Christmastime puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.
So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.
1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.
2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.
My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:
Q. What is better than Getting?
A. Giving is better than Getting
Q. Why is it better than Getting?
A. Because that’s what Jesus did.
Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)
A. Giving is better than Getting
3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.
4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.
5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.
6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.
7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.
8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.
9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.
10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.
A few days before Thanksgiving, I received a message from a soon-to-be adoptive mother with the good news that she and her husband had recently accepted a referral for a five-year-old boy in Ethiopia. She asked me for advice on bringing home an older child, as she already has several children at home. I thought I would share my letter with you.
I am thrilled to hear your news! Your message brought a smile to my face, because it was almost exactly two years ago that we first met our Jude and Sophie. We’ve been reminiscing a lot as a family this week and rejoicing in God’s goodness. I am so excited as I think of the joy you will soon experience as you welcome your new son into your family.
While I’m hesitant to offer adoption advice—after all, I am only one mother who has adopted two children less than two years ago—I am eager to pass along the wise counsel we received from our parents and godly adoptive parents that was of immeasurable help to our family. Here are a few very brief thoughts:
1. You won’t always be this tired. You will arrive home, jet-lagged from an international flight, fresh off one of the most emotional experiences of your life, with a child who needs moment by moment care and attention as he transitions to a new family, home, language, and culture. Not to mention that his sleeping pattern doesn’t correspond to this time zone, and that you have other children at home who need your love, care, and guidance through this new season. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this tired (and I wasn’t a first time mom, either!). These were certainly the most exhausting days of my life, but also the most exhilarating. Jude and Sophie were finally here, in our family, wearing the clothes we had bought them and sleeping in the beds we had made. Sitting at our table. Holding our hands. Steve and I kept looking at each other like, “Can you believe it? They are really here!”
My counsel is first to pray for wisdom and strength, because you will desperately need both. Accept all offers of meals or house cleaning you receive. Keep things very simple (paper products from Costco are a great investment). Don’t plan on going anywhere for a while, except church and the doctor’s office. Enjoy these weeks of intense focus on your precious family. And remember that it won’t always be like this. You will feel rested again. Life will feel normal again. Just maybe not as soon as you expect.
2. Love to feel (and not the other way ‘round). Your task is challenging and glorious, but it is also clear: to love your child according to God’s Word. Lavish him with affection and encouragement. Serve him with cheerful sacrifice. And don’t waste time examining your emotions, worrying about how you feel, or grasping for an ideal experience. It was not hard to fall in love with my children, and you may feel an instant connection and deep bonds of love with your child; or your motherly emotions may come more slowly, as you love and sacrifice for your son. It helps to remember that our feelings are not the measure of true love or of the success of our adoption. In fact, by paying too much attention to how we feel, we can get tangled up in a mess of anxious wonderings that leave us feeling confused and distract us from genuinely loving our child. As C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings.” (HT: Sally Lloyd-Jones). The question is not: “Do I feel motherly love for this child?” but “How can I show motherly love to this child?” If we choose to love our children, we can be sure that loving feelings will follow.
3. Consistency is key. Steve and I wanted our children to feel safe and comfortable and to know what to expect from life in the Whitacre home. So we tried to be as consistent as possible in our speech, our habits, our affection, our rules, and in particular, our daily routine. As soon as they got home, we began to establish a general daily and weekly routine that paralleled what they were familiar with in Ethiopia. Following a simple daily schedule enabled us to stabilize as a family much faster than I expected. It didn’t take long before our children adjusted to the rhythm of life in our home and we were able to start adding activities such as sports or time with family and new friends. This may not be best for everyone, but it made a huge difference for our family’s peaceful transition.
One of the many blessings of adoption is that it can help you to become a better parent. You can’t take anything for granted and so you have to be more intentional and proactive. You have to listen more carefully, observe more closely, express your love more consistently, maintain your authority more clearly, and—in order to do all of these things—pray more intensely. Adopting an older child intensifies your focus on your family, which makes you a better parent to all of your children. In an age of distraction and the dissolution of the family, adoption can greatly strengthen your family bonds. This is a precious gift indeed.
