“Mommy, come. I’ve found this path and there are so many flowers.”
It’s morning, and our second day camping in Jasper, Alberta, our favorite place on earth with its mountain peaks—like a father’s hands cupped, shielding this sacred hollow of water and spruce from the rest of the world.
I leave my coffee and follow my oldest son to the path he’s found and he points out the daisies, the bluebells, the buttercups. And then the path opens up to mountains towering on every side, the rushing torrent of river and white stones like the ones in the book of Revelation. I stand and I gasp at what my child has shown me. How the path less traveled has lead me to the majesty of God.
And this is what I’m learning, as I parent three young ones. That our children are the knowing ones. The ones we need to follow. Because they lead us to Jesus.
Later that day, we strap our newborn to my husband’s chest and follow our boys up the mossy boulders at Athabasca Falls.
We play Follow the Leader back there in the woods and when we climb back over the guard rails, the other tourists just turn and stare.
“What a cute family,” one of them says.
“Thanks,” says Trent, and I think, what a testament it is to be a family these days. A family who is doing life together. This is all it takes—to bring glory to God, by clinging together, like moss to a rock.
After Athabasca we drive up the side of a mountain to Geraldine Lake, a place we’ve never been before, and it is a winding stretch, climbing quickly in altitude.
“The GPS can’t even find this road,” says Trent. “You know the destination is going to be incredible when the way there is so difficult.”
And it is. When we reach the top we find a quiet, lush hike to streams, an undistracted climb not many others have done.
I don’t say this to brag. I say this to encourage. Be an out of the box family. Dare to live outrageously and fully. In a world where divorce is rampant and the fatherless are wounding one another, it is a tremendous witness to be a happy family.
Here are five essentials to reaching that goal.
1. Don’t work too much. Remember to play together—all of you. Take time to get to know one another. My husband, a math teacher, recently took a three month paternity leave, since I am self-employed and can’t enjoy that privilege. He took it because our kids won’t be young forever and he poured his time into homeschooling them, chopping wood for our year’s supply of heating, planting our large garden, building a tree fort and helping me with our colicky baby. He took it because life is short and we don’t want to reach the end of it having missed the whole point: to love one another fully, as God loves us.
2. Be adventurous. Don’t let the rules steal your joy. Dare to climb over guard rails (to an extent, of course). Dare to climb boulders and play follow the leader in the wilderness. Dare to drive up untraveled roads and find the sacred places. To teach your children the free art of geocaching and to have picnics beside secret waterfalls.
3. Laugh together. We spend Saturday mornings eating blueberry pancakes and playing board games. We end the day with a supper movie, which means pizza and a kids’ movie on Netflix. We don’t want our kids to take life, or themselves, too seriously. I think this is one of the greatest tools we can give our children: the ability to laugh at themselves and with another.
4. Pray together. We believe in the seriousness of prayer. Prayer is never a joke. We bow low with our kids on the carpet and call on the name of God together. We teach them to pray saying Please, Sorry, and Thank You, and we let them lead grace at mealtimes. We try to emphasize how God is both a friend, and one to be feared, and we never stop encouraging them to listen to the Spirit. To ask God for special ears to hear His voice.
5. Love others well. One of the things we do as a family is The Lulu Tree, a non-profit I founded to minister to mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda, and we include our children in it. We introduce them to the mothers and pray for them daily. We involve them in our goals for these families—how we long to see them settled in land of their own, but we refuse to condone pity. We speak of these families with love and dignity and tell our children how much we have to learn from them, and we talk about how we plan to move there for a year to live among them and walk beside them.
You see, as parents we’re not just raising children. We’re raising ambassadors for Christ, we’re raising caretakers of God’s creation, we’re raising ministers to the hurting and lonely and we’re raising justice-keepers. And we do this by first being ambassadors for one another, by taking care of one another, by ministering to one another, and by being just and fair.
Being family is more than just a social unit. It’s the gospel, lived out, on a daily basis, in bright colors and wide open spaces and loud laughter, for all the world to see.