Children know.

There’s absolutely, positively no fooling them–they know.

I was a frazzled mama of three, my oldest still four when the youngest was born.

It was all I could do to manage house, home and a part-time ministry position, feeding one from my body and two from the table…or, the car seat.  Happy Meals aren’t just about the children; sometimes they’re sanity’s tether.

Mamas are master jugglers.  If we aren’t interested in selling our young ones to the circus on their wildest of days, we might be tempted to join it ourselves.  I’m certain the skill set transfers, and center ring at the circus is darn near a Calgon bath.

Children sense when we’re distracted.  They know when we aren’t really listening. 

Tiny hands grasping your cheeks and turning your face toward theirs is demand for full attention.

Listen, Mama,”  they say without a spoken word.  Chubby toddler fingers have very loud voices.

Sometimes I wish I had the freedom of a child–

The inhibition to demand full attention…

The liberty to let you know it hurts me when you’re half engaged in our conversation and more interested in what’s streaming on your phone.

The tenderness to ask you to enjoy our time together without a camera chronicling every moment.

You see, I’m not pointing fingers at you right now.  I’m looking in the mirror…

and wincing.

Oh, lovies–I’m a blogger with an iPhone and an Instagram account!  I have almost 3,000 pictures on my phone (and on my old one I had even more).  I love to capture memories in photographs because it helps me remember.

So, please….please, hear my heart?  I am not condemning or criticizing anyone!  Rather, I’m challenging myself and whoever would like to join me with a simple philosophy for the holidays–Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year:

Love fully.  Love well.

This means doing what Jesus talked about in Mark 12 and practicing Philippians 2:3-4.

Two of my children are now in college and my baby is a junior in high school.  Though I can barely stand thinking about it, my reality is that it is rare for all five of us to be together – to share a meal or sleep under the same roof – powerful motive to engage them without distractions when I have opportunity.

Once you realize you have 18 Thanksgivings and 18 Christmases with your children living under your roof and authority, you realize how quickly time flies.  Yes, they’ll always be your babies, but I’m learning once they have a foot out the door, it’s never the same.  That’s not a bad thing, mind you; it’s the natural order of life. But to a mama, it sure can be a hard thing.

I had opportunity to hear Laura Parker (co-founder of The Exodus Road) speak recently.  Though it wasn’t the main point of her session, the most poignant takeaway for me was a challenge to do well the next thing in front of you.  In context, she was sharing the story of a woman who saw this as opportunity to love well the person she was with.  Putting myself in those shoes, it means regardless of the circumstances or the relationship I have with the person in front of me, I can love them well by giving them my full attention; not thinking ahead to what I’ll say next, not looking around to who else I might want to talk to, not checking my phone.

We love strangers, friends and family the same way: by being fully present when we’re together.

(And aren’t strangers just friends waiting to be discovered?)

There is so much to do in preparation for holiday gatherings, I’m living that reality as I prepare to host our family gathering on Thursday.  To-Do Lists are a mile long with shopping and cleaning and getting home ready for family and friends (or getting your little people ready to visit others).  There are just as many ways to become distracted as there are recipes for turkey and dressing.

But I’m more convinced than ever that the most important To-Do is simply to love well the people right in front of me.

That is the Gospel fleshed out in my life.

By Thursday morning I hope the cleaning’s done; but if it’s not, it will still be enough.

By Thursday afternoon, the table will be set, the food will be prepared, and whatever got done will be more than enough.

I’ll likely take a few pictures to help me with that memory loss thing, but my greatest hope is that I’ll love my people well – that they’ll be affirmed, esteemed, encouraged and fully attended.

My hope is that as we feast on good food and share the company of those with whom we share blood, we’ll be full to the overflow with Thanksgiving because we’ve valued one another in a way that honors God and each other.

How can we make this holiday season memorable, friends?  I wouldn’t suggest following my son’s advice(!), but I sure would love to hear your suggestions for making memories.

