Breakfast at Midnight

February 2, 2008

It wasn’t until we were all seated around the breakfast table that we heard the story.

The truth is, I sleep so soundly, that I never heard what had happened.

But Margie did.

It was just after midnight when she woke up to a rather strange night sound.

At first, she could not be sure, but as the clouds of sleep left her mind and she listened more closely, she could distinctly hear the sound of footsteps in the kitchen.

Of course, Margie’s first inclination was to reach over and rouse me with a warning that someone was in the house. But then, she noticed another noise. Had someone just opened the cupboard and got a mixing bowl out?  Now it sounded like drawers were being opened and spoons, measuring cups, and the Bosch attachments were coming out!

What was going on?

Margie decided to investigate on her own. Sliding out of bed, she went upstairs.

The whole of the dining room and kitchen were ablaze with lights. The ongoing sounds of food preparation could be heard as faithful and diligent hands reached for this spice, that bucket of flour, and another scoop of sugar.

“Esther!  What are you doing up?”

Without even a flinch or a glance in the direction of my astonished wife, our wonderful 10-year-old daughter replied over her shoulder, “Making breakfast Mom. I thought we’d have some lemon poppy seed muffins.”

Silence.  Margie didn’t know what to say.

At last, Esther, sensing that something was amiss, turned around and looked at Margie.

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“Well, it is 12:18 in the morning. I’m just surprised that you are up already.”

“WHAT?  It can’t be!  I set my alarm for 5:30am and it just went off a little bit ago,” Esther returned in disbelief and shock.

“No, really, look at the microwave clock.”

Sure enough, 12:19 glowed brightly on the face of the clock.  With a somewhat sheepish grin Esther set everything down and walked over to Margie. “Well, Mom, I guess I can finish this in the morning. Let’s go to bed.”

We later discovered that earlier that day, her clock had been unplugged by our rather curious 2 year old. Esther had plugged it back in and reset the clock… but not the alarm, which remained stubbornly at 12:00 a.m.

For the past 3 months before the preparations for the midnight breakfast, Esther had taken  over the responsibility to make breakfast each morning. And true and faithful as ever, she had simply jumped out of bed and got to work when the alarm went off.

Margie and I reflected on that experience over the next few days.  What had caused a 10-year-old girl to jump out of bed at midnight, in the middle of the winter and cheerfully go about doing her chores?

Besides the fact that this precious daughter of ours is an angel, we have come to several conclusions:

1.    High Expectations – Margie and I have always made the assumption that our children are wonderful, responsible, and obedient. And we have never let their temporary shortcomings prove us otherwise. We expect the best out of them and tell them so in plain, unmistakable terms. Not only that, but we send that message to them through our actions and by holding them accountable to high levels.  If a job is not done right – they feel our disappointment, “We expected more than this sloppy job out of you.  Will you please do it right – the way we know you can?”  And when they meet or exceed our expectations (as they usually do) we praise them lavishly, “Great job!  You did awesome!  Really, this is incredible!  But, it is nothing more than we expected… we knew you could do it all along.”

2.    Freedom to Rise… or Fall – With that expectation, we give them the freedom to rise or fall, to win or fail, to succeed or wallow in mediocrity.  But, no matter how they perform, they know it was their baby, their stewardship. The tasks and jobs we give them are not just perfunctory jobs to keep them busy. We make sure that they are essential aspects of running the house and keeping this large family alive. Like making breakfast. If we don’t eat, life is pretty uncomfortable.  And Esther knew that. She knew deep inside that we were all counting on her.  Hyrum knows the same thing about taking the garbage out. Joshua feels that pressure when the dishes need to get washed and put away. They all feel the weight of responsibility. They all have their stewardships. They all are left to do their duties as best they can and as they see fit.  They LOVE the pressures of duty, responsibility, and a family dependence on their actions.

3.    Side-by-Side Training – The freedom and responsibility that is heaped on their shoulders is not without training and love. In fact, in the beginning, when they are first given those assignments, we work very closely and repeatedly by their sides. Esther learned to make muffins by helping Margie do it dozens of times, with more and more of the work slowly being transferred to her.  The knowledge to make a perfect pancake from scratch (a feat she now does effortlessly and with great skill) came from working with me repeatedly over hot skillets. Joshua, Jared, and Hyrum handle every aspect of keeping four goats, 25 chickens, and 2 bulls alive and healthy without even a word of supervision from me because we have worked for hours on end in the barn together.  We have found that working closely with our children and slowly transferring duties to them, works miracles that barking orders at them can never accomplish.

