Friday, September 16, 2011

Prayer and Target

This morning I couldn't find a container for Spaghettio's that would fit in Rachel's lunch box. When I finally found something, the floor of my kitchen looked like a Rubbermaid factory exploded (but only with containers…no lids.) After dumping the can of Spaghettio's into the container and nuking it for a minute in the microwave, I promptly burned my hand on the molten lava tomato-y goodness that Rachel insisted she had to have for lunch that day. I snapped at my kids on our way out of the door to go to school. I know, it wasn't very Proverbs 31 or WWJD of me. They just banked it for some other time when they did something they didn't mean to do.

It was not a great start to the day.

Later that morning, as I was cleaning out my inbox on my computer, I ran across an old email that reminded me of a painful experience from a long time ago. It's amazing how just when you think you've moved on, a reminder of a difficult time just punches you in the face and suddenly I'm weighed down with that old feeling of not being good enough.

I busied myself with errands, trying to be productive and get some things done that I had been putting off. After taking one look at the line for vehicle registration to get my tags renewed and deciding we'd live on the edge for a few more days, I drove to the other side of town to a store where I had ordered something they didn't have in stock. They informed me that it wouldn't be in until tomorrow and wanted the name of the employee who gave me the wrong information. I insisted I heard her wrong and it was my fault. They rolled their eyes and said to come back tomorrow.

After striking out with two of my three errands, I found myself in my favorite happy place. Target. I only needed a sprayer for the hose in my backyard, but it still makes me glad to walk into that place. I have no idea what it is…packaging, maybe? The smell of freshly popped popcorn? The dollar section? The color red? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

So there I am, in the farthest corner of Target, still feeling kind of bummed because I haven't yet gotten a clue that the past does not define me, when I got a text message on my phone. It was from my friend, Sarah, who lives in South Carolina saying that she had prayed for me that day. For whatever reason, God had laid me on her heart and she obeyed by interceding for me.

I thought, "Well that was nice of her." It was nice to be prayed for.

But then something happened on the inside of me. Deep down in my guts. There in the lawn and garden section of Target- where a woman was speaking so loudly on her phone about Kaitlin's Girl Scout troop and what time she needed to be at the birthday party and that Addison loves Barbie so she would just pick one up and put it in a gift bag because that would be easier and save time- I just had a moment of clarity.

God had set all this up. I felt unworthy. Not unworthy…worthless. And as if on cue, my friend who is so in love and in tune with her Heavenly Father, was told to pray for me all the way in Texas and did so.

To be honest- and you're going to be shocked and I know you'd never think this- I thought, "Wouldn't it have been kind of cool if something REALLY serious was going on in my life? Like a fatal disease or a job loss or car accident?"

It would've made a much better story. But it was just a simple illustration of God at work in my life on an otherwise ordinary day. I was having a little bit of a low moment and God used my friend to say, "You're on my mind. Snap out of it."

What did I glean from this extraordinary moment?

Number one, that my self-esteem is not defined by an incident, or what a person thinks or said about me from the past. Duh. "Indeed the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:7.

I know that. But it's good to be reminded sometimes, and it's even better when it's from a friend you know you can count on for some pretty great spiritual mojo.

And number B, how's MY spiritual mojo? Am I spending enough time with God to hear Him when He tells me to do something? Am I missing opportunities to pray for a friend just because God told me to?

The very simple truth is, Sarah and I were both blessed, brought closer together despite our miles apart, and God…our unfailing Father…was glorified.

It doesn't take the parting of the Red Sea to have a moment of sheer amazement at God's presence in our lives.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What's Worked for Us- Fun With Discipline

When I think about discipline in the context of a grown-up, I think of an athlete, a writer, an actor or anyone who relies on their strongly developed skills to achieve their goals.

Discipline in the realm of kid-dom, we usually think of punishment. When we "discipline" our children it usually means there's a privilege lost or a time out involved. But in our house, discipline encompasses so much more. Like an athlete training for a game or a meet, we train our children for life (Proverbs 22:6).

If you've ever heard Randy and/or me talk about disciplining our children, then you can probably quote the following statement from memory because we will say it until Jesus comes: Discipline is easy for our children. It's difficult for us as parents.

That may seem odd at first because it feels like kids have such a hard time falling in line with what you're telling them to do. But the truth is, all they have to do is what I tell them. The hard part is for me to actually follow through on what I tell them to do and what will happen if they don't. They're just looking for the chink in my armor.