4. Choose one thing and hold steady. Everything is new for our adopted children, so it doesn’t help to throw a bunch of new rules at them too. Together with your husband, consider what is most urgent or will most serve your child, and make this your one priority. For example, our son, Jude, really bucked the daily routine at first. When it was time to sit at the table for meals or coloring, he sat with both feet off to the side, ready to bolt. He threw fits at rest time and expressed strong disapproval (some things don’t take words!) when we wouldn’t let him watch TV until the end of the day. But we had decided that this was the one area where we were going to hold the line and begin to teach him to respond with joy to our loving, God-given, authority. We let many other things go for a while, but remained cheerfully resolute in this area. Today, Jude not only thrives on our daily routine, but is happy and obedient in so many other ways as well. I’ll be honest: there were many times I was tempted to give up. I wanted my new children to love me, or at least like me a little, and with my husband back at work, I was the primary enforcer. I needed a lot of encouragement from my husband and mom to persevere, but I’m so glad we did. Today Jude and Sophie cheerfully obey, and our bond is stronger as a result of having clear and loving boundaries in the home.
5. Take the long view. One of my greatest hopes was that all four of our children would become close friends. But things did not start off well at first. Jack and Jude couldn’t play together for more than five minutes without getting into an argument. They are both oldest boys, both used to taking care of a younger sister, both used to winning. After several months of what felt like constant arguing, I despairingly told my mom that I thought it would never get better. She encouraged me to be patient. Keep helping them. It takes time. And she was right: it took a good year or more. Today my sons are really good friends. Sure, they have the usual brotherly spats, but they also genuinely love and respect each other. It makes me so happy to hear them laughing in their bunk beds at night or to watch them play football in the backyard (and I don’t have to go out once!). So, resist the temptation to despair too quickly, as I did. Progress may seem painfully slow, and certain issues will always remain (as they do with all of us!), but if you patiently persevere, you will look back one day and be surprised at how much progress has been made.
6. Begin with the Bible. Adopted children, to one degree or another, have all experienced traumatic circumstances early in life, many unimaginably severe. My children probably experienced fewer traumas than most, so I am generally unqualified to speak on this topic. If your child struggles with significant trauma or extreme behavior, I would encourage you to seek advice from your pastor, medical professional, and if necessary, a biblically informed counselor. So I’m speaking very personally here, when I say that, for our family, we have been slow to psychologize, and have found that the best advice for parenting our adopted children is still plain, old-fashioned, biblical parenting advice. When I see my children as individuals, created in the image of God, with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and a life-history that has been sovereignly ordained by God, it helps me to be more sensitive and understanding of their weaknesses, and more hopeful for their future growth. On the other hand, when I have been quick to slap a label on a certain behavior or say, “that’s what adopted children do,” I tend to get off track. I begin to see the behavior as much more unique than it really is, and thus more difficult (or impossible) to resolve; and as a result I can easily grow irritated or discouraged. But many times I’ve had to laugh as I’ve described a “unique” adoption problem to my family, only to have them remind me of how I exhibited similar tendencies when I was a child.
7.Remember, you are a mother. When we first brought our children home from Ethiopia we took them out for injera and doro wat at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Our pediatrician had put us in touch with the proprietor, a lovely Ethiopian woman, who took the time to come to our table and talk to the children in Amharic. I asked her if she had any advice for me, thinking that she might share an important aspect of Ethiopian culture that she hoped I would pass on to our children. Her answer surprised me: “You are a mother, right? Then you have a mother’s instinct. You will know what to do.”
Of course, she was right. And her answer encapsulated the most helpful advice I have received from other parents. Adoption may be difficult or complicated at times, but it is also beautifully simple. You are adopting a child, a unique and precious human being, with his own experiences and difficulties, strengths and struggles, gifts and talents, joys and pains. And God has called you to be this child’s mother, which is both utterly daunting and yet entirely doable by the grace of God. As an adoptive mother, you are not outside God’s sovereign plan, Scripture’s wisdom, or the Holy Spirit’s help for this task. Remembering this—that adoption means I am a mother—brings it all into focus: all of the privileges and joys, all of the responsibility and commitment, all the confidence and the hope we have in God as parents.
It really is as simple and as wonderful as this: be his mother. That is my advice to you, and more importantly, Scripture’s counsel to you. God, the Father, models adopting love for us and through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we have been given all we need to be our children’s mother.
My friend, this letter is already too long. There is so much more I could say. But most of all I rejoice with you. Children are a heritage and a reward, and God has been mightily good to you and your family. I am praying for much peace, wisdom, blessing, and grace as you welcome this precious boy into your lives. I can’t wait to see pictures!
