Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When you don't know how to discipline

My children didn't come with a handbook.
When we left the hospital with Lewis, I remember feeling both flabbergasted that they just send people home with children, while at the same time, thrilled to being doing this 'mommy' thing on my own.  I think God meant us to feel this way...both holding reverent fear of our responsibility while at the same time feeling empowered by it.

But regardless of our feelings, God has given each parent the task of loving their children by instructing, training, and disciplining them.  I don't know about you, but I've felt very clueless about this task from time to time.  It seems like I walked into an unfamiliar dark room, and someone wants me to get to the other side without seriously injuring myself on any furniture.  I feel around and bang my shins on things, correcting my path as I take each step.  But what I need isn't just more guts to keep moving, what I need is some light.

What I've come to realize, is that God provides the light when I ask.  While my children didn't come with a handbook, I have been given the bible, godly mothers who I can ask questions to, and a wealth of information about biblical parenting online and in books.  It's not like there aren't any instructions anywhere, and God wants to give wisdom generously to those who ask in faith.  When we commit our ways to Him, He does give us the knowledge and instruction we need.

Along the way, I've encountered countless 'issues' with our children that I wasn't sure how to handle, and here are some things that have helped me move away from my tendency to be passive:

Act.  Learn.  Adapt.
I know I heard this phrase somewhere in reference to productivity strategies, but none the less, it applies to parenting as well.  I can't help my children correct their heart issues by doing nothing.  Most of the time, I just need to try the things I already know and see how they work.  If it's going terribly, I learn from it and try something new.  My first parenting strategy isn't my last parenting strategy, and I think it's better to change course than to let our children continue in sin and foolishness.  We went a long time without correcting one of our children for throwing food on the floor at each meal, and it was because we were so paralyzed by insecurity.  But amazingly, once we just starting trying out strategies, it stopped completely.  Imagine that!

Ask Someone
Here is something to remember...almost NO ONE feels confident in their parenting when they are starting out.  I remind myself of this when I'm just totally baffled at what to do next to train and discipline my children.  It's good to recognize our inability, but then we need to rely on God and get wisdom.  Before Lewis was a toddler, I sat down with a godly and experienced mom from my church and received a "Training and Correction 101" lesson from her during nap time.  Even though very little of it made sense at the time (because I still had a baby), the seeds she planted are still bearing fruit in my parenting.  At least once a week I'll remember something she mentioned to me about training up children, and it helps me correct my mothering mishaps.  I've done this for specific parenting issues as well like, "How do I keep my child from rolling away during diaper changes?".  When in doubt, ask someone you respect!

Don't ever underestimate or disregard prayer when your child is in the middle of a major issue.  One of our littles likes to throw himself prostrate on the ground and throw tantrums over anything that doesn't include getting his way.  When this first started happening, I was so shocked by it that I just held him or put my hand on him and prayed while it happened.  I didn't know how to handle it practically, so I just prayed that God would calm his heart, give him a desire to submit to authority, and give me wisdom in the situation.  Less than a week later, I ran across a very practical, biblical, and helpful article about how to handle temper tantrums.  God answered my prayer and gave me the insight I needed to deal with the situation in confidence of my authority as his mother.  I can't tell you the number of times God has provided me practical wisdom as I've asked for it!

Read scripture and do what it says
God provides such amazing and practical help all over the bible.  And although he doesn't give a handbook for each individual child, he does lay out many helpful principles like:  parents are the rightful authority over children, parents need to teach their children to obey, parents need to train their children to know and love God, parents need to instruct their children in good doctrine and truth...etc. etc.  There are lots of helpful arrows to point us down the right path of parenting.  The reality is, sometimes I just don't like those arrows.  They require me to sacrifice a lot of what I want to do, they force me out of laziness, and they take hard work and planning.  Intentional and godly parenting is not something that happens passively.  Often times, when I'm not sure how to discipline my child it's not because I literally don't know what's right, it's because I don't want to obey scripture.

Pay attention to my husband's leading
My husband doesn't tolerate as much disobedience as I do.  He has a more 'nip it' before it gets worse approach, and that's probably good.  I let things go on too long in the name of 'patience', and then behaviors become major discipline issues instead of small course corrections.  Often times, my husband sees things that I don't, because he can view our children a bit more objectively.  As hard as it is to hear it, my husband is often right when it comes to behavior issues and how to correct them.  He usually has a loving and firm approach that I need to adopt.