How many times have you heard a parent in public tell their child, "If you do that one more time you're going to get a time out. (Pause, child does it again) Caitlin, I'm serious. Do not do that again. You're going to get a time out (child does it again.)" And this goes on and on.

Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." This verse literally means for children to blindly obey their parents. Utter submission. . .as we are to obey Christ, by the way, seeing as how we're his children and all.

A great bit of advice that I got as a young mom was that learning and discipline happens outside of a crisis or a meltdown. We'd love it if the conversation with our 3-year-old went like this:

Child: (On the floor thrashing, wailing, throwing a fit.)
Mom: Sweetie, Mommy needs you to stand up and be a big girl right now and stop acting like this.
Child: (Jumps up, stands up straight, stops crying) What was I thinking? I do apologize, Mother. I'm so sorry for my horrid behavior. I will now go to my room and contemplate my actions and how they have adversely affected your day.

That would actually be kinda creepy. I knew that when my child was having a meltdown, they were not thinking logically or being at all reasonable. They're brains were fixated on one thing- Me! Me! Me! Mine!

So here's one of our tricks that worked for us.

One of those little things that I just could not tolerate was when one of my children did not come or ran away when I called them. It was defiance all the way. So I made up a game to play that would emphasize the importance of coming when I called.

I would sit in the middle of my living room with a little container of mini M&M's and play "Reverse Hide and Seek."

Me: Rachel, we're going to play a game! Mommy is going to sit here while you go hide somewhere. When I call your name, you say "yes ma'am!" and come to me as fast as you can! If you get here fast, then I'll give you an M&M. But if you don't come, or I have to say your name more than once, you won't get an M&M. Got it? (*See the blog post about rules and expectations.) Ready?

Rachel would run off and hide, squealing with glee. She would hide and I would call her name. She would yell "yes ma'am!" and come tearing into the living room and get her prize. She would also test me on the consequences of not coming when I called. No M&M. That was for the birds, so it didn't happen very often.

After playing a few times we'd talk about the importance of obeying Mommy and Daddy. I'd have my Bible handy and we'd quote Ephesians 6:1, the 2-3 year-old version- "Rachel, obey Mommy and Daddy. This is right!"

This was just a fun way to reinforce good behavior. Rachel had a chance to be successful, and at that age it's all about those small victories. When Daddy got home, we'd relive the whole thing and he would get so excited. We'd even show a demonstration. Rachel wanted so desperately to please us. . .still does.

When it came time to test this in a "real world" situation, we would praise the obedience and give consequences for the disobedience (e.g. hellfire would rain down and the wrath of Mommy was blinding). We went over the verse, "Rachel obey Mommy and Daddy. This is right! Ephesians 6:1" (Be sure to say the name and address of the verse, to reinforce that it's from the Bible and God is saying it, not just Mommy and Daddy.)

This game came in real handy when we'd go to McDonald's to eat and play. Before we even got out of the car, we went over the rules (expectations).

Me: When we get into McDonald's we're going to get our food. We are going to sit down and eat our food and after that you can go and play. You are going to put your shoes in a cubby before you play. When Mommy calls your name, you're going to say "yes ma'am" and come to me as soon as you can. When I say it's time to go, there will be no whining or complaining. You will say "yes ma'am" and get your shoes on quickly. Otherwise, we won't come back for a while. Got it?
Kids: Got it!

And usually I would make them repeat it because inevitably somebody was watching a bird or thinking about swords during orientation.

Warning: If all goes well in McDonald's, instead of getting to read that book you brought, you may be spending your time explaining to the other moms how you got your kids to come so quick when you called their name.

I would also give them a countdown (again with the expectations, e.g."You have fifteen minutes!"). Don't debate the time. They'll start to push your buttons. If this happens, leave immediately. This will probably result in a meltdown, but do not lose your cool. You told them what to expect, now follow through on your promise.

Find those opportunities to teach discipline in a really calm environment. It can happen during playtime, mealtime, story time, any time. It creates expectations and kids find such safety and peace when they know what to expect. Then when it comes time to give consequences, and we've had plenty of those, you will have already set a precedent.

But know this- none of this works if you don't stick to what you say. If you tell them what the consequences are, do not flake out or be manipulated. My son will be an attorney when he grows up, I know it. He's the king of how-can-I-get-out-of-this. You must be firm and resolved. It's so tough and will break your heart, but you are saving their little lives.

My kids still say "yes ma'am" when I call their name and it still fills my heart with pride and joy.

And I will sometimes still give them a mini M&M.

