Author Archives: allthingshopedfor

Oh Holy Night!

I am so excited for our Candlelight Christmas Eve Service tonight.  Gathering with family and friends, worshipping the culmination of our waiting, hearing my 7 year old daughter proclaim the gospel, listening to my husband Scott preach his God breathed words of wisdom and hope, cookies, conversations and hugs afterwards – I can just feel the glow of it all and I am giddy as a child on Christmas Eve!

There is so much to this sweet season that can distract us from all that is so very good.  For this day, in spite and maybe because of all the inevitable noise, chaos and clutter, I am feeling so grateful for the mess of it all and the chance to glorify a Baby who has given us everything.

My heart goes to a stable where a young mom and a first time dad wait and work under stars shining bright to birth a baby who will save the world. I think of each of my children’s births, how I have labored through the night with hopeful expectation.  Body full of pain and a heart full of hope that they would breath life into their lungs when I finally got to hold them in my arms, even when I knew deep down one would not. I still hoped, until they came.  God has never taken that hope from me and it is how he has sustained me.  Even when the breath of life was gone, I have never lost hope that all would be well.

I pray this season you may have hope, and love and joy and peace and comfort too.  All those things we write and receive on all those Christmas cards.  Read them, know them, feel them.  We are loved and we have reason to rejoice.

Merry Christmas!

Here, again is my favorite hymn of the season 06 – O Holy Night, listen loud, sing it louder.
I posted this last year just after Christmas…

A Thrill of Hope in a Weary World

Oh Holy Night speaks of the dual nature of hope and suffering in life like no other Christmas carol.  It speaks to my heart and gives me reason to praise.  As I seek to sing in a season of remembrance and hope, the lyrics acknowledge I am often pining and weary and hurting.  It says He knows this.  He knows our need.  He knows us! And in knowing Him, our soul finds worth, even in the midst – and maybe especially – when we have trials.  We are loved, valued, treasured – of worth.  I will overcome my suffering, because He will overcome it – all oppression shall cease.  At the top of my lungs, in a pitch I can barely reach, I sing my heart out…
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O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim

Darkness & Light: Where He Abides

01 Winter Song (with Ingrid Michaelson)

Today is a day of joy and pain. It is the unexpected birthday of my baby girl’s planned birth, on the anniversary of my baby boy in heaven’s funeral – this Winter Solstice day of the Darkest Night.

Three years ago on this day I gathered with my husband, living children, family and friends to mourn the loss of my full term son Fisher.  One year later, after two long years of pregnancy, I gave birth to my baby girl, a planned induced birth that was to be on the 20th and lasted into the wee hours of this Solstice morning.  I heard the beautiful cry of life this day where bliss and loss have become good friends.  My babies will meet in heaven one day, all six of them, and there will be laughter to replace all these tears.  There is laughter here too.  Both I embrace.

Too many deaths. Too many thoughts this month, with too little time to write.  Here are a few formed to words…

Lord, I stand with you at the edge of a beautiful life overlooking the valley of the shadow of death.  I rage with you against the horror of it, small and safe beneath your wing. Knowing you are love, that you loved my beloved and that you love me.  Still though I wonder.

I look at you, in love, wondering if maybe you betrayed me somehow by allowing death to take my child.  Were you a willing participant Lord?  Did Satan come to you as with Job, and you said: let it be? Allowed the boy I’d given every ounce of my being to nurture and love for 10 long months to die before his life began? How could you have obliged?  How do I not give you ownership when I honor your hand in everything else?  What was your role in this?

I know you did not point the gun, twist the cord, that took the breath he never breathed.  But you knew. You were there. You are here now.  Your omnipresence often comforting, implicates participation.  It is so hard reconciling death with your love.

Still I stand with you.  Still I trust you.  Even though I do not understand.  Even more now, I know your love and know you conquer death.

If only it was in my lifetime so that I, and so many others, might not have to suffer so.

It is too hard to bear my Lord, so hard, nearly incomprehensible to me, even now.  Only you know the searing pain that radiated throughout my body, that was cried out from the depths of my soul, that left me grasping for my own breath that might sustain my life.  Only you know this Lord.  Only you know me.  Only this brings incomprehensible comfort.