Remove distractions
Sometimes confusion about discipline stems from the fact that I'm distracted, and let other priorities cloud my calling as a mother.  I haven't been consistent, or I've been overcommitted, or I've just been lazy.  When I'm in this place, it's not that I need better parenting strategies, but that I need to repent to God and to my children (which I've done numerous times).   Then it's time to do whatever I need to do to make this responsibility a priority again.  Sometimes that means I say no to fun invitations and other times that means keeping the TV or computer off all day.

Just keep going - Remember the goal
The thing I always have to go back to is my goal.  One of the reasons my husband and I wanted children, was because of the potential for eternal investment.  Being a faithful and godly parent is something that reaps rewards.  We aren't promised that our children will become Christians, but there is treasure stored up in heaven for parents who humbly and faithfully raise their children in the way of the Lord.  Parents that teach their children to obey allow their children to be blessed.  Parents who train their children to submit to rightful authorities and be good workers usually get to enjoy a healthy relationship with a thriving adult child.  Again, this isn't a perfect input = output relationship, but the bible shows that much good fruit can result from raising our children well.  This is an investment worth making, even if it costs us a lot!

There is no magic bullet for how to discipline every child.  They are all different!  But over the last 2.5 years, I have noticed that overall, certain techniques do seem to work better than others...but every biblical parenting 'expert' would agree that you must do SOMETHING to teach your children obedience and self-control at a young age.  So we mustn't be paralyzed by the dark room we are trudging through, but instead cry out for God to shed some light on the situation...which He is very faithful to do.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

4 Things to be Thankful for in the Midst of Sickness

There is weariness I've experienced this season, because it seems like every other week since September, someone has been sick in our house.  This is mostly due to the fact that we have 3 very young children, 2 of which have yet to understand the concept of keeping their hands out of their mouth.  Not to mention, keeping things from passing around our own family is extremely difficult.  Gabe and Cal share everything, and even when I'm super intentional about keeping cups and pacis straight, they will just swap behind my back.  Sickness is just going to happen.  There is no way around it.

The hardest thing about sickness, however, is my own heart.  When myself, my husband, or my kids are sick, it's really easy for me to moan and groan.  It's one area where the discomfort and stress overwhelm me, and most of my thoughts turn to complaining instead of praise.  This is frustrating, because deep down, I want to be able to approach each life circumstance with a spirit of thanksgiving and humble acceptance of God's sovereign plan.  So I'm sharing these reasons today, because I need to hear them.  I need to be reminded that there are reasons to praise in the midst of throw up, dozens of dirty diapers, runny noses, and fevers.  And being that we are getting ready to go into family settings where germs are bound to be passed, I need to get my heart ready to joyfully endure whatever comes our way.

Here are a few lessons I'm trying to take to heart in the midst of this never-ending-ridiculously-cold-sickly-winter:
1.  I'm thankful that we are healthy most of the time.
When I (or my husband or my kids) feels sick, it's the worst...we boo hoo about it, but honestly, when someone is throwing up again, all I have to do is remind myself that it is going to pass.  Then I sit and think, "what if this was our 'normal' everyday life due to a medical problem or treatment?"  I wonder, "what would life be like if one of our children had an ongoing illness, and not just a virus?"  These short bouts of sickness really do remind me to be VERY thankful that some stomach bugs and low fevers are all we have to worry about.  There are much worse and life altering medical issues we could be dealing with.

2.  I'm thankful that God made our bodies to heal themselves.
In my opinion, throwing up is one of the worst physical feelings....maybe second only to labor pains.  Not to speak of the discomfort that comes from chills, fevers or body aches.  But honestly, they serve a great purpose.  God did a miraculous job creating our immune systems to know how to fight off normal illnesses successfully.  If he didn't make our bodies in a way that caused us to throw up when we got sick, they might be overcome by the virus.  He is a God of restoration, and although it's sometimes uncomfortable, I'm thankful that usually, our bodies DO restore themselves instead of giving over to death.