You share:
What creative ways or games have you found to practice good behavior outside of a meltdown?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Winning the War of Spiritual Leadership

Written by Randy

A Tactical Strategy
Have you ever noticed that we focus on tactics and not strategy?
No? Well, let me explain…

I spend a lot of time wargaming lately. It could be the fact that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool gamer-geek who has more board games in his closet than he will play this year. It could also have something to do with the fact that I have the pleasure of working with a retired Army Colonel, who is patiently mentoring me into manhood. Either way, I find myself inundated in thoughts of military leadership.

One of the lessons that keeps coming to mind is the difference between tactics and strategy.

Strategy is what those “guys on top” do. It’s the big planning. The major movements. “We need to capture that hill!” “We need to buy a car with better gas mileage.” Those are strategies.

Tactics are those specific things you do to accomplish the strategy. “Circle behind the enemy.” “Get to that rock!” “Read Consumer Reports yearly automotive review!”

However, it takes both strategy AND tactics to win a battle.

You can want that hill all day long, but if you don’t move to get it, it remains in enemy territory. Or, you can be the soldieriest soldier who ever soldiered a charge, but if you run right into the enemies guns, you won’t accomplish what you desire.

As Christians, we get mired in tactics.

We like “to do” items. We like grocery lists. We like the feeling of accomplishment and direction. We are an action-hero society, and our hero needs action!

We pile chore upon chore, and commitment upon commitment. We busy ourselves to our utmost limit, because if we’re busy, we’re doing good, right? We don’t want to be lazy. We don’t want to be less of a husband/wife/parent/son/daughter than that guy over there, right?

So, we busy ourselves with tactics. We add chores to our life. We schedule our calendars to the hour, filling in every ugly open spot. We add rules to our Sabbath.

We forget an important lesson that Jesus taught.

See, there was this really tactical guy…he did it all right. He trained. He planned. He performed. He was on time. He was head of his class. He was first in his platoon. And he asked Jesus “Hey, sergeant, I’ve mastered all the drills, moves, and maneuvers! Which one of those tactics is going to win the most battles?”

And Jesus answered:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-38).

It wasn’t the reply the young man was looking for.

Jesus gave him a strategic answer, not a tactical one. Jesus could have said, “Wash our feet.” Or “Feed my sheep,” or “Shelter the homeless”, “listen to your wife when she talks,” or “discipline your children when they mess up.” All of those are the tactics of love. But instead, Jesus cut to the chase. He talked strategy.

That’s a good plan. When we understand the strategy—I mean REALLY understand it--we can make better choices about our tactics. When we know the goal, then we can improvise as necessary in the steps to reach that goal. When we know God wants us to “love your neighbor as yourself” then we can make a decision to spend as much quality time with our spouse as we do Oprah or Madden.

Tactics appeal to us because they are short, discreet, and easy to understand (if not perform).

But we get lost in tactics when we forget the strategy.

We don’t see the forest because of the bees. (Bees are sting-ey…they DEMAND your attention!)

The Flexical Strategery of Spirtual Leadery

If you Google the phrase “Spiritual Leadership Husband”, it only takes you a couple of hits to see some link where a wife is asking about ways to prod her husband into becoming the spiritual leader of her household. Now, I’m not saying this is wrong! All husbands should get a good prodding now and then by a well-intentioned partner. And husbands have a Biblical mandate to “headship” (Ephesians 5:23, but please, oh please read ALL of that context!)

But look closely how those desperate housewives define “spiritual leadership”. “He should schedule our family devotions every day!” or “He should do more things at church” or “I really wish he would plan the systematic theological training of our family across a fifteen year period.”.

Again, don’t misread me. All of those endeavors are good and right and excellent things. They are fine tactics in their time and place. I’m also “marriage enriched” enough to recognize that when a wife asks for specific things like that, there’s often something deeper that’s missing.

You’re missing strategy.

Headship, spiritually, cannot overlook the importance of strategy. “Love the Lod your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…” As a spiritual leader in your home, do your children think of you and say “ahh…my mom loves Jesus” or “wow…my dad is Godly in all that he does”? Or, do your children say: “oh no…here comes drill instructor again!”

Modeling how to memorize a Bible verse is important. So is holding your children accountable to daily time in God’s word.

But being a strategic spiritual leader means you are always focused on the primary goal of “Love God.” So, every nuance, every interaction—all the things that make up your life—those around you know where your heart is.

It’s how you speak to your spouse when money is tight.

It’s how you make decisions about what to do with a Sunday afternoon.

It’s thirty minutes spent on a science fair project, and an hour at practice with the team, and being the first to sign up for the service project, and what you say about your in-laws after you hang up the phone.

