Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gospel-Centered Mom: A Review + A GIVEAWAY!

the gospel-centered mom (from the jensens blog)

How can I give God more glory as a mom?
Maybe you've asked this question before, or maybe you've asked a different question on this list:

"How can I love my kids more?  How can I love God more?  How can I be more selfless?  How can I be a better wife?  How can I keep godly priorities?"  

These are some of the things that consume my mind, day in and day out, and the questions that drive many of my efforts to change.  At the heart of our longings, moms want to know, "...where can I find the strength to care for all these little hearts and bodies with perfect patience and love?" 

Can you relate? 
Are you feeling overwhelmed with your various roles, not only because of their daily challenges but because you are burdened by the desire to handle those challenges well?  If you have been made new in Christ, then your heart does long to honor God in all of your actions, which can actually start to feel like a heavy burden.  But as Sara Wallace explains in her new study, there is an answer to this struggling and striving (and it doesn't require us to 'do more' for God).

"The gospel-centered mom looks to Christ first.  The Gospel is our anchor; our foundation; our lens for our world of diapers, burned dinners, and mommy break-downs.  We have a monumental task ahead of us, but we have an even greater Savior."   

From this lens, Sara goes on to explain what the gospel is, and how it should impact our hearts in our calling as moms.  

What is The Gospel-Centered Mom Study?
For some time now, I've followed Sara Wallace's writing on her blog, "The Gospel-Centered Mom."  Maybe you've read some of her writing, especially her "What to do with Santa?" post that went viral before Christmas.  I love her heart to proclaim the goodness of grace, making application for women in the thick of cheerios and diapers.  Sara's writing is authentic and venerable, but not just so that you can laugh alongside her exciting life with four boys.  Her ultimate goal is to point other moms to the gospel, and to help us see how it frees us to enjoy God and fulfill His purposes for our lives.  So when I had an opportunity to look over this study, I jumped at the chance.  I'm totally on board with her mission and think she is gifted by God to relate biblical truth to tired, weary moms!

What is this study like?:
  • The book consists of 14 chapters, each with a small set of study questions at the end.
  • Each chapter is just a handful of easy-to-read pages, packed full of real life examples and biblical truths.
  • This could be completed easily on your own during a devotional time, or it would make a wonderful discussion starter in a small group of other moms.
  • Sara provides enough scriptures to help you stand on truth, without overwhelming you with passages to spend hours researching.  This is very accessible for busy moms!
the gospel-centered mom (from the jensens blog)

Some big takeaways:
First of all, I'm grateful for how simply and clearly this book spells out gospel application for motherhood.  I've read several books before which have attempted to make this connection, but until I did this study, it never really 'clicked' for me.  I have a feeling I will look back months and years from now, and still reference this book as a turning-point for me in parenting.