3.  I'm thankful for the reminder that I'm not in control.
You know what happens when I'm feeling sick?  Nothing.  I'm weak, powerless, and stuck in bed.  I tend to think I'm pretty put together and self-sufficient, but all it takes is a few measly germs to totally hinder my ability to even complete simple tasks.  We are so fragile, and it's amazing that for as 'in control' as we think we are, all of our plans can be instantly affected by illness.  And although we can support our body in it's healing, we are powerless to just 'end' our own suffering.  What a good reminder that God is sovereign, and only because of his grace are we able to function day after day.

4.  I'm thankful that sickness will not exist for believers in eternity.
The bible says that someday, His children will experience no more sickness, death, or pain.  So illness might be dominating now, but after this life, that will NEVER happen again for all of eternity.  I am reminded that on this Earth where sin and death exist, my body is in a constant state of decay.  But because I have faith in Christ, this will not always be, and someday I will experience final restoration.  Praise God!

It's pretty hard to feel thankful when sickness is hanging around, but the bible compels me to...
  • "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18
  • "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good..." Psalm 107:1
  • "...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father..." Ephesians 5:20
There are a TON of verses spurring us on towards an attitude of thanksgiving in all things.  I don't know about you, but I'm a poster-child for wanting God to just release me from tough circumstances instead of trusting his purposes in the midst of them.  So this winter, I'm learning to say, "Thank you God for how you reveal your glory in sickness, please achieve your purposes in and through even this."  Amen!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Technology and the Glory of God: Some thoughts & takeaways

Recently, Brad and I had the opportunity to attend a one day seminar on "Technology and the Glory of God" with Matt Perman and Tim Challies.  I'll admit that I'd been looking forward to this from the moment it popped into my email inbox.  Partially because I greatly admire both of the speakers (and could barely believe they were coming to a church within walking distance of my house), but also because the topic of technology has stirred up so many questions in my heart over the last couple of years.  So without further ado, here are some thoughts and takeaways from the day:

Do I have a plan and a system for my life?
Sometimes qualities like "productivity" and "efficiency" can seem like they are in opposition to God's great commission for us to love others and make disciples, but according to Matt Perman, that really isn't the case.  It is by and through prayerful planning, developing systems for managing tasks, and working to create good habits, that we are most effective at loving our neighbor to God's glory.  This is a freeing and exciting shift in thinking, and makes me even more motivated to leave this mentality of "survival" that I often live in.  Most of my days are spent taking care of the urgent and important needs of others, like changing diapers, making meals, putting on clothes, etc.  It can seem impossible to take care of things that are important but not urgent, like ironing my husband's shirts, developing a love of reading with my children, and training them to do important life skills.  I know it is possible and necessary for me to (by God's power and grace) take care of these non-urgent needs as well, and that starts with having a system for how I manage my home and my day.  Any good manager has a plan, so why should a homemaker, wife and mom be any exception?  Running my home without a plan and strategy is foolish, and will cause me to spend my life in reactionary mode.

How do I handle the distractions of technology?
Specifically, how do I handle the devices in our home (and on my person) which can cause distraction and information paralysis?  Do I have a strategy and accountability to keep my iphone from becoming my igod?  If my first reaction is to always check social media or repetitively check email all day, is that really an effective way to interact with technology?  And how is that impacting my ability to manage my home?  Maybe the distractions and pull of social media and online connection is some of what distracts from my ability to take care of these non-urgent but important responsibilities I have as a wife and mom.

Do I actively think about how I can use technology for God's glory?
Am I prayerful about what I post?  Have I evaluated some of the risks and pitfalls of my social media and internet usage?  Do I know my own weaknesses and do I fervently guard against those sins?  It is easy to just passively use Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, etc. and not really think critically about how they might impact others.  Technology is not bad in and of itself, it's just a tool.  And more and more, I want to harness and use that tool for redemptive purposes, to do good to others and share the gospel.  Some days that might involve sharing a snippet of my quiet time, other days it might mean staying silent when I feel the temptation to boast, and other days it might mean showing the daily life of our family.  Overall, I want to be more thoughtful and generous in doing good to others through the use of technology, instead of letting it just be neutral or viewing it as a bad thing.