As parents, we sometimes catch glimpses of the growth and learning of our children. We find unusual moments when the lessons we have endeavored to impress on their hearts come shining through with a strength and glory that causes our hearts to burst with pride and joy.

Breakfast at midnight was one of those moments for Margie and I.

_______________________
More parenting insights and family tips like this one can be found at www.TheHomeFeeling.com.  In fact, here you will find videos, articles, community discussions, and a whole library filled with parenting tips and family gems. Join us today.
_______________________


The King of Kings and Lord of Lords

January 2, 2008

For two weeks I have totally and completely submerged myself in family gatherings, events, dinners, parties… and countless hours of quiet home time with my dear wife Margie and our children.

Projects have been shelved.  Work has been set aside. Urgent church matters have been deferred to another day.  The rush and rumble of daily life has been quieted and slowed down.

And I have just basked in the warm glow and the happy rays of my family’s light.

During that time we have given many hours of thought to a small Babe.  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  We know a little about that here at our house.

There is a barn full of animals in the back yard.  Each morning and each night Jared and Hyrum make their way to the back acre and milk, clean, feed, and water.  There is a manger there that the animals feed out of and a small pile of hay and straw that the hens use for bedding and laying their eggs.

It is not totally disgusting, but then again, it is not a nice Holiday Inn with Serta Plush-top mattresses either.  There is a strong, sickly-sweet smell of animal manure, alfalfa hay, mixed grains, molasses, and common, everyday dirt.

I paused a moment the other day when I happened to be out there and considered this tiny Babe.  None of my children have been born in such a lowly, dirty, and humble room.  They all took their first breath of life in posh, modern hospital rooms, fully equipped with complex machines and intricate medical equipment.

And what of that precious and sweet youthful girl named Mary that carried and delivered the tiny Babe?  The mind cannot imagine her humility or anguish of soul at bringing this Babe into the world in a place like that.  Perhaps only God and she will ever know the emotions that stirred in her heart at walking to that stable heavy with child.

Staring at the straw, the manger, the feed, the animals, the dirt, and the manure, the words of Isaiah came rushing into my mind, as set to music by Handel, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!  And He shall reign forever and ever!”

Even now my heart beats wildly at the thought.  My mind reels with the splendor and the awe of it.  My eyes weep unrestrained at the emotion.

You see it was for me – for me personally, and individually that the great God of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty Ruler and Creator of the Universe descended from an eternal throne to subject Himself to a dirty, smelly, lowly stable.

For my sins, my weaknesses, my stupidity, and my arrogance He humiliated and abashed Himself.

For the hope of my joy, my peace, my happiness, and my safe return Home he came to this earth as a helpless Babe, trusting his glorious Being into the hands of parents just like you and me.

But, while all of this (and so much more) was done for me personally and individually, it was not done for me exclusively.  He came for you, too.  He stooped below all things for you, too – for all of His children, everywhere and in every time.  He came for His children.

Yes, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords came for us.  His birth was a call for each of us to come to Him, to embrace Him, to serve Him, and perhaps, most importantly, to follow Him and be like Him.

Can you hear that wee Babe calling to you from that humble stable?

Does the sound of His tiny, pure voice reach out to you and pierce your heart as it does mine?

Does the longing to go into Him, hold Him, and feel of His endless love, consume your heart and soul the way it does mine?

And, my friend, looking on Him – the Father of us all – does a burning erupt in your heart to become a real parent like He is?

Oh, how my whole soul longs to be a real parent like He is!  I wish every flaw, every inconsistency, every act of stupidity, would melt away and vanish from my being so that I could take my children in my arms and love them endlessly and perfectly – just as He loves me.

I want to be a parent like my King, my God, my Father.

So, the modern world rushes and swirls around each of us.  Today, I will be forced to enter those turbulent waters once again.  But through it all, the lowly, dirty stable, with its straw-filled manger stands unmovable, firm and consistent.

The Babe that lies there still calls to us.  He yearns to have us embrace all that He is and all that He teaches and all that He offers us.

Today, I may not be able to do it all, or become all that He wants me to become, but I will try.  I will try.

I will give my heart to this King of King and Lord of Lords who came to earth as the precious Babe Jesus Christ.


