Dear Children, If You Could Just Learn This One Thing (This One Really Hard Thing)

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Brent and I, we’re raising this little tribe of kids. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever experienced and yet the hardest job I’ve ever had. So much of raising kids is trying to teach them how to live together in love.

Seems like God provides a family for us, to learn just that. It’s like He knows that if we can learn to love our family—the little brother who’s always crashing our block towers and pulling our hair when he gets mad– then we’ll be pretty equipped to love the world out there, hateful as it gets sometimes.

The family is the best training ground. At least, that’s how it ought to be. It’s meant to be a community of deep knowing and unconditional love.

Because who knows you better than the folks who see you first thing, with the morning breath and the bed-head? We’re together day in and day out. We see each other’s first response to pretty much everything. Who we are with our family is who we really are. There’s no putting our best foot forward. No facade. We see one another’s blind spots and our truest selves.

It’s here in this place, where we can be fully known and yet still loved, that we do our best learning and growing. This is where we first practice sharing. Forgiving. Seeking forgiveness and solving problems by talking things through. And we have to do this over and over again, a hundred times a day. It’s seriously exhausting.

A family challenges each other. Our family shouldn’t let us go on being our grouchy, selfish, spoiled self.  Love accepts people where they are, not where we think they ought to be, yes. But, love is also active. Love encourages healthy change.

We have to learn to keep short accounts. Forgiveness is ridiculously hard work. Parents have to be intentional and attentive. I actually have to shut the screens down and step away from my to-do list multiple times a day, or else I’ll miss all those important, “tending to our hearts” moments.

But, it’s worth it. There’s no perfect family, and that comforts us. But the families that are there for each other are the ones we all want to be a part of. Everybody needs to grow up with a deep sense of belonging to their family.

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When I was younger, I wasn’t the kindest sister to my little brother. My brother just wanted someone to play with. But, I didn’t want him to bug me. Ever. Although we had a lot of fun, meaningful times, I still have my regrets.

Other human beings can be so inconveniencing, can’t they? I sure let my brother know when he was requiring too much of my time or attention. I wasted a lot of years when we could have shared good talks and hysterical laughter because frankly, I was too selfish to care.

I remember my Momma telling me, “Maggie, it’s impossible to love God who you can’t even see, if you’re not able to love your own brother, who you can see.” (See 1 John 4:20)

But, still, I didn’t get it back then–how much my brother needed my love and acceptance. He needed my friendship. Not till I was in college did I finally get it. I remember the day I called him up and apologized for all the mean things I had done and asked his forgiveness for not being there for him. He was more than gracious. He blew it off like it was no big deal because his heart is tender that way. We’ve been good friends ever since.

But, I still wish I could go back and redo all those years when friendship was possible. I wish I had gone on more walks with him down our dusty dirt road and climbed more trees together. I wish I’d let him pretend like his bike was a motorcycle instead of demanding that it was a horse. (Sheesh.)

So, as I’m rubbing shoulders day to day with my little tribe of kids, I try to teach them, just like my parents tried to teach me. “You’re best friends!” I keep telling them. I hope it sinks in.

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Because I know that if they can learn to love the one who is always trying to beat them at everything, if they can forgive the one who screams hateful things at the top of their lungs when they’re mad, then they can someday love their neighbor across the street better, or the stranger at the store.

And if they can love the family member right next to them who they wrestle with, and eat supper with, and build forts with, then it will be easier for them to love God who requires faith to believe that He exists.

This world needs more human beings walking around who know how to live together peaceably. Who by default, have learned to look out for the other person’s best interest. Who know how to forgive and who challenge the community around them to be the very best versions of themselves.

Now, it’s not like Brent and I ever have this down yet, either. But, all of life is this adventurous process of becoming all that God intended His children to be.

So, Brent and I, we’ll keep praying and plugging along and using our strength and emotional energy toward this end. And I’m so thankful that though it mostly feels like we’re struggling through, we’ve all got each other. Come what may, we have some people to figure life out with and to belong to.

That’s family.

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