Where is God leading me to be more "authentic" and what does that look like?
"What does authenticity online look like?"  Tim Challies responded by making two points that I will attempt to summarize (to my understanding):
  • We can't be completely transparent all the time and use social media to publicly report every sin.  If we didn't polish anything, no one would pay any attention.  Ultimately, people don't want to hear about every negative detail.  So it's not really right to think, "I want to influence people by sharing all of my 'real' sin moments."  If we did, we would have zero influence and little credibility to share truth.  
  • On the other hand, we need to be cautious that we aren't fueling this mentality of "jealousy" and perfection.  There does need to be prayerful authenticity where it is appropriate.  Our purposes in posting things shouldn't be to fuel our own good self-image, but to share things that are helpful and loving to others. 
Obviously this plays out in different ways for each person, but it really made me think about evaluating my heart in my social media usage.  How can I hold back in some of the moments where I just want more 'likes', and share more when I am tempted to hide my faults?  But on the other hand, how can I encourage others by sharing my victories in a way that brings God praise and glory?  As I think about the Christians whose lives I find most encouraging (who genuinely make me want to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ), I observe that they are humbly aware of their sin without glamorizing their failures in an effort to appear humble...which is an important distinction.  

What plan do we have to guard our children from the pitfalls of technology, and am I willing to hold myself to similar standards?
Tim Challies laid out an excellent and simple plan for guarding children and discipling them in the use of technology.  He specifically focused on the issue of pornography, but I think it applies across the board of unhealthy behavior online.  He shared that one reason it was hard to introduce it into their family was because it sort of pushed on everyone's desire for comfort, especially for them as a married couple.  Tim and his wife were willing to impose some accountability and restrictions on their own technology usage as a model to teach and train their children.  What strikes me about this, is that I often want to teach my children things without having any accountability myself.  For instance, I want to be able to check my cell phone all day, be glued to social media / Pinterest / blogs, waste time online AND at the same time I want to tell my toddler that he needs to learn self-control with screen time.  The most convicting thought of the whole night for me:

I need to, by God's grace, develop healthy habits and self-control in the area of technology.  
This isn't just a concern for my children, this is an issue in my life.  

I want to harness the power of technology in the digital age to further the great commission.
I want to find creative ways to love others through the use of technology.
I want to help spread the gospel to places I never could have reached before technology.
I want to be a witness to unbelievers through this blog and social media, when I would otherwise have no outlet to communicate deeply.
And through repentance, a closeness with God, and prayer - these things are possible!  

What concerns do you have about technology in your life or in the lives of your children?

Read More:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One Year with Gabe & Cal

The time has come, Gabe and Cal will be one year old on Friday!  In some ways, I feel as if I've been counting down for this moment since the first twin mom told me, "The first year is hardest, then it gets much easier."  (and we heard this from many twin parents we talked to)  As I look back on the last 12 months, I see a lot of pouring out, exhaustion, and helplessness, but also a tremendous amount of God's gracious provision.  Although this has been one of the most tiring and challenging seasons of my life, it has also been one of the most transformative experiences, causing me to enjoy a nearness with God that I didn't have before.  So here is a small collection of memories that will probably forever be etched on my heart...and I say small, because everything else is just a blur!

I remember watching them in NICU, and having the strangest sense of concern and peace all at once.  Here were my tiny babies, hooked up to all types of monitoring devices, some that would alarm when they readjusted.  It was a little intimidating to hold them, and I almost felt like I wasn't their mom because we didn't get the traditional bonding experience.  Sure, I showed up to give them bottles, I held them, and I heard all of the reports; but I felt like a visitor at times.  It was unreal that these two babies were going to come home with us.  The milestones each day were so small and victorious.  There were days when I wondered if we would ever leave the hospital or if they would ever drink more than a few milliliters from a bottle without needing support from the feeding tube.  Brad and I slept in a small hospital room and hardly saw Lewis for 8 days.  In hindsight, this situation makes me feel overwhelmed with a flood of emotions,  but in the moment I was full of supernatural peace from the Lord.  I don't remember having anxiety or even crying for that matter.  In those days, God sustained me in ways that I can't explain.

