, my husband’s predilection for video games, and our daughters’ enjoyment of My Little Pony.

I held Aunt’s hand, and kissed her cheek, and told her I was sorry it had taken so much and so long for me to come see her and her family.

When I went to bed last night, and when I arose this morning, I couldn’t shake the thoughts of what might have been, how destructive resentments, grudges, and pride can be.  I have an uncle with stories to share who I’ve met, now, a total of three times.  I have a bright and interesting cousin who I’ve now met twice.  I have an aunt about whom I know next to nothing who is no longer able to tell me her story, and who the tribe won’t remember.  This estrangement has been for my entire adult life.  Has been.  It’s done.

I believe that I had to live every moment of my life exactly as I lived it in order to be who, what, and where I am today.  There have been times where the price has been terrible for my daily joy.  This is one of those times.  If I can go where the Lord leads me through this trial, I know my joy will increase, but I will have to listen more carefully than usual for His voice, because my memory of a grudge with foundations that are unclear to me will be trying to shout Him down.

Please forgive this unusually terse and inelegant post.  And please read Matthew 18.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for my cousin’s post on a message board that led me back to a part of our family I had given up.  Thank You for giving them enough mercy and love to invite us to visit.

Lord, please forgive me for my unloving thoughts, words, and actions over the past two decades.  Please help me teach Your blessings that there has never been a grudge among two people that has come from You.  Wrath is among the deadly sins for a reason; it cuts off a part of my heart from reaching out in love, and instead allows a hellish brew of anger and resentment to fester where love and forgiveness should be.  Help me teach Your blessings to stand firmly with You when asked to be a part of someone else’s grudge, and when I am tempted not to forgive, or am tempted to bear ill-will because of a wrong alleged by another, please show me my aunt’s face.  When I choose anger, I am spurning Your gifts.  Kindle in me a grateful heart, Lord, one that is open that what blessings You send.  Please grant me, and help me teach Your blessings, a spirit of genuine and generous repentance, instead of useless and selfish guilt.

Growing pains

Yesterday morning, we finished up our coloring books about the parable of the prodigal son.  As the last crayon strokes were being applied, I asked Beanie and Bugaboo what they thought made the father in the story so happy.  Both of them replied the father had thought his younger son was dead, but when he showed up alive, he was so happy he threw a huge party to celebrate. Their wee brows furrowed as I explained to them the father was certainly relieved to see his younger son safely home, but his real joy was in the young man’s loving repentance, and realization that his pursuit of all earthly delights had led him to ruin.  The father, I went on to explain, was wild with joy that his son had returned with a wish to work hard and live uprightly.

Since they continued staring at me in puzzlement, I asked them to think about times they’ve been sent to their rooms with instructions to sit quietly on their beds until they can explain why they were sent thither and show some remorse for whatever caused the sending, then asked them what I usually do when they emerge.  Both quickly replied that I greet them with hugs and kisses, just as the young man’s father did.  “That’s absolutely right,” I told my daughters, “and, while I’m always happy to see your adorable little faces, I’m even happier that you’ve decided you want to do good things instead of unkind ones.”

It was a pretty rocky morning; no one had slept well the night before, and Baby Guy was ready for his nap before 10:30.  Mr. Man made it two more hours after that, then fell asleep with his face planted firmly his peanut butter sandwich.  Since the boys were snoozing, the girls and I decided it was a Strawberry Shortcake kind of day; after handing off some baby gear to a friend for transport to a family in need of same, I curled up on the couch with Beanie and Bugaboo for a little rest.   The boys were still sleeping when the pair of shows ended, and I needed a little more horizontal time myself, so I conceded the point and closed my eyes while the girls enjoyed an episode of Pound Puppies.  As it happened, the episode was about learning to love creatures we initially think are obnoxious, so it turned out to be a nice little heart’s lesson for them and a badly-needed extra nap for me.

While I could cheerfully have sacked out on the couch for the rest of the afternoon with my snuggly little daughters, it’s unwise to let them vegetate in front of the television for extended periods, so I hauled myself aloft and asked if either of them would like to do a craft.  I believe they may have actually teleported into their chairs at the kitchen table, which I took as an affirmative answer, and quickly assembled a few oddments I had handy.  We decided to make angels, since I had a few yards of white tulle, some fluff that looked cloudlike, and oodles of construction paper.

