Just Ask Anne

anne_of_green_gablesI was invited to share a devotional recently at an “Anne of Green Gables” themed baby shower. The guests of honor were a sweet friend and her newly-adopted and long-awaited baby girl. Anne was adopted too, so it was a fitting theme for a very special celebration.

Most of you are probably familiar with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s precocious and charming character, “Anne-with-an-‘e’.” My former roommate Kim was obsessed with her. Years later I, too, became enchanted as my two oldest daughters and I read the books which chronicled her adventures together. And while Anne had a penchant for creating mischief, she also possessed a wisdom beyond her years.

As I reflected on a few of her well-known quotes, they reminded me of some biblical principles for parenting…

1) Relating to God.

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into…that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

When you become a parent, your time is no longer your own. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself! As a new mom I especially missed my long, uninterrupted times with God. Often I’d be too tired to even focus my scattered thoughts into prayers. I used to beat myself up for this.

Here’s what I would tell that mama now:  God knows. Give yourself grace. He does.

I was inspired by Gigi Graham Tchividjian’s habit of leaving her Bible open on the ironing board, so she could read or meditate on a verse or two as she went about her busy day. There are many creative ways to relate to God. And He is always closer than a prayer.

Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” (The Message)

2) Making mistakes.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

I remember cuddling my own perfect newborn baby girl and determining to be the perfect mom for her. And then there was that day I was visiting a friend at the hospital and literally FORGOT that I had a nursing baby at home! Upon my return, I was greeted at the door by a frazzled husband and a famished child! Oops. Major mom fail.

Mistakes will be made. Thankfully kids (and usually husbands) are very forgiving. So is God.

“…His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:23b,24a, ESV)

3) Being content.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

I believe the secret to contentment as a parent is to enjoy what is good in each season. If you focus on what is difficult, you’ll miss what is delightful. If you lament the things you’ve lost or fret about the future, you’ll miss the gifts you’ve been given.

I absolutely dreaded the teen years. And while teens can be challenging, they are also a ton of FUN! I have experienced great joy in watching each of our daughters develop into beautiful young women. Look for the good. It’s there.

“… you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on…the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message)

4)  Finding friends.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Two decades ago we packed up our two-bedroom apartment and a five-month-old baby and moved “across the pond” to jolly old England. Where we didn’t know One. Single. Soul. Suddenly I didn’t feel so jolly.

Wherever we go, we need kindred spirits–those friends of the heart who just “get” us. Soon after settling into our quaint little English village, God graciously answered my prayers for such a friend through Caroline, herself a new British mum. Through the years there have been others who have come along just when I needed the encouragement of a fellow mom. I currently meet once a week with some dear kindred spirits to pray for our children.

Parenthood is best played as a team sport. Don’t go it alone. Your kindred spirits are out there too, just waiting to be found.

(Paul speaking of Timothy) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20, NAS)

 5)  Risking love.

“There is no use in loving things if you have to be torn from them, is there? And it’s so hard to keep from loving things, isn’t it?”

“Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.”

I used to hate it when older moms or random strangers would say that to me when my kids were young. Because I wanted to hold onto my babies forever. And I knew I couldn’t.

Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” (Elizabeth Stone)

There is an inherent vulnerability that comes with having and loving a child. It can be hard on the heart. But nothing has taught me more about selfless, sacrificial love than being a mom. It has stretched me and called out the best in me. It has taught me to love like God loves.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NLT)

Parenting will take all you’ve got. And then some. But love is always worth the cost.

Whether you’re a new parent just embarking on your journey, or one who’s logged some parenting miles, take heart. There is help and wisdom to guide you along the way.

Sometimes it may come from a surprising source, like a former orphan girl named Anne.

But always, always, it is readily available from your ever-present and never-failing Heavenly Father.

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Mother’s Day Confession

It’s time for a little confession.

My husband got me Godiva chocolates for Mother’s Day.

And I complained.

I know, I know.  It wasn’t pretty.  I told you this was a confession.  I admit the error of my ways.

But you see, I’m a Ghirardelli girl.  My husband knows this.  So when I pull a shiny package of foil-wrapped truffles beginning with the wrong letter ‘G’ out of the gift bag you can understand my confusion, right?

What was wrong was my reaction.

By focusing on the brand of chocolate in that bag I missed out on a beautiful truth:

I have a husband who brings me chocolate.

Better yet:

I have a husband.

Better still:

I have children.

Best of all:

I am loved.

At the end of Mother’s Day, or any day, aren’t those gifts more than enough?  The type of chocolate, the color of the flowers or the sentiment on the card doesn’t really matter.  It’s all too easy to miss the richness of our reality, the miracle of the moment, longing for what we think we lack.

I may not have it all.  What I have may not be perfect.

But I’ve heard it said that:

Happiness is wanting what you have.”

The truth is, I already have so much more than I could ever want.

Thank You, Lord.

Even the finest chocolates pale in comparison.

Godiva

…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:20, ESV)

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Reality Check

“Just pull down his lower eyelid and squeeze a strip of the antibiotic cream onto it, three times a day,” the vet explained.

Riiiight.

She made it sound so easy.  Don’t be fooled.  Innocent looking, 3.2 lb puppies are deceptively strong.  And if applying eye cream three times a day wasn’t overwhelming enough, we had the added challenge of squirting ear drops twice a day to treat an ear infection.  Uh huh.

Just livin’ the doggie dream.

