"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:11

Having recently been through Christmas and a birthday or two, I have a whole new appreciation for my parents and all the times I was ungrateful for gifts. I probably didn't even see it most of the time.

I do remember one specific incident though when my mom brought home a new top for each of us. I was fourteen or fifteen and wanted to choose my own clothes; it was really clear that my mom had no idea what was 'fashionable.' While it was always a treat to get something new, I just really didn't like what she had chosen.

It was the first time I noticed that look. It's the same look I probably get when I have been thinking of my loved ones while I'm making a special meal or dessert, or when I've brought home a 'surprise' only to be told in so many words that "it's not what I really wanted."

I know I do the same thing to my heavenly Father too. I finally get through all the packaging to see what He's given me and I pout, "But it's not what I wanted." or "I don't want it any more, I want what she's got." I wonder if it saddens Him the same way to have something that was hand-crafted specifically for me left in the wrapping rather than taken out, put into use and cherished.

Lord, remind me to be grateful for the gifts you so carefully choose just for me. Help me be faithful using them as you've always envisioned.


"Are they yours?" the young woman pushing a double stroller occupied by a baby and a toddler motioned toward Bug and Boo as she joined us at the park.

"And so it begins," I thought. "She thinks I'm the grandma." It is possible. I just always hope it's not people's first impression!

"Yes, they're mine. The big one just turned six and the little one is three."

As the conversation continued I realized that she's not the mom of the little girls she was tending--she's the nanny; maybe that's what she was had in mind (and not that I look too old to have such little guys!).

I suppose I shouldn't have been any more surprised that she wasn't sure if the boys were mine than I was to find that the girls weren't hers. I forget sometimes that when we go to that park in the middle of a workday there's a better than 50 percent chance that the other kids are being tended by a nanny or a granny or someone other than a mom or dad.

Usually, if you watch for a little while, it's kind of obvious when the grown-up and child don't 'belong' to each other. Cultural and language differences are a giveaway, but most often there's a difference in interaction that makes it clear. There's a degree of detachment and sometimes indifference--on both sides--that shows when there's a surrogate or substitute involved

I hope that if someone watches long enough, they'll know from the nature of our relationship that I am Bug and Boo's mom and not a hired caregiver. I hope first impressions prove I'm engaged and attentive, interested and involved, committed and caring. And I hope that their responses and interactions with me show that they're confident and secure and happy in their relationship with me as well. I want people to know we 'belong' to each other.

I wonder sometimes if it's clear whose child I am. Whether it's a casual encounter at the park, or a long-standing friendship, is my relationship with my Heavenly Father evident? On first meeting, would a new acquaintance know?

When I was in high school I befriended a new student. As we walked homItalice one afternoon, talking of typical high school topics, he said, "You're a Christian, aren't you?" It was much more a statement than a query.

He caught me really off-guard because I never was very outspoken and knew it wasn't our conversation itself that would have led him to that conclusion. When I asked what made him think so, he responded with something like "You're just different." At that age, being "different" is usually the last thing a shy, insecure girl would want to be, but somehow that was not at all insulting.

I'm still not especially outspoken (most of the time), but I do hope that wherever I am or whatever I might be doing, that a casual observer would know who I 'belong' to.


Now We Are Six

When I was one, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was five, I was just alive.
But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now and forever.
A.A. Milne

"No thanks. I don't need any help Dad," was Bug's matter-of-fact response to Hubs' offer of help down a steep hill.

"I'm six."

We've been hearing that a lot in the last month. Even tonight he looked at a drawing he'd done and said, "When I was four or five I couldn't spell 'Northern or Southern Pacific' ."

There seems to be a universal understanding that 5 is 'little' but 6 is 'big.' I felt that way as Bug approached this birthday; 5 did seem like the last "young" year. Kindergartners are 5; big first-graders are 6. Even the train museum grades them differently; 5 year olds get in free with the "babies," six year olds pay admission like the big kids.

Bug's teacher says she's seen a noticable change in him as well. While it's hard for us to imagine, he's been one of the two quietest boys in his class all year. He wouldn't even speak up if he missed an instruction and needed help.

The week of his birthday though, he got to be in the spotlight all week as "Star Attraction." Monday he got to tell the class all about himself as he explained his poster--his teacher said he was one of only two kids who actually read and talked about every box on it. Tuesday he got to bring the special treat (train shaped cupcakes) and for the first time, he didn't mind having everyone sing "Happy Birthday" to him. Wednesday he got to bring something special (his new Lionel train) to show the class--he spent 15 minutes telling them more than they knew there was to know about trains (literally 15 minutes--I have it on video!).