The house is now adorned with their creations.

By the time we had decked the doors with celestial beings, Bugaboo and Beanie were tiring of quiet time, so I gave them leave to put on shoes and head for the back yard.  I had to call a couple of admonitions out the window to Bugaboo about the tone of voice she was using with her sister, and reminders to both that neither of them has exclusive rights to anything in the back yard.  The racket woke the boys, who decided to play together in the living room with a big bag of blocks while I assembled dinner.

Of course, I was slicing a loaf of crusty bread with a very sharp knife when I heard the blood-curdling shriek from Bugaboo.  Hurling the knife into the sink, I spun around to the back window of the kitchen, whereupon I spied Bugaboo perched precariously on Beanie’s preferred swing.  The precariousness of her perch was caused by the hands, belonging to said Beanie, which were twined in her hair in an effort to pull her off the swing at the center of the apparent controversy.

There are moments when I really, truly, do not care what my neighbors think.  That happened to be one of them.  I’m pretty sure they heard me at least two streets over.

Two wailing, crying little girls bolted into the house and up the stairs, Bugaboo bemoaning the (understandable!) pain from her head, Beanie complaining, “She took my swing!”  I shushed Beanie very firmly and informed her of her options — either sit silently at the table and eat her dinner, or go to her room.  While she was tearfully deciding, I checked Bugaboo and determined that there was no real damage done, although I am positive her scalp was smarting (having had my hair used as a rope ladder by all four of my children, I can attest that having one’s hair pulled really hurts), gave her hugs, kisses, and a cup of water, then settled her in at the table for dinner.  Beanie did tell Bugaboo she was sorry, and apologized to me, too.

Dinner was a bit of a struggle as well; the only child who actually enjoyed our Friday soup (split pea with ham) was Baby Guy.  By the time Bugaboo finished hers, I had already given Mr. Man and Baby Guy their baths; by the time Beanie finished hers, Bugaboo and Mr. Man had picked up all the toys in the living room and the girls’ room.

When Daddy came home, the girls were in the bathtub.  They wash each other’s hair and check each other’s faces for dirt spots.  Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to invent bathtub games that result in a lot of water being deposited on the floor of the upstairs bathroom (repainting the downstairs and installing new shelves is a very high priority, so the kids can have their own bathroom and we don’t have to worry about the upstairs fixtures suddenly landing in the downstairs facilities).   My husband, after a quick evaluation of my facial expression, sent me off to take a break and informed our daughters it was time to dry off and get ready for bed.  I took the opportunity to read some stories to Mr. Man and Baby Guy; when the girls and Daddy joined us in the living room, we prayed our bedtime prayers and sang lullabies.

After we tucked the boys into their beds, I let the dogs out.  As I came back up the stairs, I heard Beanie campaigning for some dessert, and firmly said, “No way.”  That brought a wail from our younger daughter.  ” BUT I’M SORRY!”

My husband called her over to where he was sitting on the couch and settled her on his lap.

“Why are you sorry?”
“I’m sorry because Mommy’s ticked off at me!”
“Do you know why Mommy is ticked off at you?”
“I did some bad things.”
“What bad things did you do?”
“I whined.”
“You always do that.  What did you do that ticked Mommy off?”
“I tried to pull Bugaboo off the swing.  I pulled her by the hair.  It didn’t work.”

At that point, Bugaboo chimed in, “Yeah, she tried to pull me off the swing by my hair.  I could have hit my head on the ground and died.”  Thankfully, I was in the girls’ room making sure there were no cups of milk hiding under beds, and thus could chuckle quietly.

“That’s pretty bad.  Did you apologize and give her a hug and a kiss?”
“I’m sorrrrry.”  Hug, kiss.

Daddy then proceeded to have the most gentle discussion possible of how important they could be to each other, and reminded them that each of them had been given, by God, exactly one sister on this earth.  I teared up when I heard him explain that if they let the petty things fester, they could end up like someone very dear to us and her sister, who haven’t exchanged a civil word in twenty-two years, or spoken at all in the last ten.