Here were some of my favorite lessons:
  1. I need to stop using my mommy grading chart:  I have a standard in my mind for 'the perfect mom' which is mostly made up of cultural ideals and personal preferences.  Each day, I grade myself based on this standard.  If I've done well (fed my kids healthy food, haven't let them watch too much TV, haven't lost my patience with anyone, enjoyed some 'fun' time with the kids) then I give myself a good grade and I feel awesome about myself.  If I've done poorly (grabbed nuggets at the drive thru, let them watch Doc McStuffins re-runs, ignored them for social media, and neglected to keep the house organized) then I feel guilt and shame.  I make sure to 'punish' myself in some way; either through negative self-talk, condemnation, or running to a false idol for comfort (think - eating huge handfuls of m&m's).  This study helped me identify that habit, and name it as a wrong way to view myself as a person and a mom.  God is not a mean teacher, looking at my good and bad for the day, waiting to give me a grade.  He is a loving, merciful father who always sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  I'm no longer under the law, and each day I am seen through the perfect lens of Jesus.  
  2. I need to fill my mind with truth, and rehearse the gospel:  It's really hard to believe the gospel and apply it if you don't know it very well.  It's also difficult to experience the joy, peace, strength, and help that God gives in His word when I'm not connected to it.  God doesn't want me to do this 'motherhood' thing alone.  He wants me to trust Him, come to Him, talk to Him, rely on Him, and live like I am a true daughter (and co-heir with Christ).  The only way out of this mommy-grading chart cycle is to look at Jesus himself, be connected to the vine daily, and be grateful for the incredible grace I've already been given that can't be lost.
  3. I need to come alongside my children as fellow sinners:  Perhaps the most helpful thing I received from reading this book was a better understanding of the gospel's application to discipline.  
    • The gospel applied to discipline means that I expect my children to be un-regenerate sinners in need of grace (which removes the need for me to be angry with them or shocked at their behavior).  
    • The gospel applied to discipline means that I am a fellow sinner, sharing our great inability to do what is right before a perfect and righteous God.  
    • The gospel applied to discipline means that I can explain with an understanding spirit what it means to confess sin and trust in the sacrifice of Christ.  
    • The gospel applied to discipline means that I can give my children the hope of new life, not based on what they will do to 'be better' or reform themselves, but based on becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus.
At the end of this book, my heart beats alongside Sara's:
"Let's be frequent, willing recipients of gospel grace so we can be generous givers of it to our children."

Because a TRUE understanding of the gospel will change us, and it can help us live out our desire; to bring glory to God in ALL THINGS, even the crazy season of motherhood.

Giveaway!
Thanks to Sara Wallace from The Gospel-Centered Mom, I'll be giving away a FREE COPY of the Gospel-Centered Mom AND I'm throwing in a $10 gift card to Starbucks (just because - you probably need a break to go read somewhere in peace).  
the gospel-centered mom (from the jensens blog)


To Enter:
Basically you can have a total of 4 entries - Comment (here or at the FB page), FB page like, Twitter follow, Social Media share :-) Just make sure you tell me what you do, even if it's all in one comment....this is my first Giveaway and I'm testing the waters!

The giveaway will end on FRIDAY, MAY 1ST, 2015.  This giveaway is open to US residents only.
I will announce / contact the winner on MONDAY, MAY 4TH, 2015.


And even if you don't win, please consider picking up your own copy and using it as a personal or group study!!



Friday, April 17, 2015

Lies in Disguise - "Good moms have happy kids"

Lies in Disguise - Good moms have happy kids [from the jensens blog]

I've seen this quote about 100 times, and 99 times, I've just let it slide.  I mean, who wants to be known as the stuffy mom who yells at her kids for spilling milk and making a mess?  Who wants to be compared to museum moms of the 1950's, who (we hear) were strict with children about not touching vases or sitting on couches.  Not I!  But I wonder if this "dirty floors and happy kids" message isn't really the truth that moms need to hear either.

Why it sounds good
From the moment your little newborn cries for the first time, everything in you as a mother wants to comfort them.  They grow a little older, and you do everything in your power to dry their tears; pacifiers, white noise machines, rocking chairs, bouncing, bottles, nursing sessions - whatever it takes to show them they are loved and cared for.  And this is good.  There is a crucial season of a child's development which requires parents to soothe, dote on, and respond vigilantly to their child's perceived discomforts.  It's easy to get into this groove, and not really realize where the stage ends - and suddenly you forget that it's more important to care about what it means to love them in the long-term (which doesn't always include quenching a child's immediate cravings).

Here is the picture this quote paints:
The kids have been playing with their toys all day.  They are having a blast - laughing and giggling together.  Many projects and fun moments have been tackled.  Mom is right in the mix of things.  She loves playing and being with her kids more than anything else, and if that means leaving cleaning until later, so be it!  It's all about being available for her kids every minute of the day, to make memories with them and laughing.  Mom is all about the kids.  The kids love her for making them happy.  All is well.  You are a good mom.

