Thursday, November 22, 2012

Life Lessons in the Christmas Tree

Oh, I know today is Thanksgiving, but I kinda figured you'd all be too busy to read Stitches on Thanksgiving Day. By the time you get around to this, you'll be in full on Christmas mode. For the record, I have so much for which to be thankful. It would take pages to write out everything. Perhaps most of all, this year I am thankful for God's strength in my weakness, for God's joy in my sorrow, for God's peace in my storm.

On to the Christmas tree ...

Our house has a beautiful curved stairway that just called for a giant Christmas tree, so my mom graciously gave us a 12' tree as a housewarming gift our first year here. I start assembling the tree early- to mid-November because it takes me at least a week to get all the branches straightened and fluffed. My kids get crazy impatient waiting on me to finish it, and I no sooner put the top piece in place than P2 comes toting the big bucket of plastic ornaments that the little kids are allowed to hang.

Last year, I didn't care that much and didn't properly fluff out the individual sprigs of fake greenery. It was harder to find good places to hang ornaments, and while a 12' tree is impressive, I could tell it was a bit of a mess. So this year, I was determined to do the best job ever at straightening, aligning, and fluffing this tree. I would "take my time and do it right," as the kind Mr. Rogers used to encourage us on his t.v. show.

As I worked on this tree, I quickly realized this was an analogy of working on my children's character. A picture of how we as parents work to straighten out character traits and align our children's moral fibers as we try to grow them into God-honoring, Christ-loving adults. Here are some lessons I learned while working on this tree.

1. Start at the bottom. I can do a better job on this tree when I start with only the base piece in place and take the branches one layer at a time. Same goes with the kids. To build their character, we start with basics when they are young kids. Show kindness. Share with others. Be loving. Start with the basics and build up.

2. One branch at a time. It is easiest to straighten up the branches and sprigs when I work on one branch at a time, rather than getting lost in the task of the entire tree. On a branch, I start with the sprigs on the inside, closest to the trunk. That sets a great pattern to fluff the sprigs most visible on the outside of the tree. How true is this with kids? First, when teaching big life lessons, it's so much easier to deal with one at a time. Young kids especially can't deal with too much information at a time. Simple instructions make lessons that stick. Second, handling the deep inner character naturally spills out to what is seen on the outside. Remember the tongue reveals what is in the heart.

3. Sometimes I mess up. Our tree has 5 parts. They used to be labeled A-E (and oddly enough, the top piece was A, even though that was the last piece to add.). The tags have long since disappeared, so I just have to use my eyes to figure it out. I got the first two right, but then put on layer B before layer C. I worked on it several minutes before I recognized the error. And when I tried to fix it, it was difficult to remove layer B. And so with the kids, I am an imperfect human parent. I may try my best, but I will mess up. It's not easy training up kids with godly character. It may even be difficult to undo the mess I made, but with God's strength, grace, and wisdom, I will continue striving toward that goal.

4. Sometimes I miss one. Every now and then I step back to look at the tree and discover a whole branch that isn't straightened. Did I completely miss it or did someone come by and push it out of alignment? Both happen when shaping my kids' character. Sometimes I've missed something. I didn't realize I needed to specifically say, "Don't use your middle finger to point to things." Yes, that really was an issue at my house. Sometimes outside forces influence my kids and push them off track. A friend not raised with our standards may tempt my child. I have to act quickly to straighten things out again.

5. It can be painful. My arms are all scratched up from reaching into prickly branches. Ouch. Shaping a child's character can be so painful sometimes, too. The one time P1 tried to sneak money to buy ice cream from the ice cream truck when we has said no just about broke my heart ... flat out defiance and stealing? Clearly, we needed to do some serious reshaping of his character. That time we went straight to Scripture and had him write out the 10 Commandments and identify which ones he had ignored.

6. The higher branches are harder. On a 12' tree, there comes a time when my arms just can't reach, and my arms are sore from trying to reach as high as I can. I need help. Enter my knight in shining armor, i.e. my very tall husband with a very tall ladder. I am so grateful I am not trying to shape our children's character alone. Tim and I rely on God's wisdom, lots of prayer, and the godly heritage in which we were raised to help us in this task. We are also surrounded by amazing Christ-loving friends who stand along side us. It really does take a village. I'm so thankful for ours.

7. You're never really done. Well, the tree is up now, and mostly, the branches are straight and fluffy. I still walk by and redirect an errant branch. And next year, I will start the task all over again. Shaping my children's character is not a task I will ever finish. As they grow older, I will hopefully, prayerfully shift from a role of instruction to a role of influence. I will always be praying for my kids. I will always be their mom, wanting them to offer God their very best.

Blessings, friends! May you fully enjoy this Advent season!

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