Family Routines We Are Loving // March 2021

`Do you feel like we are in the eye of hurricane, or is that just me? For now, at least here in South Africa, we have more freedom than we’ve had for some time, to see people, to meet as a church, to hold classes in person, to go to the beach or other parks. There’s this lingering sense, though, that at any moment, our restrictions could increase, and these privileges (it’s what they’ve become, no?) may be less accessible. While I have always been a routine-oriented person, my whole family has grown even more grateful for the regular guideposts in our weeks, the pegs on which to hang our hats, if you will. While much feels out of our control, the rhythms we establish maintain a sense of calm, of intention, of expectation. Kim John Payne emphasizes the significance associated with family rhythms: “Meaning hides in repetition: We do this every day or every week because it matters. We are connected by this thing we do together. We matter to one another. In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime (with a hot water bottle at our feet on winter evenings), Saturday morning pancakes.”

Monthly dates // It comes at a cost, but Ben and I have realized how much we need to prioritize our time together, to intentionally connect and remember each other. We are almost 12 years into marriage, and the many other commitments and distractions only increase as our time together increases. We’ve noticed that if we are not making intentional efforts at keeping our relationship connected, fun, and fresh, it’s easy to drift apart. So this year, rain or shine, we are committing to at least one date a month (and some months two!). Scheduling it ahead of time helps as we anticipate the joy of being together, recalling the events of the past week or year, sharing our griefs and hopes, and remembering just why we love each other.

Friday cleaning // While we are so grateful to have a housekeeper who resets our home once a week, six people living in a close space means it needs a second clean. In order to teach our children responsibility for our shared home, and the practicalities of how to clean, we have implemented our Friday cleaning ritual. Usually, first thing before school, I bring out the clipboard, write everyone’s names in bright colors with the tasks they’ll need to accomplish, and turn up some inspirational music (Annie’s “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” is a favorite, for some reason 🙂 ). Though the music and fun checklist help, cheerful encouragement is often needed as I skirt from room to room, helping as needed.

Monday parenting encouragement // This past year has felt lonely at times, no? Ben and I have felt the strain of parenting without much support, and at times, felt discouraged as parents. We’re utilizing one of our church’s subscription to Right Now Media to do a short parenting study together. Cups of tea or hot chocolate in hand, we sit down to receive input and teaching, and converse over this immense privilege and responsibility.

Wednesday evening small group // We are grateful that we can meet in person for our weekly small group from our church. We all look forward to gathering for a simple supper, usually soup and fresh bread, and then moving into a time of study and prayer. The younger children wander in and out of our living room while playing, the older ones may sit and listen, or read a book nearby. Tess will often fall asleep on my lap. The time feels sacred, after many months without this privilege, the gathering together of our church family.

Saturday morning pancakes // Not to be cliché, but we do start our weekends with a batch of fluffy sourdough pancakes. The children enjoy taking turns being the “flipper” of the pancakes, an ever important job, and we eat together in our jammies. Though during the week we may need to get an earlier start on our days, the weekend is extra sweet when eased into.

Sabbath // This past year, our family began a formal Sabbath practice, where we pause from most of our daily chores, work, technology, and spending to spend time resting together, following the example of God himself in Genesis and the tradition of God’s people throughout history. With anticipation, we wrap up our work on Saturday afternoon, giving the house one last pick-up, sending that last text, prepping the food for Sunday, and putting the finishing touches on our Shabbat meal for Saturday evening. As we light the candles and break the bread, we exhale from the week, share our highs and lows, and ease into rest with intentionality. On Sundays, we will either go to church (our church meets every other week currently), or on a family walk or to a favorite coffee shop with an area for the children to play. It’s been beautiful and restorative, though it isn’t surprising, is it? God knows what we need.

Sunday movie + pizza night // We end our Sabbaths with our longest-standing family routine – the Sunday night pizza and movie night we’ve been enjoying for five years. We began this routine in preparation for moving overseas, as a point of stability for our children that we could take anywhere. We’ve had pizza and movie nights on different continents, in many different places, and we’re not sick of it yet! Lately, we are enjoying Little House on the Prairie – it’s been fun for Ben and I to rewatch this classic series as adults. 🙂

These are some of our family routines that have helped this past year, as the world around us trembles and adjusts, to keep us grounded together and provide stability. While routines are often regarded as especially helpful for children, I would argue they are also significant for adults, and one of the most powerful ways to simplify our lives.

I’d love to hear: what are some of your most life-giving routines in this season?

Reflections On A Decade+ of Marriage

“To open myself up to love feels like jumping off a cliff… without any sense of where I’ll land.” I expressed this early on in my relationship with Ben, in those blissful, naive days where looking deeply into his eyes made me blush and our hands were glued together, as we were glued together. I’d jumped off this cliff before, and found myself wounded, jaded, unsure of myself, unsure of love.

And yet, this friendship had grown, over miles run together, long bike rides, treks on Chicago’s “L”. We had talked for dozens of hours, about our families, our theologies, our dreams, if we should even dream. And as our friendship deepened, traces of love began to reveal themselves: a sideways glance, a deeper noticing, a gentler word, a borrowed sweatshirt. As the seasons turned in our city, the season was turning in our relationship – and I was bracing myself, because self-protection is instinctive.