Starts With An “F”… Ends With A “Q”

December 8, 2007

Without even taking his eyes off the board, Brigham, our 4 year old, calmly said, “It starts with an ‘F’”.

And what confidence!  Clearly he knows what he’s talking about.

Still, we stared in wonder and amazement. What?!

A brief moment of silence filled the room as 16 eyeballs stared blankly at the whiteboard in front of them.  “Starts with an ‘F’… humm what is that?”  The board had two sort-of round, swirly, heavily repeated circles where eyes of a face might be, one even bigger one where an open mouth could have been, and that little one could be a nose.

“A face!”

“Nope” And that is when the second set of swirly, whirly, wild circles started on the other side of the whiteboard.

Now the guesses started shooting forth from the children like bullets from a machine gun… “Fan!” “Frog!” “Feet!” “Fence!” “Furniture” “Family!” “Friends!”

But Brigham was totally unfazed… He calmly just kept saying, “Nope”.

After about the sixth circle, he turned around, face beaming with shear joy, body infused with the satisfaction of holding the whole family spellbound.  “AAAANNNDD it ends with a ‘Q’!”

That brought a thundering silence to the room that had been erupting with shouts of joy and peals of laughter.

“What?? Ends with a ‘Q’. Nothing ends with that letter!”

After the shock of the second clue wore off, the guesses continued with (if this is possible) even more enthusiasm and spasms of laughter.  It was a wild ruckus of the best sort – imagine 6 siblings racing around the whiteboard, jumping up and down, shouting at the top of their lungs.

One can be seen crossing their legs, trying not to wet their pants from laughing so hard.

Another can be seen jumping up and down, waving his arms madly.

Another is flopping on the ground, crying out, “An ‘F’ and a ‘Q’… an ‘F’ and a ‘Q’!”

And a fourth – Hyrum, our 6 yr old and newest reader – hysterically questioning, “Faaaquwa?  Faaquwa?  What’s a faaquwa?”

All the while the merry game of pictionary went on, with Brigham happily drawing circles and saying, “Nope” to every guess thrown his way.

Then in a sudden burst of energy and hilarity, Brigham turned to face the family.  Drawing in enough air to practically create a wind tunnel in the living room, he swelled up like a monstrous bloated toad and screamed out, “No!!!!! It’s a hammer!!”

All sense of composure was lost by adult and young ones alike.  A full ten minutes later, we could all still be seen laughing and holding our sides and saying, “The hammer that starts with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘Q’!”

This night of pictionary on the whiteboard and the game of charades that preceded it, was not planned in advance, didn’t cost a single penny to do, required little  (if any) mental muscle, involved and included even the youngest of the family members, consumed less than an hour, and resulted in more family fun than parents or children should legally be allowed to have.

Family fun time:  It’s at the heart of “The Home Feeling”… give it a try.


The Black Eye

November 29, 2007

By the second day, the large goose egg just above Esther’s eyebrow was hardly noticeable.

It kinda surprised me considering the hammer end of a large claw hammer had hit her pretty hard.  Esther was excited to see the swelling go down and the tenderness go away… and thought the worst of it was over.  But having seen a few black eyes in my day, I knew it had just begun.

The “attack of the claw hammer” happened on one of our Thursday Service Nights.  You see, about 3 months ago, we decided that a weekly service project would help all of us get out of the house, spend some quality family time, and reap the rewards of giving freely to others.  It has been a blast!

On this particular night, we were at a friend’s new house, helping them remodel.  It is an old house – built around the 50’s or so.  The walls were all lathe and plaster, reinforced with chicken wire.

Esther, with dust mask on, was going after the living room wall with a vengeance, when she got in a tug-of-war match with a section of wire.  In the end she won.  With a mighty wrench, the wire suddenly gave up its grasp on the wall, causing the hammer to jerk back and even more suddenly connect with her eyebrow.

Well, by the fourth day, the draining started… the large pool of black and blue blood that had collected above her lovely brow, began to ooze down… first into her eyelid… then taking her eye hostage… and then finally running in streaks of violet down her cheek.

The colorful display stayed for almost 2 weeks, standing as a monument to her willingness to serve selflessly and at the cost of personal injury.  Because, you know what?  The next Thursday, she was right back at that wall, hammering, pulling, and tearing with the rest of us.

Family service… give it a try… just watch out for the hammer.


Wisdom That Works

November 27, 2007

I absolutely, totally and completely hate fluffy theory.

It just grates on me.