I praise you.  Fearfully and wonderfully, I praise you.


Advent

December begins again.  First advent Sunday celebrated.  This the season of hopeful expectation, when my son was still living, moving, alive, 9 full months of life, of knowing and knitting within my womb, fearfully and wonderfully.

I was waiting for you my son, (still waiting), I was ready…so hopeful…

Three years ago, my perpetual calendar (The Power of Prayer by Richard Foster) shifted to a new theme of prayers, from Healing Prayer to The Prayer of Suffering.  It happened again this past Sunday, the first day of Advent at that.  Everyday now I read a quote about suffering.  This first one, signifying the season my soul senses before the calendar tells, read:

In the Power of Suffering we give to God the various difficulties and trials that we face, asking Him to use them redemptively.  We also voluntarily take into ourselves the griefs and sorrows of others to set them free”

Three years ago, pregnant with expectation, I remember thinking it a bit strange, that quotes about suffering would coincide with the hope of Christmas coming.  I remember thinking specifically how they were the furthest thing from my own joy and hopeful expectation with a baby boy due in only a few more days.  We had a house full of hope, an excited big sister, sweet anticipatory brother, proud, oh so proud papa, and me, just me, his mama.

I’d owned the calendar for nearly 10 years by then, had viewed it through two other winter pregnancies nearing delivery.  Never before had I notice the theme of suffering as odd in timing, nor read each days’ message so dutifully, in case God is preparing me to comfort someone who might be suffering, I remember thinking.  Little did I know whose heart He was preparing.

December hit with dense fog and fear the year he would have been one, belly bulging, with promise of a baby girl this time, if we can ever again hope to believe in what seems to be, again.  Like a hurricane December came year two, the flood of a heavy heart sweeping me back to what was lost and never would be, still.  But a baby, sweet precious baby girl in full-of-life flesh, reminds me of everything that is so good and the magnitude of what was lost.

Oh yes, December.  Here you are again, with howling winds, and icy rains, cold enough for snow, sometimes, cold enough to kill off the abundance conceived in Spring.  Dark, brisk days when a breath can feel like shards of glass cutting through lung tissue and escaping as smoke signals of your own life that goes on as you scream into the deafening dead-end silence against how final it all is, and how crazy that makes you feel that there is nothing you can ever do to bring him back.

December again, and still, it is over.

Still.

He was born still.

Still so much.

So much life, so much laughter, still soft bellies and squishy fingers to kiss, still I am surrounded with more love than I could ever, ever have hoped for.  Still so much to look forward to.  Christmas grows more magical, when 7, 5 and 23 months live here.  There is glow, and glitter to string, giddy expectation of goodness to come.  It always does come.  The goodness was there, always was, and is, and forever more shall be.

In advent, I wait, hopeful, for a child, a son, and a Son.  One whom I will run to and embrace, know his sweet face that I had the blessed chance to kiss and hold for a mere moment.  Forever I will wait and long for that redemptive embrace.  And another One who will embrace me, kiss my face and say, you are mine, and he is mine, redemption is mineMy life your true gift, that makes all this that you love worth hoping for.

The season of hopeful expectation has come – Rejoice!  He who is God is with us!  Again I can say – I. Will. Rejoice!


Night Waking

I hear a cough, a sputter, another cough, then a rustling of blankets and a froggy voice calls.

“Mama, mama…”

In the dark I come to you, turn the bathroom light on around the corner from your room, to light my path.  Outstretched arms greet me from your seated slumber.  Eyes squint from the dim light entering your dark chamber.

I scoop your half awake body up into mine and, as always, we fit.  Your arms and legs wrap around me where they always go.  My arms slips beneath your padded bum, the other around your ribcage to squeeze you tight. Your head finds my shoulder and burrows in.

Papa peaks in.

“Grab the humidifier” I whisper, and smile that “isn’t she precious?” smile we share, to let him know you’re okay.