My friend, the Colonel, defines leadership as the “art of influence”, and you know what? He’s spot on.

Spiritual leadership of a family is a constant influence. It’s much harder than a task list, by the way. It’s living in constant love, fear, and obedience of the one true Almighty God who could unmake and forget all about you in a sneeze, if ever were he to desire it. (Note: He’s not going to desire that. )

So, as you plan for your next battle in this spiritual war we wage daily against a world that wants to wear us out and keep us ineffective, keep this in mind:

Tactics without Strategy will often leave you dead halfway up the hill you’re charging.

Strategy without Tactics will result in well-meaning-ness that never will quite inspire your family to grow.

Be both. Be godly.

And lead it like you mean it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ritual

Originally posted in October of 2009, but still very true.

There is a ritual that happens every school morning in our house. There is also routine, but the meaning of the ritual is more significant to me. The routine is the pre-show to the ritual.

Graham gets up first and drags himself into the living room where I let him sit at the coffee table to eat his cereal while he watches cartoons. We have a few moments of snuggling and lamenting about how we wish we could go back to bed. That is followed by me kicking him out of the chair, convincing him that he’s not sick and no I won’t homeschool him. Then finally I wake Rachel up. Her eyes are bleary and she walks into the living room like a zombie with hair every which way. I repeat the routine with her with a bowl of cereal and cartoons. In the meantime, Graham is dressed and ready to go out the door. After Rachel finishes her breakfast, she finally emerges from her room a completely different person than the one she entered as, looking as if she’s stepped right out of a Neutrogena ad.

Graham sometimes rides his skateboard, but half of the time I drive him. I come home from dropping him off only to load Rachel up and begin the trek to the middle school. Sometimes the routine is interrupted by turning around because of a forgotten lunch box, signed form, or homework assignment. But finally each child is where they’re supposed to be and on time.

This is when the ritual begins.

When I walk back in the door, my house is lit up like a Christmas tree. I’m sure you can see it from space. I begin with the hall light next to the kitchen, then the laundry room light, then the kitchen. I fold up cereal boxes and rinse out bowls that should have already been rinsed out. I tie up loaves of bread and 409 the milk that was sloshed on the floor, otherwise it’ll be sticky. I make my way to the kids’ rooms and turn off each of their lights- lamps and overhead lights- and their bathroom light. Then finally the hall light.

The house is quiet and empty, but each room tells a story of what happened that morning. In Rachel’s room, there are books stacked everywhere and clean clothes strewn across the floor because she couldn’t decide what to wear. There are papers with cartoons drawn on them carefully scattered next to her bed. There’s a pencil lying on top of the paper where she dropped it from falling asleep the night before.

In Graham’s room, it’s not much different. Of course there’s laundry everywhere because it takes way too much effort to pick it up and walk the 2 feet to their laundry basket. In one corner there’s soccer gear. In the other corner is skateboard gear. And all over the bed are chord charts for his guitar. There is a phenomenon, however, in Graham’s room. Do you remember in the movie Signs that Abigail Breslyn always left glasses of water everywhere? Graham does that. I don’t know why he can’t finish one before he gets another. Sometimes it’s cups of milk, but he naturally learned his lesson after finding out the science behind it being unrefrigerated.

I will rant and rave about the virtues of keeping things straight…a place for everything and everything in it’s place. There will be no skateboarding or computer until your room is straight. Why is this basket right here? It’s for your backpack to go in, not beside. Don’t you know that corn flakes will dry up and stick to the side of this bowl and it will take a blow torch to get it off?

I sometimes feel like the Army- I do more before 7am than most people do all day. My house and I just roll our eyes and shake our heads and snicker at the mass chaos each morning.

But I will take a deep breath, realize the President isn’t going to visit today, and be thankful to the Lord that the house is full of people that I like.

That’s part of the ritual too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Works For Us- It Keeps Getting Better

In honor of our anniversary today, I asked Randy 10 questions about what makes our marriage tick.

What's the best thing about being married (in general, not just to me)?

Knowing that I always have a friend to share life with. Someone whom I can take care of, and who will take care of me when things are tough. Knowing that there's always someone to listen to my trivial stories, to acknowledge my bad jokes, to surprise with news of new movies and shows, and in general just to share life with--that's awesome.

What's the worst?

As close as we are, knowing how often I disappoint you and let you down. You see me at all my worst times, and after 17 years, you know most of my mistakes even before I make them.

What's the biggest challenge?

Answering 17th Anniversary Surveys.