“I’ve seen a lot of marriages end,” I said cautiously, the tea cup warming my hands in that frigid Chicago winter. He looked gently into my eyes, “I haven’t,” he said simply. We’d been dating several months, were madly in love, and were both inwardly contemplating if this person was going to be “my person.” I, however, was still unconvinced that this marriage idea was a good one, even though God had already said so. Wouldn’t marriage be a distraction from a life lived for God? How could I love God and love a husband, both well? Isn’t marriage… mostly hard? Did I really want that?

He convinced me I did. And I jumped off the cliff. Grace caught me.

Tears streamed down my face, as I sat rocking in the warm bath in our first apartment. We’d been married a month, and I wondered if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. We’d fought about… something… which at the time, felt huge. I couldn’t fathom how we’d gotten here, already, in such a short time. Knowing what I now know, as a 4 on the Enneagram, feelings can be extreme for me, and I was feeling the extreme. The urge to self-protect was overpowering, oppressive. But there was grace, and the gentle nudge that we’d committed ourselves to each other, and our marriage to God. I wrapped myself in a towel, and stepped out.

He kissed me on the forehead. “I didn’t know you were so upset,” he said. “Neither did I,” I admit. We sat together, holding hands, my heart opening in the restoration.

The children were bouncing, literally, on and off of the air mattress in our rented home. It had been an intense last few years, with us both in master’s programs, just scraping by with our part-time jobs, and having three babies. The squeals and screams escalated, and he caught my eye. Before there was this, he seemed to say, there was us. Do you remember that? The days of us? It’s easy to lose sight of, amidst the changing diapers, the night feeds, the battles of will, the tiny bodies currently flying in the air. I smile back, yes, us. Look at what’s come from us – look at this beautiful grace. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful.

Ten and a half years into marriage, and we were driving up California’s Hwy 1 on a long-anticipated getaway, just us. With the Pacific constant on our left, and miles of vegetable and fruit fields on our right, we talked about the deepest parts of our souls, bared our hearts, feeling scared and vulnerable, but held and hopeful. We pulled off at a beach – again – to walk in the sand, watch the waves, breath the salty air as we considered the enormity of a life spent together. I reflected on our ten years, and my grandparents sixty. I long for sixty years. I reflect on the strength it must take to live a life with someone for sixty years. I rest in the grace I know God has provided, and will keep providing.

We spread ourselves and our now four children over two rows on the massive airplane, finally flying home after a long delay across an ocean. Our excessive luggage containing our life of the past eight months was hopefully residing in the belly beneath us, but it’s hard to be sure. Each child has her pillow, check, her blanket, check, her headphones, check. My stomach lurched with the turbulence, my heart ached with fresh goodbyes and yet anticipated the joyous peace of home. I met his eyes over the seats, the children, the ocean and continents below. Those eyes that drew me in long ago, that have held me when I’ve been broken, that have borne my deepest secrets, that have known my truest love. Here we are, suspended between oceans, suspended in time, held in love, held by grace. My heart swells; I cannot imagine another life, could not have imagined the goodness of God in this gift, in these gifts. Hard? Yes. But so good.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

james 1:17

Let Them See

A couple of weeks ago, Ben and I got into it – right as I was dishing dinner onto plates. It was that time of day where everyone is a bit tired, emotions run high, my tank is empty, and there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. I can’t even remember now what the argument was about, but it was clearly something we both felt strongly about, and it wasn’t resolving quickly. So we told our children to get started on dinner, we’d be back in a few minutes, and we went back to our room to work it out.

A few minutes turned into 45, and multiple times, a child came back to ask for something. We said, “Mom and Dad are having an argument, we need to work through it, and we’ll join you soon.” We heard them repeat the story to the others, “Mom and Dad are having an argument. They’ll be done soon.” In the end, we completely missed dinner, and our conversation ended memorably with all four children back in our room with us, on our laps, as we discussed American politics and explained the current candidates to our curious children.

Ben and I have plenty of conflicts and arguments; this is one aspect of the work of marriage, to die to self daily, listen well to the other, and seek humility. And we are growing in it. But something I have thought about over the past few years is how we want to model healthy conflict – and in this case, marital conflict – to our children.

We all have different childhood experiences of watching our own parents handle conflict; maybe your parents never fought, and so you were unprepared for dealing well with conflict. Maybe your parents fought loudly, angrily, and it was frightening for you as a child. Maybe your parents fought in front of you, but resolved issues behind closed doors, so you were not able to witness the resolution. Maybe your parents separated because of too much conflict.

For Ben and I, we want to model not only healthy conflict – as in, handling our arguments in a way that still respects the other – but also healthy conflict resolution. We want our kids to see us apologizing to and forgiving each other, embracing each other, laughing together, our relationship completely restored. We want them to know that even though we may get angry at times, we still love each other, and we always will.

Just as we work hard in our home at restoring sibling relationships when there’s been discord, and restoring child-parent relationships when there’s been disrespect, so too we work hard at modeling restored marriage relationship. Because this is a picture of the gospel – working out right before our eyes, again and again. Just as in Christ, we are forgiven our many sins and brought into restored relationship with him, so too our human relationships – the conflict and the restoration – is a picture of his redemptive work.

So I’m pondering lately, how do we do this better? We want our children to see both the hard of conflict and the beautiful of restoration, because it’s a picture of life in Christ. And that – life in Christ – is the life we want them to see.