Footballs and Pajamas

For as long as I can remember Sunday has been my favorite day of the week. From the time I was a little girl I looked forward to getting “dressed up” for church. On many Sunday afternoons we left church and drove from Maryland across the Potomac River to Virginia to hang out with aunts, uncles and cousins.

The Skins’ win yesterday was a fun way to start the season!

One thing we didn’t do was watch football. Dad and Mom weren’t sports fans at that time. But after my brother broke his neck in a swimming accident, Mom started watching the Washington Redskins with him. Then when I married Benny, an avid sports fan, I was “obligated” to make the Redskins and the Auburn Tigers a part of my life.

Today my children and their children often come to our house on Sunday afternoons — especially in the fall. DVR’s have made it possible to record the 1:00 Skins games until we can get home to start it. I love the cheers and mess of adults crowding into the family room while cousins play, climb over aunts and uncles to grab M&M’s, and occasionally join in on cheers even though they have no idea why.

You don’t have to watch Sunday football to create traditions to pass along to your children and their children. But traditions are important…and not just because they are fun.

Noel Piper, wife of John and author of Treasuring our Traditions, talks about why family traditions are important:

“[God] was the Author of traditions for His people throughout the Old Testament. He still invites us to His table on a regular basis for the sacred tradition of communion. Why? Because traditions are the equivalent of super-powered family glue. They keep us together and identify us as belonging.”

Hard to believe I begat this man. 🙂 A true fan.

Traditions like Sunday afternoon football, the must-have birthday cake, butterfly bedtime kisses or opening pj’s on Christmas Eve really can be “super-powered family glue.” We are fast approaching the holiday season when traditions bring richness and warmth to what can easily become a consumer-oriented and stressful few months. Hanging out yesterday watching the Redskins with some of my people has me thinking about the joy of “belonging” to a family.

I’ll be blogging more about this soon…

Remembering the 70’s

It was the early 1970’s when my “thought-I-was-a-Christian” churched boyfriend became a Christian. The morning after his conversion I could actually see the difference on his face.

A thug on probation had just become a Jesus freak!

During that time the “Jesus Movement” — a revival among young people that started in California and literally moved across the country — hit Northern Virginia.  Before long the camping trips on which our high school choir teacher took us included “church” on Sunday mornings. Benny and I went from tent to tent waking everyone up to hear Benny share the gospel. The Spirit of God was busy and we saw numerous friends experience saving faith.

Weeknight meetings that met next door to the police station where Benny had spent some time prior grew almost weekly. Benny and others taught and barefoot guys played guitars while we sat cross-legged on the floor singing songs that sounded nothing like the hymns we grew up with. One amazing day the school vice-principle asked our group to lead a 7th period assembly for the entire school! He had seen the change in so many “bad kids” and was inviting the revival to spread. Numerous students responded to an altar call that day to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

Then we got married and Benny became a youth pastor. What fun we had caring for “kids” who were nearly our own age. Again, God moved and the Baptist church Bible study grew. Benny participated in starting Bible studies in local high schools and kids were finding irresistible grace to be amazing. To this day we have sweet relationships with then high schoolers who are now pillars in churches throughout the country.

But something happened.  In short, we became so focused on ministering in the church that evangelism waned. I had six kids in eleven years, was homeschooling and trying to keep up with the laundry. Evangelism slowly and subtly shifted to inviting a neighbor to an Easter outreach or telling a grocery store checker I would pray for her following her mom’s death.

For the first time in years I had lunch yesterday with someone who isn’t involved in a church and who may not be a believer. And it was her idea! We met at a business appointment I attended with my oldest son (I work part time from home for him). At the end of our meeting she asked if we might have lunch. I was thrilled! Yesterday after lunch with this delightful woman and devoted mother she asked if we could do this again.

Why has it been so long?

This formerly zealous evangelist became so church oriented that I forgot the mission to which the church is called: to incarnate Jesus Christ to a lost and hopeless world in need of a Savior. Extending a church invitation or praying for a grieving store clerk is nice…but it’s not sharing the gospel. 

Yesterday I watched the Lord steer our lunch conversation to me briefly sharing about the difference God is making in my life. In fact, I was able to empathize with some things my new friend is going through with her adult children — and then surprise her when this pastor’s wife of nearly 4 decades followed up her lack of enthusiasm for church involvement by admitting the times when I went on Sunday mornings only because…well…my husband is a pastor!

I came home yesterday hopeful. Who would have thought this homeschooling mom of seven and grandmother of eleven would be “out there” selling IT and having lunches with business savvy women who may walk away scratching their heads at how I’ve spent the last 35 years?