Who doesn't want this?  Messy floors and happy kids...

Why it's a lie
Can I just assert for a moment, that there is NO command in the bible which makes us personally responsible for our child's happiness?
  • We are responsible for training our children in the ways of the Lord.
  • We are responsible for teaching our children God's word.
  • We are responsible for holding our children accountable for their obedience to us.
  • We are responsible for providing for their needs.
  • We are responsible for teaching them the difference between wisdom and foolishness, and for protecting them from foolishness.
  • We are responsible for loving them (the biblical way of loving, which Jesus modeled for us)
  • We are not responsible for making sure our children are entertained.
  • We are not responsible for preventing our children from experiencing boredom.
  • We are not responsible for giving our children everything they want.
  • We are not responsible for dropping everything we need to do in order to let the world revolve around them.
  • We are not responsible for making them 'feel' happy.
In fact, I would assert that moms who are pre-occupied with "happiness" as their end goal of parenting have some of the LEAST happy children out there.  Because a mom who makes it her primary mission to show her kids a good time, enables them to not learn how to find contentment and joy on their own - born out of tough circumstances and relying on God.  A mom who says, "my kids have to be happy for me to be a good mom" is putting a burden on her shoulders that wasn't put there by God and can't be done.

Moms, have you ever tried to make your kids happy?  Because I often try.  Every time I have just given my toddlers what they want - because I want to turn whining into laughing, crying into fun memories, and tantrums into high fives - my children just need more from me.  They are a bottomless pit of wants, and I can never do enough to satisfy them.
One cracker turns into, "and a cookie too please"
One extra minute on my phone turns into, "no, ipad too!"
One begging, pick-me-up moment becomes, "waaa! don't put me down!"

Trying to fill a child's desire for being happy and comfortable is impossible.

And besides the fact that we aren't responsible for our children's happiness, I wonder if the pendulum isn't swinging to from the 1950's extreme of "perfect homes and strict mean mommies" to "sloppy homes and run-ragged child-centered mommies".  Is this quote helping us become industrious women who find a biblical balance between keeping up with our homemaking responsibilities AND caring for the hearts of our children?

Why it matters:
Moms living by the mantra of, "all for the sake of happy kids" are at risk for neglecting important and crucial lessons that children need to learn.  Moms who are ignoring other important tasks and relationships to focus their all on their children are creating a false world-view for their kids that will be detrimental later in life.

Because it's possible that the mom who leaves a mess on the floor all the time because she doesn't want to impede her children's play is sending the unspoken message:

  • You are in charge around here.
  • This house revolves around you.
  • Having an orderly and sanitary environment isn't as important as having fun.
  • Mom doesn't care about dad's disdain for messy floors, she just wants her kids to be happy.
  • Guests just need to deal with our environment - it's about them adapting to us, not us serving them.
  • It's not that important for us to take care of the home and material possessions God gave us.

Children need to see that mom loves them, that she is present and available, that she is loving and nurturing, and that she values her relationship with them more than a clean house...
BUT
Children also need to see that mom works hard, has boundaries, expectations, standards, other responsibilities, and keeping her home in order is one of those things.

Probably the biggest issue with this "good moms have happy kids" mentality is that "happy kids" (who have been given every want and whim) will likely have a hard time grasping the gospel and recognizing their need to depend on God.
  • A child whose parent is meeting their every need will have a hard time seeing need for Jesus.
  • A child whose parent is bending over backwards and letting everything else slide to see their child 'happy' will likely think that the world is self-centered instead of God centered.
  • A child whose parents never allow them to be bored, discouraged, frustrated, unhappy, or dissatisfied, will have a hard time seeing their sin and need for a greater satisfaction found in God.
Lest you think I'm harsh and I want us all to have unhappy little children and pristine houses, let me reassure you that is NOT the case.  I want my children to be happy just as much as any other mom, but I don't think happiness is something I can give them.  I want them to experience some uncomfortable moments for the sake of being humbled before God, at which point I pray they can trust Christ and find true joy.