While he goes, the armchair calls for a moments’ comfort, you and for me.  In one instinctual, but quite clever rotation I have you vertical across my body, yours stays slack as you melt easily into our new position.  Eyes open briefly to make sure of mine and then close quickly again.

Your length is twice the width of me now, head resting on one arm of the chair, feet on the other.  The faint light makes only your toes glow.  At least they are still so little.  Our bellies breath together.  You grab my ears, I stroke your hair and lean in for a kiss to your forehead, your cheek, and about 14 more soft sweet places on your face.

Your hair smells of honey and flowers from your evening bath and your skin smells like you – like your blankets, and clothes, and your room does when I first open the door to greet you after a sleep.

God, if I could capture the scent…please never take her from me.

We sit and rock until your breathing grows loud, long, a snore even, from that lingering congestion that called me to you.  I’ll take it.  These interruptions of the sleep I claim to be of such value, for health and well being and sanity.  Really it is this that gives my life any well being at all.

In comforting I receive.

Peace. Meaning. Purpose. Gratitude. Grace. God. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, all here with us in the dark of this nights’ interruption that reveals the course of my soul.

Thank you dear Jesus.

I love you dear child.


Little Voices

Her words are forming more intellectual these days.  His is losing the charming accent of unpronounced letters.  The littlest, nearing two, is rambling sounds of increasingly recognizable forms of communication.  This, that is so often the background noise, I notice new.  As if the violin of the practicing symphony suddenly comes forth clear with a melody, then the cello chiming deeper with punctuated profundity, the fluttery high pitches of the flute weaving in and out, up and down so whimsical, on one of our many car rides to everywhere and nowhere at all.   For this moment, only this seems to matter.  It is the music, all of it music, if I am listening.

So often I am not though.  The things I “must do” cloud my mind, clog my ears, and fills the space for sound in my head.

Need to get to those e-mails – so many half conversation waiting for a response.  How many am I forgetting that have slithered too far down on my screen, out of sight out of mind?  Think.  Think.  Oh I used to be so reliable.  Speaking of reliable, so many things I am not getting done.  Must do.  Must do.  What am I really doing with my life?  What is my purpose?  Sorry I ask that God.  I know I am yours.  What have You made me to do?  I love doing this and that, but there’s more, always more that I have no time for.  So many things I am passionate about, so many things can feel purposeful.   More time.  More time.  I long for more, and less, all at once.  Downtime!  That is what I need.  Time to get lost in something creative, a good book, a nap.  Push pause, that is what I will do, I will nap when my baby naps today.  Or maybe write a book chapter!  That would be fun.  But that would be work.  But meaningful, so much more meaningful than the breakfast dishes and crumb laden floor waiting at home for me. Oh and that laundry that is waiting to be put away.  Who am I, to think I can get anything done beyond this?  Who am I created to be?  Dear Lord, who do You want me to be? What do you want me to be about? I want to live that out, I just don’t always know how, or I know too many ways how…eggs, can’t forget to get eggs today.  What else do we need at the grocery store?”  On and on I go.

So much noise in my head.  That practicing symphony of incongruous sounds sometimes sharp and self deprecating, sometimes growing melodic, appearing to go somewhere, until interruption of the next urgent sound breaks through.

“Mama?  Mama?”

“Yes” I say, and I listen.  I can hear this and know infinite worth.

I can hear little voices.  The one who uses big words. The one who likes to tell long stories.  The one whose notes reach such varied heights I could plot them on a music bar for quite the cantata.

Too often, their sounds blend into the noise of my head and I don’t really hear.  Facing forward, always driving, in this moment I can see only the beauty of their sounds, and I know where I am to go.

Melodic, heart piercing sounds that I know so well I sometimes forget to take it all in.  Tomorrow syllables will form words, high pitches will deepen from a fresh shaven face and spelling words will become essays of eloquence.  Where will this time have gone?  Like the vaporous mist that rises in the dawn of these chilly fall days, I hope to capture what I cannot keep.

Knowing I have these voices as they are, only today, fills and breaks my heart.  I will close my eyes, my mind, push pause on the background noise of everything else, and let these melodies fill my soul.


