Thursday, August 31, 2017

Daily Staples of Love.

I feel like I have done a lot of growing up this previous year. Not just learning a few life lessons here and there, or because of all the intentional studying I've done, or that I've simply become more knowledgeable about life in general. But I truly feel as if I am finally gaining some wisdom about how to live a good life and I am working hard, begging God to make these new habits a part of who I am, the way I naturally live.

Several books I have read this summer, or am currently reading, have contributed to this growth tremendously. And while watering my potted plants out back the other day, a lot of these separate ideas and random thoughts were connecting in my mind. I recently read something totally unrelated that connected well with these ideas I've been wanting to share with you and I hope they encourage your heart and bring you peace.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Aesop's fable The Tortoise and the Hare. The unlikely candidate wins the race (don't worry, I'm not talking any politics in this post) and the fastest, most able, most likely candidate loses. And what was the determining factor? Was his mindset to blame, or his actions? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If his mindset was different, surely his actions would have been different as well, you think?

I'm seeing what an impact our thought-life has on our actions. This is not just popular psychology  either, the bible talks about it too! See Romans 8:5-6 and 12:2, 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Just like the hare, it's easy to let what we think is going on around us dictate our choices, instead of letting what we know is right and good determine what we do.

This is giving me more reason to pause and consider what I'm doing, how I'm reacting, and what I am dwelling on more throughout the day. Our thoughts shape our physical minds and that should cause us to take what we think more seriously. What we think about ourselves, the God we serve, the family we love, and the life we live hugely impacts the actions we take throughout the day and throughout our lives. Not just the major, life-altering decisions, but the little choices that pile up. They carve the path we travel and cumulatively create the life we live.

Being a homeschooler, I have tried to make my home a haven for my family. We are here a lot, and I want it to be peaceful, relatively tidy, and a period of life my kids will look back on with fondness. I should say now, I am not naturally gifted in this, and I don't feel like I do a great job. Since our move to this new house, I've been trying to be more intentional about it, but it so easily slips my mind. I can definitely see when my kids are more on edge because of my mood, but I'm not very good at those small daily habits of keeping my attitude in check or keeping my reactions from getting out of hand. I forget that cleaning the whole house at once is miserable, as is dealing with a ton of negative emotions in one sitting (read: sob-fest), but if I can just do a little of the work every day, both emotionally and physically in my home, it will feel less overwhelming to tackle and navigate.

As I was watering some plants the other day, some of these thoughts and pieces came together. Watering the plants out back was originally Asher's chore, but he has not taken to it as well as I hoped, and I've often been too distracted or too tired to remember to remind him to do it. So, on random mornings, I'll go out there by myself and gain a few moments of solitude. These plants, they are not doing so well. Some are dying, a few are totally dead, and some will get to looking very wilty then perk back up again after a few continuous days of watering. All of these plants need more than just a big soaking here and there. They need a bit of water every day. The same goes for so many things in life for us.

This is one of my more regularly watered plants... it's less green than when I got it, but surviving better than the plants outside. 

My kids need more than just an intense season of schoolwork, a few deep conversations about God, or random spurts of love and affection from me. It is the small, daily actions that add up to the life of abundant peace and joy I so desperately want for my kids. 

My kids need a regular diet of hearing God's word, of receiving affection from me, of having their minds stimulated by truth and beauty. And in regards to enjoying life and having lots of opportunity, sometimes the big, huge thing we think will be memorable for a lifetime turns out to be a big flop. For me, it's the little things my parents did that I remember most fondly, habits of spending time with us, or just enjoying being together.

This has been a comforting revelation for me, as we are not big vacationers and don't do any camping, and as my summer has been a bit more "me-centered" than I intended. The guilt over not giving my children what I see other moms giving theirs has been hard for me to navigate. One lifestyle does not fit all families, and I know what my kids need better than anyone else, but it's hard to fight feeling like I could be doing more for them. And while yes, a vacation to Disneyland sounds like a blast, it is not what will make my children's lives wonderful. More importantly, my daily attitude and interactions with them is what will enable them to get the most out of life.

It will never be the rare, extravagant vacations or sparse, exotic experiences that determine the outcome of their hearts and lives.

If you struggle with feeling let down after big plans have been made or large events have been thrown, or if you have a hard time figuring out what to do to make your home more life-giving, don't think that a magnificent vacation or elaborate birthday party will make everything magically wonderful. Those are blips of fun and excitement thrown in, not the foundation of your lives together. It is the daily grind that will either grind you down or polish you up. It is the moment-by-moment interactions with your children that will shape how they see themselves and how they see the world around them.

I do want to talk more about little habits and tricks you can implement, just small things to help you see how easy it can be to get your mind into a better space, but that will have to wait for another day. The big task I am working on right now is making my daily reactions to the kids better. Instead of being frustrated with the continual questions, I am setting clearer boundaries (with explanations) for them, then giving them my full attention when it is needed and appropriate. Instead of being in a huff about having to help my four-year-old with something, I try to act like I am glad to serve her (because really, I should be happy to help) and make sure I actually see her, acknowledge her, and notice something I love about her during those small moments.

These little tasks might seem silly or inconsequential, but it is building a habit of appreciating my children and teaching them how to love and live with other people. It's taking actions I know are good and beneficial and putting them into my life intentionally. I want to naturally enjoy chatting with my kids, but if I only do this when it's convenient for me, my kids will pick up on this and no longer strive for my attention.

Overall, I am learning that these small habits, the little ways I act, and the little ways I react to others, make a large, long-term impact. Sadly, I'm not usually very impressed by my own actions or reactions, and I definitely need God's help in aligning my life with the way He wants me to live. Little by little, my heart is being filled, my mind is being renewed, and my kids are being loved. It might not look glamorous or exciting, but over the course of their lives it will look like love, commitment, intentionality, sacrifice... all the things they will need to understand and observe in order live a good life.

If I could encourage you in one thing today, it would be to love them well in any small way you can find. Don't let discouragement about what you can't do, rob you of what you can do. Water the people in your life every day! Don't wait until you have something fantastic planned. Wipe those bottoms with a sweet smile for your child, answer their questions with a "yes dear" instead of a "what!?", and tell them what a gift they really are every chance you get. Make love and encouragement a staple in your home. Do it every day and enjoy the growth you will find all around you.

*In case you are curious, here are affiliate links to some of the books I have been enjoying that have contributed to some of my thinking:

A Hunger for God by John Piper
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Anchored In by Micah Maddox

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