"Thank you, God that we all get to be together."

My ten-year-old's consistent prayer is more startling this morning. I understand Stephen's oft-expressed gratitude on the days we've laughed through breakfast, played a rousing game of checkers, or at least gotten along. But this morning we haven't. In fact, the time we usually spend reading a devotional is spent discussing the struggles--the grumpy attitudes, the quarreling, the hurt feelings of a day just barely old enough to have afforded such conflicts.

And yet again today my son thanks the Lord that we're all here, living out the passion of family oneness.

Frankly, I could do with a little less togetherness this morning. It's one of those times when a secluded cabin in the mountains is calling my name. I can almost smell the smoke from the logs crackling in a fireplace--see the falling snow through frosted windowpanes and feel the hush of solitude, all sound blanketed by a covering of white. It's quiet in my imaginary place--the kind of quiet that climbs inside of you and whispers peace. In this world, I'm curled up in a big chair, wrapped in an afghan, a great novel is in my hand and a steaming cup of Chai sits on the end table next to me. And no one needs anything from me.

I want to be there. Really, I do! I want to be somewhere where nobody fusses. In that place I can escape the demands of four children each wanting things their own way in their own timing for their own plans. Without so much togetherness I wouldn't have to soothe hurt feelings, discuss needs, or encourage forgiveness. I don't want to be with my family right now. I just want to be alone in that peaceful cabin--living unfettered by the expectations and needs of little people.

But Stephen's prayer echoes in my mind. I look around our small living room and I can't help but let my heart embrace each person sitting there. Even in this day, when we all got up on the wrong side of the bed, we're a family. We're here, working through our issues instead of being scattered to different grades and different schools, separate and running until bedtime.

Suddenly I want this togetherness more than the cabin get-a-way. I want to spend hours with these precious children all under one roof. I want to be together.

Together to fight. And forgive.
Together to express needs and frustrations . . .
and together to how learn to meet them in each other.
Together to be jealous, and then learn to be supportive and proud instead.
Together to argue over chores, and together to rejoice in accomplishments.
Together to grow and change and become.
Together to live a full, rich, vibrant life.

As I reflect on my morning's frustration, I realize I have exacerbated the day's issues by a couple of old problems I have: Perfectionism and idealism. Thinking that I can take a family of six different people with a multitude of differences in personality, goals, needs, and gifts, and create an environment where no ones disagrees.

I remember again how I've prayed that my children will grow into leaders who are individuals--strong and passionate about God and using the gifts He has given them. Do I really believe that every day will be conflict-free? Would I want to raise children who shove down their needs and opinions and exist in robot-like perfection?

No way!

Sure, I want to train the children to know when to give up their rights to meet the needs of someone else. I want to show them how to love as Christ loved. But the fruits of the Spirit are just that--something our Holy Father is developing in them as He grows them. Godly character is being produced in the messy day-to-day living. An existence that sometimes includes crummy mornings when nobody is happy.

As I think about all this, I'm reminded of something I once heard Sally Clarkson (www.wholeheart.org) say in a workshop at a homeschool convention--something about how her children were often just "little sinners" and she was, too.

I whisper a silent prayer thanking God for the grace He gives through Jesus Christ--the grace that forgives us for mornings of selfishness and empowers us to forgive and love each other.

Together doesn't always mean peaceful and satisfied. On occasion, I get glimpses of the kind of togetherness I wish always existed at my house--like earlier this week when all four children worked for hours on a snow fort without once calling for me to fix an argument. Like the times when the boys cheer for each other at sports events, or when my daughter patiently bakes cookies with one of the younger ones. But honest togetherness doesn't usually look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Most of the time it just looks like real life.

Together doesn't mean perfect harmony. It can't. The Bible says there is only one Person who was ever perfect--Jesus. The rest of us will have our moments of selfish struggles, for we are all works in progress.

My thoughts are interrupted as I realize the children are all staring at me, waiting for instructions to get on with their day. My glance rests on each precious face and I am overcome with love for them. Feeling better, I'm ready to organize them for the next endeavor of our school day, but before I start my youngest son interrupts me.

"Mommy, you haven't held me today."

I smile and open my arms to him. He is getting so long he barely fits with me in that worn recliner anymore, yet he snuggles into my soft places, lovingly patting the roll around my middle that I so detest. It feels good to embrace my child, this incredible gift of God. Once again, I look around the room, letting my gaze linger upon each child. Stephen, sitting across from me, winks. I wink back at him, and then blow him a kiss. My teenage son, a twinkle in his eyes, makes a joke and my daughter has a great comeback. I love the their humor and rapport. My heart is very full.

You know, together is not perfect. But it is perfectly wonderful.

If the Good Lord surprises me with a mountain cabin get-a-way, I think I'll take the kids.

A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.