  • andy burns

    Hello there! This article couldn’t be written any better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He continually kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. I appreciate you for

  • http://walkingwellwithgod.blogspot.com Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God


    My 18 Thanksgivings have come and gone as well and now I hold tightly to the times when we can all be together. It is probably a blessing that my camera broke and I don’t yet have a “smart phone” (can you say technological dinosaur?), because it forces me to engage the person I’m with using all my senses. I listen better and longer. I look into their eyes and read what is really going on. I reach out and touch them so that they know that no matter how old they get, they are never too old to feel love’s touch. In short, I truly try to capture the “picture” in my mind’s eye. I try to be fully present in the moment. I try to, as you say, “love well the people right in front of me.” Thank you, Robin, for the reminder and encouragement as I approach this coming Thanksgiving!

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      What you’re doing there? Is becoming a dying art.

      I am NOT condemning the squillions of us who DO take family photographs to commemorate special occasions; but I am asking us to become more aware of excesses in our lives :).

  • Andrea

    Love fully. Love well. Sigh…….just wonderful! Off to plan goofy crafts with my kids since they are almost too big!!!!! Thank you!!!

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      GOOFY crafts! I love a good ol’ Barney Box full of creative supplies to make such a thing :).

  • http://www.kimberlyanncoyle.com Kimberly

    I needed this reminder, Robin. We’re right in the thick of our 18 Thanksgivings, and I only have a few more with my oldest. I want her to remember me fully engaged, fully present, fully loving. Thanks for this:)

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      I read portions of this post out loud to my husband and he looked at me like I had grown another head. His expression said everything: “Pot, meet kettle.”

      It would have served me well for someone gently and tenderly (or maybe smacking me upside the head) to suggest I cut back some of my food/family pics….

  • http://www.marcyholder.wordpress.com Marcy

    Good reminder for my week and my morning. There’s a five year old here, the youngest of three. I think I’ll chuck the to-must list for the morning and put lights on the tree with him. He’ll be thrilled.

    Thanks for the encouragement Robin!!

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      Ahhh! To a five-year-old, that’s magic! Setting a tree “on fire”–wonderful memory. He’ll feel like a Big Boy and rightfully so :).

  • http://annasforeverfamilies.org Jo

    Great reminder for me this morning! Thank your son for making me choke on my first cup of Joe this morning(lol)….loved his way if handling “an emotional Momma moment”(what my son calls it). Really good one!

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      Ha! You totally understood what I was talking about. Great sense of timing to add a little levity to the moment :).

  • Karen

    And Mary treasured these things in her heart………….

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance



  • karyn

    Children do know. They know. They ask at the wrong time. All the time. We, here, just carry them, kiss them, hug them, look into their eyes, what’s wrong.

    My grandson was hurt yesterday but would not come over for a seat on my lap. He’s small enough yet for a cuddle and a seat on my lap at aged 10. He was only 2 lbs when he was born. So, he’s still small for his age so he can still get a lap and cuddle in with his head into me. But he would not come over. He was hurting.

    I’m celebrating Thanksgiving this year. A first. We are doing turkey in the club. Buffet. Looking forward to being thankful for all that the LORD has given me so graciously this year.

    I just want to thank YOU LORD for all YOU’VE done.


  • Ro elliott

    I think as moms we have to be willing to find the reset button as our children go…leave and cleave…so I have decided that we would start afresh….new family traditions…ones that have soft edges and not ridged ones that aren’t willing to change with the seasons of life. As you add to the family through marriage …it’s no longer just about your family….but now you have added the new family your children have formed…and the family your SIL or DIL come from…That’s a lot to blend at holiday time…so each year I am learning to fully embrace what is…and not bemoan what was…and seeing there is so much to celebrate no matter the number…for the first time in years…I will have all 5 of my kids…spouses…grandloves and my parents…with a few extras…so very thankful ….but Christmas Day…will be very quite here…I am going to find a way to celebrate there too…thanks for the reminder…what ever is done by Thursday will be enough…

    • http://www.pensieve.me Robin Dance


      Flexibility and adaptability ARE key, aren’t they? Not looking at rearview mirrors but ahead. Great points all; love your perspective :).