After that, Daddy and I snuggled the two of them between us on the couch while we read a few extra stories.  When the stories were finished, he picked up Bugaboo, I picked up Beanie, and we carried them down to their room just to get the extra hugs in.  Once inside their door, we hugged the two of them between the two of us, which the girls refer to as a “family hug sandwich,” and were rewarded by Beanie cheerfully crowing, “I’m a baby pickle!”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, only You can form a conscience in an instant.  It will take me a lifetime to help shape the consciences of Your blessings so that they choose to regret unkind actions, instead of just being upset by the consequences of their actions.  Please grant me patience and the abundant grace I will need to set a good example for them at all times.  Thank You for their willingness to forgive, and their nascent understanding that You rejoice whenever one of Your children turns from self-serving thoughts and deeds in a spirit of loving repentance.  You forgive us freely, without holding our transgressions over our heads or carrying grudges, and we would follow You.  Please teach us to speak, think, and act with the mercy we would have shown to us.

Sorry seems to be the hardest action

We were back to our normal homeschooling routine yesterday, starting with a little morning seatwork. In my experience, any time I temporarily alter a child’s routine, I’m going to get a certain amount of pushback when you return to regularly scheduled programming — in addition to shaking off my own set of cobwebs.  My usual strategy is to start Beanie with a coloring assignment and Bugaboo with a new skill, as Beanie loves to color and will follow instructions for, say, color by numbers, independently.

Bugaboo is working on the rudiments of place value, finding groups of ten and remainders when given a set of objects, and she’s actually picking it up fairly quickly. We did a couple of exercises together, then she tried one by herself.  When I checked her work, I miscounted the marbles in the problem and mistakenly told her she had done it wrong.  Her forehead creased, and she began to count them again, very slowly.  As she was counting, I realized she had the right answer, so I laid a hand on her shoulder and apologized, “I miscounted, and you did it right.  I’m sorry I wasn’t more careful and that I told you the wrong thing.  I will be sure to double-check next time.”  She replied with a cheery smile and, “That’s okay,” then started counting the next group of marbles.

In the meantime, Beanie was pretending her crayons were ballerinas, and was making them “dance” in the air above her color-by-numbers page.  Part of the reason I like to start her with that kind of exercise is that, as with most 3 1/2 year olds, she finds getting and staying focused to be rather challenging.  The world is interesting, and she’d rather explore it and find new and interesting things to do with what she finds than sit in a chair and follow instructions.  Unfortunately, that sitting in a chair when you’d rather be doing something else is, in itself, a necessary skill.  I issued a series of gentle reminders that she would need to actually apply the crayons to the paper in order to complete her assignment, and was met each time with a sighed, “I’m sorry,” and a thousand watt Beanie smile.

It drives Bugaboo a little nuts when Beanie makes up games with her crayons instead of doing her work, and over time, she will start to focus on her younger sister instead of the task at hand.  Of course, Beanie appears to be having much more fun avoiding her work than Bugaboo is having doing hers, so Bugaboo (who is not quite 5) will eventually start trying to dodge her task as well.  Her favorite method of avoidance is to try to convince me that she doesn’t know how to hold a pencil or write a letter or number.  Since she’s been doing all of the above for over eighteen months, she’s generally unsuccessful, and yesterday morning was no exception.  Luckily, our oldest blessing waited until she was on her last math problem before she became frustrated, so it was easy to give her a big hug, compliment her on the work she’d done, and remind her that if she finished this last problem, she could go take a break and show her little brothers how to count blocks (she loves to teach the little guys).

Quickly finishing her assignment and getting a high-five of approval from me, Bugaboo zipped off to go find her brothers and the big bag of blocks.  Beanie started after her, but I called her back to her chair and reminded her that she had work to do.  She immediately responded with the “you’ve just told me the world’s chocolate supply has ben destroyed” face and a mournful wail of, “I’m SORRY!”  Hugging her, I explained to her that neither weeping, nor wailing, not gnashing of teeth were necessary, just the use of a crayon, a workbook, and the kitchen table.