I just want them to walk away savoring the aroma of Christ.

God is stirring my heart to love the lost again. To admire women who have spent years building a career but who love their children just as much as I do. To not be ashamed of the gospel that has changed me and can change them. To resist the embarrassment or fear of man that tempts me to keep God out of the conversation. To look for ways to learn from some amazing women I’m meeting — many of whom share my values about marriage and motherhood far more closely than I thought when “us” and “them” attitudes tempted me to feeling superior because I was the stay-at-home mom.

I’m smiling. “Retro” stuff is back in. Our sons have repeatedly lamented that Dad didn’t save our Chevelle convertible for them and our daughters have chastised me for throwing away “cool” clothes and jewelry.

Maybe God is bringing me back.  Back to days when reaching out to the lost and praying for opportunities to share the love of Christ was a lifestyle.

Lord, please.

An After-Dinner Chat With Some Smart Kids

Yesterday a longtime friend made a facebook comment about a book Benny and I wrote years ago called, “Walking With the Wise.” Frankly, it was written so long ago that I rarely think about it. It was a book for parents about the importance of developing the kind of relationship with our kids that makes we parents the people to whom they want to come for friendship and counsel in the teen years.

It was based on Proverbs 13:20:  “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Having been in youth ministry for years before having kids, Benny and I watched many teens turn their affections and desire for approval away from their parents to peers. We wanted to do our best to avoid this happening to our kids.

Years after writing that book we went through some rough waters with several of our kids when our relationships with them were tested and it seemed we were the smallest voice in their lives. And some of the hardest times were after they were no longer teens. The early 20’s brought challenges we didn’t anticipate, so with an 18-year-old still at home we are still spending time on our knees. With her oldest siblings we breathed a sigh of relief once they were out of those high school years. We know better now. We need God’s grace now just as much as when she was younger and are wanting to finish these remaining parenting years well by God’s grace.

Something cool has happened over the past few years to our grown kids (ages 22 through 34 and their spouses). They’ve gotten smart! The kids to whom we used to give advice (or try to!) are now advising us.

Take the other night. We went out to a birthday dinner for our daughter, Janelle. Not all of the kids could come but 4 of them and a couple of spouses were there. After dinner, Benny asked if he could get their thoughts on some decisions we’re facing, including having his elderly mom come to live with us and needing to move closer to where our new church was planted.

As we sat on the restaurant patio Benny shared his heart and our questions. I loved hearing him openly share some of our temptations and struggles, as well as our questions. One by one they started asking questions and sharing their perspectives. They helped me to see an oversensitive conscience about admitting it would be easier if my mom was needing to move in with us rather than Benny’s. In fact, one son-in-law interrupted his wife (our daughter) when she half-joked about the day we might have to move in with them by interjecting, “Now, wait a minute; we need to talk about this!” They also helped Benny and me to see the importance of talking through our housing preferences more before we actually house-hunt. And, most importantly, they agreed that we need to take a good look at heart motives behind some of our questions and struggles.

Now we are walking with the wise!

Benny and I cherish our peer relationships. We could never put a price on the help, counsel, correction and encouragement we’ve received from our friends over the years. Yet there’s something really special about sitting across from our kids-turned-adults and gleaning from their perspective. Last night as we talked I stopped to savor the moment. Josh started out bald and is now voluntarily bald again. Jaime’s ponytail looked just like it did in her high school basketball games. Janelle’s laugh is still there — the one I could always hear from across the room. They’re my children; the ones I carried and made birthday cakes for and disciplined and taught to read and sinned against and fed pbnj’s.

Yet there they sat: helping, advising and caring.

At one point I realized that someday they’ll all be sitting having a conversation about what to do with their Dad and me.  To add some comic relief to quiet the tears brimming in my eyes I told them I wanted to apologize in advance for all the trouble we would cause them someday.

“Someday?” Josh asked. “You already cause us trouble!”

Ahhh. It was perfect. The tears stopped and we all had a good laugh.

I hope the Lord gives us lots of healthy years to get more good counsel from our kids.

I guess this is “Walking With the Wise: Part Two.”

The Friend I Almost Lost

For the third time in 3 years the pregnancy test was positive. But it was 1986 and they were known to be inaccurate sometimes so Benny and I decided to test again.

Yep, for the third time in less than three years we were expecting a baby.

Josh (almost 8) and Jaime (6 1/2) were thrilled.  We were relieved because two little brothers had rushed into their lives in the past 2 1/2 years. And one of them was a tantrum-thrower!

