Monthly Archives: November 2011

Investing in Us

  We had a weekend away. It's always a hard balance for me.  I want to be frugal with money and a wise steward of what we have, and yet, there are things that we choose to spend money on that are more than what they seem.  We do without a lot of things that most people see as necessities (or at least understood as "deserved" wants). We choose to have no cable.  Starbucks is a rare treat. An expensive meal out (for all of us!) is a total bill of $25.  Due to what we do and the size of our family, we have to be careful with our money at every turn.  There isn't room to be frivolous. So it comes as a surprise to many that we often stay in hotels, just for the sake of staying in a hotel.  We will even do it in our own town. It may seem like an extravagant waste, and at times I don't let us enjoy it, but it is so much more than just paying for a hotel. It is investing in us.  Investing in who we are.  When we go away—get out of the house, truly relax, and focus on each other (instead of the things at home that vie for our attention)—we come back renewed, refreshed, and ready to dig our feet in and get started with "real life" once again with a fresh perspective and purpose.  When we go away, we invest not only in a hotel room but in our family's memories, our traditions, our children's sense of worth. We are building—piece by piece—an entire childhood for our kids.  We want them to have special memories  and "we always did that" recollections.  When they are older and have moved away from family, we want them to have something solid to think back on.  Our little tradition of staying in hotels is a part of that. It had been a while since we had done it.  The kids and Jason went a few weeks ago but we hadn't gone away as entire family since July. It was time.  We've had a long and rough few months around here and we needed some distance from "real life" and some time to just enjoy one another.  Time for being lazy, for swimming, for reading, for relaxing, and for talking about dreams and plans. I came back thinking, "We really need to do that more often." It may seem extravagant, but can you really put a price on family?

And now, our weekend in pictures (and a few words):

Our weekend actually started on Wednesday.  Jason had a half-day in school and so after he got home, we headed into town to do some grocery shopping (grocery shopping here is at least a 4-5 hour ordeal).  We were having a few friends over on Thursday for an early meal before they all left for Bali and we needed to pick up some things as well as do our regular weekly shopping. The next day, we cooked and prepared and welcomed our friends over for a simple Thanksgiving meal.  The kids were really hungry at this point and were doing their best to wait patiently.  I think the huge platter of cucumbers and carrots I put out ahead of time kept the smiles on their faces while they waited.     Our guests headed out for their trip and finally, it was just us.  We packed for our trip and were ready so that we could get up early the next day for our trip to Jakarta. Our first stop was for a doctor's appointment.  Afterward, we found our hotel (a new one for us) and played on the playground for a few hours and ate lunch while we waited for our room to be cleaned.  When we finally got to our 26th floor room, we were in awe of the view (and to be honest, a little bit nauseous!) Bethany needed to go down for a nap so Jason and the other kids headed to the pool.  Bethany must have known that everyone was having fun without her and therefore woke up from her nap very early.  So, off to the pool we went!   The next day, it was Jason's turn for the doctor and I stayed back with the kids.  We hung out, went to one of the three playgrounds, let the kids watch TV (they love going to Jakarta because "the TV's speak English!") The rest of the day was more swimming, more relaxing, more reading, and more resting. On Sunday, Jason and the kids headed back to the pool once again while I stayed with Bethany for her morning nap (and I finished a book I have been wanting to read since September!)  Before I put Bethany down, though, I snapped a few pictures of my girl. Don't mind the drool...she has three teeth coming in! And then, it was time to pack up.  Sad to leave, but excited to get back home and to routine. Only three weeks until Christmas break!  I tried to take a few more pictures of my beautiful eight-month-old. Then the other kids started popping in.  They love their baby sister! Might as well bring them all up on the bed! Lot's of good outtakes and no real keepers, but a pretty good representation of reality! As I look at these pictures and think back over the past few days, I am reminded once again how important it is to invest in us. Putting time and money into building memories, traditions, and family fun is far more valuable than spending money on more and more stuff. My very best memories of my childhood having nothing to do with any tangible gift I received or nice looking decoration in our home.  No, my best memories are the trips we took as a family.  The travelling, the squabbles in the car, the treats that were only for travelling (like McDonald's!), the hotel rooms,  and my dad's annoying music in the car (especially the opera that put us to sleep!)—those are the things that bring a smile to my face now. And so, as hard as it is sometimes to put money into something that appears to be temporal (a hotel room), I realize that the investment pays off in ways that I am only beginning to see the true rewards of. This Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for us.