And once he got his feet under him, he hasn't faded back into the background. He talks more (maybe a good thing; sometimes not), he laughs more (definitely a good thing); he's silly and engages his classmates more.

It's interesting to me that simply changing the number on his age seems to have flipped a switch and given him a new degree of confidence. He reached a milestone that was meaningful to him and it's changed his outlook and his approach to all kinds of things.

The funny thing is, nothing else really changed. He didn't move up a grade; he didn't receive special training for being six or acquire a new skill that makes him better at it. He simply views what he already knows and can do, differently.

What about you? Are you waiting to reach some personal or spiritual milestone before you can step out in confidence and go boldly toward what comes next for you in career or community or ministry? Are you waiting until you're older...until your kids are older...until...?

Be watchful; your next milestone might be just around the corner and you don't even know it. But when you get there, may you be "...six, now and forever."


Kids Inspiration--Valentine's Day

Note: From time to time I'll be posting a RefreshMoments-type devotion intended to be shared with children. It will include a recipe or craft-type object lesson, a scripture passage and a short devotion to help communicate something about God.

The Best Valentine of All

(Note for parents: The "Wordless Book" is a great way to share the gospel story with children. You could have your kids help you make an easy version by cutting hearts from black, red, white, green and gold paper, then explain what it means with the following:)

Valentine's Day is all about showing love to the people around us. Cards, candy, flowers...little tokens to say "I love you" to someone special.

When I was young, I received a small heart-shaped pendant as an award in a Sunday School contest. It had five tiny heart-shaped pages: black, red, white, green and gold. Although the pages weren't all pink or red or lacy or funny like most of our Valentine's, they represented the greatest love of all. A love that's even bigger than my mom or dad's love for me. Those little hearts told the story of God's love.

The black page was a reminder of our sin-filled hearts; red represents the blood of Christ that washes our hearts "white as snow," the white page is our pure hearts, green represents spiritual growth as we read scripture and pray, and the gold is a symbol of our eternal life in heaven.

There's a song that explains it: (here's a link to the music)

My heart was black with sin,
Until the Savior came in.
His Precious Blood I know,
Will wash me whiter than snow.
And in God's Word I'm told
I'll walk the streets of gold.
I'll read my Bible and pray,
And Grow in Him every day!

by Frances J. Roberts

The Bible tells us that God loves us so much that he sent his son to take the punishment for everything we've ever done or ever will do wrong so that we can live forever with God.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son. That whoever would believe in Him would have everlasting life." John 3:16

There is no better Valentine than that!

Meringue Hearts with Raspberry Sauce

This dessert reminds me of the message of that 'wordless book;" the snowy white of the meringue a symbol of our hearts washed clean, the deep red of the sauce a picture of the blood spilled as Christ's heart broke for the world He died to save. (This is an easy recipe for children to help with.)

2 to 4 large egg whites, room temp.
1 to 2 cups extra-fine granulated sugar (about 1/2 cup sugar per egg white)

Raspberry Sauce
12 ounces fresh or frozen (thawed) raspberries
3 tbsp sugar
1 lemon

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a clean glass or copper bowl (not plastic), beat egg whites with a wire whisk or an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gently add sugar and beat until stiff and glossy.

To form hearts, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make imprints on a piece of foil cut to line baking sheets. Using a metal spoo or pastry tube filled with meringue, draw shapes about 1/2 inch thick.

Place baking sheet into oven, allowing about 90 minutes for meringues to dry out. Be sure that they do not start to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before handling.

Sauce: Mix raspberries and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Press through fine mesh strainer or sieve to remove seeds. Squeeze lemon and strain the juice into raspberry sauce. Just before serving, fill well in center of plate with sauce, place meringue heart on top. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Note: You could do this same devotion with a chocolate heart-shaped sugar cookie (to represent a heart dark with sin) a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam to represent being covered with the blood of Christ and topped with white icing or marshmellow cream as a symbol of being made clean.

My Morning Glory Babies

“Train up a child in the way they should go,
and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

At our newlywed home, there was a little brick 'planter' at the top of the steps to the front door. It was occupied by a big “freeway daisy” when we moved in. Not the prettiest plant in the kingdom. The foliage is somewhat scraggly and the flowers spindly. It was large enough that it encroached on the doorway. At least, this was my list of complaints against the plant when I chose to uproot it.