Worth

I have long been in dedicated pursuit of supporting the absolute and inherent value of all people, and therefore against any belief, system, person or group that might rob, shame or harm anyone in their pursuit of life. Unfortunately, it is the people I dearly love and call my own who have caused some most ravaging damage and have ultimately stunted the potential of women to seek to live out their call to serve God.

I have spent most of my adult years in ministry, one of those was in an official pastoral role at a church, the rest in outreach ministries where I was treated with love as valuable human being. In that one year I gained more insight than I ever hope to see in a lifetime into the misinterpretation of scripture that fosters prejudice, discrimination, shaming, outright abuse and subtle most aggravating mistreatment of women. Really it happened in one specific moment, in a gathering of equals from among the greater community in my same position, all men incidentally, with whom I so naively thought might treat me as one-and-the-same in pursuit of our common goal of ministering to others. I was not so inconspicuously “put in my place,” made to feel small, shamed, as if I had somehow sinned against the God I so dearly loved in wanting so purely to communicate His love for others. It was a moment you may have missed if you were sitting at that table with me and my cohorts, a nearly slight of hand trick that left me confused in the moment, stunned a bit at the nonsense of it all and not until the appropriate response time had passed did I feel the blow to my gut, my soul. I wanted to cry and scream and yell and throw a big fit and say “you are wrong and you are bad for doing what you did” but that would have been too emotional of me, so instead I did was I was told to do. I was speechless, quiet.  This is called a double-bind, an impossible scenario where any course of action will make the situation worse.  It was once believed that a double bind is what caused schizophrenia, it is so crazy-making.  I was left feeling small and ashamed against my own better judgment, am I somehow bad for wanting to serve God in the ways He has given me to serve?

I hope to God my daughters never, ever have to wonder the same. Because you see, if we are somehow bad in God’s eyes for doing His most fundamental work, how can we ever seek to live fully into any other call that is placed upon our hearts that might have any impact in this world where men also live? Is our highest call truly to be subservient rather than wholehearted servants of God?

It still brings a lump to my throat and makes me want to scream to remember that day. And the moment was so small, nothing, so little compared to what so many other women have faced and have been stunted by, not to mention so many others in the world who still face a myriad of injustices. But it hurt, and it scarred me, and it changed me. You may as well cut off my legs if you are to tell me I cannot serve my God in a ministry role. I will be rendered nearly as handicapped if not more. And yet, I still walk with a subtle limp that would take a caring and insightful eye to see, fearful of condemnation, scared to cause conflict, because you see I do not want my life to be about conflict, but reconciliation.  My single greatest calling in this season of life is to encourage relational wholeness that might reflect and allow people to know the love of the One who created them. I dare not admit to be the “f” word, as I do not want to be a ranting anything. I prefer to describe myself as egalitarian, as it is all people I care to value. Nor do I want to open myself up to be shamefully put in my place by the people I call my family. It is hard to stay forever quiet though and try so hard to let my actions only speak to what I believe, and there are current issues I may speak to when I have enough courage, maybe, but for now I just want to share what others have said, who inspired me to write this, and to say thank you to the people at Fuller Seminary who with full reverence and intelligent exegesis of scripture, have long taught all people to wholeheartedly live out what God has created them to do, from pulpit, or pew.

Even more though, I am grateful and amazed that our creative God could so beautifully interweave the truth of his love for all people within words written long before it was anywhere near socially acceptable to be speaking of women as teachers, ministers, prophets, apostles, equals, let alone leaders in any form or fashion. That to me is what is so astounding. If any scripture could be seen in glowing awe of the truth it reveals, it is those that so clearly go against culture and yet remain as if God himself inspired those words and not man.

And I believe He did.

Here are two short articles of inspiration, a sample of what I learned at Fuller after that awful day that gave me hope and conviction for the many times since I have seen or experienced this unfortunate injustice.