I remember missing Lewis so much.  Having the babies at home was so demanding of my time and attention, not to mention the fact that I was pumping for 30-45 minutes after each feeding.  I felt like I didn't know him anymore for a while, and I wondered if he would ever forgive me.  This was one of the most difficult parts of becoming a mother to twins, and I wasn't even expecting it.  No one told me how much those first months would consume every moment, and make it hard to spend quality time with my other child.  But God so graciously gave me back that time.  When things got easier with Gabe and Cal, I was able to spend more intentional time with Lewis, and missing those months caused me to treasure him more.  I still feel bummed that I can't remember much about him from 16-18 months, although I know he will never really know!

I remember feeling like I spent some afternoons playing whack-a-mole.  Gabe and Cal were in that 'new baby' phase of fussing and crying, just wanting to be held.  I remember the helpless sensation of picking up one who was crying, only to have the other one start bawling.  I would just trade back and forth for ten or fifteen minutes, bouncing and bouncing until both eventually stopped.  All the while, I was trying to keep Lewis from destroying other areas of the house or getting into things that he wasn't supposed to.  There was one point where he learned to climb on chairs, and I remember thinking that things escalated to a new level.  One afternoon I was walking around pumping, holding a baby, listening to another baby crying while Lewis was dangerously standing on a chair in the kitchen.  It was snowing outside, and as soon as everyone was safe I rushed to my room and shut the door.  In tears I just told God, "I can't do this."  I remember desperately needing his strength to even leave my bedroom and get off my knees.  That day, for the first time, all of the children napped at the same time for a couple of hours.  I cleaned the whole house, and for a few moments felt like life would eventually be normal again...that things wouldn't always feel so out of control.  And I knew God had listened to my prayer and that he was providing me the strength and hope I needed to keep going.

I remember sitting down to lunch with a godly twin mom, well on the other side of babies, encouraging me to come back to life.  I thankfully wasn't struggling with postpartum depression, but my hormones had gone through a lot of changes and I wasn't' getting much sleep.  I felt pretty disconnected from people, especially my friends, and I needed to be reminded that it was normal.  I needed to hear that it's just a season, but that I also had a choice on how to handle my circumstances.  One of the best things she encouraged me to do was to fight for time with the Lord.  Because it's okay to have transitional times when it's hard to meet with Him, but it's not okay to stay there forever.  When I went back to bible study and started having real quiet times again, I remember there being a shift in my heart.  It was so nourishing and critical for me to lean on the Lord, and on the mornings when I prayed, studied, and meditated on scripture my days were vastly different than when I ran on my own strength (or what little I had).  Sometime in the spring I remember drawing a line in the sand, and just saying out loud, "There is nothing more important in my life than my relationship with God." 

I remember feeling strange each time someone said, "I don't know how you do it."  Because the truth was, I didn't know how I was doing it either.  I often tried to explain to people how I had tons and tons of help, how our families live in town and have flexible schedules, how my husband is beyond supportive and involved, how our church family loves on us, and how God just shows up each moment and gives me strength.  I often explain that it was like trail by fire.  Those babies were born and suddenly I had to figure out how to be a mom to three kids 15 months and younger.  I was only able to do it by God's grace and wisdom.  Along the way I prayed about how to do things better and differently, and then I made changes.  I keep my house differently than I did a year ago.  I cook differently than I did a year ago.  I manage schedules differently than I did a year ago.  I wake up at a different time than I did a year ago.  I suppose it looks impossible on the outside because it is, but God has given me every bit of practical wisdom and insight I've needed along the way, along with support from others.  I don't 'have it all together'...we are learning as we go around here!

But the biggest thing I'll remember from this year isn't the trail of babies crawling down the hallway to get into something, or the howls of laughter when they tease each other, or even watching them steal toys from each other in the cutest way possible; it's the way God used this challenging year to make me enjoy Him more.

This was the year I realized I needed to spend time with God before getting very far into any other task for the day.
This was the year I learned that I must lay down my pride and accept help.
This was the year I understood that God WILL provide for my needs.
This was the year I opened my hands to God's plan for our family, instead of trying to 'protect myself' from what I considered to be too hard.
I value the grace of Jesus more than I did a year ago, because God gave me circumstances I never would have asked for on my own.

This has been one of the most joyful and exhausting years of my life so far!  (And I can only imagine what lies ahead as they start walking and talking...)

Happy First Birthday Gabe & Cal!