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.