Scot McKnight Speaks on Women in Ministry

Women in Ministry: Consistency and Balance

My senior year at Whitworth University I had the honor of traveling across the United States for a month studying prejudice and discrimination, with fellow students and Dr. James Waller .  One of the lessons that most stands out to me is more poetically said by the singer-songwriter Jewel who wrote the lyric “Where there’s a man who has no voice, there I shall go singing.” This resonates with my soul as I know it those who are not directly impacted by injustice can often have a more powerful voice on behalf of those who are. I believe it is my purpose to speak on behalf of those who aren’t heard where I might impact positive change. Those too, are other blog posts to be written. For now, I want to say thank you to these men who give voice on behalf of women who’s voices are not always heard, especially to the late Dr. David M. Scholer, (you can read about him by clicking on his name) my professor of “Women the Church and The Bible” at Fuller Theological Seminary. He did a good work with his life.


A Pastor’s Wife’s Response to Loss

Let me invite you into a discussions my husband and I have had over the years in response to the loss of our baby boy. First I encourage you to read the post he made on his blog http://looktothenorth.wordpress.com/ about Emotion Focused Therapy here and then you can see the response I added to his comments, or return here as it follows. It is a little glimpse into how we can see things a bit differently and still have a solid relationship, solid faith, and ultimately survive such a horrible loss.

My response:

As said marriage and family therapist wife, I must say that I love this piece! I love that my pastor husband would attend this Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) conference with me – something he’s been hearing me preach about for over a decade since I was first exposed to the theory at Fuller Theological Seminary. That made me feel loved!

One thing I see a bit differently though, the part that says “… that gave us the courage and strength to not have to question God either.” We’d both say our faith was strengthened in that time in different ways. He because he didn’t need to question, me because I had to.

I was in a bible study in the year that followed our loss where the question was asked “Do you think you have grown in your faith and understanding of God over time?” My answer was yes and no. After facing significant loss, my faith in God was more solid than ever. He cared for us in minute and miraculous ways that could never have been humanly construed. Jesus was more real to me than ever. At the same time, I felt I understood Him much less. With most of an M.Div degree earned, I had spent a majority of my adult years in ministry as Young Life staff person and Chaplain at Fuller and SPU and thought I had a lot of pretty solid answers. I suddenly felt like I had no answers. The nuances of my belief system were turned upside down in that time, though my faith was solidified beyond measure.

I did, and still do question God. I feel safe bringing those questions to Him and even disagreeing with my understanding of Him at times, knowing our love is secure. Just as in a solid attachment relationship, as EFT supports and prescribes, I have so much faith in my relationship with God and His love for me, that I know He can “see” and “know” all of me and still call me his beloved. One things that stood out clearly was that I did not have to “be” anything in particular for God when I had nothing to give, or “do” anything to earn His love when it was all I could to to wake up and breath each day. I could be an imperfect shattered human being of infinite worth. That was the most profound lesson of loss that came for me. I was left with so many more questions, but far more faith.

I am thankful God allowed Emotion Focused Therapy to light up my heart to help others years ago, knowing I would need it so clearly in my own marriage. Thanks be to God.


Prayers for the Camellia House

Remember the house with the camellia tree that felt like a dream come true? The seemingly obvious gift from God that fell through? You can read about it here. Well, it came back to us. The people who’d won it out from under us pulled out and in a blink we were given the choice to resubmit our offer before anyone else might. We took a few moments to pray and to talk about it over long distance phone calls, tried to remember what consoled us when we lost it before and considered saying no based on our good coping then. But we’d spent a few furious months living in a rental house with little room to host and no yard (which has been a huge blessing in itself) searching for houses and land, looking at properties, studying house plans, asking big questions of ourselves and of friends, always choosing the “new in the last 1 day” search choice each night on the real estate site. We’d made a few decisions, we’d narrowed in on our area and we’d arrived at our hoped for criteria which was space: space to host, and space to play, inside and out.

With a large family in the making and being a pastor’s family where we already love to host, we envisioned groups of people lingering over meals at our dining room table, kids running in the backyard with space for a worthwhile game of tag, tables and blankets on the lawn for the annual salmon feed we used to have at the end of the summer (the last one brought nearly 100 to our home, and that was pre-pastor days). In the house plans I conjured up for each new property that had potential, I always included a daylight basement that served no other purpose than to be a place where our local Young Life ministry could hold club. I worked for years as a Young Life team leader and in every area finding a good place to hold club was always a challenge. It would be such a gift to have this space to offer, where water balloons and whip cream and whatever other amazingly fun things they can think up to communicate God’s love for kids in fun and loving ways could happen freely. With bedrooms upstairs and our living space a main floor, why not let the foundation of the house be completely for ministry?