What do you think makes our marriage work so well?

God. Seriously, I believe the fact that we both respect and seek God, and our commitment to Him...that keeps drawing our commitment to one another closer together.

When you leave your clothes on the floor in the bedroom...actually that's not a question. It's more of an observation. Care to comment?

It's Feng Shui. It balances out the shopping bags and empty Diet Coke cans.

Touché. We've been married for 17 years. Any regrets?

I regret that it's gone by so fast.

Name one all-time favorite memory of being married to me.

That's like saying name your favorite meal. I might be able to narrow down to a favorite food or restauraunt, but the great experiences are too numerous to say just one. The memory that always goes to the front of my mind is just our evenings together, talking and watching TV, or just talking. Hearing you laugh when I pretend the dog is talking.
Oh. Maybe the cookie dance.

Ah, the cookie dance. If you could give one piece of advice to a couple of newlyweds, what would it be?

Find something you love together and do it at least once a week. Other than sex, I mean. Go to a movie. Paint a picture. Do a puzzle. Play a game. Watch a show. Spend your life planting opportunities to interact. As you grow closer together, deepen them.

Why do you think men are so romantically challenged when they know it would go a really long way with their wives? (No, this is not a set-up.)

If I could answer that, I wouldn't be romantically challenged. :) We all see the world through our own eyes, and map our wants, likes, and dislikes to other people. We each assume that our mate works just like we do. A lot of marriage is spent correcting that notion.

With the above in mind, define "romantic". For women, I think it's typically things that require planning and forethought--you want to know that your guy is connecting with you emotionally, and that you are on his mind. It might be as simple as agreeing with something you say, or something as elaborate as leaving a trail of roses through the house.

For guys, "romance" is when you are engaged with him in an activity he loves--and no, I don't just mean physically. I remember those times in our marriage when we've read the same book at the same time, or played a game together. Those moments of selflessness on Carrie's part--sharing experiences, but outside her first preference, that's incredible.

So, when it comes down to it, I think both men and women are romantically challenged. Just like every human on the planet is service-challenged. We are all fairly selfish. Romance--and love--come in to play when we give up some of our time or thought or plans to make someone else feel special.

Wow, you really thought that one through. What are you most looking forward to in the next 17 years of marriage?

Comfort. Not as in luxury, but as in relationship. I think we're just starting to get a lot of life figured out. There is a security in knowing someone so well. There's also a challenge; that we can find a way to keep surprising each other. I'm looking forward to that too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's Worked for Us- Rules for Living...or at least getting you through WalMart

When our kids were babies, Randy and I were taught that kids crave discipline. They thrive on order and that if there are no expectations their world can seem insecure.

I was determined that both of my kids were going to behave when we went out in public, and quickly learned that it was a lot harder work for me than it was for them. Inconvenient even. But this was my goal and I would not be defeated.

So a simple, but effective, method I used was telling them what the rules were. I know, I know. You're stunned. But I surprised myself at how often I expected perfect behavior when I didn't communicate to them what perfect behavior looked like. See if this scenario sounds familiar.

You're in Wal-Mart, one kid in the shopping cart and one kid hanging on to the side. From the moment you hit the door they begin with the only thing in their repertoire, the "Can I have that?" song. It's a song that is sung the entire time you're there and no matter how many times you say "no," they're holding out for that brief moment of insanity when you say "yes."

When stopping to find the ripest bunch of bananas, you turn around only to see precious toddler talking with produce man and the produce man is picking up the apples that precious toddler just knocked all over the floor. Sweet toddler in the buggy begins to wail because precious toddler is now taking bite after bite of the apple and now sweet toddler has to have one.

After another 30 minutes of trying to appease the crying toddler, avoiding a near fatal cart turn-over because of a cookie grab from toddler in buggy, putting back the second row of bread that was obliterated in one foul swoop, and apologizing (again) to the store employee for the broken jar of jelly on the floor because of an over-helpful precious toddler, you swear as God as your witness, that you will only ever do your grocery shopping at midnight. When it's quiet. And all toddlers will be in bed asleep at home with their father. You avoid eye contact with any elderly ladies because you know that look on their face is begging to say "Back in my day..."

We've all been there and these are those moments that make us all laugh when we talk about them, but rarely do we find the humor when we're in the midst of it. So here are a few things that really helped me. Disclaimer: These are not instant fixes. They take work and discipline and time.

1. Simply explain the rules when you pull into the parking lot. I would put the car in park, turn the radio off, make them look me in the eyes and repeat everything I said.