Long before I tried to actually get the daisy out, I knew that in its place I would plant a morning glory. I could just picture the vine with pretty, lush leaves that would climb the porch post, accented by the almost iridescent purple/blue single petal flowers. I don’t have much of a green thumb, but I know that once morning glories are established, they can grow like weeds, taking over fences and porches and arbors. I figured I should have pretty good success with such a hardy vine.
And while it was no small feat to get the ugly bush out--it was probably 4 feet across with a root that went down eighteen inches (I discovered after I ambitiously decided to remove it on my own one day)--it made the replacement even more beautiful to me.

Once planted though, my specimen seemed to have a difficult time winding up the pole that supported that corner of the roof. I wound a piece of clothesline rope up the post for it to follow. I'd train it up the twine in the afternoon and in the morning I'd find piled in a heap at the bottom of the post. I’d try to coax it back up, gently tucking it under the rope, and later I'd see a tendril reaching away into space, looking for some sort of support. I'd wind it around again. The vine would make a little progress up, then I’d find it collapsed around the bottom of the post again.

The plant never did really “take” the way I’d hoped it would. All the conditions were right; it got great sunlight in the morning, there was plenty of water, I probably even talked to it if that really makes a difference. It wasn't until several years later, after we moved to a location that didn’t get nearly enough sunshine to keep a morning glory happy, that I finally learned what I did wrong.

I missed one really important factor. I didn’t know that morning glories naturally wind counterclockwise. I wound mine clockwise. No wonder the poor thing couldn’t thrive; I was trying to train it against its nature!

It has occurred to me that kids are like that morning glory. They are pre-designed with a specific bent that can’t be changed with coercion or guidewires. An introvert can learn to be friendly, but they may always be drained by being involved in many activities with lots of other kids. The bookworm may find areas of competence on the athletic field, but might never develop a competitive streak that will make them a champion.

Although a total extrovert, people have always commented on Bug’s ability to focus on one task and entertain himself for long periods of time at even a very young age. While he loves going to school and being around lots of kids, we've discovered he also needs some "alone time" when he gets home to decompress.

Boo, on the other hand, is all physical all the time. He loves to run and crash and wrestle--even with me! He may bring me a story to read, but it’s most likely one that requires loud sound effects, funny voices or motions that accompany the words. And it isn't the entertainment of the story he's really after, it's his way of letting me know that he wants to slow down and have some lap time. He desires physical contact even in his quiet moments.

Having seen the effects when I misread my morning glory, I know I don’t want to repeat my botanical failures with my babies. There is no Sunset Western Garden handbook that explains which direction to wind them so they can bloom to their fullest.

Will my children fall into a proverbial heap of failure because I am expecting things counter to their God-given nature? Will they reach out to find another support because what I offer isn't what they need? Or will I, knowing their hearts and strengths and nature, provide the right foundation from which they can grow and climb to unimaginable heights and blossom to the fullness for which they were created?

Morning Glory Muffins
Serve Morning Glory Muffins when you need a reminder that each member of your family has a God-given bent that they must follow. It's our job to provide the right environment for them to bloom.

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 eggs
• 3/4 cup applesauce
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups grated carrots
• 1 medium tart apple, peeled and grated
• 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
• 1/2 cup flaked coconut
• 1/2 cup raisins
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to egg/applesauce mixture; do not over mix. Gently stir in carrots, apple, pineapple, coconut, raisins and nuts.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Melting Moments

I'm honored and excited to be featured today in 5 Minutes for Mom's Sampler column (where I've found many of my own favorite blogs).

Follow me over there to see the rest of the story, then come on back for the recipe for these easy, melt in your mouth cookies that you can make when you need a little reminder to appreciate this moment.

"I’m not generally clutzy. I can’t even think of the last time I fell. Until today...." (follow the link to read more...)

Melting Moments

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

about 1/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats or lightly crushed cornflakes

preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and egg and beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in flour until well mixed.

Make batter into one inch balls (about 1/2 tablespoon of batter) and roll in quick-cooking oats or corn flakes.
Place balls on greased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until tops are light golden and bottoms are very lightly browned. Cool briefly on baking sheet, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen (recipe can be doubled).

Recipe originally published in "A Tea for all Seasons," copyright 1997, Mary Pielenz Hampton

Six Years Ago Today...

I became a new mom.

No, I didn't have my first baby. (His 6th birthday was last week.) I became a new kind of mom.

Several of our friends had babies in the year or two before us and I’d heard lots of “put them in their own bed the first night or you’ll never get them out.” “Get them on a schedule right away; babies need to learn that they have to fit into your world, you don’t fit your life around them.”

