From Susan Hillis:
I often talk about how much I wished, 15 years ago, that I knew someone with 10 kids who was 15 years older and could download years of lessons and wisdom and create ideas and fun into my memory bank, so that I could make these random, emergency, and even planned withdrawals regularly, as need and opportunity arose. Alas there was no such woman in my life. Now at the stage at which I find myself, with 10 kids, ages 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, I realize that I could do a much better job than I am doing, of being for someone else what I wished someone would have been for me.
Do you ever remember being teased when you were a child, by some bigger kid taunting you with, "Copy-cat, Copy-cat, you are a Copy-cat!"
I do, and it always sounded like something really bad! Well, I am here to say that the best things I have done over the years have been a result of me wanting to copy...wanting to copy someone who exemplifies kindness or wisdom or faith or humility or determination....wanting to understand what it means to copy Jesus by 'walking in His steps,' as we read in Peter. My most memorable two experiences with determining to copy someone are these:
- When I was 16 and was a very poor swimmer, my best friend Teri proposed, "hey Susan, let's take lifesaving classes together and then work as lifeguards this summer!" I was 'in,' and every night for several weeks, I dove into a cold swimming pool to swim 20 laps, choking and sputtering my way down each lane and back, as I saw Teri in the lane beside of me, ahead, swimming with grace and ease. Although my body felt like I was drowning, my mind kept repeating, 'if she can do it I can....if she can do it I can....if she can do it, I can.'
- When I was 19 and a very new believer in college, I read Jim Elliott's Shadow of the Almighty and determined that I wanted a walk with the Lord characterized by that level of intimacy and abandon. Again, it was, 'if he can do it, I can.' Or more accurately, 'if God and Jim Elliot can live out this kind of intimacy, then it is within reach for God and me to have this kind of intimacy.'
Combining Fun and Meaning
One of the best principles I have copied as a parent is combining fun and meaning. Let me explain. In our American culture, we tend to separate our social and our spiritual activities. Yet years ago, I saw I could copy a better way. When Brian and I lived in Colombia, South America, I was delighted to see that the Colombian believers lacked these artificial separations. For example, we could share an evening laughing and playing games and telling jokes, and as the Colombian friends left our home, someone would say, 'let's thank the Lord.' This person would then grab a hand of someone standing close, we would all circle up, and spontaneous praise would just break forth....
"Senor y Padre, te alabamos porque siempre eres bueno.... Lord Jesus, we praise you that you are always good, that You are all-powerful and tender with us, that You are exalted above the heavens and You also let us know you with intimacy. Lord tonight we praise You for these friends and for laughter. As we leave we ask you protect us and remind us that wherever we are, we are Your vessels, intended to be lights in the darkness. Bless us as we go out from here. Amen."
Camp Loaf-a-lot and Camp Sweat-a-lot!
So, as a mom, one of the things I have most tried to practice is combining fun and meaning. Probably my favorite example of this is the mother-daughter and mother-son retreats I did for years, starting at age 10. Honestly, I started it only with the girls and after a couple of years the boys asked "hey mom, why don't you do those kind of retreats with us?" (Brian also started doing these with girls/boys). I would take the kids out of town to a cabin or mountain house or beach for a couple of days, having prayed about what topic we should focus on and having identified a number of fun things to do. Above is a picture of one of the years I took the girls to the beach for Camp-Loaf-a-Lot, at the same time Brian took the boys to the mountains to work at Camp-Sweat-a-Lot!
Typically on these retreats we would have lots of fun -- playing in the ocean, horseback riding, caving, hiking, to name just a few. And I would have a short bible study for Friday night, late Saturday afternoon, and Sunday after lunch before heading home. The topics I prepared were ones they would be facing as teens, and included things like, identity, friendship, dating, 7 questions to answer before buying the ring, being perfume (for girls), being a princess (for girls), being strong (for boys), having courage (for boys). To this day those retreats are some of our funnest memories.
Keep Having Fun With Me
I will close with one last story. Many of you know that we lost our son Jonny in a family bike ride on the day before his 10th birthday. I will always remember Cristi looking deep into my eyes and saying, with a pleading tone shortly after his death, "Mommy, will you promise me that you will keep having fun with me and Trevor?" (To which I replied something like this, "I am sure at some point I will be able to love having fun again, but it may take a while and we will have to be patient about this.") I felt surprized to realize that this is the aspect of our relationship she most seemed to fear losing, at that young tender age. And now, as I have been learning so much from the Lord about joy, I see that the fun memories we share with our children lay such a foundation of bonding for joy and blessing and connection....both with us and with the Lord. So as we are doing all these fun things with our kids, it becomes so natural to combine fun and meaning, and to say,
"Hey sweetie, you know how happy we feel right now having all this fun at the beach? Well, let me tell you, there is a deep joy we can have in our close relationships with the Lord, that makes our hearts keep this kind of joy inside of them, whether we are at the beach or even doing homework. No joke. I feel it often. In the Bible there is a man named Nehemiah who talked about this and he said in a verse in that book of the Old Testament, 'the joy of the Lord is our strength.' In fact, there is a song about it that we often sing - remember, 'the joy of the Lo-o-o-ord is my strength....' "
And right there we would sing it, and we would break out singing it as we had fun over those days of the retreat.
So today, let's look for ways to combine fun and meaning with our kids, wherever we are in life. Maybe even by putting on coats and laying on the front yard tonight and picking out our favorite star, and by each of us, thanking God for what each of us likes about that star....and asking God to make us twinkle for His glory. (yes, we have done this - so just be a Copy-Cat!).
God bless you, dear friend. And for you, for me, for all of us and all of ours today, may the Joy of the Lord be Our Strength.