  • Cathy

    You got it! This mama to 2 adult children who are married, with children finds that IS huge! Be present. Be in the moment. Be aware. LOVE. It is so easy to let the distractions of what HAS to be done consume and overwhelm, especially at this time of the year. But, in recent years I’ve worked hard to find purpose in the moments. When I’m with people, THEY are what is important. Not the floor, the food or the laundry. Not the decorations, the timing, the TV. But the PEOPLE are important. Family. Friend. Woman at the check-out. Waiter. Attendant. Counter worker. Sales person. THEY deserve to be loved, to have our attention. I say YES! Let’s love well those people who are right in front of us!

  • Lina

    THANKS Robin! Even though one daughter has moved away and one has a family (but still lives with us) I had to gasp when you mentioned only 18 holidays together. I really never calculated it that way before!
    I am really noticing that the holidays were always about family but also about pleasing my Daddy and providing the place for us all to celebrate. Thursday will be our second Thanksgiving without Dad and I am still a bit lost…
    Thanks for the great reminder of what counts and how fleeting that is. I do like the comment by your son and will keep it in mind whenever I get crazy over providing the perfect meal the perfect way.
    May you be surrounded by all those you love most…

  • Jeanne

    “But I’m more convinced than ever that the most important To-Do is simply to love well the people right in front of me.”

    Thanks for sending this, I like it. Love well the person you are with. Look them in the eye and listen not only with ears, but with your heart. Be quiet and listen to the heart, then embrace them exactly where they are at that very moment. Just like Jesus would.

  • http://hamershappenings.blogspot.com Lisa

    It is always about family…simplify everything else so we can live more fully in the moment.

  • Amanda

    A few days ago I sprained my ankle and I was getting a frustarted about the inconvenience it was causing my lifestyle and getting ready for the holiday season. I felt a nudge and a whisper that this was about slowing down and stopping and being more present and in the moment with those who mattered most in my life. I’ve just returned back to work 6 months ago after being a stay at home mama and I guess I’d just lost my way a little in my rush to get everything done. As a result of my injury, we spent a whole weekend at home making handmade gifts and craft with the kids. We all thoroughly enjoyed our weekend.

    Thank you Robin for the reminder about what is most important in life and especially at this time of year.

  • http://brittanyvanryn.weebly.com Brittany

    I have some ideas over at my recent blog post “The Art of a Quality Thanksgiving.” Check it out!

  • Beth Williams


    I am soo like you. I take a ton of pictures all the time. For me time just passes on to quickly and then your loved ones are gone. I want the memories of the past to be alive and well preserved.

    I do my best to fully engage people when I’m talking with them. I want them to feel as though they are the most important person–Kinda how I want to be treated.

  • Laura

    I have heard of the idea of having a large bowl placed by the front door where everyone drops their smartphones as they enter. Mind you, I have never tried this myself. But I wonder if we could make a fun game of dropping them off, and then declaring 5 minutes at the top if each hour to grab, snap pics, check messages, then drop them again into the bowl. Seems like it would make it fun, but at the same time acknowledge both our need for face to face time, yet our kooky communal dependence on these little machines. And, just another thought. Pictures become ever more precious through time. Especially as we lose loved ones and our tables are sadly dotted with those empty chairs from year to year. Wisdom seems to be found in balance (eek! I am showing my age with statements like that!) Enjoying the moments, and memorializing them too, don’t necessarily have to cancel each other out. I love your always gentle reminder, though. Thank you, Robin.

  • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com Laura Parker

    It was such a TRUE DELIGHT to meet you in person last month, Robin. Truly, I love your words and I felt your fully-alive presence each time we were in the same space. Thanks for living what you are saying here.

  • Marinalva Sickler

    I had dinner at a friend’s home and no turkey but a exquisite meat roasted.
    Later in the evening, two new friends came to my turkey dinner. There was no need of all feast preparation but a sharing time about life and grace.
    Nothing else! All was left behind on the last years pictures and sweet memories. I better praise Him!
    Thank you for your thoughts on the To- Do List that I didn’t do.