It kind of made sense until I brought Bug home and it seemed the ONLY place he’d sleep at all was in my lap. Not ideal, but I figured it would get better in a few days once he was used to being on the outside and all.

We’d only been home two days when we went back for the follow-up appointment where they make sure feeding is going ok and such. . She was concerned that he wasn't back to his healthy 8 pounds, 2 ounce birthweight yet. In fact, he'd lost another couple ounces since we left the hospital. She checked to see if he was nursing ok (he was) and showed me how to pour formula down his throat if I needed to supplement (wasn't happy about that part) and let us go home with instructions to return Monday for another weight check.

Later that night I could tell something was wrong. It looked like he was having a hard time breathing. As someone with asthma, I know what a terrible feeling that is, and to see my 4-day old baby struggling was awful. I didn’t worry about trying to put him in his bed that night; I was going to hold him to make sure he was eating enough and that he was ok. That night he finally slept well; so well that I couldn’t get him to wake up to eat for one stretch of almost 8 hours.

Even though the next day was Saturday, I called the Dr’s office because I knew something wasn’t ok. My pediatrician wasn’t in so we saw his partner who said Bug was "just a little congested." He told us to use Saline drops and the nose sucker and make sure he was eating as much as he could because that would help too. (He’d lost another ounce or two).

Bug and I worked hard those next two days. Monday we came back as instructed for the weight check. He still had not gained any back. I was mostly concerned about his labored breathing, but the Dr. assured me his lungs sounded fine and the lack of weight gain was the big problem. The pediatrician told me to chart each feeding session and to come again on Wednesday. If Bug wasn’t gaining by then we’d have to start supplementing with formula. I was sooo determined to BF only, that the idea of being forced to formula-feed was very upsetting. I spent the next two days trying to get him to eat any time he seemed willing. No schedules, no “routine.”

When I returned Wednesday I was feeling more optimistic because it did seem that Bug had been eating more regularly, even though he was still clearly working hard to breathe through his congestion. But the appointment proved otherwise. He'd dropped well below the 10% 'comfort zone' for newborn weight loss and was now a slight 7 pounds. Dr. McGuiness heard "some crackling" and sent us off for a heel prick blood test and a chest xray. Somehow, even with all of that, I was still stunned to hear that my baby had RSV and we needed to check into the hospital.

I tearfully asked if there was time to go home and pack a bit and call Hubs, who had just returned to work for the first day since Bug was born. I stalled at home until he could get there. The Labor and Delivery unit was warm and comfortable and optimistic; checking into the fifth floor pediatrics unit was scary and overwhelming.

I couldn't really wrap my mind around the need for it even. I had a ridiculously healthy pregnancy and delivered a full-term, healthy baby. Yes, I had the sniffles and he'd seemed to pick them up, but was that cause enough to be hospitalized? Of course, there was no question we'd do as we were told; I just couldn't come to terms with the abrupt change of course.

And that's when I became a new mom. The primary thing they were considering in determining when Bug would be healthy enough to go home was weight gain. We couldn't leave the hospital until he'd re-attained his birth weight. So if he was ready/willing/able to eat, I was going to feed him. If he wouldn't sleep anyplace but in my arms, I was going to hold him. And if a nurse or respiratory therapist or anyone else didn't follow the doctor's instructions and he showed a setback of any sort, I was going to speak up and make sure that people who would do the right thing were caring for my little guy.

Thankfully, he fought the virus well and we were able to leave one week later. It was a different kind of homecoming from the first. Gone were my ideas that I needed to "get the baby on my agenda." All that mattered was that he was healthy and happy. I didn’t worry about getting him to sleep in his crib; it mattered more that he did sleep, not where he slept. I didn’t worry about an eating schedule because it was more important that he eat and grow stronger than it was that he eat breakfast, lunch and dinner when I determined it was time. There would be time down the road to “teach” him all those things about not being the center of the universe and how to be independent. He was, after all, not even a month old. It’s not like he was starting kindergarten.

My world didn't come to an end. I didn't cease being me, consumed by this tiny tyrant. I was (and am) still the mom and he couldn't (and can't) dictate anything to me that I can't refuse. If it really matters, I can still win. It's just that my idea of "winning" was completely altered.

I don’t believe there’s always a grand “why” that sums up the purpose for difficult situations we encounter, but I do believe that God used that experience to make me a different kind of parent than I’d have been otherwise. I don't get it right all the time, and while I'd never have selected that particular method for delivering this lesson, I'm actually really glad I learned it when I did.

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