-Martin Luther from The Holiness of God
It’s that time of year. Matt and I are gearing up to make the long 11 hour trek back home to Arkansas. It’s been a long seven months since we’ve journeyed that far and I’m really excited to be back in that familiar place. As much as I’ve been preparing for Christmas with all the present buying, advent reading, trip planning, and party attending, I was reminded that I need to take a few minutes to prepare my heart to see my family.
This may seem strange, so let me preface by saying that I think I have the best family in the world and God has seen fit to let me marry into a wonderful family as well. But, it doesn’t matter how wonderful or godly or loving or caring your family is, there is always a potential for tension, arguments, hurt feelings, and resentment when you go home. I think back to my first Christmas three years ago after being married for all of 5 months. It’s like I went home and completely reverted back to my annoying, selfish, dramatic high school self. That didn’t make for an entirely pleasant break.
I’ve learned some things since then about myself and how to love my family well now that I’m a married adult living on my own. I know that my situation is not exactly like everyone else out there but I’m sure most people can relate to spending time with family over Christmas break. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom that I’ve picked up on and I pray they will continue to take root in my own heart as I prepare to go home this year.
- Get to know your family all over again. I do stay in touch with my family fairly regularly, but it’s different when you can’t always have those heart to heart talks in person. It’s good to sit down with parents, siblings, and grandparents and ask THEM what’s going on in THEIR world. So much of growing up had to do with me and my world. Now that I’ve grown and (hopefully) matured, I’m amazed at how much I can get to know my family as FRIENDS rather than “mom” or “dad” or that annoying little brother. (Who’s now a senior in college and has facial hair. Yikes!)
- When you are present with either side of the family- be all there. Don’t be looking at the clock or talking about what you will be doing with the other side in a day or two. Give undivided attention to those around you. Join in all the fun that is to be had without abandon. When you leave, you can then switch gears and the family that is left behind will feel like they received good quality time with you.
- Act like the adult you are. Don’t all of the sudden revert back to your old habits just because you are home. Let your family see you for who you are now. If there are old feelings of resentment for who you used to be, those feelings will start to die away once your family sees all that God has been doing in your life since you last met.
- Give them grace. Your family has missed you probably more than you will know. They will want to spend as much time with you as possible. When it feels overwhelming just remember that this probably won’t happen again for a while and in a few months you will be wishing you could grab lunch with Aunt Susie.
- Don’t talk bad about the other family. When you are with your parents, don’t talk bad about what so and so did on the in-law side and vice versa. This will only create tension where there doesn’t need to be any. Don’t bring up negative experiences or compare Christmas gift exchanges, or complain (or apologize) about having to leave and spend time with the other side.
Let me reiterate that I don’t have this all figured out and I’m sure to make mistakes. But I know that even spending a few minutes in prayer asking God to give me grace to love well and fully engage in the holidays with my family can go a long way. Let’s join in imitating the humble Christ-child who gave of himself so that others could know true joy, peace, and forgiveness found only in the good news of the gospel.
Change is good for the soul. Sometimes it comes unexpected, unintentional, and there’s nothing else to do but accept it with arms open wide. Like when you go in for a haircut and they end up taking eight inches off. Not what was expected, but a change nonetheless.
And other times its anticipated like the changing of the calendar page where it reads yet another month. But not just any month- the month that leads to the best of months. The months with changing weather, changing wardrobe, changing smells and recipes, and morning routine because the frost begins to settle on the car windows and you can’t always be late to work.
I like change, but I think the anticipated changes are the easiest for me. I like the excitement that builds and the wonder when it’s finally here. The thing you have waited for for so long. Sometimes it doesn’t meet expectation and you have to let yourself down gently. And other times you simply relax in the joy and soak up every last minute.
No, there isn’t anything major happening in the Tyler household right now. And often that can make me feel stale or stuck. I like variety. I don’t usually do the same thing the same way twice. But even in these moments of routine, I see change all around me. Maybe that haircut was a good thing. Unintentionally spicing up my life. And so I embrace it.
I think that’s God’s grace in my life. He made me to enjoy (most) change. So I look all around and choose to relish in the little changes- leaves turning and hanging on by a thread, the morning drop in temperature, my fall clothes out once again. I drift to sleep with my window cracked and wake up to a chilly morning. I grab a jacket on my way out. Currently embracing the changes around me as God’s grace. Haircut and all.
I am surrounded by young mothers where we live- in our apartment complex, all over campus, at my church. New moms with joy and excitement on their faces on some days and exhaustion written there on other days. Around here, intentional parenting is the norm. Mother’s intentionally taking time for gospel moments with their children when they disobey or disrespect. Mothers reading scripture with their kids, praying with them, teaching them biblical truths. When I see this, my heart is warmed and encouraged. This too is what I long for if God chooses to bless us with children- to be able to share the good news of the gospel with my kids on a daily basis.
Because there are days when I read news headlines and catch the latest stories on TV and I am prone to despair. In what kind of world will I be raising up future children? What kind of mom will I be if I myself am afraid of what’s out there? Oh but I remember that our Father has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. And I look at those young moms and I see that it is possible to bring up godly children in this ungodly world.
So here’s to mothers, my own included, who are sacrificing themselves on the altar of intentional parenting. You are raising adults, not children, to be ambassadors for Christ in the world, “soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed”. The way I understand it, any woman can give birth and be labeled a “mom”, but it takes a special woman, like Mary-called of God, to be an intentional, gospel-centered mom. I know enough to know that its not easy. But I also know that it is a glorious, God-honoring, and rewarding task.
When the days are tough, when the kids are defiant, when the messes won’t clean themselves, know young women like me are watching. We don’t need to see a perfect home, but we do need to see that it is possible to create a grace-filled, gospel-centered home. I’m thankful for my mom who sacrificed so much to stay home and raise us in this way and I’m thankful for other moms who are constantly showing me what it looks like to do this in the early years.
Thank you for being biblical women and godly mothers- setting the bar high, but by the grace of God not impossibly high
Photography by the great Kari Nichols.