Building Foundations of Belonging

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We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.

The Freedom of Flexible Traditions

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My mom is the original Martha Stewart. She has a great eye and palate, crafting lambs out of butter for a Spring table and stuffing huge globe vases with tulips overflowing and spilling out onto a precisely pressed linen tablecloth. I once overheard a guest in our home telling her daughter, “Pay attention to what Mrs. Hopper does. Her gatherings are just wonderful.”

 They really are. But what makes my mom’s mad entertaining skills so appealing is her ability to remain flexible, adding or subtracting guests according to their needs and scrapping traditions that feel more like a burden than a blessing.

Traditions can be a wonderful thing. In fact, there are many resources around for helping you start some of your own, but what I love about the traditions in our home growing up is that they remained in flux; they grew or shrunk with the reality of our home life and the needs of our family.

So when my mom created a gorgeous sit-down Christmas meal the year my oldest brother brought two kiddos under two years old to the table, she laughed about their inability to sit with us and dine. You know how it goes with a two-year-old — down from the table in 3.7 minutes. Next Christmas she created a casual buffet that allowed us all the freedom to pop in and out of the room to nurse a baby and put the toddler down for a nap.

Traditions become a burden when they cannot morph and change with a growing family. If baking your homemade cinnamon rolls with the dreamy cream cheese frosting for Christmas morning seems daunting this year because of morning sickness, a dying relative, a shocking life change, or for any other reason, then a can of ready-to-bake rolls will not be the death of your family life. Neither will buying them from the mall, popping them in the freezer, and warming them up after the gifts are opened.

Loving our families well often means learning to let go of our grip. Traditions that cause unnecessary stress or conflict amongst family members serve one thing: the tradition itself. And what good is that?

This year our family has swelled by one college-aged “big sister” who has been living with us, bringing our family total to 11. Add in-laws next door, family coming in from the Bay Area, plus a musician friend from Nashville, a lot of traveling and speaking this spring, and I’ve got a major recipe for overwhelmed.

Despite whatever the Easter traditions have been in the past around here, I had to choose to major on the most important one of all — Jesus. We talked about Him, read about Him, quietly pondered His gift and mercy during a Good Friday service, and then rejoiced with abandon on Sunday. All the other details were periphery. Whatever I used to make for Easter brunch doesn’t matter. This year, it was a picnic in our sunny California backyard where everyone’s happy to pitch in, making the menu even more doable.

The tradition of gathering and celebrating remains firmly in tact, but there is freedom in the details. Your joy and ease will be treasured for years by children who understood that your relationships always trumped the china and the table setting. 

In this season where God has reminded us with every new blossom and leaf that he makes all things new, how can we renew the heart of some of our traditions to fit the current needs of our families?

What did you learn from your celebration this Easter?

Blessings,

Kendra

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Children do not accidentally become righteous leaders or emotionally healthy and productive adults – any more than seeds thrown randomly to the wind grow to be part of a thriving garden. Someone needs to take responsibility for their nurture, protection, nourishment, intellectual development, manners, recreation, personal needs, and spiritual development. Someone needs to commit time and energy into staying close to them as they grow, encouraging and correcting and teaching. Sally

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The Inevitable Legacy a Mama Leaves

 

The Inevitable Legacy a Mama Leaves

A sudden wail startled me from sleep last night.

My second daughter, our bright butterfly, was uncharacteristically frozen in bed with all her energy going into calling my name. Hair going every which way and lashes stuck together from sleep and tears, she knew her belly was sick but couldn’t remember what to do about it. I held her hand, guided her to the bathroom and held her hair back, and afterward poured her a drink of water, helped brush her teeth and tucked her back into bed with a bowl nearby.

I hate being sick and spent much of my many months of pregnancy avoiding it at all costs! Yet here I found myself, at 1:15 in the morning, willingly dealing with what was probably the consequence of too much indulgence at the movie we’d been to that afternoon.

  Moms work hard.

We run laundry and buy groceries, make meals and wash dishes, comfort hearts and read bedtime stories. We listen and counsel, train and disciple, snuggle and carpool. We stretch dollars and fish sticks and sweater necks, hours and bedroom space and patience. We deal with things we’d rather avoid, all because we love our children.

There are a lot of things we do on purpose. But what about the things we’re doing without even being aware of them?

When I was tucking Savannah back into bed the second time that night, smoothing her hair back from her face and saying one last, hopeful prayer for rest, I thought about the fact that I have no such memories. Maybe it’s why I’m so fretful when I’m sick now. Anyway, I realized that while she may not remember that particular night, there’s been a certain atmosphere she’s breathed all her life which she surely will remember.

