There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
What was the best present you ever received; the one you will remember forever? Many years ago my husband and I decided to give the gift of presence instead of presents to our ever growing family for Christmas. It was a wise decision and has borne tremendous fruit. We gather at Christmas to celebrate God's love, the gift of family and life as we live it. Then in the summer we rent a beach home and our seven children, sons-in-law and grandchildren and gather together again. My oldest daughter reminds us each year, “No more presents. All the cousins want to do is be together. It is the best present ever!"
Picture this: seven close-together siblings, some with spouses, some without, coming from all parts of the country, with the sole purpose of being family. Add to the scene twelve cousins ranging in age from 9 months to 14 years being present to one another. How would you like to open that under the Christmas tree? I agree with her, it is the best Christmas present ever, for all. Picture perfect in every way!
I, a fly on the wall, get great enjoyment by watching my three married daughters step into my “shoes,” and embrace their vocation of wife and mother. A godly pride swells up in my heart as I silently thank God that I chose to lay down my life to be a stay at home mother to a very large family. I laugh to myself remembering when I used to say, a mother’s middle name is "Sacrifice." I, who was not given a middle name, took it on for my own. Let's face it, mothering a large family is a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of giving beyond what you have. I cannot complain; God’s grace was always sufficient, His wisdom readily available, and besides He answers my prayers daily. I often say to the mothers I mentor, "God taught me everything I know!” That is a fact. I, who had barely babysat, knew nothing about being a wife and a mother, God had to teach me everything.
The fruit I bore in my vocation was planted in my soul by the hand of God the day I held my firstborn. God planted within me a "mother’s heart!" That heart was watered with a mother's tears, weeded by the word of God, and tended in prayer. When my daughters come to me and say, "Mom, how did you do it with seven,” I don't even have to pause to remember.
My ready reply is, "I prayed a lot!"
In disbelief, they repeat the question, "No, really how did you do it?" I affirm the answer this time from the depth of my soul, knowing how much prayer is needed sometime to see you through a mommy day and other times to see you though a mommy minute. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. No, it is for those who are prayer warriors and know what it means to be raising a soldier for God.
Seasons come and seasons go. God is the one who changes the season; we just need to flow with His Spirit. There is a time for every season under heaven, “a time to be born and a time to die.” Just about the time my last baby was in fifth grade I became a grandma. It was tough. My husband and my hearts were still healing from the loss of our baby boy Zachary who left this world way too soon. I was still in the thick of parenting myself. With mounds of laundry, endless carpools, and dishes that never seemed to end, I was already living beyond what I could humanly do. Let's just say that growing a grandma's heart took some time and a lot of prayer.
While enjoying a pause in my life at the family beach trip, I took time to reflect. My firstborn grandson has become such a part of my heart. As I watched him lie in the sand and let all the cousins pile dirt on him, a smile grew on my face that lasted the whole day through. My eyes turned then to the ocean waters where almost all of the granddaughters were jumping in the waves. I had to join them. When I did I flashed backed to the days when I jumped in the waves with their moms.
Earlier that day one daughter with her three daughters and I spotted a turtle on the beach. The five of us steadily followed the turtle and followed in the footsteps of grandma Fran. My mother-in law always took the time to pause and enjoy the smallest bug or the most beautiful rainbow. Slow but steady was her theme song. Her observant eyes, and willing pause, left room in her day to, enjoy the moment and never be too busy to care. I was thankful to be in the footsteps of such a giant of a good example of grandmother-hood. My oldest daughter was busy posing the grandchildren for a picture that will be remembered for generations to come. Each child gave their best smile, all except one. This grandchild earned her nick name of "Sassy" as she looked at her aunt, showed her attitude and just walked away. Her independent spirit has won the hearts of all. I had to say to the oldest daughter, "She should have been yours!"
I was both astounded and blessed as one grandson took extra special time to make sure he had a moment to get to know each of the cousins, from the tiniest baby to the eldest. His charming smile and kind heart was noticed. It delighted my heart when another granddaughter was filled with the joy of being family. From the moment she arrived she was so glad to be with her cousins. When I lived near her I would tell her, “The girl cousins are your sisters." She has brothers who adore her, but girls need sisters too.
Later at the pool was a time to cool off, kick back and enjoy. It refreshed us all just to be together. Our sons-in-law joined our youngest son, the playful one, in entertaining the “troops,” better known as the grandchildren. Truly, attention from the adults is the children’s favorite “toy.” I am blessed that each son-in law that God has given us embraces family bonding. We were all delighted when my sister arrived. The beach trip is never complete without her joining in the celebration of one crazy big family.
One daughter held her baby girl 24-7, and I thank the Lord that she too took on the nickname, "Sacrifice." I wanted to tell her to treasure the moments, they go by fast, but I held my tongue. She already knew it; this baby is her sixth. Later on as I watched my baby girl and youngest son cook one of their dad’s favorite meals, I was glad that I spent the time when they were children to teach them how to cook. They all grew into responsible adults. At our beach trip each family takes a turn cooking and cleaning up.
The day went by way too fast but not without one last unforgettable memory. Even though it was way past my bedtime, we all gathered around our summer birthday grandchild to sing "Happy Birthday." An aunt had baked the cake, chocolate of course. Then if the celebration was not enough, our middle son arrived from Hawaii to join the family. As he hugged each child one by one and all his siblings, a tear of gratitude welled up in my eye. Yes, a family beach trip is the best present of all. You cannot put a price tag on spending quality time together to build family.
Our beach trips together are filled with joy, love and peace. We eat, we drink and we are merry. Everyone brings something that no one else can bring, themselves. Everyone takes home something that no one can take away, a memory sowed deep in their heart. We are family. We laugh together. We cry together. We work together. We play together. When one is down, we gather around. When one rejoices, we rejoice with them. When one is sad, we dry their tears.
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In this world that gets so busy with life as they know it, a beach trip is just what the doctor ordered for a family to heal on the inside. When we take a pause and are present to one another, miracles can happen, memories are made and hearts are healed. All will agree that we always receive more than we give when we are together. The grandchild that I affectionately call “Miss Sassy,” who is old beyond her four years, spoke a piece of wisdom to me this beach trip. I said to someone, "Have good day!" She looked me in the eye and speaking with authority said, "Nana, every day is supposed to be a good day!" I tucked those words in my heart as my souvenir, to be treasured for a lifetime.
I wondered what the rest of my family would bring home with them once we said our goodbyes. What do I hold most dear? The final goodbye says it all. Watching each cousin, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, son-in- law and parent giving a farewell hug, was our way of saying, "Thank God for family." Many of us wanted the beach trip to last forever.
My season of motherhood ushered me through the door of grandmother-hood. I must admit each season has its own blessings. The sacrifices you make in one season of life will bear fruit in the next. It is worth the effort. Lay the foundation well. God will cement it with His love. Seasons come and seasons go. You just have to flow with God’s Spirit. Treasure the season you are in. Enjoy the present of being family. If watered with tears, built with God’s wisdom, and covered with prayer, then cemented with His love, it will become the best present of all. What, or who, will be under your Christmas tree?
Copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan
About the Author
Ellen Mongan is a Catholic writer, speaker, and host of WOW MOM podcasts. Her book, WOW MOM: A Walk with God, is on Amazon. She contributes to Catholic Mom, Women of Grace, and Augusta Chronicle. Her most important roles as wife to Deacon Patrick and mother of eight led her to ministry. Learn more and contact her to speak at EllenMongan.com.