Humility, Compassion, and Understanding

daddyhandParenting is a humbling process. I say “process,” not “job,” because while the end goal of this adventure is a constant, the day-to-day details change over time. My biggest dream for my children is that they would grow up to love and follow Jesus. Period. But how to encourage them in that direction looks very different as they age fromĀ 7 days, to 7 months, to 7 years. And the frequent changes and mistakes I make as I adapt to my maturingĀ children remind me how much I still have to learn about this parenting gig. Continue reading

Hereditary Colorblindness?

Unlike the United States, Ukraine does not have many dark-skinned people, or Asians, for that matter. It's a fairly homogenous white society, which means that anyone of non-European descent stands out and might be exposed to ridicule, or worse. However, although I'm half Japanese, I've been fortunate.

I have not  experienced any racism here. Until recently. Continue reading

Boys and Girls

One afternoon not too long ago my husband and I were on a date. All we were doing was sitting on a park bench talking, but since we didn't have the kids with us, it felt like a holiday. One nice thing about being out and about without kids is the ability to people watch, and on this day we saw something fascinating. It was a mother with three daughters about the same ages as our three sons. (That would be 5, 3, and 1, for those of you keeping score.) She parked her stroller by a bench, let her toddler out, then sat down and opened a book. Continue reading

Solidarity is the New Initmacy

20120709-203616.jpgBefore my husband and I had children, our lives were wrapped up in each other. We were rarely apart, and when we had free time, we usually spent it doing something fun together. I'd spend half the day in the kitchen preparing a gourmet supper that we'd enjoy by candlelight. On summer weekends we'd picnic in the park or stroll around downtown Kyiv. We'd watch movies late into the night. (And we often did other things late into the night, if you know what I mean!) Continue reading

Making Memories

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I remember one evening when my sister and I were young. We were staying with our grandparents for the summer, and Grandpa was to put us to bed while Grandma was out at a church function. But after we got ready for bed and had climbed the stairs to the loft where we slept, instead of tucking us in, praying with us, and rubbing our backs as he usually did, Grandpa said, "Let's make a memory." I asked what that meant, and he explained that it meant doing something with people you love so that you could look back and remember it later. Continue reading

Kids Are People Too

Yesterday we had seven children at our home. Five boys and two girls. Ages 1, almost 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was so busy trying to keep order, cook, and retain a semblance of internal calm that it never entered my mind that the experience might make a good blog post and I would need pictures. The almost-2-year-old, 4-year-old, 6-year-old, and 7-year-old belonged to another family, and their parents were out of town for the day, so my husband and I got to practice large-family parenting skills for twelve hours. I'm so grateful that my husband was around to help out, because I'm not really good with kids. Continue reading

Guest Post for Sprouts en Route

Just prior to our recent move, I wrote a guest post for Sprouts en Route, a blog by Kristin Spencer, another mom and missionary who writes about how to travel with kids and still enjoy the journey. It was part of her Ultimate Family Road Trip series. I wrote about how to keep order in the car. I mean, let's face it, keeping your kids in order when you're at home can be difficult enough. The mere thought of trying to do it on a road trip makes many parents cringe. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our family's lifestyle necessitates regular road trips where we spend ten or more hours in the car in a single day. But we enjoy it! Road trips can be fun for the whole family. You can read my tips and ideas for car travel with kids here.


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Out of the Mouths of Babes and Infants

My husband's grandma died last week. My 4-year-old son overheard us talking about it. "She died?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows. I held my breath involuntarily, wondering how to explain this to such a young child. "Yes, Great Grandma died," my husband said, "and now she's in heaven with Jesus." My son started to giggle with glee! I was shocked and disturbed, until he exclaimed, "How she got there by she's self??" (Translation: How did she get there by herself?) Then I understood.

Lately he has been preoccupied with heaven, often asking me when we can go there. When I explain that we have to wait until Jesus takes us, he says, "But I want to go now!" So when he heard that someone he knew had made it to that wonderful place, he couldn't contain his excitement, and he wondered, How did she do it?

My first instinct was to dismiss his irreverent laughter as merely the result of a lack of comprehension. He didn't really understand death, so he could be excused for thinking that this was a time to rejoice. But suddenly I realized that he understood the big picture much better than we did. In his mind, the specter of death was nothing in comparison to the joy of heaven. His thoughts were not of losing a great grandma but of her incredible good fortune to get to go where he so desperately wanted to be. I looked at his glowing face and smiled through my sadness. All of us adults with the long faces could learn a thing or two from the glee of my 4-year-old.


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Nightmare Inspiration

Not long ago I had a nightmare. In my dream the Nazis had taken over the country where we lived. Because my husband was Jewish (he isn't, but in the dream he was), we knew that he and our children were in great danger.