 We really have no choice in the matter, mamas: we are leaving a legacy.

Every morning, when we make breakfast and greet them with a smile or lounge in bed while they pour cereal. When we hustle them off to the day’s activities with shrieks of “Where are your shoes? Your bag? Your … stuff?!” or bend heads together over God’s word. When we respond to the cries of even the tiniest ones at night.

Our children are taking mental notes. On the days we want them to, and the days we don’t.

Believe me, I’ve said plenty of prayers asking the Lord to erase certain days. The ones where hormones were high and patience was low. I’ve pulled blankets up over my head and offered TV rather than my attention, too. Someone has said that mothering is a marathon … not a sprint.  Only the Lord can give us the strength we need to finish this mothering marathon well.

 “Let us not lose heart in doing good,  for in due time we will reap, if we do not grow weary.” Gal. 6:9

That sounds an awful lot like a command to me! Let us not. In other words, if you begin to grow weary, stop it. Which means you and I have to know where to go for help.

The good news? He is here. Closer than the breath we breathe. Living right within us, the Maker of the universe, flinger of stars, designer of galaxies, Boss of it all.

 And He is looking for those whose hearts are completely His …

 “that He might strongly support” them. ~2 Chron. 16:9 

 Might you qualify for His support today, friend? Are you one He is looking for? If your heart is His, you’ve made His list. Won’t you cry out alongside me for His help, today?

 That we might leave a legacy of faith rather than fear?
Of grace, rather than striving?
Of love, rather than anger?
Of patience, rather than short-temper?
Of a soft answer, rather than a raised voice?

 Father, I lift all these sweet moms to you. I ask that You would draw close to each one of us, Lord. Help us! Oh, Lord, help us to be more like You. We can’t do it on our own and You know we are but dust. Without You, we can do nothing. With You, we can move mountains. Come breathe in us today, Lord; that we might fill our childrens’ sails with Your life and send them out strong, carrying a legacy of a mama who leaned on Jesus. In Your mighty and precious name, Amen.

 

Blessings and prayers for you today! ~ Misty

 

Celebrating God’s miracles in the Clarkson History through Family Day

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The Clarkson Kids–Nathan, Sarah, Joy and Joel

Candles flickering, luscious smells of cinnamon rolls hot out of the oven, strong coffee and lots of noise and laughter marked one more gathering of the Clarkson clan. Thus began our 25th year of celebrating the story and heritage of our family. Family Day, we call it. It is a time of remembering who we are, as well as to document what God has done in our family to give us hope for what He can accomplish in the future.

When a child knows the heritage of faith  and cherishes the messages of the heart that has been passed down to him, he feels a powerful connection to the past which gives a spring board to his future. Joshua knew that the Jews who were allowed to leave the desert to enter the promised land, needed to constantly be reminded who they were–the chosen people of God–and that they were to called to possess the land God had provided for them. Consequently, he had them gather memorial stones to document all of the miracles God had performed and teh ways He had faithfully led them in their lives.

When our children were still young, we started this tradition of having an annual Family Day. It was inspired by God’s power, faithfulness, sovereignty, and love (Joshua 4:19-24).

Even in the midst of four children on spread across the United States, we all made it a priority to gather together last week for Family Day. Our Family Day is a whole day of family togetherness. Homemade whole wheat cinnamon rolls start the day, a tradition for all of our breakfast holidays each year.  Remembering just what defines the “Clarksons” and reviewing our values, traditions, tastes, memories and pictures reminds us again why we are all tied together by invisible and unbreakable strings at the heart. Taking time to affirm all the things we like about our family and one another builds each person’s sense of worth and belonging to this tribe!  Photo albums from the previous year or two are admired, while favorite memories of family times are rehearsed and remembered all day.

Next is the trek to our favorite mountain spot. Singing familiar songs with the cd player blasting–Rich Mullins, Chris Rice, Andrew Peterson songs are the favorites from times gone by. Winding our way through the mountains to Mueller State Part, with Pike’s Peak in view, we smack our lips in anticipation of yearly fried chicken, chips, baked beans and Texas chocolate sheet cake. Tromping on the trails and taking about 1000 family pictures takes up most of the afternoon.  Coffee stop is a must on the way home at the same place each year. And then of course, we eat again!

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Later in the day we might play games or watch a good family movie. Then we have a special dinner to lead into our Family Day memorial stone time.

