More!

I am my mother’s daughter. In some ways, I look like her. In so many others, I think like her or act like her. Even some of the ways I am not like her have been influenced by my relationship with her. I learned from her to share her vision for what is good and meaningful and worthy in life.

Recently, I introduced Q13 to a friend. As we stood side-by-side, she remarked, “Oh, I see the resemblance…”

His response didn’t miss a beat: “Yah, but she’s not a natural blonde!” (I am so!)

He may look like me, but his quick and quirky sense of humor is all his own.

Still, he is my child and bears more than physical characteristics from our relationship: our homebody-contentment, our appreciation for good music, our joy in helping others. Just as my relationship with my mom molded my life, my relationship with my son shapes who he is and how he lives.

I am also God’s child, and I sure hope there are some solid family resemblances: I hope I love big like He does, serve like He does, create like He does, share joy like He does.

This week I saw a video that resonates deep in my being. You can’t help but laugh at the sweetness! Dad and baby are both clearly into not just the beatboxing but also each other. Each time Dad stops Baby asks for “More!” More beatboxing, sure, and more togetherness, more fun and laughter, more joy and love.

This video makes me wonder: Do I enjoy my relationship with my Daddy God? Do I take time to notice–and revel in–the fun and wonder and laughter and love He wants to share with me? To exclaim, “More! More!”?

Walk in Love
Week 6: Children of God
1 John 2:28-3:10

Connect
In what ways do you resemble your parents?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:28-3:10.
What response should God’s children have when Jesus returns (v28)?
Why does “the world” not recognize God’s children (3:1)?
Why did Jesus “appear” (vv5, 8)? What does that mean for His children?
How does John contrast those who sin with those who do right (vv4-10)?
Does John mean that God’s children cannot/will not ever sin again? Explain.

Live
What have you done this week to “continue in Him”?
How do you feel when you think of Jesus’ return, and why?
What does being God’s child mean to you? How is that title evidence of God’s love?How do you resemble your Father God? How would you like to grow in resemblance?
Do you think others recognize you as a child of God? How so?
How can being God’s child motivate you to right living?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your lives and keep you from sin.

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What’s Your Name? 1 John 2:2-17

Naming our big dog wasn’t difficult. We met her on a Wednesday and when we picked her up on Friday, our big kid declared: “Her name is Izzy.” We all agreed.

Naming our puppy? Not the same story. Oh for sure, C19 named him in seconds, but the rest of us took weeks to agree. We made a long list. We tried each out. We discussed and debated. Big Kid persisted, and the rest of us caved. Jasper it is.

But he’s also earned a handful of nicknames. Rascal, because he’s a curious, playful puppy. Dapper Japper, because he wore a plaid bow tie throughout the Christmas season and looked oh so dapper. Stinky, and Baby Dog, for obvious reasons.

My parents, Mom especially, gave me a bunch of nicknames. My baby brother couldn’t say my name, so Sisi (pronounced “SeeSee”), which sounds like my given name, is still in play. Others, I’m not even sure how to spell–Sivereno or Sisiliana–my parents making long my short name. My 80’s era camp name was Lambchops, because my white-blonde permed hair looked like lamb’s wool; my high school band nickname was Huggy Bear, because friends said I dropped my backpack every few steps to hug a friend.

Cute at the time, I’m grateful to have outgrown some of those nicknames. I’m hopeful Baby Dog will outgrow some of his as well (Stinky, especially).

Nicknames grow out of experience and relationship. When I call my kids by their full names (first, middle, last)–names I love, given with intention to children I love–I might do so out of exasperation. But when I call them Buddy or Lovebug, it’s true to our relationships. Lovebug may sound babyish, but even with teen boys I can hope they won’t outgrow those terms of endearment.

Some cultures wait to formally name a child until the child reveals his/her character. It seems we nickname based on character.

Our actions reveal our character. So perhaps our nicknames also influence our actions.

I still respond to SiSi because those who call me SiSi have known me from forever. They knew and loved me in good and bad and through it all. When I call my kid Buddy, he hears me calling him to make good choices to be his best self. He is my Buddy, and he knows I’m his biggest fan, asking him to live into his best.

The names we call each other make a difference. The name itself can call us forward.

So when John refers to Dear Children, or Fathers, or Young Men, it matters. Dear Children=all of us loved by God, whose sins have been forgiven, who can truly call God Father. The love relationship is mutual, complete, fulfilled. Fathers=those who have a lifetime of faith. Not just men (gratefully, not just men!, but using language of old, when masculine terms applied equally to women), but all those of a certain age and stage in life. Those who have weathered storms and held steady in faith. And Young Men=those young in life and faith (again, not exclusively male), whose youth fills them with vigor and verve to take risks for God.