2. Keep the rules simple. Some examples are-
• Do not ask for anything. This was always our number one rule because it was the most annoying to me and the most abused by them.
• Always stay with Mommy. Sometimes they think that staying with Mommy just means that you can "see" Mommy. They always need to be right at your side. Don't expect them to do this unless you're specific about what "stay with Mommy" means. Rachel had it in her mind that just because she could see me, I could see her.
• Do not talk to strangers.
• Do not touch unless Mommy gives you permission. If I had a dime for everything that wound up in my cart at checkout that I had no idea how it got in there...

Tailor your rules to your kids. These were just a few that my kids needed.

3. As I mentioned before, be specific! You can't just say "obey me" and expect them to obey. Give them specific rules. And then be specific about the rules. If one of your rules is "Don't touch," be specific about what not to touch. Give examples and past situations (e.g. "Remember when you stuck your hands in the grapes and squished them in your fingers?")

4. Consequences! This was my son's first word. I'm not kidding. And it is a whole other blog post, but I can't talk about rules and expectations without talking a little about consequences. They are what make a kid's world go round. Just as it's crucial to good behavior to clearly communicate the rules, it's as equally important to explain the consequences of behavior- good or bad. "If you break any of these rules, then you will (fill in the blank)."

5. When you pull into the parking lot, make them tell you what the rules are first.

Mom: Hey, what are the rules we need to remember?
Kid: No asking for stuff.
Mom: Yes! Great job! What else?

And so on. Something fun I used to do is have them throw one or two rules in there that they make up. For instance, "No talking to the bananas" or "Touch your nose on aisle 7." They loved it and every now and then they found a really helpful rule that I didn't think of before.

6. Usually I'm not big on rewards for every good behavior because behaving well is expected. But if they don't expect the reward, then I will reward away! This is still a huge pleasure for Randy and me to do for our kids. I tried not to make it candy, but maybe a bottle of bubbles or some sugarless gum.

7. Go over the rules every time. Again and again and again. And again. I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much better behaved kids are when they know what to expect going in to a situation. Maybe not right at first, but if you follow through with the consequences of breaking the rules no matter how minor the offense was, you'll have a well-behaved child and relative peace during your shopping (or wherever public place you are).

God wants us to obey Him, but doesn't expect us to do things we don't know how to do.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3

It is up to us as parents to shepherd our children towards a Godly life. This means teaching them self-control and to always "in humility, consider others better than ourselves." Philippians 2:3

If my kids are ever having problems behaving, even still, we know we have one of two problems. 1. They don't know or understand the rules, or 2. We haven't been enforcing the consequences.

The payoff for teaching this to my children, the highest compliment, was when I had both of my toddlers in the store, listening along with everyone else to another toddler on the other side of the store having a major meltdown, and an elderly lady put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eyes and said, "Thank you."

And because I had done all this work partly for her I said, "You're welcome."

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's Worked for Us- The Art of the Appeal

A rule that we've always had at our house is no whining. We actually set up this rule even before we had kids. There's no whining. If you come over to our house and whine, well...we wouldn't make you leave, but you'd receive a stern warning.

When we actually had kids, we knew we were probably in for some serious anti-whining training. So we enrolled ourselves in a Bible-based parenting program and learned how to train kids not to whine.

An extremely valuable, and oftentimes very entertaining, method of anti-whining training is the "appeals process".

We believe that the Bible has specific instructions for us on how to ask God for something that we want. There are many verses that talk about what our hearts should desire and how much God wants to bless us.

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."
Ps. 37:4

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything through prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God." Phil. 4:6

These are just a couple. So training our children how to ask for something, instead of whining that they don't have it, not only inspired peace in our home but is teaching them a valuable lesson about their relationship with their Heavenly Father.

1. Toddler stage- We taught them how to say, "May I appeal, please?"
At this stage, we set up the basics of the appeal process. They didn't get the whole concept, they simply learned how to say the phrase and we demonstrated the consequences of invoking the privilege of asking. It usually went like this:

Rachel: Mommy, may I have a cookie.
Mom: No, you may not.
Rachel: Mommy, may I 'peal please?
Mom: Yes! You may! (Showing her how excited I was that she "got it")
Rachel: Mommy, may I have a cookie?

Like I said, they don't get the concept. They're simply learning how to say it and getting into the habit of appealing. If they did appeal, usually, if it wasn't impossible, I would give them what they wanted as a reward for not whining and followed up with a "I like it so much when you ask like that!"