Scattered Thoughts

My son Levi, waiting for his Thanksgiving meal

I know it's been quiet around here.  The last few weeks have been busy—very busy.  I don't usually "do" busy, but there are times when life makes it a necessity.  Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for everything, and this has been a time of busyness. When your life is about helping, serving, and loving others, you sometimes have to put yourself and your desire for time and boundaries aside for a bit. Jesus showed us that example. As He left to go pray alone, the crowds followed him.  I am sure that He was desperate for some time of peace and quiet with His Father, but he relented and "had compassion on them."  And so it has been in my life lately.  Compassion for my kids who have needed something extra from me.  Compassion for friends who needed a listening ear, an open home, or even some fresh-baked cookies.

I don't do busy well (it brings out the worst in me) but God is gently, patiently, and lovingly showing me how horrible I am at it and why it is that I need him so desperately.  There will be times of busy. This has been one of them. And hopefully, prayerfully, the next few weeks and months will gradually lead into a time of not busy. Because like I said, busy brings out the worst in me.  Just this morning, as I was thinking of all the things that needed to be done for our Thanksgiving meal, I had to take some time to crawl onto my daughter's bed and whisper words of asking for forgiveness.  Trying to plan a day centered around giving thanks doesn't quite mesh with the knowledge that my tone of voice the last few days has said that I am anything but thankful.

But I am thankful.  Thankful for my life and all its blessings.  All its hardships.  Both of them are part of God's plan for my life—a plan to mold me and shape me into the woman He created me to be.  I am thankful for His great patience.  I am thankful for His great love.  I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who can accomplish things that my sinful nature never could.  I am thankful for God's great grace in my life and I pray that my thankfulness will be genuine enough to not take any of it for granted.

Sorry for the scattered thoughts.  Happy Thanksgiving.


Sunshine and Rainbows

I have every intention of continuing my little series on discipline and affirmation.  It's important stuff. When I  put my thoughts into words, I am better able to clarify things in my own head and heart. If you benefit from it as well, that's a huge bonus.

But today, I want to clear up a misconception.

It is NOT all sunshine and rainbows over here.

And by over here,  I mean our home and family.

If you have somehow let yourself believe that any person has "got it all figured out," then you are sadly, sadly mistaken. I don't care what it looks like from the outside—no family is perfect.  No mother has all the answers.  No kids are above selfishness and whining.

Are we pretty secure in our family and our parenting?  Yes.  Do we truly enjoy our children?  Yes.  Do we consider it a blessing to care for these young souls and to partner with God in raising them to love Him and serve others?  Yes.  Is life all sunshine and rainbows? Um, no.

We have bad days. We have  kids who don't want to do school. We have kids who crumple up a paper "telescope" because they don't like their little sister "spying" on them. We have kid tears. We have mommy tears. We have days when I literally ache for a long vacation...alone. We have spilled water and messy rooms. We have "I'm bored." We have lighting fast "pass the baby" moments the second dad walks in the door. We have kids who cry because they lost in musical chairs. We have kids who can't distinguish the words "this" and "that" no matter how many hundreds of times they have seen them. We have kids who pick their nose and eat their boogers. We have dirty dishes and unmade beds. We have three-year olds who don't "feel like going to the potty" and instead go in their pants. We have kids whine and complain when they hear that Dad volunteered to have the rest of the family cook dinner while mom writes about sunshine and rainbows.

Yep, we have all of these things.

And this was just today.

I have this fear that if I strive to encourage others in their parenting— to take their job seriously, to cherish the moments with their kids, to recognize the awe and wonder of building little hearts and minds, and of putting family FIRST—then there will be a misconception that all of this just comes easily to some people. A misconception that if you aren't one of those fortunate souls then you must not "have it in you" or that you just aren't "wired that way." That isn't true at all.  If God has given you the gift of children then you DO "have it in you" and you ARE "wired that way."  Will it be easy? NO! Will it be work that sometimes makes you want to scream, throw things, and run away? YES.  But is it worth it?