The nicknames mean something. They directly connect with the message for those groups/individuals. But going forward, the message to all is the same: stay strong. Live into who you are, the best of who you are, and so remain strong in faith. Because the world will do its best to beat you, but you–in God’s strength, living into the terms of endearment God has for you–can be stronger than the strongest temptation.

Walk in Love
Week 4: The World’s Allure
1 John 2:12-17

Connect
Share a nickname you’ve earned and how you got it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:12-17.
To whom does John write, and what does he say to each (vv12-14)?
What reasons do God’s people have to not love the world (vv15-17)?
What does love for the world look like according to John? What might it look like today?

Live
What does it mean to you personally to know God as Father? To know Him “from the beginning”? To be strong to overcome evil? Which description best fits you and which would you like to grow into?
How can God’s Word strengthen you to resist temptation?
How does your identity as a believer influence your behavior?
What gifts do younger and older believers have to offer each other?
What, if any, hostile threats do you perceive in the world? How do you manage them?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with love for Him that crowds out the world’s distractions.

Advent Week 2 – Anticipating the King

My family will attest: I enjoy having people over. I enjoy cooking and serving and spending time with friends in the comfort of my own home.

My family will also attest: In the last hour before company arrives, more often than not I transform into a dragon.

I could blame the family but, truth, it’s me. I’m a mess. I lack the gene for good organizational systematizing and tidying. Even at my home’s cleanest, you can still find stacks of things to be filed or sorted. I hope you can ignore them as well as I do.

Show up day or night, and I will gladly welcome you in and bite my tongue trying not to apologize for this mess. Because apologies only draw attention, and you didn’t come over to admire my housekeeping.

The more comfortable I am with you, the more comfortable I will be letting you see my mess. If it’s your first time over or we haven’t been friends very long, if you’re Bono or Jen Hatmaker (or if I know you’re an interior designer or neat-freak), I’m going to fire-breathe more fiercely at the piles. Or hide them more carefully–laundry baskets full of all the desk contents stashed in the garage? Don’t peek!

I don’t think Jesus really cares all that much about the piles on my desk or in my closets, except as they reflect the chaos in my soul. I think He cares a lot about what’s going on in there, though. And sadly, I’m often as messy on the inside as the outside.

Last week I had a cool opportunity to work serving food/drink at an event celebrating people using their gifts, resources and experiences to make the Bay Area a better place to live. Their projects ranged from early childhood literacy, to offering dignity (and food) to homeless people, to services for those in abusive relationships or seniors who desire to age in place, and sailing the Bay with at-risk teens and police officers.

I got teary with inspiration, and wondered, What do I do to make my community a better place? Sure, I volunteer here and there. I do my best to be a good neighbor. I try to love my family well. It adds up to something, but is that enough?

Making our communities a better place to live, noticing those who make our communities a better place, seems to be a great way to anticipate the King. So I’ve been pondering and praying, evaluating my activities and noticing others’.

Yesterday we took Tween with us to run some errands. He was a good sport about it, and I gave him an appreciative hug. As we waited to exit the crowded Costco parking lot, a guy sat on the curb, snuggling his dog, and holding a sign indicating that they were homeless.

Not my proudest moment: I turned my face.

My proudest moment: My kiddo didn’t.

He said, “Hey, can I get out? I want to give that man the $2 in my wallet.”

He grabbed his money and the door handle as I choked back tears. I watched the man’s face as he earnestly looked my boy in the eyes and thanked him for the help.

Tween got back in the car, lamenting that the line of cars hadn’t been longer so he could have spent more time talking to the man and petting his dog.

Another not-proud moment: As we drove away, I realized I had $4 in my purse. I hadn’t given it to the man who truly needed it, but I immediately handed it to my surprised son.

I wanted him to understand that sometimes when you give, you get more in return than you’d have expected. He received genuine thanks from the man, and he received more money than he’d given away. And I got another lesson in how much I have to learn about anticipating the King.

Week 2 – Anticipating the King

 Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10

Read: We plan appropriately when we expect company, picking up the house and preparing refreshments. When we anticipate the arrival of someone important, we might also brush up on discussion topics or customs which will make our guest feel more comfortable. So too as we anticipate the Root of Jesse, the coming King, we clean up our hearts and faithfully commit ourselves to His righteous ways.

Pray: We anticipate the coming of our King Jesus and pray in His name, Amen.