So, despite the work this house requires, we still see incredible value and said yes. Seeing potential in something and bringing that out is something I love to do! We are excited but trying to stay realistic. The short sale process is so complicated it is hard to even understand. It might not be ours no matter what we do because of the messy situation and multiple liens of the current owners that have to be resolved. We have yet to do an inspection and the cost to make it livable might be beyond our means. There are so many more reasons to rationally think it might not come together. But still we hope, and we pray every day. And for what it is worth (which is everything) we’d love you to pray too. We know there are far more important things in life to pray for, and that God’s plan will unfold and the purposes He has for us will happen regardless, but we also know God cares to hear our hopes and dreams and so we will share them as I am sharing this with you. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to join us for a salmon bbq next fall…that would come after the work party this spring:)

Will keep you posted…


National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month

A recent e-mail to a friend was timed well with this month of national awareness for remembrance. Here are some brief thoughts two years and 10 months after the loss of my full-term son.

“It is so thoughtful of you to ask of Fisher. I think of him often, I’d say he is always under the surface of everything else in life these days. It is no longer a constant grief, but I miss him so much and the hope I had for his life with us, in a way that still really hurts. Reminders are still everywhere but I have gotten more used to moving through with whatever is before me and not giving full thought to them. Grieving is hard work and I am just not always up for it. The other night the song we played at his memorial service, Held, came on, as it does at times. Sometimes I will listen half heartedly with one ear even with all the background noise of my kids and feel a tolerable ache. Sometimes I change the station because it is too hard to really let myself feel the full measure of sadness in the everyday moments of my current life. There are mixed emotions there because I’ve been enjoying feeling less sadness, but how do I literally tune out the big reminders of the baby I’d give anything to have back? That feels kind of odd, but also self preserving. It is nice to feel generally more often happy than sad and sometimes I just want to hold onto that.

It was late at night when the song came on and just Scott and me in the car. I could hear it playing quietly under the sound of Scott talking and my heart opened up and my ear strained to hear every word. When he was quiet I turned it up and just looked out the window at the dark, bright starred night. I had the chance to really listen and think about my baby and it hurt to remember his face, and what his body felt like in my arms, but it felt really good to really remember. To think of how amazing my baby is, all my children are, and to not have this life with him, and the chance to love him in person is really the hardest part still. I know now that will never go away. I am so lucky to have my kids. Their precious lives make me so aware of what I am missing without him here. It was nice to have that moment of full quiet thinking. I was more contemplative than tearful, but as I write this tonight, by myself in the pure silence of a sleeping house, I can cry in a way I haven’t in a long time and that feels good. I was a raging river for a while, then the aquifer – an easily tapped flood flowing just under the surface, and now I am a steady stream through a life filled valley building up into pools that spill out on occasion.

I read an article recently about programs developed to support parents who have lost a stillborn or newborn in their grief. One woman in the article named Sara Weaver-Lundberg signs her e-mails with “The mention of my child’s name might make me cry, not mentioning my child’s name will surely break my heart.” I love that. Thank you for continuing to mention his name.”


Born to Bless – Part I


We have celebrated a handful of birthdays recently of family and friends. My husband and I were born a year and a day apart. The year “birth-aversary” of our church (which in many ways was not so different than having a child) happened to fall on my husband’s birthday and my children just celebrated their half-birthdays.

Birthdays are a big deal in our house. We like to throw parties, make things festive, prepare good foods to share, and have a reason to celebrate the people we love so much. Everyone gets into it as we all buzz around preparing for family and friends and what always proves to be a joyful few hours out of our ordinary lives. I consider our celebrations a spiritual discipline (after reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline a favorite book of all time, that in the end encourages us to find reasons to celebrate as the bible does), an exercise joy when so much of life and spiritual pursuits can be so serious. The kids love to hang streamers, make the nearly famous fruit skewers that go in the flower urn to look like fireworks, and are usually busy preparing hand made presents for all the guests of their own design.

