Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Children's Ministry

When I realized it had fallen to me to put together the children’s ministry at church, I’ll admit my first response was trepidation. I’m not sure this is the right place for me, I thought. I mean, yeah, I love children and I think children’s ministry is important, but wow, this feels like a big deal. With some encouragement and affirmation from people who know me well and were sure I would be great at it, I decided to give it a chance. Then we promptly purchased a curriculum that turned out to be a horrible fit for us, stopped meeting at the theater, started meeting in a home, and completely abandoned any notion of children’s ministry for a while as we located and renovated a permanent place to meet.

Now we are settled into our new location and we are ready to get the children’s ministry up and running again. And again, I have an underlying feeling of anxiety. But this time, I am better able to pinpoint what the problem is. As much as I care about children and families, and as much as I love putting together a curriculum that fits into the vision of our children’s ministry, I find it so overwhelming to think of the enormous responsibility involved in teaching children about God. I have heard too many stories of people whose view of God was warped by the teaching they heard as children, and as adults they are still trying to sort it all out. And I am reminded of the scripture that says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways.” Combine that with the idea that “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” and yeah, there’s some anxiety there!

I look at myself and see how imperfect I am, and all the ways that I stumble on a regular basis. And I wonder how on earth anyone, much less God himself, could think it’s a good idea for me to teach children about God. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. In many ways I am still learning about who God is and how much he loves me. I’m still sorting out all the different teachings I’ve heard about God in my lifetime. How can I presume to teach children the right things about God? What if I inadvertently cause them to stumble?

But as I thought through this, a couple of things happened.

I realized that no one has a perfect, completely accurate understanding of God. Every last one of us is doing the best we can with the understanding we have of God, and every last one of us is going to get it wrong sometimes. At some point we may all give others an inaccurate view of who God is, not because we are doing it on purpose but because we are human ourselves and we are all still on the journey. Of course that doesn’t mean we can be careless about what we teach others about God, but it does mean that we can have grace for ourselves. God knows that none of us are perfect, and luckily, he is bigger than us and our mistakes. If God was limited by our understanding of him, we’d have no hope at all. I mentioned earlier that I’ve heard so many stories of people whose view of God was warped by teachings they heard as children, but then I realized that most of those people have hung in there and are trying to come to a more accurate understanding of God. Others may be in the process of walking away from damaging teachings they’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean they’re walking away from God himself. Perhaps they are taking the steps they need to take in order to gain a better understanding of who God is.

When I look at the whole situation, it makes a lot of sense for me to be involved in family and children’s ministry; it’s something I really do care about very much. But I have been too afraid to put that passion to use because of my fear that I will mess up. Now I am seeing that it is better to move forward prayerfully and carefully than to let fear stop me from moving at all.

So, children’s ministry, here I come! I'm excited about planning a curriculum and building a family and children's ministry. I love figuring out how to put our vision into action. I'll admit that I feel my strengths lie more in planning and administration than the actual teaching, so for that reason I'm still a little nervous. However, I think it is going to be okay. I definitely do have a heart for families and children, and a desire for the children at our church to learn about God in ways they can understand. I also know that we have an amazing group of volunteers to work with the children. I'm excited to see where things go!

Monday, December 20, 2010

His Grace Is Sufficient

Looking at me from the outside, you might think I pretty much have things all together. Sure, you may think that I mess up every now and then, in little ways, but it doesn’t seem like anything too major, especially when you compare it to my accomplishments and the way God is working in my life.

But I have a secret. There is something that keeps coming back to haunt me. I struggle with this thing over and over. Try as I might, I cannot seem to permanently disentangle myself from it. Sometimes it feels like there is a battle taking place for my very soul. When the temptation arises, I fight against it, but eventually I become so weary and I start giving in. I know what I should do, but I find myself doing the very thing I hate.

The struggle is exhausting and painful. Sometimes it feels like a huge thorn is lodged deeply into me, piercing my flesh and going all the way down to my spirit. And when I look at this recurring battle, in all its ugliness and pain, I can see just how broken I really am. In that moment, I cannot be prideful, I cannot fool myself into thinking I have it all together, I cannot pretend to everyone else that all is well. On my own, I am nothing. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

And so I cry out to God in frustration. I ask him to take this thing away from me. His answer stuns me. He says no. But why would he let me keep struggling through this when he could just make it all better? I plead with him to take it away. It is too much. I cannot bear this own my own. And then the answer comes more clearly than ever.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

He tells me that he is not going to take this thing away from me. We all have things that we struggle with, some publicly, some privately. Humanity as a whole is broken, far from the way God intended us to be in the beginning, and I am no exception. I am humbled by my own humanity, my own weaknesses and failures and temptations. I realize that I cannot do this on my own. I cannot be perfect. I have no business being prideful.

And, in fact, if I were able to do just fine on my own, I would never be able to experience the amazing grace of God. There would be no need for it. The truth is, I don’t deserve this grace at all. Yet there it is, offered to me by a God who is able to use even my biggest screw-ups to remind me of his power and love.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

Inspired by Romans 7:15-25 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thy Grace Alone

Several months ago, I began going through the book of Romans, reading and then writing about a chapter at a time. I only made it through a few chapters before I quit.

