Category Archives: Parenting

Little Love Notes


Every year before my kids go to camp, I buy a small journal for each child and write a note for each day of camp.  In that way, they will have a message from me every day even if they don’t receive an email or card from me on that particular day.  I started this tradition when my oldest child went to camp for the first time, not contemplating the time when four of them would go together for three weeks.  The notes are short, but sweet.  I tell them I’m proud of their kind natures and their ability to make friends; I remind them of activities I enjoy doing with them; I tout their accomplishments from the prior year; I encourage them to have confidence and believe in themselves.  I knew my daughter Riley loved the notes and referred back to the journals on occasion.  I wasn’t sure my boys cared at all until eight-year-old Alex told me he liked reading his book and looking at the stickers I’d included for decoration.  Alex’s comment made me feel like my efforts to celebrate them were worth all the work to write the multitude of notes.  

Growing up in church, I heard a lot about God’s judgment.  I even recall imagery about God writing all of our transgressions in a book, waiting until we confessed our sins in order to wipe the slate clean (as if God would actually employ the human concept of record keeping in a book).  Despite our collective belief in Jesus, the focus pointed to retribution, not grace.  The concept that God only kept count of the bad things caused shame and anxiety for me considering my tendency to focus on the negative.  I learned to fear God’s wrath and punishment.  As a result, I struggled to view God as a loving parent when God was portrayed as a far-away entity who eagerly hoped to catch me doing or thinking something wrong. 

As I’ve grown older and my faith has matured, I’ve come to understand that God is love and grace and mercy.  And that while God wants us to do good and make moral choices, God is not gleefully lying in wait for us to screw up.  Instead, God hopes we show others love in response to the love God has for us.  If God had a book, I believe God’s notes to us would be uplifting and supportive, not a list of all the times we’ve messed up.  What would God’s love notes to us be?  Perhaps something like – “I was proud when you helped that stranger today” or “I enjoyed spending time with you when you prayed last night” or “Believe in yourself because I believe in you” or simply “Remember, I love you.”

God wants to have a relationship with us that is deep and strong and ever growing.  God’s love is the foundation of that relationship.  God will guide us back to Him when we do something wrong because God loves us, not because He wants to trap us.  Let us believe that God is constantly sending love notes to us so that we better believe in our own goodness and then, with confidence, share God’s love with others.     

The Shouting



One of the results of the Covid-19 quarantine is that our family has many more meals together.  In normal times, we try to have as many family meals as possible, but it’s hard because we have so many activities scheduled.  On any given night, we might have dance class, karate, soccer or basketball practices.  Lately though, all six of us have been home constantly, and while each of us grabs breakfast individually upon waking up, we sit at the table for both lunches and dinners.  For the most part, it’s been a good change to have this extra family time at meals, but it’s not always idyllic.  In fact, mealtimes can be boisterous to say the least.

All four of the children have many, many things to say, and frequently, they feel the need to say those things at the exact same time.  And, in order to be heard, they raise their voices. They get loud.  They talk over each other, which makes the conversation grow even louder. Inevitably, Ben or I will tell them to quiet down.  Of course, in order for the children to hear us, we must talk loudly as well, only adding to the noise.

At times, I’ve noticed that someone will feel upset that no one listens to him or her.  The sadness in their eyes gives it away.  As parents, we will stop the conversation and allow the neglected child to talk.  But we aren’t perfect in granting each person equal time to speak.  On occasion, the discussion can turn ugly.  One child will try to silence another by barking, “shut up” or hurling some other insult.  This starts a back and forth exchange, in which Ben or I must intervene.  They compete for attention.  They clamor for recognition.  If they can get another person to listen, they feel affirmed.  If they don’t feel heard, they will talk louder and louder until they are almost shouting.

To me, our table feels like a microcosm of the world these days.  Many of us talk as loudly as possible, screaming over one another, not listening to each other, and then the insults roll off the tongue with ease.  We fight but feel unheard.  We worry about scarcity, so we forcefully demand our share.  We argue and insist on being right because to be wrong means we must admit failure or offer an apology.  And to say we’re sorry exposes us to too much vulnerability.  We desperately crave recognition because we want to feel worthy and loved.  The holes in our hearts and souls push us to shriek for attention and ignore the cries of others seeking the same.