Having a puppy is so much more demanding than we anticipated.  I had pictured all cuteness and cuddles.  And while there is certainly that, a puppy also comes with inconvenience and puddles.  And vet bills.  And other stuff I’d rather not discuss.  (Refer to my previous post.)

I guess I hadn’t fully counted the cost.

It’s easy to glamorize something we desire without adequately preparing for its difficulties.  For example, we focus on planning an elegant wedding instead of establishing an enduring marriage.  We dream of an adorable baby, when what we’re really getting is a child, along with a two-decade long assignment to shape them into a responsible adult.  We tend to be short-sighted, surprised when things turn out to be more than we signed up for.

So what do we do when reality disrupts the dream?  The way I see it, we have two options:

1–Hang onto the dream and develop resentment.
2–Let go of the dream and develop contentment.

I went into marriage expecting something along the lines of Disneyland.  When my reality didn’t match up with my fantasy, I had a choice to make.  I could continue to chase the dream, or accept and love the man God gave me.  (Most of the time I’ve chosen the latter.  Except on Valentine’s Day.)

Parenting has proven to be one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things I’ve ever done.  I love my daughters.  They truly are the delight of my life.  But (surprise!) they don’t always measure up to the ideals I have for them.  Can I let go of control and allow them to grow into the people GOD envisioned, loving them unconditionally along the way?  I’m learning.

Puppies ARE cute.  AND expensive.  AND high maintenance.  It’s like having a baby in the house.  Wrapped in a toddler.  I’m adjusting my expectations accordingly.

And just about the time I’m exhausted and think I’ve had enough, he’ll lick my chin affectionately and plop his fluffy little head down on my shoulder with a contented sigh.

A reminder that I, too, can be content.

Cuddles, puddles and all.

This face. If only it were this easy to keep him clean!

 

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The Contentment Club

We were finally “empty nesters.”  Well, for the weekend at least.  With our three girls spread out across Oregon, Nebraska and Colorado, Chris and I found ourselves “home alone” for the first time in over 20 years!  We tried to recall all those things parents wish they could do when the kids are young and constantly underfoot.  (But we’re old and couldn’t remember what they were.)  We did manage to take in a couple of movies and eat at a restaurant we liked, without having to listen to the complaints of a certain picky eater.  Silence can be golden.

Then last weekend we were blessed with a “full house.”  The chicks returned to the nest — along with several others, Rachel’s college friends/sorority sisters.  (And Chris resumed his normal “Minority in a Sorority” status.)  The Smith Bed and Breakfast/ Restaurant/Tea Room was Full.  Not just of guests, but of laughter, noise, activity and Life.

The Smith B&B also boasts a full-service Craft Room. Here are the crafters doing their thing.

Talk about extremes!  From an empty nest to a full house, all in a matter of days!  When I mentioned this on Facebook, a friend commented, “I pray you’re content in both.”  This got me wondering, What does it really mean to be content?

I like to think of myself as a content person.  I’m usually “in the moment.”  You know, the “wherever you are, be all there” type.  (My husband worries about this when I travel.  I get so caught up in the here and now that I’ve been known to forget that I have a family back home who might appreciate a phone call every now and then.)

But even if contentment doesn’t come naturally to us, the apostle Paul maintains that it is a character quality that can be acquired:  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11b, NIV)  He expands on this in the next verse:  “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12b)

I was intrigued to discover that the metaphor Paul uses here is a reference to pagan initiation rites.*  Rachel and her friends were recently initiated into their sorority on the CSU campus.  I was also a sorority girl in college (please don’t judge).  Initiation is the ceremony where the “secrets” of the organization are revealed to the new members.  So what is the “secret” to contentment and how can we join the “club”?

Unlike Paul, I am still learning.  But I believe it begins with knowing God and learning to trust His character.  “A contented mind is an invaluable blessing, and is one of the fruits of religion in the soul.  It arises from the belief that God is right in all his ways.”  (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, emphasis mine.)  I can be content when I rest in the knowledge that God is good and therefore whatever He chooses to give me is also “good.” (See Psalm 84:11-12.)  He has promised His children that He will take even the negative things in life and bring something positive out of them.  (See Romans 8:28.)

Merriam-Webster defines content as to be “satisfied.”  Barnes goes on to say that “…one of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence.”  This reminds me of the saying, “Happiness is wanting what you have.”  We have a choice to focus on what we wish we had or to embrace and find satisfaction in what we do have–the blessings, big or small, that a gracious God has bestowed on us.

A few times during The Weekend of the Empty Nest I did feel sorry for myself because I was missing out on a fabulous choir trip to Portland.  But dwelling on that would have caused me to squander the valuable gift of uninterrupted time alone with my husband.  The noise level did get to me during The Weekend of the Full House, when it disrupted a television program I was trying to watch or interfered with my sleep.  But becoming irritable would have robbed my joy in being hospitable, so I chose to entertain my guests instead of those thoughts.

Members of the Episcopal church are encouraged to pray this prayer at the start of each day:  Grant us…minds always contented with our present condition.**  Perhaps we could make this our prayer as well.  It might be another key to unlocking the secret of contentment.

Rachel and Co. have since returned to the dorm, and our home has returned to a state of relative calm.  Who knows what next weekend will bring?  But I do know that whether the house is empty or full, quiet or loud, or somewhere in between those two extremes, I can choose to be…content.

Care to join me?

*Source:   Vincent’s Word Studies.

**From the U.S. Book of Common Prayer, 1892.

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