2. Early elementary stage- At this stage, they understand reason more. So after they've asked if they can appeal, only to ask the question the same way again, we began to teach them more of the mechanics of the appeal. It went like this:

Graham: Mommy, can I go out and play with Braden?
Mom: No, you may not.
Graham: May I appeal, please?
Mom: Yes, you may.
Graham: Can I go out and play with Braden?
Mom: Give me three reasons why I should let you go out and play with Braden.
Graham: I've finished all my work, he's asked me to come play basketball, and I really think you're pretty.
Mom: Have fun and be back in an hour.

The object of the appeal is not to beg for what you want, but to seriously plead your case. At this stage, it's more thought out.

3. Later elementary stage (4th-6th grade): Now, this stage came as a surprise to us. A very pleasant surprise. Teaching your kids the appeals process is really hard work and takes some discipline on both parties. For us, this is what teaching our children the appeals process looked like at the later elementary stage:

Graham: Mom and Dad, I would like to invite you to the office for a short presentation.

What followed was nothing short of a business proposal including a well rehearsed speech and an impressive PowerPoint with graphics and charts and eight reasons why Graham should be allowed to have a certain video game.

We were floored. I still have the PowerPoint in fact. I can't remember if we allowed him to have the video game but I do know there was definitely something given that was equally as exciting to him. He'd put a LOT of work into what he made and had really thought out his proposal.

4. Early teen- Now we're rolling. Rachel is now in middle school and it's time to take our skills to the real world. She is learning that grades can be about 90% hard work and about 10% appeal, give or take some percentages.

Grades are very important to Rachel. She took an English test last year and made below an A. She was devastated and we talked it over after school and I told her she needed to talk to her teacher.

The next day, I received an email from her English teacher saying how impressed she was with Rachel. She said that Rachel approached her and said, "Do you have a few minutes? This question here, may I appeal, please?" The teacher wrote me, "After I picked my jaw off the floor, I said 'absolutely' and Rachel made her case." The teacher was so impressed with Rachel's well-thought out appeal that the teacher couldn't argue with her and gave her an A.

Sometimes I believe that God wants to give us stuff that we want, but is just waiting for us to ask the right way and for our hearts to be in the right place. I know that's how I am with my kids. I will say that it's a bit of an ego booster to have another adult be impressed that my kid knows about this "trick". But in the grand scheme of things, I just want them to be full of integrity and know how to communicate with others throughout their lives in such a way that their love for Christ and,in turn,their love for others is so evident.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's Worked for Us- Chore Choices

Ever since Graham was able, it's been his job to empty the trash and line the trash can with a new bag.He never complained about actually having to do it, but there was a complaint or two about how hard it is to get the bag out of the can.

So I had an idea. The next time he went to the grocery store with me I let him pick out the trash bags. He had put a lot of thought into it and chose ones that he thought would be better and easier. Now I know not every kid is going to get excited about trash bags, but he was. Not "I-got-a-new-Xbox-game" excited, but there was a certain sense of ownership to his chore.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's Worked For Us

Randy and I were talking to a friend who is also a parent. The friend complimented us on how great our kids were and said, "You have been really blessed with great kids."

After having been told that a couple of times from other people, I had finally had it. I looked at our friend in the eyes and said, "How those two turned out is not a blessing. They are YEARS of hard work, many tears and a lot of sleepless nights. It's inconvenient and gray hairs and some missed opportunities. It is a commitment and a calling from God that we've failed on many occasions, but take very serious. So a blessing? I wish. It'd be great if they were naturally wonderful children. But,no. They're human and hopelessly flawed and prone to temper tantrums, but we are determined to make them into people who love God first and all that that means and to be productive and diligent contributors to the Gross National Product."

After our friend closed his mouth at my tirade, he was sorry he said anything in the first place. So we began to talk a little bit about our parenting philosophy, some of which we've gotten from the book Growing Kids God's Way, but all of it from God's Word.

We are not experts, certainly, and don't claim to be parenting gurus. We have had our fair share of disasters and have stumbled along the way. But because we've been asked many times about how we get our kids to answer "yes ma'am" and come immediately when we call, we've decided to revamp our blog and take some time to offer a few ideas of what's really worked for us.

More to come.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bullies, Birds, and the Number of Hairs on Your Head

I was sitting in a McDonalds with a friend, chatting and catching up while our young children played in the play area. You know, the tubes that look like they’re made for giant hamsters. We call them “habitrails” for kids.

Now when you have children, God implants a device within moms. It’s amazing and ingenious and I have yet to see it in dads. It’s that natural tuning that allows moms to hear their child’s voice even though they’re in a large room full of other screaming children. We can hone in on our child’s call. It’s all over Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and it just so happens that human mommies have it too.