Because joy isn't based on circumstances.  And I want to have joyful content children, even if it means sometimes I can't play with them because I need to mop the floor.  And if I'm going to have messy floors, let it not be because I was striving for happy children, but because I was busy training them in the ways of the Lord.

p.s.  If you in fact have pinned this quote or have it on a plaque in your house, you don't need to take it down on my behalf.  I get that the heart of it is just to say, "sometimes it's more important to be with your children than it is to clean your house".  And that's true at times.  The meaning of this series is simply to deconstruct widely accepted cultural norms, sayings, and standards and view them critically in light of God's word - not to spoil all the fun in Hobby Lobby display plaques.  :-)  so quote in peace.

-------------------------


Lies in Disguise is a series geared towards identifying unbiblical teaching and thinking, subtly infused into our day-to-day lives.  The hope is to encourage others to filter and discern all things through the truth of the bible. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Heart Changes and Practical Habits for the Home Manager

Heart changes and habits for the home manager [from the jensens blog]
The heart stuff
About the only things that remain constant in our lives right now are busyness and change.  Accepting these realities has helped, as we slowly adapt our lifestyle to work well for 4 very young children.  There are challenges, but through prayer, reading, counsel and conversation with other moms, I'm encouraged that life doesn't have to always feel like drowning in 'things to do'.  God can and does provide the help, support and strength needed to fight the daily battles, small and large.  When I lean on His power and spirit, it's not that each challenge disappears, but I can handle it with more joy and perspective.  I'm continually encouraged that God offers practical wisdom for home management as I seek Him in my weaknesses...and I have a lot of them (let's face it, I'm pretty much clueless when it comes to running a household for 5, going on 6, people).

Here is another constant -
Regardless of how 'put together' I get our lifestyle, I still have to tweak, change, and re-think everything every few months.  Our kids grow and their needs change.  Our activities ebb and flow.  We go through seasons of illness, being indoors non-stop, to seasons of sunshine and playing for hours in the backyard.  I've noticed that I'm not going to find a full-proof plan for organization and home management, but instead it's important to just remain disciplined but flexible.  Having a flexible heart - one that EXPECTS change and a need to refine the system - has really helped me come to terms with always feeling like I can't quite stay on top of our lives.

And here is the truth - 
My hope cannot be found in the perfect management solution to a busy life.  Because no matter how organized I get, how clean our floors are, or how well I communicate the schedule to my husband - this is not going to satisfy.  When I make an idol out of homemaking and worship perfect systems, and I trust those systems to keep me feeling 'peaceful and happy', they make me a slave.  I'm suddenly tossed too and fro by how well I've adhered to my own system of rules, and I proportionately despair or rejoice according to my performance.  The only thing I can rest my identity in is Christ, and I need to constantly remind myself that my peace and joy depends on a faithful, enduring God.

With that being established, I do still enjoy working out the kinks in our home management system, mostly because I think diligence in this area is a way to show Christ's love my husband and children.  It also frees me of some obstacles and burdens that can cause me to feel so overwhelmed that I can't look or think beyond my immediate needs and frustrations.  

Good organization and time management frees the manager to focus on the people instead of the systems...and this is something I want to experience in our home!