First, Clay reads the account of Joshua and the memorial stones to teach the principle of taking time and making a way to remember all the ways that God has been faithful. After the story, we all begin to share and discuss all the ways we see that God was faithful to us as a family in the year since the last Family Day. Each thing becomes a memorial stone of God’s faithfulness written at the top of a piece of paper. Those are parceled out to different family members, who draw pictures on those papers to illustrate each of the memorial stones.

The memorial stones are all stored in a Family Day notebook. Each year we review them and we are amazed as we read our family history together at all the ways God has worked supernaturally. It is so easy to forget. We also select annual verses for each family member. We then write down prayer requests for the year ahead, pray, and end the day with a fun activity and a favorite dessert.

Giving our children a story of the miracles God has performed in our lives has enlarged the hearts of each child to be willing to trust God for even bigger things. Understanding how we started our ministry with no money, no books, no conferences–just a thought and a prayer, always inspires our children each year to imagine how god will work in their lives.

Thanking God in the circle of family is one of my sweetest moments each year as I hear the deep voices of my boys praying fervently for all of us and the girls passionately speaking to God with thanks and anticipation of how He will be faithful the next year is the memory that I take to heart. Here, these sweet ones, in whom I have invested for so long and given so much, are now living vibrant lives of faith.

And so, this year, as we prayed blessing and sent everyone out again, we have much to trust God for–

Nathan is filming his first Christian movie this week on a shoe-string budget, but with hope in his heart that His movie might just redeem some prodigals and bring families back together. (Confessions of a Prodigal Son).

Joel is working with a composer in Hollywood on some projects for PBS with amazing music and is hoping to write some choral music that will be sung by choirs all over the world.

Sarah is foraying to Wheaton, with her eye to attend Oxford next year, to see if God will open doors for her to become an academic who can write messages about the incarnation of Christ in a technological world.

Joy is in training her second year of college where she will be an RA and have the opportunity to disciple and challenge 45 young women.

But all of them love and support each other in their dreams of bringing God’s light to their own arenas, because they know our family history and story, and it has launched them to continue to write a new chapter.

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Playing the part of provider to bring life and beauty!

Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars,
She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine,
She has set her table, …,
“Come eat of my food.  And drink of my wine I have mixed.
For sake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:1-6

I am getting mommy excited about next Tuesday. My youngest, precious one, Joy, will come home from her first semester at college. She has sustained the 3 months alone  without one visit and we have been constantly chatting and planning and sharing hearts so much that it feels like the last few days before you give birth–just biding your time until the momentous occasion comes. As a result, I have been looking at some old pictures and drawing up old memories and here is one of them–our fall apple picking and putting away for the winter. We missed it this year with Joy gone and us traveling too much.

But I had so much fun remembering, I thought I would share our memory with you! Getting into the mood for cooking a feast for all of my children and special others who will be with us!

Below a story of life from 4 years ago–hard to believe the time flew!

Yesterday we had a great sermon–one of four–which addressed the reality of heaven. I loved hearing that in heaven we will eat and drink and feast and have gardens and rivers and beauty and celebration and singing–only it will be in a perfect and wonderful place–called paradise–even more wonderful than anything we can see or imagine here.

I like knowing these things. It makes me think that when I prepare these thousands of meals that I am providing a little heaven on earth–an imperfect picture here of what real celebration and living will be there! I think that one of my delights over the years, which has grown as I have become better at it, is providing life-giving meals and memories for my family. Wisdom (I love it that wisdom is personified as a woman!) sets her table and provides wonderful food and in the midst of serving, calls those she serves to wisdom, understanding, love and righteousness. I am convinced that we have done more discipleship over meals than any other way!

As the old saying goes, “the  way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, but I think there is some truth to it, only applying to all people! Even Wisdom knew as much. Though there are so many things that reach and touch our hearts, I do think that the dining table can become the place of so much spirituality. At least it has for our family. Clay and I talk to our sons Joel and Nathan several times a week. Though both are thriving where they are, both have mentioned often missing our family. And when I asked them what they missed the most, it is as Joel and Nate said, “It’s the great food and the meal time discussions that I miss the most–just being together like that as a family.”

I would have to agree that these moments (and there are thousands of them) have held celebrations, devotions, discussions, funny stories, jokes, laughter, songs, correction (How many times have I told you–use a fork–not your fingers!) and sharing our hearts together.