Maybe that is why I’m so passionate about “The Home Feeling” community… everyone in there is a real parent, doing the family thing everyday, the best they know how. You know you are getting the real thing when you listen to these ordinary folks doing an extraordinary job.

This morning, I was editing some video of family chats we have done. This was the one where I finally got Margie’s parents to sit down and talk with me about how they did it.

You see, Margie’s folks had eight children and all of them have turned out marvelously… stunning really. So how did they do it? I’ve always wanted to know. For 12 years, I’ve begged! I’ve pleaded! I’ve bribed them to tell me! But nothing has ever worked… until now.

The three interviews I had with them capture and distill real-world parenting wisdom that worked in miraculous ways.

I had this thought while re-listening to them. “You know, until now, their influence – the impact of their wisdom and life experiences – has been limited to their children, grandchildren (no small crowd, mind you!), and a smattering of friends, associates and other relatives. But now! Now that I got this on video and can use the internet, their influence can be spread to thousands… maybe millions! AWESOME!”

Can you tell I got excited about the idea?! What was it that John said? “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4)

By using this fountain of “wisdom that works” all of us are now one step closer to waking up one day with that feeling of unspeakable joy. I bet you’re looking forward to it, too… I know I am.


Family Night Makes Family Might

October 4, 2007

The room was so richly and exquisitely decorated that you almost had to make a conscious effort to not focus on it.

Rich tapestries, ornately carved oak mantle piece, fine leather and upholstered furniture, gorgeous armoire, rich family photos, fine paintings, costly vases and a myriad of other things reached out and grabbed for my attention.

But, their attempts were in vain. Despite my love of fine things, this night the artifacts and decorations were powerless to rob my energies or divert my gaze. No, tonight there was a different kind of magic in the room that was far more appealing, far more enticing, far more compelling.

My eyes were riveted to a nine-year-old boy standing shyly, but straight and tall and confidently in front of the mantle piece. Compared to the this stripling boy, the finery of the mantle and walls around were like dross – plain and wholly unremarkable.

The boy, of course, was my son Joshua. “I’d like to welcome all of you to family home evening,” he began. It was family night – just like every Monday night is set aside as a family night. We gather together, almost always with just our family, but, on rare occasions, with friends, as we did tonight.

The program, as he announced it, included an opening song, a prayer, a lesson to be given by yours truly, and then an activity and root beer floats to wash it all down.

For my lesson that night, I decided to discuss the ideas of war – not the physical wars that we are and have been engaged in with various nations around the globe – but a much more dangerous and impacting war that each of us wages each day. It is a war that demand strong and powerful soldiers. It is a war of wills and choices… choices that will lead to happiness, prosperity, and joy on the one hand, and choices that lead to misery, slavery, and frustrations on the other.

It was the solider aspect of the battle that I focused on during this lesson. In front of me there were 13 children ranging from 12-years-old down to 2 weeks old. My wife and our friend (an early widow that lost her husband in a tragic airplane accident), both women of immense valor, unmovable values, impenetrable armor, and tireless strength in fighting this battle.

And good thing, it is their strength – the strength of a mother – that has always and will always be the very deciding factor in this merciless battle. It is their hand that rocks the cradle. It is their hand that feeds the nations. It is their hand that nurtures the soul. It is their hand that fashions the attitudes and opinions of man. It is their hand that passes on traditions and ideals. And so, it is their hand that, in the end, almost exclusively defines the courses and paths of nations.

Nothing truer was ever said than this, “If the mother fails in the home, the world fails in all its noble pursuits.”

Than night, as we discussed the battle before us, I could not help but think of the enormous power for good that sat in that room. Among those 13 children five of them are women – or at least one day would be. These sweet daughters of God would grow up, marry, and try their own hand at defining nations and writing history. And those boys in the room, the men-to-be, would become fathers, providers and protectors.

In short, it is today that we, as parents, must fashion the armor and weave the cloth of their lives. Those of us with young children in our homes are not just parents of today, we are the makers of tomorrow. And, perhaps more importantly, we do not just fashion the society tomorrow with the homes we build today, but we enable the present and future joys of our little ones.

Looking around, I suspect that there never has been a time in history that more fully hinged on the competence and passion and determination of young parents. We stand on the brink of catastrophic change and wrestle with the most complex questions of all the ages. So, like it or not, the burden of raising these children to greatness and winning the victory lays squarely on our shoulders.