A million times yes.

Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever done. It has taken me to depths of humility and servitude I never knew possible.  It has forced me to look honestly at all the laziness, selfishness, ungratefulness and impatience in my life and cry out to God to strengthen me in a supernatural way.  Because in the natural realm, I don't "have it in me" either. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in— that Helper that Jesus was talking about.  The Spirit can accomplish what we in our humanness never can. I have nothing but sin and pride to offer my children.  They have nothing but selfishness and tears to offer me.  But the Spirit?  The Spirit has all we need and more. We need to look to the calling we have received and then call out to God and remember, "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So here I am...boasting in my weaknesses.  I am weak as a mother.  I am weak (oh so weak!) as a wife. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want" (Romans 7:18-19).

None of us can do it alone. I can't.  You can't.  But God can.  We can't continue to strive to parent these precious hearts in our own strength and our own grand plans. But if we cling to Him and pray for His wisdom and His love and His compassion and His vision for motherhood then we can draw upon the strength that He graciously offers as we strive to raise wholehearted kids who understand that they are loved by God and created for a purpose.

Hungry, Tired, and Overwhelmed

Do me a favor.  Take a good look at the photo above. That's my sweet Katie, having just woken up from an unplanned afternoon nap.  She looks thrilled, doesn't she? What do you think would have happened if I had said right then, "Katie, go clean your room." Do you think she would have been thinking about our obedience lessons and promptly decided to "obey cheerfully"? Of course not. And at that moment, I never would have asked her to do much of anything.  She was just waking up, a little out of it (she doesn't usually nap in the afternoons), hungry (she had missed lunch) and she just wanted me.  I put the camera down (that face was just too precious to not preserve!) and then I  just held her. Loved her. Talked with her.

I expect obedience from my children. When I ask them to do something, I expect them to do it.  We don't argue about it, I don't beg them to do what I want, I don't bribe them. I give a command and then they do it.  That's the expectation and we are continually working on making it happen (without grumpy faces and dragging feet). It has taken a lot of time and intentional effort but the work has been more than worth it.  Not only is our home a more peaceful place, but also, our kids are being prepared for the rest of their lives when they have to follow the expectations of others (professors, bosses, spouses, government, and God Himself) even when they don't want to. Teaching this skill is one of the most important things I can do for my kids.

Because I expect obedience from my children, I have to do my part in the process as well. I can't just stand there like a militant drill sergeant, barking out orders, unaware of the physical and emotional limitations of my children.

My second point about child discipline was this:

We must have realistic expectations for our children, based on their age, ability, level of tiredness, and level of hunger.

If I expect my kids to obey a command I give them (or expect them to fulfill known expectations) then I have to be careful that they are able—at the present moment—to fulfill them.  This means that I have to take a number of factors into account.  I have to quickly assess the situation:

Is this expectation age-appropriate? Have they ever done this before? Do I think they can do it without me first teaching them? How tired are they? Are they fully functioning or are they too tired to make good decisions? Are they hungry? Could their lack of food (or drink) interfere with them being able to obey? Are they sad, scared, or overwhelmed?

You see, I want to set my kids up for success.  I try very hard to give only commands that they are able* to fulfill. I want them  to be able to obey so that they can feel the joy of rising to the level of expectation.  If I give them a command that they are not able to meet, they will feel defeated, frustrated and even ashamed. That is the opposite of what I want them to feel. I want them to feel empowered, capable and proud. I don't want to have my expectations higher than their ability level—a level that can and will vary from child-to-child, day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment.  It takes a watchful and discerning eye and heart to assess the physical and emotional state of our children at any given time.

*As an aside, notice that I didn't say, "I try very hard to give only commands they want to fulfill." That is a very different statement. I expect a lot of things out of my kids that they don't want to do. That isn't the issue.  The concern here is that I only set expectations that they are able to fulfill.

So what does this look like in our home?