Some of you have kindly asked where we are and we just wanted you to know we’re still here and doing well! We are just finishing up the project we told you about a few weeks ago, and haven’t been able to make time to post and work on this project simultaneously. But we fully expect to be back next week with tons of pictures and posts for the summer.
We are very excited here at girltalk because this Sunday, September 30, is our first public meeting as Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. God has blessed us with an amazing group of people for this church plant—many of whom are life-long friends. We can’t wait for Sunday morning when we will gather together to worship the Savior and hear Dad preach God’s Word.
Last week the Mahaney clan was blessed with the exciting arrival of Elena Hope Pyle, granddaughter to CJ’s sister Sharon, and son of our nephew JD and his wife Cheryl. This makes—if I’m counting correctly—20 great-grandchildren for CJ’s mom, with several more on the way! We are so grateful that God kept mommy and baby safe and we thought you’d enjoy hearing about Elena’s exciting birth, as told by her grandma, Sharon.
Congratulations JD and Cheryl! With love, Aunt Carolyn
Elena Hope was born on earthquake day. She came in dramatic fashion about 3 weeks early. Cheryl was putting on her makeup at her mom’s house. She had spent the night there because her sister was going to babysit Isabelle while Cheryl went for her doctor’s appointment. She had been having what she thought were Braxton-Hicks contractions, but suddenly she felt what she called “the worst menstrual cramp ever” which made her drop to her knees. She called for her sister and her mom, who threw a blanket down on the bathroom floor and called 911 at 9:13 a.m. At 9:15 a.m. the baby basically fell out! Would that we all could have had 2 minute labors! Her sister Claudine somehow knew what to do. She had her last child 7 months ago, and she said she “ironically” had taken a class on medical assistance. Anyway, she had an unused syringe she used to suction the mucous and used a shoelace to tie off the placenta. In God’s mercy, kindness, and faithfulness, mom and baby are both great. Poor J.D. was an hour away and thought his mother-in-law was joking when she called to say the baby had arrived. He knew it wasn’t a joke when he heard the baby crying! No less than 8 paramedics arrived 6 minutes later in 3 ambulances and a fire truck, not a woman among them! There was Cheryl in her pretty, long dress and beautifully done hair and makeup holding her baby! She weighed about 5 lbs. and is about 18 inches long, although now she is in the 4’s, a little peanut. Later that day J.D. sent a picture and texted, “Elena was born and the earth shook.” They came home yesterday and all are doing well, praise the Lord! I told Stacey (due Sept. 16) and Stephanie (due Dec. 12) they had better not try that trick at my house. Midwifery is not on my resume!
This morning Dad announced that he will be taking a leave of absence and explained the reasons for his decision. We so respect our dad’s humility—in fact we’ve never respected him more! Our family is experiencing God’s abundant grace and we are eager to see how God will bring His good purposes to pass for Sovereign Grace Ministries in the days ahead. We are grateful for your prayers!
Pink is slowly piling up in our home. We now have pink blankets, pink clothes, and even a pink (and red) room. I love this little girl thing!
And this little girl is almost here. I am now at 39 weeks, and if she doesn’t come in the next few days I will be induced this Thursday, October 28.
The boys and Brian can’t wait for baby Claire to come, but I’m hoping she’ll hold off a few more days. I still have to finish my “nesting list.”
It has been seven years since we brought a baby home from the hospital, and, to be honest, I’m a bit rusty! I’ve been walking the baby aisles at Target and Walmart trying to recall what supplies I will need to care for a newborn. I found new “advanced” bottles that didn’t exist seven years ago (how many advances in bottle technology can there be?), and began worrying about all the other things I might be “missing”. I had to stop and remind myself that I already have “the essentials”: a few sleepers, diapers and wipes, a bassinet, and a car seat. We’ll be just fine. And I’m sure the new mommy skills will all come back to me very quickly!
I would very much appreciate your prayers this Thursday. We’ll let you know when little Claire Chesemore arrives!
On July 27, 2010, our beloved father and grandfather, Ezra Layman, went home to be with the Lord. He was 87 years old, and had suffered for eight years in the aftermath of a severe stroke. We miss him terribly, but rejoice that he is now free from pain and worshipping in the presence of our Savior, where he longed to be.
The funeral will be held tomorrow morning in Newport News, VA.