So there we were, enjoying some adult interaction when all of a sudden I hear it. It’s my then 4-year-old little boy’s cry. I got up to follow the cry and what I saw is forever emblazoned on my brain. There, in the tallest section of the habitrail, is my precious blonde-haired blue eyed baby boy, being pummeled by a slightly bigger boy. Graham is looking down at me with complete terror and confusion.

There are moments in our lives where we feel things that in otherwise normal situations we believe that moral human beings shouldn’t feel. This was one of those moments. I felt enraged and murderous. I fully believe that in that moment I had a lapse in judgment and could not make my brain figure out how to get up the tube to where my son was. I could see the other boy punching him and biting him on the ear, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get to him. I knew, though, that if I did get to the boys I would forever regret my actions. The other boy was not a child to me. He was not someone else’s little boy that was loved and cherished as my son was. He was a threat.

By this time, all of the other moms were abuzz and yelling at the other boy to stop. The kids finally made their way down the tube and my son safely, once again, into my arms.

He was relatively unharmed except for some shell shock. My son barely remembers the incident, (though my daughter remembers it with perfect clarity and is still organizing a mob to take out the punk) and seems completely unaffected.

Flash forward to 5th grade. Randy and I are in France when we get a call from my sister. My son had been clocked in the face by a kid who was apparently having a bad day. My son believed he was playfully teasing the boy, but the boy must have heard it wrong and took offense.

Now remember the part where I’m in France? It’s about 1am for me when all this happens and I seriously felt like I could sprint across the ocean on foot to throttle this other kid. Once again, God is protecting me from myself.

Recently, while on a trip, I overheard Graham telling Rachel that there were some boys talking in the lunchroom about the incident in the 5th grade. They decided it would be fun to punch Graham to see if he’d cry. Every mom bone in my body wanted to throw those boys in jail (and I don’t believe they’re going to need my help with that in the future). I fought back tears and tried to be calm. Randy put his hand on my arm and I quickly got my self-control. The last thing an 11-year-old boy needs is for “mommy” to grab some other boys by the ear and tell them to “leave my baby alone.”

So I prayed. I asked God, “why?” And His response was as clear as a bell. “Step back and cool off. I am making him.” Graham does not live in fear. He’s not afraid of those boys or to go to school. He simply shrugs his shoulders and has a “whatever” attitude.

That I can handle. I really like that about him, in fact. It makes me believe that one day Graham will be a youth pastor or a teacher or simply someone’s mentor and be able to tell them his story. He’s tucking it away as a life experience and something that was just another mark on his currently short timeline.

It is my job to protect my children at all costs, but there are times when I believe I have to step back and let them figure things out on their own. I can’t fight all their battles.

That’s how God is with us, isn’t it? The Almighty, All-Knowing, Creator of the Universe is our bodyguard. He’s our Daddy. But I believe he allows things to happen to us that shape us and form us into His image. And if the pain I feel while being forced to watch my child being subject to a bully, imagine…imagine the pain that our Abba Father feels while his children suffer.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:7

A Parent's Prayer

My Mother-in-Law has A Parent's Prayer framed in her guest room where Randy and I sleep when we're there. It is the best prayer I've ever read that expresses the kind of parent I want to be.

Oh, God, make me a better parent.
Help me to understand my children,
to listen patiently to what they have to say
and to answer all their questions kindly.
Keep me from interrupting them,
talking back to them and contradicting them.
Make me as courteous to them
as I would have them be to me.

Give me the courage to confess my sins
against my children and to ask of them forgiveness,
when I know that I have done them wrong.

May I not vainly hurt the feelings of my children.
Forbid that I should laugh at their mistakes or
resort to shame and ridicule as punishment.

Let me not tempt a child to lie and steal.
So guide me hour by hour that I may demonstrate
by all I say and do that honestly produces happiness.

Reduce, I pray, the meanness in me.
May I cease to nag:
and when I am out of sorts,
help me, O Lord, to hold my tongue.

Blind me to the little errors of my children
and help me to see the good things that they do.
Give me a ready word for honest praise.

Help to treat my children as those of their own age,
but let me not exact of them the judgments
and conventions of adults.
Allow me not to rob them of the opportunity
to wait upon themselves,
to think, to choose, and to make decisions.

Forbid that I should ever punish them
for my self satisfaction.
May I grant them all of their wishes that are
and have the courage always to
withhold a privilege that I know will do them harm.