  • I try to work  through some of the harder expectations in the morning, when they are fresh and full.  This includes school.  If I make the mistake of leaving school (especially the harder subjects) until after lunch, it is very hard for them to concentrate, do their work without complaint, and to sit still during times when I need them to be attentive.
  • For those expectations that have to be met at night when they are very tired, I try to make it part of a regular routine.  People are habit-driven.  When something happens in the same way every day, it is much easier to do. Because of this, our bedtime  expectations are consistent.  The kids get their jammies on. The older ones brush their teeth and Katie comes to us for help. They go to bed at the same time every night with few exceptions. Routine makes it easy for them to obey—they know what to expect.  If they never knew what time bedtime was coming, it would be hard to hear, "It's time to get your jammies on" if they were in the middle of something. But because we are consistent, they usually just say, "Oh, is it almost seven already?"
  • Routine works at other times as well.  For instance, our kids know that two kids help set the table and the other two kids help dad clear the table.  It is rarely an issue because they expect it. On the other hand, if I threw out a brand new expectation—"Kids, you need to wash, dry, and put away all the dishes!"—I am sure I would meet bewildered eyes and probably even a few tears! We build up expectation slowly.
  • If a child is overly tired and/or hungry, I lower my expectations.  This doesn't mean they can be sassy to me or say unkind words to a sibling. It just means that I am not going to give commands that I know they are emotionally/physically unprepared to meet.  I would never tell them to clean their entire room right before bed.  If I did, I know that with at least two of my kids we would have total melt-downs! I am sensitive to who they are and what they are feeling.
  • If I know my kids are tired or hungry, I extend a lot more grace when the kids don't obey. I usually voice the issue and then repeat my expectation: "Katie, I know it is nighttime and I know that you are tired, but you still need to do what Mommy asked."
  • I am more likely to help my kids obey.  I work alongside them.  If they need to do something (like clear a Lego path to the door!), I say, "Come on Levi, let's get these Legos out of the way so you don't trip on your way to the bathroom."  And then we work together.
  • I set my expectations according to age and ability.  Asking Katie (age 3) to clear the table and asking Alaina (age 8 ) to clear the table are two very different things. I know that I will have to come in after Katie cleans and redo it properly.  I still give her the job, though, so that she can practice obeying, practice being part of the family team, and practice working in the kitchen.
  • I pray very hard for wisdom and discernment so that when I am in a situation I can rightly assess if disobedience is a willful choice or if it is out of physical/emotional overload.
  • If a child breaks down crying and we are in a "battle of the wills," I work to de-escalate the situation.  Rather than giving discipline right then and there, I most often will pull the child up next to me or on my lap, hug and cuddle them, talk them down, and then decide what to do. After I have sensed they have calmed down and are secure in my love and affection, I will say something like, "Are you feeling better? Do you think you are ready to obey? You are? Great! I'll help you!" I keep my expectation (in this case cleaning up the mess that was made), but I let it be fulfilled in way that they are emotionally able (after some calming down time next to me and then often with my help).

As parents we have every reason to expect obedience out of our children (both obedience to direct commands and also to understood expectations). However, we have to be loving and gracious and meet them where they are—even if where they are is tired, hungry, and overwhelmed!

For another great article on this subject, see SimpleMom's Applying the HALT Method: A Checklist for Proactive Parenting. One of the issues that the guest writer mentions is kids being lonely. That really struck a chord with me as my little Levi's love language is quality time and I can always see a quantifiable difference in his behavior if I haven't been spending enough time with him.

Can you think of times in your home where discipline was an issue because of the physical and/or emotional state of the children? Is there something that you can do to prevent it in the future?

Water Some Hearts Today

We do a lot of disciplining in our house.  We also do a lot of affirming.  The two go hand-in-hand. Parenting with one and not the other is a recipe for disaster. I really don't know which would be worse—and I don't want to find out!

Yesterday I wrote about discipline and today I want to balance it out today with affirmation.  I imagine that's how I will tackle the rest of the points in the original posts. I can't overemphasize how much we as parents need to practice both discipline and affirmation. Back and forth. A little here, a little there. A lot here, a lot there.