We were all taken to some sort of compound and left in a room with bunk beds. We slept, but in the middle of the night, a seemingly friendly official awoke us to tell us of the regime's plans to create pristine factories to be staffed by the expatriate Americans still left in the country. He seemed to be seeking our advice or approval for this plan, and we nodded our heads as he described how good the conditions would be and showed us pictures of a prototype. It looked wonderful. Everything was clean; even the floors were a gleaming white, and the workers were dressed neatly in starched white uniforms. But in our hearts we knew that it was all a ploy to gain our compliance; our captors did not intend any good for us.

Our fears were confirmed when this same official returned to our room to inform us that my husband and I would be taken immediately, and we were to leave our children behind. "This will be the last time you see them," he said, "so make it good." My two older boys, ages 4 and 2, were standing there, sleepy and a bit confused, and as I looked at them, my heart was in agony. I wanted to cling desperately to them and sob out my heartbreak, but I knew I needed to keep my emotions in check, because I didn't want to frighten them, and I wanted their last memory of me to be positive. Above all, in our final moments together, I wanted to impress on their young minds the importance of clinging to Jesus. He would now be the only one caring for them and our only hope of one day being reunited.

How do you communicate to such young children all that is necessary in such a short amount of time? I stood still, trying desperately to form my swirling thoughts into words that their little minds would understand and remember long after I was gone. The tension of the moment was too great, and I woke up.

Sometimes when you wake in the middle of a nightmare, your heart is pounding and your mind is racing. It takes a few moments for you to realize that it was all just a dream, but when you do, profound relief and sometimes even elation immediately flood in. This waking was not like that. My body and mind were calm, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I understood that I had been dreaming. But though I was relieved, the terror of the dream remained with me, and I lay in bed praying earnestly that, no matter what happened, my precious children would follow Jesus.

Hours later, the effect of this dream was still with me and was subtly affecting my interactions with my children. What if this were the last time I would see them? Had I taught them everything I could about the things that really mattered? Resolving their fights now centered more around teaching them that they were brothers and best friends who needed to take care of each other rather than finding out who was at fault. And I found myself frequently stopping what I was doing just to hug them and tell them that I loved them and that Jesus loves them even more.

This was a little over a week ago, and my eldest son already seems to be developing a different, more caring attitude towards his younger brother. And I think that perhaps I'm learning to enjoy my children more intentionally, even in the midst of the confusion and chaos that they generate. Though I would never want to revisit it, one day I may look back on this nightmare as one of the best things that ever happened to my parenting strategy.

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What about you? Has something extremely unwelcome ever turned out to be a blessing in disguise?


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The “Impossible” Journey

For as long as I've been old enough to contemplate it seriously, good parenting has seemed a mystery to me. How do you impart all the life lessons, the wisdom, the values, and the myriad other things that your kids need to know? I suspect it has much more to do with consistently being the type of person you would like your kids to become than with anything else. However, I'm sure that deep conversation and occasional confrontations are called for as well. But I'm discovering something that I never expected: parenting is something that you grow into.
 
When I was pregnant with my son, I would sometimes wonder if we were ready for this awesome responsibility, but as the last fourteen months since his birth have gone by, I've realized that the demands of good parenting come in stages, so that one can master the simpler skills before more difficult things are required.
 
When you first bring that newborn home from the hospital, your life revolves around it–feeding it, burping it, changing it, bathing it, feeding it . . . you get the picture. There will never be a time when this child is more dependent on you to meet all of his physical needs. But though the demands are constant, they are straightforward. Babies need lots of love and cuddling, but the maternal instinct makes meeting this need a no-brainer, and not much wisdom or creativity is required to figure out how to put the diaper on, what temperature to make the bath water, when the baby wants to eat, versus when he just wants to sleep, etc. The basic skills needed to care for an infant can easily be learned in under a week, and after that, it's just a matter of following the routine.
 
But babies develop quickly, and soon after you've mastered the baby-care routine, you find that your little one starts to be able to grab some things, then roll over, then crawl, climb, and eventually walk. Each of these developmental milestones requires extra vigilance on your part, but the amount of wisdom needed to keep your baby safe is just at the level of common sense. However, as they develop physically, babies also develop mentally, and at some point the wise parent needs to begin to train the child.
 
I've been involved in this training process since Samuel was about four or five months old. At first it was simply a matter of setting boundaries ("Let go of Mommy's hair") and enforcing them until he understood and obeyed. But as his mind has developed, so has his will, and now he's starting to challenge more frequently the boundaries that I've set. I recently realized that I'm starting to need to draw on the wisdom of other parents whose examples I had stored away for future reference.
 
And so the difficult, crucial aspect of parenting deepens, that of helping to form the character of the little life that has been entrusted to your care. But, as I observed at the beginning of this post, it comes in stages. Each new challenge leaves new wisdom in its wake, which in turn, is available to help you meet the next challenge. It's like a series of stepping stones that gradually ascend to a distant peak. Seen from the plain, the heights look unattainable, but taken one step at a time, the journey, though difficult in places, is not only possible, but infinitely rewarding.


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