The practical stuff
So here are some practical things that have helped me manage our home well in this busy season of life:
  • The daily discipline of maintenance cleaning:  
    • Each day I have very basic maintenance tasks that I really try to stay on top of, like loading / unloading the dishwasher, going to bed with a clean kitchen, sweeping and mopping the floors, and picking up toys.  When I do these simple tasks (although they take a lot of time energy), it helps everything and everyone function better.  
  • The weekly discipline of a cleaning / home management schedule:  
    • Several months ago, I looked at my current schedule and slotted in additional responsibilities on set days of the week.  Not to make a strict law to live by, but to help me get into the routine of doing laundry, organizing papers, cleaning bathrooms, deep-cleaning the kitchen, and vacuuming on a rotation.  I honestly evaluated the time and energy I have each day, and tried to fit these tasks into nap times.  It's very difficult to do these tasks with the kid's help while they are awake (at their current ages and stages), so swift execution and staying on track has been key!
  • The Monday morning habit of evaluating our week:  
    • We keep a calendar on our refrigerator of just one week at a time.  That's about all we can digest around here!  Each Monday morning, I take 15-30 minutes to transfer our google calendar onto our fridge so Brad and I can both see our week.  I note times and days to grocery shop and run errands, or things we might need to find childcare for.  Starting off Monday with this habit really helps me focus on our week!  I've been working on my own 'planner' for over a month now, trying to make something that fits the way my own brain things and processes to-do lists.  It's helping a lot!
  • The identification of 1-2 areas of training we are addressing with children:  
    • Not long ago, a veteran mom challenged me to stop being overwhelmed with the 10,000 things I need to teach our boys before they move out, and start focusing on one thing at a time.  Yes, sometimes things overlap, but intentionally identifying this area each week and writing it down has helped me make progress, see my goals, and stay focused.  Here are some examples from past weeks:  immediate obedience, potty training, establishing a morning routine (make bed, pray, eat), using hands for helping / serving, etc.  
  • The practice of using transitional activities in stressful moments:  
    • At least 2-5 times a day, every one of my children seems to meltdown around the same time.  It can be over something large or small, but it happens - due to hunger, sleepiness, stress, routine change, sharing toys etc.  I used to (and still do) just feel panicked in those moments.  Anger rises or I just want to cry because I'm overwhelmed with needs.  But on the advice of an older mom, I finally filled my back pocket with some planned strategies to help in those situations like; start singing songs, practice rhymes, read books aloud, turn on kid's music and do actions to the songs, change locations in the house, offer a snack break, or pull out a super exciting activity that they rarely get to do.  Just FYI, some days I do all of this to absolutely no avail (and then we pray and wait for daddy to come home).  But thankfully, it's now my habit to switch into these activities before just getting frustrated!  I've been challenged to actively learn and build a repertoire of these things, instead of just parenting by the seat of my pants in stressful moments.
  • The acceptance of areas that are "good enough":  
    • A favorite blogger recently posted about this, and I realized I practice this skill in my home management.  It's impossible to be perfectly on top of everything at all times, so it's been helpful to pre-identify areas in life where I'm okay with accepting "good enough" in this season.  We eat very simple meals, and I try to feed my family balanced nutrition, but I don't stress about it.  I try to minimize screen time, but if I need to let my kids watch a show or part of a movie on really hard days, I don't do it in guilt.  I try to keep our papers organized, but we also have a box of 'things to file someday' that we are okay with.  I don't want to let extreme expectations steal my joy and prevent me from loving my children well.  
The goal of these practical tasks is yes, to steward the things and responsibilities God has entrusted to us, but primarily they are implemented for the sake of freedom.  Being organized and working on the discipline of home management (regardless of home much you work at or outside of the home) truly helps you love others as Christ has loved.

Why am I sharing this with you?
These skills and habits might be obvious to a lot of women, especially those with task-driven personalities.  But for those of us who are more driven by creativity or relationships, understanding the importance of tasks, self-discipline, and routine can be a challenge.  When I got married, I barely understood how to keep my dirty dishes in check, let alone how to manage a bustling household.  It's been a long arduous process for me to honestly evaluate my heart desires alongside God's word, and ask for His help to be diligent in areas where I'm not naturally gifted.  Besides strengthening my theological understanding of my responsibilities to my family, I've benefitted GREATLY as women share what works for them.  I'm thankful for blog posts, books, and conversations with others which have helped me practically understand what might work best for our family.