Yet, God does not require us to shout others down or yell the loudest for him to hear us.  We don’t need to compete for God’s attention, although I don’t know how God does it. The scene from the movie Bruce Almighty comes to mind when millions of prayers inundate his email in record time.  I’ve watched people go about their travels in crowded airports and thought about how God could listen to every single one of us at that exact moment.  It’s baffling for our minds, but I believe that God listens to all of us at any given time.  When God taught us to pray, he didn’t say take a number and wait in line.  He didn’t tell us that only those with power or money or social significance could approach him in prayer.  We don’t have to “win” the argument before God will listen. We don’t need to scream.

I wonder what would happen if we believed God when he says he will listen to us.  Could we take a calming breath and rest in the assurance that God loves us and finds us worthy?  We wouldn’t have to beat all the people with our words or our fists to find value in God’s eyes.  One of my favorite passages in the Bible is when God tells Elijah to go out to the mountain and wait for God to approach.  First, there is a strong wind that shatters rock followed by an earthquake and then a fire, but God is not found in any of those powerful elements. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, and Elijah knows God is speaking.  I Kings 19:11-13.  If God can speak in a whisper, then maybe we can lower our voices with one another and approach God knowing he hears us when we speak.

God is the source of our value and worth.  If we can believe that God loves us and gives us his full attention, then maybe we can stop the shouting and better live in peace and harmony.



That Was (Not) Easy


We were shopping for school supplies at Staples this fall when Jed found the easy button.  It’s from the Staples commercials: big, red, and labeled “easy.”  When you push it, the button says, “That was easy.”  Jed needed it to complete his homemade American Ninja Warrior obstacle course.  On that TV show, the contestants slam a button with a resounding blare to stop the clock upon course completion.  Many times a day, after Jed climbed the swing set equipment in our backyard, and shimmied up the doorframe in our living room, he would bang his hand down on the button, and the button would congratulate him on his success.  All was fine, until the button started taunting me.

It started one night when I couldn’t find my keys.  I’d looked everywhere. I recruited Ben to help in the search.  At one point I said, “We cannot go to bed until we find my keys!”  The easy button was in the kitchen because it needed a new battery, and in the tradition of every toy that needs a battery replacement, it started going off randomly, without anyone touching it.  I was irritated, frantically searching the house, and the button kept saying, “that was easy, that was easy.”  I finally popped off: “Shut up!  It’s not easy!  Stop saying that!”

Just last week, the easy button found me again.  I was trying to hang a curtain rod in my house.  I’m not the best at home projects.  It stresses me out to say the least.  I was up on the ladder trying to measure and install the rod without actually falling through the window.  On the floor, Alex, 16 months old, sat looking up at me, holding the easy button in his hands.   Then, he began pushing it incessantly.  “That was easy, that was easy.”  Maybe it would be for someone else, but not for me.

In the grand scheme of things, my frustrations were minor inconveniences.  The keys had fallen from the table onto a chair.  I should have hung the curtain rod a half-inch lower, but it works.   I think most of us wish we had a button that actually made life easier.   Instead, it feels like we often try our hardest to find the easiest path while constantly being reminded how complicated life is.

When we revisit the story of Jesus every year at Christmas, we often focus solely on the joy and celebration.  We tend to glance over how difficult the circumstances were.  Mary riding a donkey when she was nine months pregnant; Jesus being born in a barn; Joseph tolerating uninvited strangers who gawked at his newborn.  Maybe these hardships are reminders that life is not easy, and even Jesus had a rough time throughout his life, from beginning to end.

In traditional nativity scenes, a star shines down brilliantly on the stable, an angel hovers overhead, and the baby Jesus rests peacefully in his mother’s arms or the manger.  These comforting images among the hardships remind us that despite adversity, God is present.  We are not alone when we experience the dark times.  Family and friends serve as God’s support system on earth during our suffering.

I know that many of you, whom we cherish, have been through extraordinary circumstances over the past year or two.  Life has not been easy by any means.  I wish I had that easy button to make everything better.  At Christmas, I want you to know my prayer for all of us:  That during the worst times, you feel a bit of comfort.  That, as life continues, you retain an ounce of hope.  And most importantly, I pray you know you are loved always.