The last year I have had the privilege of watching my Tucson nieces for a few hours once a week while their mommy studies microbiology and chemistry and other such things on her path to coming a nurse. (Auntie Serene watches BB once a week while I work, so we "trade".) I usually just have my 3-year-old niece K, but summer break means that I also get to spend time with my just-graduated-first-grade niece B, and also means that we moved over to their house since that's where their playroom full of toys and books and movies is. I quickly found that I tend to enjoy our time most when I have an activity planned for us to do, like making a heart wreath for Valentine's Day or doing homemade worksheets on letters of the alphabet. But the best part of any time I spend with them is the time that I get to spend telling them about God's love for us in Jesus. In the spring, we read the Easter story from BB's Bible and discussed some questions B had about it, and then did an activity.
Currently, my nieces' favorite game to play is high school, and believe it or not, I get to be the teacher. My teacher name is Mrs. McGillicuddy, and Mrs. McGillicuddy assigns her students activities like "read a book and then draw a picture about it and present it to the class". I swear, the girls love this, and beg to play it every time I even just stop by to pick something up. Our latest activity stemmed from a comment from B about Japan and China being "kind of the same thing". I quickly explained how the world is divided into continents and countries and, in our case, states, and cities, all of which have differences and similarities. I then realized I could use this as a chance to have some great "school" subject matter, so a couple of weeks ago while BB napped after his swim lesson, the girls and I made passports, following these instructions, in preparation for traveling around the world by learning about it and praying for it! We are starting in Asia because B wanted to learn about China. My hope is that the girls will come away with a concept of culture, the bigness of our world, and God's love for all people. The girls got their first "stamp" in their passport last week when J earned his teacher name, Dr. Smart, by sharing about the 2 months he spent in Turkey. He showed them pictures and Turkish money and and taught them some history and read a Bible story that took place in Turkey (Ephesus!), and then they prayed that the people in Turkey would know God loves them and that Jesus died on the cross for them. This project has already led to many conversations with B about why Jesus died on the cross, and it is so encouraging to see God stirring her little heart.
I spent a lot of time with my cousins and aunts growing up, so it brings me much joy that BB is blessed to grow up alongside some of his cousins, and that BB and the girls will have similar memories and bonds with one another. I wish all of our family could be as geographically close. I am so thankful that I get to have an active part in these girls' lives, that they will grow and remember spending time with me, but most of all I am thankful that I get to spiritually invest in these precious souls and be blessed by seeing God work within our time together. I strongly believe that parenthood is a ministry and as I witness the bonds that develop from the time I get to spend with my nieces and that BB has with his auntie, I am thankful that we are not in this alone. God created us to live within families. He created aunts and uncles and grandparents, and gives me a chance to have a ministry in this role too, and it's a fun one, with silly names and forts and dress up and a chalkboard to doodle on.