 

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you honor God as your king today?
Tuesday Psalm 24:8 What battle do you need the King to fight for you?
Wednesday Psalm 145:10-13 What mighty acts has your King done for you?
Thursday Isaiah 6:1-5 Draw a picture of this scene and talk to God about it as you draw.
Friday Mark 1:14-15 How would you explain the good news of God’s kingdom?Saturday 1 Timothy 1:17 What other words could you use to describe your King?

Advent 1 – Preparing for the Child

Having babies didn’t come easily for us. Before each of our two successful pregnancies, we endured months of waiting and praying, regular heartache, and celebrations of the births of many babies to family and friends. Our boys arrived almost six and eleven years into our marriage, definitely not on our timeline.

In both cases, we prepared for their conception and their births. I committed myself to overall health and wellness and, once pregnancy took, we also prepared our home and our lives.

Our first baby arrived on his due date, just before Christmas, just as I had finished writing a paper for graduate school (or so I thought…I had to rewrite all the end notes because, as it turns out, writing end notes during labor is not particularly effective). Our second baby threw us a serious curve ball when he arrived five weeks early, mid-term of my last graduate school course.

You can buy a crib, clothes, and all the equipment. You can decorate a room and baby-proof a house. You can read all the books and blogs. But can any parent ever adequately prepare for how a baby will forever change their life?

The arrival of a child will change your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

Even after they arrive, it seems you never stop preparing room for your children. My kids are now in college and the tail-end of middle school, and I’m still preparing for who they are now and helping them towards who they will become. As we do life together, they also shape me.

In Advent we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Could anyone have imagined the truth of how the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah would change the world? Could we imagine how He would change our lives, at first glance and daily from then on? Can we imagine even yet what His second-coming will be like?

Immanuel, God with us. Let’s prepare for His birth, and strap in for the wonderful wild ride of life with Him.

Week 1 – Preparing for the Child
December 3-9

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-17

Read: Parents actively work to prepare for their child’s birth. They visit the doctor, assemble a crib, purchase and wash clothes and fill a nursery, all in anticipation of the child’s arrival. Similarly, in Advent we prepare not only our homes but our hearts for the birth of a Child. While some, like Ahaz, will reject God’s sign, we joyfully wait for God to fulfill His promise.

Pray: Father God, prepare in our hearts room for your Son. In the name of Immanuel we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:56-58 Pray that God will make you aware of His presence with you.
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 13:12 How does God lead you?
Wednesday Psalm 46:1-3, 7 How can God’s presence with you free you from fear?
Thursday Ephesians 1:4-6 What difference does it make in your life that God chose you to be His child?
Friday 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 Is there a hard-to-love person in your life? Ask God to increase your love.
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

Care Packages

Our church has a tradition of sending care packages to college students as a way of continuing to share love with them even when they cannot be with us. Over the years I have enjoyed writing notes to kids I know, encouraging them to hang in there and that, yes, we do notice you’re not here and we care.

This year, just as my kid would be on the receiving end, the project almost fell by the wayside. I stepped up to save it since I knew just how much real mail could mean to kids weathering tough transitions. Truly, any college kid.

When I attended college, I got mail from my mom and my church. The church sent postcards for events I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, which felt insulting: did they not notice my address? And if they did, why not write a quick note? Or at least take me off the list? My experience fueled my desire to encourage other college students.

I’ve written previously that I have never before been to the Post Office so regularly as I have been since the Big Kid started college out of state. And while I am great at writing notes, and encouraging others to write notes, or cheerleading people acting as encouragers, I stink at administering details.

The project became one more stressor in an already stressful season. I often said, “I could use a care package!”

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my college kid. Minutes after we arrived at his dorm room he said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to show you this…” He held up a reusable plastic envelope filled with cards. He explained, “It’s every card I’ve received since I arrived at college.” The notes from his dad and me, his grandparents, friends, church members and Scout leaders, the cards I was sure were being skimmed and recycled… No, they were being read and reread, treasured.

I should mention: he didn’t know I’d taken up this project. He shared because he knew it would touch me to know how much those cards meant to him. I took his picture, better that than welling up with tears.

Eventually it came together. We gathered 75 college addresses for kids who grew up in our church, or whose parents/grandparents attend our church. We collected donations of microwave popcorn and Halloween candy, and lots and lots of encouraging notes: many written to kids people knew and others written generically to kids no one knew well enough. We also collected dozens of home-baked cookies to send study break packages to small groups organized by our church’s mission partners working on college campuses—and included plenty of hand-written notes to those kids, most of whom we will never meet.

