I was talking to a friend the other day who had had a conversation with someone who was kind of anti-Christmas letter and cards. To her they seem pretentious and say, "hey look at us and our perfect family." Part of me understands, because we mostly all send pictures standing close, happy and smiling with the glossy print shimmering off the pages. My friend simply responded that she liked getting them and sending them because she looked forward to seeing pictures of her family and friends, whom she loves and enjoys. I liked her simple answer to why we like to send them. Enjoying one another. And though I know that some send cards and updates without a thought, and some even send them to put their best on display, others send them with a tenderhearted intent to cheer and send their Merry Christmas greetings to those they truly hope enjoy the joy of the season. I believe that is our intent and as I write on behalf of our family in order to give testimony to our lives and also give our thanks to the Lord, who has graciously led our rambuncious clan another year with his kindness. So with that thought, I write on about the lives of five people who have lived and breathed and laughed and struggled through and embraced another 365 days of the gift of life.
Jason and I have the great honor of knowing, enjoying, and parenting Kanah, Grace and Salem. In the Bible, the apostle Paul refers to people in the church as "my joy and my crown, my glorious ones in whom is all my delight." God has given us these little people to love and steward and lead and we are to lay our lives down for them. Taking care of them IS our joy, our reward, our delight. They are that special. And on days I totally forget that, the Lord is gracious to eventually remind me again and bring me back to gratitude for them and all He gets to teach me because they exist. I never knew that more than just being thankful to the Lord for what I am learning by being a parent, that I would also be thankful TO my children, for how I get to grow and who I am becoming through the refinement of each and every day. We can either live in such a way as to embrace this change the Lord purposes, or else we can just sort of get through it and avoid the painful, intrusive growth. By his grace we are learning, and there is so much joy in that.
I heard a song by Ed Cash the other day that reminded me of Salem so much called Firecracker Boy. Here's a piece:
He was a fire cracker boy. Dreaming about all his new toys
And the love his family had
A fire cracker boy
Surrounded by tremendous joy
Shining eyes were in this lad
When our kids go to bed at night, we're so tired. But then minutes later we're talking about them and soon we're peeking in on them and staring at their sleeping, wondrous faces. Salem is so full of life and energy and muscle :). We do not think he knows how to walk; he can only run and dart and spin. He is so silly and funny and goofy even at 2 1/2, making the girls laugh and mommy shake her head continually. Jason hopes one day that the kids will want to climb mountains with him, but I am pretty sure by 3, Salem could dart up a moutain side with just his milk sippy cup tucked in the back of his pants and some goldfish in his pockets. His naps are long gone now and so apparently he was made for long days of fun and playtime, because he has not looked back to his baby days. He thinks he is a triplet with Kanah and Grace (and because he's gaining on them in height, I have actually been asked that multiple times). He surprises us because he also loves coloring every detail of a page and doing puzzles, often requesting help to do difficult ones with my help even though they are way over his head. He is confident and fearless. He is Salem the brave. Jason and I pray for Salem, that the Lord would use him as one who leads in humility and truth and love. We love our firecracker boy and he is a glorious instrument in our lives to keep us young and passionate for life and off the couch in general.
When the girls were babies I could barely envision them being two, much less having long legs and hair down their backs and putting clothes too small for them in boxes that I never thought they would be big enough for in the first place. The other day Jason called me from Target double checking what size Christmas dresses he should get, and I realized he was shopping in the girls' section, and not in the toddler section. I was dumbfounded when he got home and they actually were the right size. They are 4 1/2 and they can wrap their legs around my back and seem long when I snuggle them and do many things on their own. They take their dishes to the sink, they wash their hands, they help clean up, they fold and put away their own clothes before bed (I am wondering how long they will ask to do that...) and Kanah even helped me put all the address labels on the back of our Christmas card envelopes. They remind me of things and help me find things and help their little brother get his shoes on and cross the street. Young Girls. We have girls who are speaking like we do, they are learning to write, playing elaborate pretend, socializing, and are participating in conversations over meals with us. And now they are in school. They have so enjoyed their class, crafts, music, chapel, and gymnastics. My little darlings are not early risers so on preschool days when I have to awaken them at 7:15, they are just completely OUT, but they have not once said that they do not want to go to school as I move them along to get ready. They love learning, love their teachers and enjoy community. A memorable moment this year was the first week of preschool, when Grace said to me from the back seat "I have a friend at school!" (Enter the feeling of the sweet heart pains of a mother's heart) and then the next week to seem shyly greet their new friends at school while they hid by my side. We enjoy the fellowship of these little creations who are no longer babes in any sense.