We will not be posting for the remainder of the week so that we may spend time with our family.
Thank you for your love and prayers!
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-56
When Alice emailed us recently and asked if Feminine Appeal had been translated into Korean, we realized we never told you which of our books are available in various languages. Unfortunately Feminine Appeal is not in Korean yet, but Girl Talk and Shopping for Time have been translated—and they have beautiful cover art!
Here’s a complete list of translations for Feminine Appeal, Girl Talk and Shopping for Time, along with links to websites where you can purchase them. We are so humbled and grateful to these publishers for translating our books. We pray they will serve many women who read them in their native language.
So….our little family is going to get a little bigger come early November. We are eagerly looking forward to the birth of our fourth child. My kiddos are split on preference of boy or girl. For me, well, I’m just praying for a healthy baby.
The other day I asked Liam what he was hoping the baby would be.
“BOY” he said confidently (which is how he says everything!).
“Would you love the baby if she was a girl?” I asked him.
“If she’s cute,” he replied.
“Do I love you based on how cute you are or because you are my son?” I asked him reprovingly.
He got the point.
Cute or not so cute—and really, only mothers think they are cute when they are first born—we are looking forward to loving our little one and making him or her a part of our family. Most of all, we can’t wait to tell our new addition about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You have questions about photography? I probably don’t have the answers!
But given the volume of questions we’ve received, I thought I’d do a couple of posts about it. I’m happy to share what I know—it won’t take long!
My picture-taking career began in my senior year of high school. I took a photography class and hated it! Said I would never do that again. It was in the ancient days of film and I didn’t enjoy long hours in the darkroom. But over the summer—for some strange reason, which I still can’t explain—I began to miss photography, and yes, even the darkroom. Come fall I enrolled in another photography class at our local community college. For the next few years I took as many photography classes as I could. I even convinced my mom to let me turn my bathroom at home into a darkroom. (Thanks, Mom!)
Fast-forward a few years to the birth of my first daughter, Caly. By then I had purchased a digital camera and I began to read everything I could get my hands on related to photography. Google was my access pass and Caly was my guinea pig. Through research and practice, I learned more in the year after Caly was born than in all my time sitting in class.
And that brings us to the present. As time allows I still love to spend time researching and practicing. I took an online class last year. I also have a few friends who graciously answer my ignorant questions and share their knowledge with me.
Over the next few weeks I will attempt to share some of the things that I am still learning. But please be aware—I’m not a professional. If you hear or read something that contradicts what I say, assume I’m in the wrong! Many of you who read this blog know a lot more than me, so I would be grateful for any and all suggestions.
Look out for a photography post sometime next week.
It’s birthday weekend here—Caly turns 4 on Saturday and Jack turns 7 on Sunday. (Funny fact: all three of our “oldests” were born in February—Andrew turned 10 just two weeks ago.)
Speaking of birthdays, I recently discovered that I’m one of the only moms in America who does not know how to make elaborate, theme cakes for her children’s birthdays.
I really thought it was just my super-artsy friends (and Chef Duff on the Food Network) who made Cinderella’s castle with turrets and a drawbridge or a life-sized Washington Redskins football helmet. But apparently, most moms can design, bake, and decorate their child’s cake of choice, no problem.
This was news to me! You see, I never had a fancy cake growing up. Mom—God bless her—tried her best. She even took a cake decorating class. But as she laughingly says—“it just didn’t take.”
So, like her mother before her, she decorated our cakes with edible candy letters that said “Happy Birthday!” with extra letters for the name, and little stars you could put candles in. We thought it was great. We didn’t know we were missing anything.
Being less artistic than my mother, I never even thought about making a fancy cake for my children—until last year when my son overheard that another kid was getting a “Thomas the Train” cake for his birthday (the things they pick up at church!).
So, I went to the grocery store bakery and blew half the birthday budget on a cake with an icing track and real trains. It was beautiful. And easy. And expensive.
This year I’m actually going to try this Lego cake. That’s because all I have to do is cut some big marshmallows in half, ice them, and stick them on top. I can handle that. I think. (I hope Jack still likes legos when he’s eighteen!)
But if the lego thing doesn’t work out, I can always rely on the edible candy letters, like my mother and grandmother before me. Because really, do I harbor deep-seated regret that my mom never made me a Strawberry Shortcake cake for my birthday? Not a bit.