God designed us to eat, but the time spent eating in warm fellowship, giving words of love and affirmation, challenging ideas with a meaningful quote to discuss or bringing and insightful article to the table to read together makes the moments that we spend in delightful fellowship feasting, a discipleship moment!

Just thought I would include a recipe from a most recent Sunday breakfast meal. Though we try to have devotions as a family, as our children became older and had their own cars, jobs and activities, we could barely get everyone together at once, but we could almost always get everyone together on Sunday morning. So many years ago, even when they were young, I got up early to make a great Sunday morning breakfast. Some of our favorites include home made whole wheat cinnamon rolls–(and yes, someday I will provide the recipe–but it is not perfected yet and I am afraid of misleading all of you! I am so used to throwing it all together–my own recipe–that I don’t exactly know how to put it down as it is different every time!)

Now onto more–scrambled cheese eggs–I do it a certain Clarkson way with bacon bits, cheese and sour cream; Polish eggs–the same only with hash browns mixed into the eggs-omelette’s with green peppers, onions, ham, bacon, avocado as the favorite items and of course cheese; muffins–our favorite being oatmeal and also blueberry or pumpkin; also, apple coffee cake; cottage cheese pancakes with strawberry or blueberry topping.

But one of the family favorites, which I do when I run out of time or get up late, is Whole Wheat Pancakes. I use this recipe below. The great thing about this recipe is that you can change it by adding just a few items. The ones pictured below are my regular ones–pancakes with grated apple, pecans and cinnamon.

Sometimes I add chocolate chips and have made a smiley face with them; or blueberries, one to two squished bananas with chopped nuts; hot peach sauce on top, hot apples on top and whip cream on all of it if desired. The girls in our family prefer real maple syrup and the boys prefer Aunt Jemima or log cabin light.

Of course we always light candles and put on some kind of music.

Somehow our table looks sparse now that we only have 4!

Whole Wheat Pancakes
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat (or white) flour
1 1/2 cups milk or yoghurt
2 -4 tablespoons honey, sugar or maple syrup-depending on your taste
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat eggs with beater until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients until smooth. You can add up to 1/4 cup of milk if you prefer thinner cakes, but we like them fluffy and thick. They do spread out on your griddle–though sometimes I give them a little help when I put them on the griddle by spreading them out a little with my spatula. Let them cook until there are lots of bubbles showing on the surface of the cakes, and they are beginning to dry out on the edges. This makes enough to feed all 6 of us. You can halve the recipe and feed 4 if they are not big eaters!

*as an aside, I always grate apples to put in the pancakes. I also add pecans to some of them. You can also fold in blueberries. Yumm–a great way to add whatever you happen to like! (Once a woman told me that she followed this recipe and her pancakes turned out really heavy. I grind my own flour and don’t add more flour if the batter looks wrong–I add a little more milk. They are pretty light for us–hope it works for you!)

Next, I like to decorate for each season. I keep lidded plastic boxes with the season’s decor and it just takes me a small amount of time to decorate my whole house. (autumn, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Spring and summer) I like, also, these  tall glass cannisters that hold whatever you want in the bottom and  candles on the top part as pictured below. You can get them in all sorts of sizes–expensive designer ones or Walmart or Target. The reason I like them is that you can just put different things in the bottom of them, place a candle on top and it is an instant centerpiece on a table or coffee table. In autumn, leaves are on the bottom. At Christmas, I put tiny red and green Christmas tree balls in one and pine cones in another I have; small hearts at valentines with a red strand of beads during January and early February, etc.

Providing can also be  designing traditions just for your family that take on a life of its own. Every year for a few years, we took a trip to the local apple farm and picked our own apples, ate a picnic out in the fields. Then, some weekend, we would all peel apples, slice and cut them and freeze them for applesauce and or warm apples to have with our soups in the winter. This year, our apple farm had a freeze and so we bought 3 boxes of organic apple  to use for our recipes. We always watch the Anne of Green Gables series while doing it and I think we have every line memorized. This year, since our family is ridding itself of lots of our plastic, we decided to put our recipes in jars. I must say we missed the boys as they always did a lot of work with us on these!

The final outcome so far: 17 jars of homemade applesauce and 12 jars of apple butter (minus the jars eaten!)

 

Now, tonight we will do the last box–apple pie filling!

We so enjoyed praying for all of you today. It was such a good time of fellowship with my girls–I should do this more. Have a great day tomorrow and know we are in His loving and wonderful hands.

Grace, peace and an abundance of His love to all of you today!

Sally