Whenever I smell cedar logs burning in a fire place, I am immediately brought back to sweet moments in my childhood. You see, my sister and I were lavishly loved by our pastor and his wife, something that we deeply needed. The church was huge and broadcasted live on TV each Sunday, but they made time for two little girls that they knew needed some extra loving. They even let us ‘adopt’ them as grandparents.
I remember the days we would go to their house for a few hours. We got to play in their pantry and pretend it was a grocery store. We went on walks in their woods and he struggled to button my denim jacket because it was a little too cold to be outside with my jacket open. I remember their big, antique looking bathroom with a clawfoot tub and the big windows upstairs in his Study. I remember all the pretty things around the house. But I mostly remember the smell of cedar logs burning in the fireplace.
Maybe it’s just my own understanding of how heating with a fireplace works, but in my world, cedar logs are reserved for when you have important company over. The other logs produce heat, but cedar brings warmth and a beautiful smell throughout the house. As a little girl, I didn’t know this. I just knew that I felt loved there and now always associate cedar with that kind of love.
I remember the day, as an adult, that I realized how important we were treated. It had been a really long time since I smelled a burning cedar log, but the memories came flooding back. People don’t normally pull out the really good stuff for kid visitors. And, usually, when we do something a little extra for a child, we point it out to them so they can see the value in what they are being given or offered. This wasn’t the case in this home. We were lavishly loved, treated with superb kindness, and handled like we were royalty...which wasn’t quite what we experienced at home. These visits made a lasting impression on me.
There were other days when we were picked up in his fancy-to-me car and taken for ice cream at Baskin Robins. We were given full authority to pick any of the 31 flavors or size we wanted, which was very unlike normal days. Grandaddy would also order a single scoop of vanilla and reach across with his spoon to “just taste a bite of each of our flavors”. Whenever we were out with them, he was recognized by people in the community. He politely shook their hand and smiled, but made it a point to communicate that he was out with special girls. More honor heaped on us.
At Christmas, we would have our annual date to see the Christmas lights downtown. These nights included ice cream, too. But I remember one year in particular, that I felt a little more grown up and decided I didn’t need to hold his hand while crossing the busy downtown streets. Grandaddy gently took my hand anyway and told me that I might be big enough to cross without his hand, but that he wasn’t big enough to cross without mine. I smiled and secretly appreciated the protection.
Years and years later, he was the one that then placed my hands into my husbands on our wedding day. During the ceremony, he told the stories I mentioned, minus the cedar logs. It’s likely that he has no idea what kind of impression that left on me. And now, as an adult on the closing end of a lot of healing, I struggle to find the words to express the magnitude of how wonderful those moments were. The ice creams he and his wife splurged on for us were tasty, but the tender time and safe spaces were the real treasures. These were holy moments.
Now in ministry myself, I realize that it isn’t possible to spend this kind of time on each of the people we minister to, but when we give ourselves fully to ones that we can, it is life changing. “Do for one what you wish you could do for many.”
If we all did that for one person, the world would certainly be a different place. And if we do that for a child, we may be impacting their entire future. I am so deeply grateful for the way were we treasured in these moments.
Looking back on my experiences with my pastor, AKA Grandaddy, I realize that I had pockets of time with my own real life Mr. Rogers. They had more than being ordained ministers in common, they had a strong belief in loving children well. “Fred Rogers respected the value of childhood. He believed in a world in which love, understanding, and kindness could triumph.”
“In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of – moments when we human beings can say “I love you,” “I’m proud of you.” “I forgive you,” “I’m grateful for you.” That’s what eternity is made of: invisible, imperishable good stuff.” -Fred Rogers
As parents, we often feel like we aren’t doing enough, like we aren’t providing the most opportunities for our kids or giving them what they need. But, what I am learning is that what they really need and want is us. They want our full attention. They need us to be there and they need to feel treasured like the priceless jewels they are. I don’t mean that we need to spoil them with brand name things and expensive toys, in fact, I mean just the opposite. But we need to prioritize them with less things and a slower schedule. Being the defender of the schedule and saying ‘no’ to even the good things sometimes is healthy. In doing this, we are teaching our kids how to set healthy boundaries. Kids don’t need to be building their resume in elementary or middle grade. Let us never forget, that although children might not be able to verbalize their feelings or impressions of a moment, those memories dig very deep roots and resurface later.
So, how can we realistically replicate the cedar logs and ice cream dates? The answer is short, but often so difficult. Simplify. We might not have a fireplace to burn a cedar log in, but we can occasionally do for our children what we would do for special company. Here are some ideas:
- Make mundane days unexpectedly special. If you always eat dinner at the table, pick a day to make a picnic in the living room or in the back yard. Carry your plates in and have fun eating somewhere else. Or, if you never eat at the table, spend 5 minutes to uncover it from the piles of papers or laundry and eat there occasionally. Perhaps even light a candle. Don’t overcomplicate things, just make it feel different than normal.
- Create simple traditions and remember to repeat them. Go see the Christmas lights, play flashlight hide and seek every few weeks, or some other fun thing your family likes. Repeating it makes it a tradition.
- Look at your kids when they talk. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, stop what you are doing and actually look at them. Another wise person told me to try to memorize their face.
- Communicate to them how valuable they are. Both in words and in deeds, make sure your children know they are treasured.
Have you had an experience where you felt overwhelmingly love and cared for? What are other ways we can be sure our kids are confident in where they stand with us, as parents who love them deeply?