My husband and I especially love to host and as each one is scurrying to put finishing touches on things we laugh and say “I am glad I married you because I am sure all this craziness would drive many people nuts.” And afterwards, as we do the work all over again to clean up, sweeping the floors, gathering garbage, passing dishes along to be dried in the dimly lit kitchen of the now-silent house, we relish all the highlights,

“wasn’t that fun?”
“who did you get a chance to talk to?”
“wasn’t it great to see so and so?”
“how are they doing?”
“oh and weren’t all the kids having such a great time?”
“did you see this child do this, and that child do that?”

and we go to bed happy, full, blessed.

One way we show our love at birthday time is gifts. I love to give gifts, I love to get gifts. There are just a handfull of people in my life with whom I still exchange gifts and it is just a fun little love language that I speak and understand. My kids of course love gifts too (what child doesn’t) and I have to say I don’t mind a reason to indulge them on these special days of the year.

This is all well and good, and yet, there is a piece of me that struggles with the idea of gifts, doesn’t want to be materialistic or wasteful, and wonders if we really are ever doing enough to help the world with what we have been given? As faithful as we have always been in giving more than our 10% to our church and a variety of other ministry organizations, give of our time to ministries ourselves and for missions, that scene in Schindler’s List when Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is realizing he could have given his watch, his coat, his every possession to save one more life always pierces me.

Will I get to the end of my life, my cause, God’s cause for my life and regret what I held back from those in need in order to gift my already blessed family and friends? I wonder. Jesus also blessed the woman who poured expensive oil on his feet. Though others saw it as a waste he told them her gift was good and timely. I hope the gifts I give to the blessed with discernment and love in my heart is seen as good in His eyes.

To counterbalance the me-focused gift wish list of birthdays (that I recognize I fully encourage by enjoying the giving), I had an epiphany for half-birthdays. We also want our kids to be generous and giving and thoughtful of the needs of others (so far they really are – I think God hardwires us that way, and it is our job as parents to encourage it). Last year we started this new tradition with my then 4 and 6 year olds on their half birthdays. On this day we would celebrate them with affirmation and favorite foods, but no gifts (so don’t ask). Instead this would be their day to gift the world. The kids’ earn allowance money and give some to the church, we participate as a family in saving up for special campaigns, regularly donate our time and money to causes we feel will honor God in a way our kids know about, but I wanted to instill in them the value that they can be mindful of what God places on their hearts and respond in a way that makes the world a better place. They get to decide what they think God would want them to, what matters to them and then we as a family help them carry it out.

Last year my 4 year old son wanted to make a treat for the hardworking staff at our seasonal business. My 6 year old daughter wanted to donate her gently used things to people in need. This year it was cupcakes for the summer staff (made from scratch with strawberries we’d picked) and granola bars in our car to give to homeless or hungry people we see on the streets. The kids come up with the vision and make all the decisions about how to carry it out. They always ask what the signs say that people hold on the streets and they want to do something to help, so we went to Costco and they picked out the biggest package of granola bars they could find so our family has something to give. We end the day with a favorite dinner and one by one we go around the table and tell the half-birthday person what we love about them. Much as I love giving gifts and having parties, half-birthdays rival the real deal for making some pretty meaningful memories.

Every year we will do this and my hope as they continue to grow in wisdom and maturity that their sense of vision for what God places on their hearts to help a hurting and broken world will be carried out with passion and purpose throughout the year – that they will know not only that they are loved and treasured by God and in their family, but that they are able to make the world a better place. That is better than any gift I can ever give them that would bring any meaning to their lives.

I have to mention a children’s book that speaks to this idea. Books are just a great way to encourage values as well. A narrative often goes a lot further than any explanation. Miss Rumphias by Barbara Cooney is a great book for young kids that tells about this idea of being intentional about discovering your gift for making the world a better place.

If you have creative ways of instilling values in your children I’d love to hear them!