Grace is as lovely as ever. I still feel that the Lord knew that her name was perfectly suited to her and we would never have been able to guess "who" was Kanah (whose name reminds us of Jesus' miracles, as is she, and the word itself means 'of a humble place') and "who" was Grace (whose name means 'undeserved gift'), but the Lord enabled us to name them as he made them. She is so kind and gentle and out of all of us, she BEST teaches the rest of us in the family how to be gracious, patient and loving. I learn from her quietness, the way she allows others their turn, and how she is aware of their needs. She is usually the first to run get the blanket and stuffed animal of a sibling crying from falling down. She's helpful, running this and that upstairs for me, and responds with only a gentle rebuke because her heart is pierced easily. We have learned to be different with her, to meet her with a softer tone, and to keep our ears open for her voice over all the noise and commotion. Her preschool teacher told us at the conference that when Grace talks she has learned to listen, because when she does choose to speak up she has something important to say and you need to stop and listen to her. This is true. And speaking of her voice, she just has the most precious little voice and Jason and I just treasure up her little girl way of saying everything and I mourn the day already when she doesn't sound like this anymore. You will generally find our lovely Grace trying on dress up clothes, dancing, stealing away to play pretend with a small stash of tiny ponies or critters, or coloring princess pages for hours at a time. She prances around the house and is forever asking you to draw her something in her sketchbook. Grace is a delight and we feel honored to not only know her, but that we get to be the ones whom she looks to for all of her love and affection.
When I think of Kanah, I hear Jason singing his song to her in my head. "Amazing Kanah, my sweet little girl. Amazing Kanah, my sweet little bug..." I love that Jason has come up with songs for each of our little ones and they love the songs so much that I find them singing them to themselves sometimes. Last night Jason and I were talking to Kanah on the phone, since she was spending the night at her grandparents' house, and she Jason and I could not stop looking at each other, laughing, because she was responding to us like a 15 year old. "Hi dad...Yeah...Uh huh..." She is such a little love, and at the same time gives us flashes all the time of her going from 4 to 14 in a blink and all we can do is laugh and gobble her up while we can. Kanah is truly amazing and gifted. She puts forth a confidence that I myself pray to possess about what she thinks she can do. She just loves with a ferociousness in the same way that when she squeezes her lamby lovingly, I think the stuffed animal is going to burst into a thousand pieces. She is just so passionate! I love how when she is trying to respond to Salem's 87th request of "Kanah, look!" she just says, "That's cool Salem" and goes on with what she is doing, sometimes not even looking at him. I love how she leads, herding all of them into games and pretend playlands and into running games around the house. She is anxious to help Salem with his puzzles and to show him how to do things. I actually even enjoy her darling face when she cries (no, I am not cruel :P) because she just looks gorgeous even then and it also reminds me so much of her face when she cried as a baby girl. She is most precious lately to us when she is singing songs or when she is praying. All the kids are learning to talk to God with Jason at night and also with me at breakfast, as we have a calendar with tiny pictures of our friends' and families' faces so that we can remember them daily. Her little voice and things she says to the Lord are so sweet and she and Grace both make me tear up often, just listening. Kanah is our snuggle girl and we just are so blessed to have her precious presence in our arms and our lives.
On motherhood, I could write about 10 more pages. But I will spare you and just mention that I read a great book this year called Loving the Little Years and came away with a verse that has motivated me to write a mission statement as a mom. It's Ecclesiastes 5:19-20
"Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil - this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."
I read this verse so slowly. This truly is a verse to etch onto my memory, to write on the tablet of my heart, to feed upon as my daily bread. God has given me great wealth. A faithful, godly husband. A job for my husband that literally provides all of our needs as well as a future. A little Cowan clan of three who are terribly adorable and intimate in relationship with me. And a home in which to carry out my dignified job of wife, mommy, and homemaker. This is great, great wealth. And God also gives the power to enjoy this wealth as I do two things: Accept my lot. This must mean that I am not just given this life, but I also wrap my arms around it. I open the package. I receive it. I accept my lot, even and especially the parts that I don’t feel like opening. And two: Rejoice in my toil. Rejoicing in Scripture is something we choose to do. It is a chosen heart response. Accepting my lot and rejoicing in my toil actually feels impossible on some knarly, head knocking, back arching-tantrum days. But thankfully my eyes rested in the words, “this is the gift of God.” The POWER to enjoy my lot is the gift of God. So through his grace I am able to accept my lot and rejoice in my toil. This has been a vision, a word, to me this year...and also a relief.
In a recent sermon, our pastor was talking about the difference between a biography and a testimony. A biography is about you and all you have accomplished. A testimony is about God and all he has done. There is a powerful verse Jason and I clung to before girls were born, when everything felt out of control as I lay on hospital bedrest for three weeks. It was Isaiah 26:12
"Lord you establish peace for us; all we have accomplished, you have done for us."
That is what I mean to say in this letter. I see his work all around us, in each of our lives. But it is not a biography about us and our greatness and what tremendous citizens and and human beings we are. It is a testimony of God's grace to us, his mess of a group, and of his ongoing redemptive work in us, making us into new creations for the praise of His great glory. I have enjoyed chewing on Christmas carols this year. Letting a line linger here and there. And Joy to the World repeats THE WONDERS OF HIS LOVE again and again. I was just kind of thinking about what that means. The wonders of his love are all the graces he gives us. And they are a wonder because we don't deserve them, didn't ask for them, we didn't ask to be pursued, but in our ill deserving state, in our ignorance and even our indifference, Jesus came for us. He knows our greatness needs, to our weakness he is no stranger. This season is about beholding the wonders of the most humble of Kings who is jealous for our hearts and who delights in us. This is very good news and the best testimony, which gives life and joy and meaning to our smaller testimony. Merry Christmas.
Jason, Kelly, Kanah, Grace and Salem