I may have mentioned in the past that Beanie is the resident drama queen.

Fifteen minutes later, when Bugaboo returned to the table to work on her penmanship, Beanie had actually colored one cell of her picture, and was finding all the other spots containing the number 10.  Bugaboo finished practicing uppercase and lowercase letters and finding “the” in a storybook.  Beanie had taken two potty breaks and one water break, but had still not completed her first task of the day.  She had, however, devolved into wailing, “I’m sorry,” about once per minute.  I sent Bugaboo off for another break, and took the opportunity to speak gently to Beanie about the need to do the things we must before we do the things we like.  I pulled my chair close to her and coached her through the color by number page.

Ninety minutes after we’d begun, it was finished, and she was finally able to take the certificate of completion out of the back of the workbook.  I carefully printed her name on it and used a glue dot to stick it to a pane of the kitchen window, to her eminent delight.  She breezed through her numbers and letters while Jackie had a tea party with her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and the boys rolled cars, blocks, and Lite Sprites around the living room.

As an aside, Baby Guy is currently his siblings’ favorite — now that he is crawling proficiently and able to follow simple instructions, he can retrieve any toy that rolls under the couch or loveseat.

We ended our school day with a reading and project from Beanie’s devotional, which happened to be on the subject of confessing one’s wrongs and apologizing for them.  That’s a tough concept for a lot of adults, and it’s challenging for tiny people as well.  At any rate, we read the story of one sister knocking over the other sister’s blocks, then lying about it initially, and then we talked for a while about the importance of not just saying the word, “sorry,” but doing what we can to rectify whatever hurt we’ve caused.  I modified the devotional’s suggested discussion, which included the giving of physical presents wrapped in handmade paper to people we’ve wronged, because I don’t want to give them the impression that when they’ve made a choice that hurt someone, it can all be made better by giving them a present.

I used examples from our learning time to clarify what could be considered a wrong — my telling Bugaboo she was wrong when she wasn’t, Beanie playing with her crayons instead of doing her work, Bugaboo telling me she didn’t know what the number 2 looked like, Beanie kicking Mr. Man when he wandered into the kitchen in search of a drink, me forgetting to check Baby Guy’s diaper before I put him in the high chair; we talked through what the right thing to do would be.  In most cases, the simple answer is an apology, preferably accompanied by a hug, correcting oneself (admitting I was wrong, coloring the picture, writing the number, changing the diaper and giving some extra snuggles), and asking God to help us not make the same mistake again. Kicking one’s brother might require a little more than a hug and, “I’m sorry;” doing something nice for him would definitely be in order.  Beanie actually took that quickly to heart, and ran to the living room to give him an extra hug and open the toy box for him.

The girls spent a little time talking about the things they could have done differently that morning, and then were ready for a project. While the project in the devotional was for sponge-printed wrapping paper, I changed it to sponge-painting the fence, since they recently received a whole bunch of those gelatin capsules that release sponges when dropped in warm water.  Two buckets of paint, a handful of spongy dinosaurs, and an instruction to go make something beautiful in the world later, they were off.

Beanie painted herself instead of the fence.  I’d show you a picture, but I was too busy keeping her from touching or sitting on anything to grab the camera.  One bath later, we all reassembled at the kitchen table for lunch.  When Bugaboo asked for a cup of water, I realized that I’d forgotten to get the cups (none of them can reach that cupboard, not can they get to the tap), so I took the opportunity to point out that I had committed a small wrong by what I had not done — by not setting out cups of water to wash down our bread, cheese, and fruit — that I was sorry for it, and that I would now get down the cups so some hot and thirsty small people could drink their water.

Beanie didn’t want to eat her lunch, either.

Beanie also didn’t want to stay quiet during quiet time.

Beanie also didn’t want to stop kicking her siblings and I.

Beanie also didn’t want to eat her dinner.