It is for each of us to question, “Am I up to the task?” Of one thing I am more sure of than anything else in my life: We have the capacity. But of another thing I am still wondering: Do we have the commitment?

Actually, that is what this habitual family night is all about. It is as much for Margie and I, as it is for our children. By coming together each week and setting aside the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we can refocus on our role as parents. It energizes us and renews our commitment as we look into our children’s eyes and feel of their immeasurable trust and love. The experience is not always roses and buttercups, but it always serves as a strong reminder that we hold present day happiness and future progress in our hands. The strength we receive is wonderful and vitally needed.

So, if you are not currently doing it, why not give it a try? Once a week for a couple of hours, just set everything aside and spend nice quality time with your family.

I’m sure you’ll find, as we have, that family night makes family might.


Good Parenting With 20 Metal Brackets and 2 Wires

September 21, 2007

This morning, his comments were echoing through my ears… “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Sitting on the operatory chair in my brother-in-laws dental office, I did have to wonder what in the world I was doing there.

Sure, a couple of my teeth were not perfectly straight, but it had never really bothered me before – at least not to the point that I had been willing to spend any money to get them fixed. And, hey, my beautiful, amazing wife had married me crooked teeth and all, so it was not like I needed them straight to impress the ladies or increase my chances of a hot date… I had one of those every day, all day. To top all that off, my children all loved me, no matter what my teeth looked like.

So, why was I sitting on the side of the chair staring at the 20 metal brackets and 2 orthodontic wires sitting on the tray next to me? This was going to cost me time, money, and pain – and for what?

“You know what Joe, let’s do it,” I said, “Joshua is getting braces on and Esther has had them on for 3 months already. I want to be an example to them of trying new things.”

He shrugged his shoulders, gave me that coy grin of his, chuckled with a mirthful laugh that said, “Ok… but you have no idea what you’re getting into!” and had me lay down in the chair.

2 hours later I felt like someone had snapped a pair of vice grip pliers on my teeth and was mercilessly yanking on them. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was this wire digging in here and a bracket grinding on my lips there. But, truthfully, all-in-all, as I walked out of the office, it wasn’t too bad.

This morning, almost 48 hours later, my whole face feels loose and sore, especially the two teeth that are most out of line. The raw lip syndrome has set in with a fury and sleeping has been a bit troublesome because every time I roll over my face presses against the pillow and reminds me that the vice grips are still there yanking on my teeth.

It is a constant reminder of the last thing Dr. Joe told me as I sat up from the procedure, “Well, you’re a great dad, Joshua. You know you’re going to have about 5 times the discomfort and pain that your children will have – right?” Now he tells me… thanks a lot!

In truth, I would have done it anyway.

I was there for that exact reason – to be a good dad. I have heard so often that example is the only teacher and the more I strive to raise my children to greatness, the more I realize the profound truth of that statement.

Example says, “If I can do it, so can you!” It urges on, calls to rise up and join those that are going before. It removes excuses and levels the playing field. It drives teachings, lessons, ideas, principles, deep into the realm of reality and extracts them from the vague, superficial and obscure. Example makes it all real.

But there is something more that it does – something that is even more powerful that all of that.

This morning, during my personal scripture study, I discovered what that “more” is. Paul, talking to the Hebrews, stated this about our Savior:

“For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”

And another ancient prophet has said:

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

Setting the example does not just allow me to lead out, forge the way, and level the playing field for my children, it gives me the same experiences that they are having – or will have.

This gives me, as a parent, enormous power to guide, influence, comfort, care for, understand, love, respect, appreciate, and nurture my children in a way that would not be possible if I had not actually experienced the thing for myself.

With that insight in mind, is it any wonder that Christ came to earth and took up flesh? Is it any wonder that God, that created heaven and earth and had all power, still needed to actually, physically experience this life like we would?

He did it because He loves us. He not only wanted to set the example, but He wanted to know and understand, so that He could comfort and guide us in all of our trials, afflictions, griefs, joys, and success. We can never say to the Savior, “Well, you just don’t understand what I am going through.” But we can turn to Him in all aspects of our life and in all circumstances, with the confidence that He has been there, He knows and He can help.

Peter stated this:

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”

From the Savior Himself, we hear:

“Follow me, and do the things which you have seen me do.”

As a parent, this is my new creed: To follow the example of the Savior by setting the example for my children in every way possible. Even if it means being strapped with 20 brackets and 2 wires.