On a Saturday morning, about fifteen volunteers came together to assemble USPS flat-rate boxes, to write yet more notes, to stuff popcorn and candy and cookies into boxes. My morning had not gone according to plan (of course not, because life), and I arrived late and frazzled. Yet there they were, faithful helpers already on task loving on kids away from home.

It had felt to me like details enough to drown me, yet one dear gal said, “We’re like water, settling in to our well-worn spots.” Yes. My spot is encouraging, not organizing. But I stuck it out, I told the story, and people filled in their places in a beautiful whole.

When we finished in less time than we’d allotted, we gathered around the boxes to pray. And there it was: my care package. These friends and servants prayed for our kids, for strength and perseverance and guidance. They prayed for professors and mentors to come around them. They prayed for roommates and suitemates and hallmates, boyfriends and girlfriends, all of whom might wonder why a church would send care packages to college kids. They prayed God’s love and peace would shower over these precious young people. This time, I couldn’t hide my tears.

I couldn’t have imagined the impact on our postal workers. It took two of us making multiple trips with arms full to carry in all the boxes: their eyes went wide. I sensed their initial shock, then overwhelm, then deep breaths as they settled into a rhythm of typing in zip codes and printing labels, restacking boxes along the way. Eventually, they began to laugh, thanking us for supporting the US Postal Service.

They asked what we could possibly be mailing to individuals all over the country; when we explained, they grew visibly happier to have a role to play in this big act of encouragement. When after almost an hour we were done, they were also done for the day. One postal worker declared, “Since everyone should have a little something for joy, here you go!” He reached under the counter and pulled out two Dove chocolates for Guy and me.

Last night I received another care package: my kid, home for the first time, three months to the day since college move-in. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Not Alone

I have been to the post office three times in eight days. Four, if you count the trip I made to pick up boxes, which made for two trips in one day. I set a personal record.

So what? you ask.

What seems a normal act of adulting is An Event for me. You have no idea how bad I am at mailing things! We‘ve lived in our small NorCal town for eleven years and I’ve been to the PO, hmm, three times? (Yes, Guy is a rock star, actually, for putting up with me and handling All the Details). Unless we pay a fortune in postage–which we do, annually–only our hand-delivered Christmas gifts arrive on time. I’m bad at erranding in general, and mailing in particular.

So why this sudden run on the USPS? I sent a kid to college!

And he’s sososo homesick! He called after his first class ready to come home. Not that the class was hard (it wasn’t) but, after a weekend of trying to get to know as many people as humanly possible, he realized that the one person he wanted to spend time with–his roommate–had no time for him.

Roommate’s girlfriend also came to college (that would have been nice to know in advance), and they only have time for each other.

I bet my kid could overlook the sloppy mess invading his space if Roommate’s kindness also overflowed boundaries. But no. And he’s not sleeping because he doesn’t want to make things worse by asking that Girlfriend leave their room after midnight.

Easy enough to say, “He’ll get through it,” or “Transitions are so hard,” or “Everyone feels like that at first.” Yes, he can do hard things and we believe he can get through it. This is the biggest transition of his life and my drama boy takes it so hard. And no, not everyone feels this but yes, most will at some point.

The adults in his life have endured transitions. We all know he can do it. But he’s in it, and that makes his experience real-er than ours for the moment. Don’t you remember? The drive-thru car wash (mundane adulting) = dark, loud, and scary!

And the stakes are higher than ever. This was his #1 college choice. We believe this school is a perfect fit for him–in The Wizard of Oz “…if ever there was there was there was [because the college because because] sort of fit–overflowing with Emerald City potential for great opportunities! And he is not sure he’s going to make it. Because of a stupid roommate.

We sleep-trained Teen as an infant. Guy would throw his arm across me to prevent me from running to my crying baby, until the baby sobs tore through his own resolve, at which point he’d strap Baby-Teen into his car seat and drive around until the kiddo fell asleep. This made no sense to me (although I trusted him entirely and sank deeply into quiet/sleep!) because as soon as he took Baby out of Car Seat, Baby woke up and resumed crying.

Parents are crazy that way.

I feel like we’re at it again. Teen needs to learn to do this for himself, to self-soothe in whole new (and hopefully, healthy!) ways. And we’re learning new crazy.