I could keep listing out the things Beanie didn’t want to do, but I’ve already burned through 1500 words describing what must seem like minutiae to make a broader point about something very important that I will likely spend the rest of my life teaching our children, and trying to perfect in myself.  It’s the fact that, as I explained many times to Beanie yesterday when every redirection and corrected was met with freshets of tears and wails of, “I’m sorry!” — “Sorry isn’t something you say.  It’s something you do.  If you’re sorry, stop doing it, and choose to do the right thing.”

You see the key to being sorry is to actually regret that you’ve done something that wronged another.  It’s not regretting getting caught, it’s not regretting getting in trouble, it’s actual remorse for an action and deciding to change my ways.  We are all fallible, and that to become better followers of Christ and better human beings generally, we must be able to recognize and admit that we have erred, and to have a firm purpose of amendment.  We must take responsibility for both the good and bad consequences of our actions and choices, and genuinely regret it when we’ve caused hurt to another, to ourselves, and to the Lord who gave us life.  There’s no need for lingering guilt or scrupulosity of we simply resolve to ask for God’s grace in amending our thoughts, words, and deeds.  That doesn’t mean that we’ll ever be perfect, and it doesn’t mean that we won’t utter hurtful words or commit hurtful deeds ever again.  It simply means that, over time, instead of making a great and public show of feigned remorse, we will make a quiet amend and take the opportunity to grow in both humility and wisdom.  To put it very bluntly, I will be far more pleased if my children grow to be wise and humble hairdressers than if they grow up to be wealthy and arrogant celebrities.

Teaching humility and charity is the toughest part of my job as a mom.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You have entrusted the education of Your blessings to my husband and I.  We are grateful for the opportunity to train up children in Your ways, and even more grateful for the example of humility and mildness You set for us.  Please help us to teach them to be remorseful when they have wronged You or any of Your children, and to ask You for the grace of a changed heart.  You taught us that every human being errs, and that the guilt and shame come only from attempting to conceal our errors from each other and from You, who are all-knowing.  You also taught us that every offense can be forgiven if we but ask with a humble and contrite spirit.  Please help us to set a righteous example for them of how to admit fault, and how to forgive, both with love and humility.

Visual aids

All of our little blessings have great enthusiasm for art and craft projects, and we make it a point to do something creative with them each day. Granted, the girls always have some sort of coloring pages included in their schoolwork, and Mr. Man and Baby Guy, if they are around, clamor for crayons and paper of their own while their sisters are doing their lessons.  However, they like to get into something that’s not an actual assignment as well, so we keep plenty of Play-Doh, magic paint posters, tempera, watercolors, craft kits, pompons — oh, you get the idea.  If Martha Stewart could get over the dry heaves the general condition of our house would give her, she’d be impressed with the selection of craft supplies.

Every liturgical season at our house comes with its own long-term project, though.  We are currently in the season of Lent, when those of our faith are called to reflect and repent.  This is kind of a tough concept for small children, who, while they are perfectly well aware of the need to say, “I’m sorry” when they’ve transgressed a rule.  We wanted them to have some way to see the impact of their works of kindness and their sins against others, particularly against each other, that would make sense to them.  As a result, our hall closet is currently covered with a huge sheet of paper, on which has been taped a large construction-paper cross.  Each time one of the kids does something really ugly, we put a nail on the cross (the two oldest are sufficiently familiar with the life of Christ that they knew he was nailed to a cross, and Mr. Man has poked his finger on a nail, so  he knows they’re not nice things); each time one of them does something kind, or makes a good decision, we put a flower around the cross.

This is what it looks like — I apologize for the poor photo quality, but the hallway is narrow and getting the shot is a huge challenge:

I love that there are far more flowers than nails, and the flower population is growing day by day.  Even better is that, while it started out as both of the girls pointing out their own actions that were flower-worthy and their siblings’ (and, yes, sometimes their parents’ — we’re not exempt) nail-worthy transgressions, both Beanie and Bugaboo are developing the habit of admitting their own faults and celebrating their siblings’ kindnesses.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the reassurance that Your blessings are developing good consciences, and a desire to treat others with kindness.  You ordained this season of reflection for us to assess our own actions and to redouble our efforts to extend a merciful hand to those whom You have blessed differently.  Thank You for the means to share Your bounty, and thank You for the love Your blessings have for us, each other, and You.