So if you don't have any systems yet, and you feel intimidated about getting started, know that you are not alone!  Even the most 'godly' women aren't born knowing how to love a husband and children well through home management.  That's why Titus 2 says we have to teach each other how to love like Christ!




In the comments:
What practical home management skill has helped 'free you' to love your family better?


If this resonated with you, you can follow @fromthejensens on Twitter for regular articles related to faith and biblical womanhood, or like From the Jensens Facebook page for updates and other helpful resources!




Monday, March 30, 2015

The Pharisee Mom

Are you a Pharisee Mom? [from the jensens blog]

One of the groups I love to hate in scripture are the Pharisees.  I enjoy nodding along as I hear Jesus rebuke those self-righteous religious leaders, and I never cease to be shocked by their ignorance and indifference towards his identity.  I often wonder, "How did such educated church leaders miss the obvious coming of God's own son?" and "How could they listen to his rebukes and not be moved to question their own motives?"  It's amazing.  Specifically in Matthew 23, there is a nice thorough list of woes and rebukes aimed directly at the Pharisees and Scribes, who Jesus blatantly condemns to eternal damnation.

But the longer I'm a Christian, especially as I gain knowledge about the bible, I realize I risk looking more like the Pharisees than like Christ.  Rephrase...I realize I DO look more like the Pharisees than like Christ when it comes to certain aspects of my life and heart attitude.  Especially in motherhood.

Although these Pharisaical qualities can be lived out in any context, I found myself reading in Matthew and wondering how these might look in the life of a Christian mother today.

Signs of the Pharisee Mom:
  • She doesn't live what she teaches her children to do.  She has them pray before meals and before bed, but neglects to go to her own Father in prayer.
  • She makes the Christian life a heavy burden for her children, enforcing meticulous rules and high scriptural standards apart from the gospel.
  • She loves to be seen as a good parent in front of others, especially embracing cultural norms so that others think she is really creative / resourceful / thrifty / healthy / and fun.  If possible, she is sure these things are evident on social media.
  • She enjoys when people compliment her style and parenting choices.
  • She hopes to be sought out as a resource for other moms who want to learn more about how she makes great choices for her family.  
  • She is unwilling to spend much time doing lowly, unglamorous tasks that aren't seen by others.  If she has to do a lowly task like this, she makes sure to post about it so others can know about her good deeds.
  • She seeks to be the model biblical woman, adhering to every small thing that would make her 'saintly' in the church, even when it might not be the loving choice for her husband and children.  
  • She focuses on making sure her children are well-behaved, but neglects to address the sin in their hearts with the good news.  
  • She is outwardly righteous, and is seen as a mom to aspire to, but inside she refuses to lean on Jesus and acknowledge her need for Him.

Did anyone else GULP as they read those applications?  Because even as I typed that out, I felt like a big finger was pointing right at me.  It's easy to sit on this side of history and eye-roll the pharisees, but when we consider how those same sins play out in our lives, it's sobering.  

But there is one thing I love that Jesus says as he continues on in His rebuke, and it's a line that I haven't previously paid any attention to:
"How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"  Matthew 23:37

The truth is, Israel had MANY chances to follow God in faith.  The Pharisees had all the right information, and Jesus was willing to receive them and gather them under his wings.  But they were not willing, they rejected him.  God's chosen people turned away from him.  So in this passage, even under God's sovereignty, we see that we are responsible for our hardness of heart.  

As Christian women, seeking to live out the role as mother in a 'biblical' way, we can continue to pursue righteous living.  This is a path I'm often guilty of.  And it looks good, because upholding the letter of the law looks acceptable on the outside.  But there is something better and more important...a life that pursues Jesus himself, and rests in the work that he has done, which produces the fruit of righteousness.  This is a subtle but critical difference.  Jesus is the true treasure, not the law. 

I'm praying alongside you for God to have mercy on our retched obsession with looking good on the outside, and draw us near in the joy of Christ.