I mentioned in my original post on affirmation that "my life was so void of affirming words that I didn’t even recognize their value in my life or in my heart."  I truly had a void of affirmation for a good part of my life and it was crippling. My high school journals are filled with broken-hearted cries such as:

"Why am I such a horrible person?" "Why am I so unloveable?" "Why can't I just get my act together?" "Why am I not good at anything?" "Why do I try so hard and never see any results?" "Why do I ever bother? No one sees any good in me."

I didn't see anything good in myself. I couldn't name one thing that was special or important about myself.  I couldn't see any value I held in anyone's life.  When a long-term relationship ended, it only strengthened my belief that I was really just wasting space on the planet. I knew of nothing good within me.  And just so you understand, I was a Christian teenager living in a Christian home. And I thought I was worthless. And the next few years of life were spent proving just how worthless I was.

Thankfully, God in His mercy, sent along some incredibly special people into my life and showed me through their words and actions that I was a beautiful child of God who had something to offer the world. One woman taught me how my past could be used to encourage others in their future (2 Corinthians 1:4). One professor took me under his wing and regularly made a point to tell me the positive qualities he saw in me. A sweet friend told me over and over again how I was going to be the biggest blessing to a husband some day. Words of life were spoken into me and I started to breathe again. I started to see that God made me for a purpose. It's still an area I struggle with daily, but God continues to bless me with a few dear friends who speak life into me—usually right when I need to hear it most.

I am now passionate about affirming my children. And I am passionate about helping other parents learn how to affirm their own kids.  It doesn't always come naturally or easily, but with a resolve and a purpose, it is one of my greatest joys of being a parent.

When I wrote about child affirmation, my first "to remember" point was this:

Affirmation is not the same as flattery or “building self esteem.” The desired effect of affirmation is that our kids will see the goodness of God within themselves and then recognize the potential of what that goodness can do in the lives of others.

I don't say things just to make my children feel good about themselves.  I don't say things that will build up arrogant pride. I affirm my children so that they can see the value and worth within them and so that they will come to understand that those positive qualities are meant to be built up, strengthened, and then poured into the lives of others. These qualities and their amazing potential—both gracious gifts from God—aren't meant to be selfishly hoarded and used for personal gain. Just this morning I read 1 Peter 4:10: "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Using our gifts to serve others is being a good steward of God's grace.

If I don't point out the positive qualities about my children, they may never see the potential within themselves.  And if they don't see their own potential, they won't be able to bless others with it. What a waste of grace!

So what does this sound like in our home?

It sounds something like this:

"Caleb, you are so creative with your Legos.  I am amazed at what you can build.  I am so excited to see what God plans to do with this creativity and precision when you get older. You can do some amazing things for other people!"

"I love your heart and compassion, Alaina. I can see you in a few years, sitting in an orphanage, rocking babies and playing with the kids."

"Levi, I love seeing you play with Katie and Bethany.  You are such a good big brother. I bet you are going to be an amazing father some day.  You are so sweet and gentle and fun-loving—just like your daddy!"

"You are being such a good helper, Katie.  I love that you like to help me. Did you know that helping others is really important?  It's so great that at age three you are already so good at it!"

I never, ever want my children to wonder if there is any value or worth in who they are.  Instead, I want them to grow up hearing—on a daily basis—about all the qualities that God is building within them and to plant seeds of ideas on how they might use these qualities to bless others.

Your children have positive worth as well. They have beautiful parts of their God-chosen personality that can be spotlighted and strengthened.  Look for them.  Watch for them.  Expect them.  And when you see them, make sure to intentionally share what you see with your children. If you remember, the whole point behind the title of this blog is to remember that the state of our children's hearts is what makes a difference in how fruitful their lives are.  The seed (the Word of God) is always the same. When it falls onto your child's heart, what kind of soil is waiting for it? A soft, tender and nourished soil or a dry, brittle and broken one?

Let's water some hearts today!