About six weeks into the pregnancy I was put on bed rest in an attempt to keep baby number five alive, but Dr. Crowe told me to prepare myself to miscarry. During the weeks that followed Josh and Jaime potty trained 2 1/2 year old Jesse, played with 14-month old Joey, made lunches, did household chores and took good care of Mommy until Daddy got home each day. We all prayed daily that God would protect their baby brother or sister.

Janelle Marie was born on September 4th to the delight of a family who had prayed for her birthday. As I held my baby girl in my arms tears streamed down my face. God had spared my daughter’s life. She was an adorable, smiley baby who captured the hearts of all who came in contact with her.

Memories of “Missy” (a name her brothers still call her) are flooding my mind today. I’m smiling about the time she excused her disobedient choice to cross the street in front of our house alone with, “Mommy, I couldn’t help it. My feet just starting walking into the street!” I can’t remember the number of pages (no cell phones back then!) we received from babysitters asking us to call home because she was throwing tantrums and refusing to go to bed. After searching Northern Virginia for Dalmatian panties to complete a themed 6th birthday party, she opened them and rolled her eyes: “Underwear. Dalmatian underwear.”  There were annual vacations to Nags Head, North Carolina, including Dowdy’s for rides and cotton candy — where in 1997 God spared her life a second time when her courageous daddy was willing to sacrifice his own to save hers.  How many hours did we all spend watching BRYC basketball games with Jaime and Mel as her coaches? Oh…and who would have thought the13-year-old who passed out when a doctor started drawing her blood would someday become a nurse! My favorite memories with her include twelve years of homeschooling at kitchen tables on Rockwell Road and Rosalie Way.

All teens have some rough times — Janelle’s were uniquely hard. Some painful family challenges were followed by moving from her beloved childhood home the week before her 13th birthday…just days before a mono diagnosis required several months of quiet recovery. Another move less than a year later to Orlando resulted in a lengthy season of few friends while she battled grief following the death of the best grandmother ever. Missy responded to the loneliness and boredom by reaching for doctrinal books on her dad’s bookshelves. Those years forged a depth of relationship with God and love for truth that helped her develop convictions, cultivate spiritual gifts and experience the hard fought treasures of providential loneliness.

Her later teen years also brought challenges in our relationship. Mothers and daughters often misstep during these awkward years when one is trying to provide needed motherly guidance (and sinning along the way!) and the other is trying at times to push the envelope of young adulthood prematurely. I remember one especially hard day when our mutual accusations and hurtful words sent us both to our rooms in frustrated tears. Janelle’s affection for the rightful claims of scripture resulted in her reaching out to a wise older woman in our church to help her through bitterness toward me, and I likewise solicited counsel for ways I was tempting and exasperating her. I cherish the day when we were able to ask one another’s forgiveness.  Her humility opened the door for the warm and delightful friendship we share today.

18 months ago we waved goodbye as she drove away from her wedding reception with the godly man for whom she had waited and prayed. One of the convictions her lonely teen years produced was a robust commitment to trust God to bring her a husband in His time rather than  search for one through causal dating. Eric captured her heart two years before she captured his, yet her dad and I watched her trust God’s will to unfold without manipulating to get her way. When Eric approached Benny to discuss his desire to pursue a deeper friendship with Janelle to investigate whether marriage might be in their future, Benny told him some news. As a young teenager Janelle insisted that any young man who wanted to consider her as a wife would have to gain not just his permission — but that of her four brothers.

This brave young man met with Josh, Jesse, Joey and Jake to talk about his intentions, and 6 months later all the Phillips men agreed to a proposal. He also invited the family to hide in the bushes at a nearby park the evening he put an engagement ring on her finger.

Missy, today I’m thinking about the day the doctor handed me a precious baby girl. It was truly one of the happiest days of my life.  I’m grateful that I’ve had a front row seat watching Him grow you through tough family times: losing Nannie; realizing at times that your only friends were siblings; having to accept help from a younger brother with Geometry and Logic; maintaining your convictions to wait for a godly man; and embracing Dad’s legacy of deep affection and sacrifice for the church.

You’re a big girl now. You have a husband and a home. Lord willing, you’ll get to Mommy your own children soon — after years of practice on a baby sister and a crew of adoring nieces and nephews. Someday I pray God gives you a daughter who brings you the joy you have brought me. If so, if you have a hard time finding babysitters willing to endure her tantrums or go through tough times in her teen years, don’t worry. God will give you and her both the grace and humility to walk through it all.

And then she’ll be one of your best friends.

Happy Birthday, Missy.