Throughout his adolescence, we fought about Snapchat. He downloaded it–and I demanded deletion–every few months. During drop-off weekend, Teen asked his brother to create a Snapchat account for the cat, and to Snapchat him every day (he *loves* his cat). Since my phone is better, Snapchat resides on my phone…and I find myself Snapchatting my kid. Often. When I asked for a “1st day of school picture” he replied: “Absolutely not!” But he snaps pictures to “his cat” every day…

To add to the crazy parenting moves, I commented in the college-specific parents’ Facebook group that my kiddo is lonely. Other moms with freshman sons in the same major sent me pictures of their kids so I could send them to my kid; I did the same. OMG: I am setting up ‘play dates’ for my college kid (DS, Darling Son, to use the lingo)! He hasn’t mentioned if it’s helped. [I hope it is helping… Life is all about connections, right?]

I’m happy for these parents that their kids are getting to know one another, hanging out and making plans for Labor Day Weekend. Meanwhile, Teen will be alone in his dorm since Roommate and Girlfriend are going on a couples-only camping trip.

He will be fine. He will be fine. He will be fine…

So I send care packages. I didn’t take my own college transition nearly so hard (freshman roommates as they are, I investigated leaving, but couldn’t stomach another round of college apps), but I still remember my mom’s signature care package ingredients.

And I encourage my kid: what he knows (he chose this school for so many good reasons) and what he feels (I can’t do this) are in competition. He lets his heart lead most of the time; he needs to keep his head this time.

I encourage myself: he is strong, and he can do this. He feels alone, but he is not. I feel alone, but I am not. I rejoice with others, and they hang in there with us.

We are not alone, even when we feel it.

[P.S. As I wrote this, he texted: “Going to dinner with the boys.” No idea who “the boys” are, but hope. Always hope!]

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Do a Good Turn Daily

My friend Tracy works for an in-town start-up company-charity called Sydney Paige. Founder Courtney Brockmeyer left the corporate world to spend more time with her darling daughters, Sydney and Paige, to indulge her passion for education, and to model for her daughters how one person can make a difference.

Sydney Paige is like TOMS shoes: buy one-give one. I buy a pair of TOMS shoes for me, they donate a pair to someone in need. You buy a Sydney Paige backpack for your child, and they donate an identical backpack to a child in need. All good!

Tracy emailed that they needed volunteers to pack backpacks for homeless children in San Francisco. Kids in our area are always adding to their volunteer hours, and parents appreciate opportunities to teach our children solid hands-on lessons about using our time and actions to do good, be better, and love others.

I mentioned it to Tween; he replied, “Yah, maybe…” (he is loving long summer days of video games and bike riding and swimming with friends…). His Scout patrol leader made it a requirement, so we both signed up.

We arrived at Courtney’s garage to walls of boxes and volunteers hiding behind each corner. Our first task: to write notes of encouragement that would be stuffed along with age-appropriate school supplies in each backpack. Tracy explained: “Some of these kids aren’t told they are loved. Some have parents who think school is a waste of time. We get to tell them they can do it, that school is important and so are they.” Tears!

On index cards in brightly colored markers, we wrote encouragement like:
Shoot for the stars
Reach for your dreams
You can do hard things
Keep going!
(Tween wrote our fav): My love for you is bigger than the ocean and stronger than the waves

We opened boxes of backpacks, took them out of the plastic, and unzipped the main pocket. We assembled color-coordinated stacks of school supplies, and then we stuffed. For an hour and a half, we worked diligently until additional volunteers arrived to take our place.

My initially-reluctant Tween hugged Tracy and said, “This was SO great! Call my mom anytime you need help. Seriously. I’ll help anytime.”

In the car he said, “I kinda feel bad about leaving.” I almost turned the car around. Instead we had a heart-moving conversation about volunteering and new opportunities he might pursue this school year.

Two days later we received another plea: 12,000 backpacks were arriving at the warehouse ten days early. Could we help?

We spread the word: Tween had one available friend and Teen had three. Eight of us showed up at the warehouse to rearrange boxes to create space, unpack supplies, and write more notes. We would have given more time, but three of our eight were leaving that afternoon for nine days of work at a Kids Alive International orphanage in the Dominican Republic; their travel schedule made for a narrow window of opportunity.

We volunteered because helping others is the right thing to do. Because we want to teach our kids that a little effort goes a long way in the world. Because our kids brought other kids and the good multiplies. Because our kids are Scouts and, as the Scout slogan says: “Do a good turn daily!” It wasn’t hard, though it wasn’t necessarily convenient, either. Still, it was important.

We helped Sydney Paige and, in turn, Sydney Paige donated 24 backpacks to Kids Alive. This isn’t always the way the world works, but it should be. Good comes from good. Invest your time wisely. Do a good turn daily.

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