Kids Are Kids

Back in August I shared some thoughts on child discipline and child affirmation.  I have been meaning to get back to those, to flesh them out a little more with our own experiences and practices.  This isn't to say, "This is how you must do it," but rather, to share a little of what those thoughts have looked like in our life and in our family.  If you haven't read those posts yet, I encourage you to do so: Thoughts on Child Discipline and Thoughts on Affirming our Children.

Guess who didn't want to clean up the mess she made?

Katie is our "wild card."

Our first three children were  fairly easy.  Sure, each of them had their issues and difficult stages, but for the most part the stages were simple, straightforward, and short-lived. I never went through a time of "I have no idea what to do with this child!" and for the most part, obedience came calmly, evenly, and just as we expected. The kids learned from a very young age that mom and dad are in charge and that it is their job to obey. We taught them and trained them with love, patience and grace and basically, everything went smoothly.  Perfect, no. Smoothly, yes.

And then we had Katie. She is strong-willed, feisty, mischievous, sneaky, and doesn't like to do things she is told. Starting at around the age of two, we realized that parenting her was going to be a whole new ballgame. We would give her directions such as, "Go get your jammies on" and she would reply, "But I don't want to." "Katie, why did you go potty on the floor?"  "Because I wanted to."  "Hey Katie, look, it's raining!"  "No it's not!" Ad infinitum.

Katie tested every parenting theory and practice we had.  We have had to worker harder to gain her obedience than the first three (combined!) and we have had to extend grace and patience in levels that could only come from the Lord. We never tolerated sassiness, back-talking, or willful disobedience (all were met with loving and gracious discipline), but the road to her submission to us has been long. We had to adjust things as we went, we had to try new techniques, and we had to just wait. We had to wait for her will to break without her spirit being broken in the process. I would never want to break that spirit—I am sure God has BIG plans for that BIG personality!

And that's where my first point about child discipline comes in:

Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure…not our angry words.

I remember clearly the first time I "got" what this verse meant. I was dorm parenting teenagers and some of the things they said were so outlandish that I would stand there stunned. One day I was especially frustrated with the blatant selfishness of a student and God clearly spoke the words of Proverbs 22 into my heart and mind: "Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child." I realized right then that to expect a child (even a teen) to act like an adult is like wishing for snow in July.  It just isn't going to happen (at least not in the Northern Hemisphere!) Foolishness is bound—tied tight—to a child's heart. It is a fact. They act like immature kids because they are immature kids. The mess up, do silly things, have accidents, make bad decisions, and test the boundaries.  It's because they are kids.

Angry words are not going to solve this (though I admit to having some angry words with my Katie!) Becoming angry with a child and raising your voice is not the way to steer a child back on course.  The only thing angry and loud words achieve is your child becoming afraid of you. Instead, as parents we need to understand and accept the fact that this foolishness that is bound to their hearts is only going to be loosened by time (and thus patience), maturity, and diligent parent training.

Diligence: Careful and persistent work or effort.

As we train our children, we have to offer them unconditional love and grace while we make every effort to put them back on the path of obedience every time they step off. There isn't room for inconsistency in our discipline. Inconsistency tells our kids that the issue isn't always important—it's only important when we are annoyed enough to deal with it instead of just "letting it go."

And so it has been with our Katie. Her foolishness is bound a little tighter than the other kids'. But with persistence, loving and gracious training, and consisten discipline we are seeing the gentle bending of her will (with her spirit still intact!) By us understanding that her behavior couldn't be "yelled out of her" and that instead, her foolishness is part of her natural, sinful nature, we were able to step back, breathe deep, and prepare ourselves for the long haul of diligent training.

Is she now—at age three and a half—a perfectly obedience child?  Ha! No, not at all.  We joke that Katie is a little sugar and whole lotta spice! But you know what? The diligence is paying off. She's watching her steps.  She's trying to obey. She comes to us when she has a problem. She is making better choices. She is learning to obey with a cheerful attitude. We have a long road of ahead of us, but we are prepared to give her (and the other kids) all the time, patience, love, grace, and guidance that she needs.

That way, when she finds her baby sister's diaper rash cream and decides to give herself a facial, we can lovingly take a picture and then explain to her that she needs to ask mommy and daddy before she puts anything on her body.