I'm thinking that it's about time to pick that back up. Romans always speaks to me in such a profound way, and it is especially hitting me hard lately as I grapple with the grace of God and my own brokenness.

I've realized that while I seem to understand grace in theory, I have such a hard time understanding it and accepting it when it comes to myself. Recently I have come face to face with my own brokenness and the issues and struggles that come from it. I've tried denying it, I've tried hiding it, I've tried giving in to it, and I've tried fixing myself. But I've come to a point where I have stopped trying to do all those things and instead am trying to wrap my mind around the unfathomable, amazing grace of God.

The song "Not What My Hands Have Done" by Aaron Keyes has been on my mind, and I think it fits perfectly in this post. You can also read the lyrics at the following link if, like me, you don't really like to watch videos. ;) http://www.lyricstime.com/aaron-keyes-not-what-my-hands-have-done-lyrics.html

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beauty To Be Found

I find winter depressing and ugly. The bare trees, the gray sky, the chilling cold, the extra darkness. It feels lifeless and drab.

I feel like I am going through a personal winter right now. Where there once was color and joy, things feel dead and gray. I don't necessarily mean emotionally, although it naturally takes an emotional toll too. I mean within myself, spiritually, as I struggle through this season of life that reminds me so much of winter.

Yesterday I looked out the window and saw snowflakes coming down. It was like an extra measure of grace, a bit of much-needed beauty in the midst of the freezing air and the gray sky. And in that moment, I was reminded that beauty is still there. Even in the grayest, coldest season where everything feels lifeless, there is still beauty to be found.

It is the same in one's personal winter; there is still beauty to be found. It may be harder to come by, at times, but it is there. Perhaps in a hug, the kind words of a friend, laughter, a song, thoughtfulness.

I was also reminded that winter is just a season. The winters come and go, but they do not last forever. They are followed by new life, growth, and warmth. Though I may be in a dark place now, it will not last. Spring is coming. Joy is coming. There is hope.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nine Years

When my husband and I got married, let's face it, the odds were against us. I was 17 and a senior in high school, he was 19 and a college student, and I was pregnant. People don't normally look at a situation like that and think, "Oh, that's going to work out great!" Many times, it doesn't work out well at all.

And it was tough, especially the first few years. We were still young and immature, and we said and did several things to each other that were hurtful and inconsiderate. We struggled, we were often distant from each other, and we were both at fault. I remember feeling at times that we were basically roommates. We had very few mutual friends or common interests. Somehow we managed to hang on.

When we had been married for about three years, I began to long for something more, but I didn't know how we could ever get there. It felt like we would have to start anew in so many ways. And so I prayed. I prayed that the slate would be wiped clean and that we could leave old hurts and habits in the past so we would be able to start building something new together. And my prayer was answered. It was amazing how things changed in my heart from that point on. Things improved, but we still had a long way to go.

When we had been married for five years, lots of things changed for us. Several things happened within the time span of just a few months. I joined a message board of other Christian women, and from reading there I began learning so much more about healthy communication and boundaries in marriage. I know the things I read there made a huge difference in me. Around the same time, we both became less dependent on our best friends and more dependent on each other, and we began discovering common interests and goals. And we started going to a new church, where we developed mutual friendships. Those things all sound so simple, but they made a world of difference in our relationship.

Since then, we have grown closer than I ever thought possible. Of course we still have our own interests and hobbies, but we also have common ones. We share important goals and dreams. I feel so blessed to be married to a man who I can truly say is my best friend. It's awesome to look back and see where we've been and how far we've come in the past nine years.

Happy anniversary!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just Breathe

I am at a self-reflective time in my life. I know some of you are thinking, "When is she NOT in a self-reflective time?"

I've realized that I'm running out of the emotional energy to keep up the idealism that has been part of my life for so long. Many times I have created all these ideals for myself and then I don't understand why I can't do them all. I've often found myself thinking something must be wrong with me.

But nothing's wrong with me. I'm human, and I can't do it all. So I've been working on taking the pressure off myself, figuring out what works for me right now and what doesn't, and then doing what I need to do without berating myself and feeling guilty.

In some areas, that means I've stopped trying to do things that are clearly not working at this point in my life. Homeschooling is one of them. Elijah went back to public school a few weeks ago, and it has made a tremendous difference in my emotional state (in a positive way). He is very happy with it too. I'm realizing it's okay to admit that something just isn't working.

In other areas, it means remembering that I am still on the journey myself. I haven't "arrived." No one has. It's okay to not have all the answers. It's okay to mess up. There's no need for me to judge myself so harshly, or to judge others, for that matter. We're all on our own journeys, learning along the way, and doing the best we can in our own day-to-day realities. And that's okay.

Friday, December 3, 2010

In Which My Child Is Very Cute

It was close to naptime, and as I looked back at Isaac in the rearview mirror, I could see how sleepy he looked. I decided to drive down my favorite country road in hopes that he'd go ahead and fall asleep.

This is a great idea, I thought. We'll be away from the busy roads and the traffic lights and all the things that could distract him.

As we drove through the country, I glanced in the mirror again. Isaac was not yet asleep, but his eyelids were drooping, his head was turned slightly toward the window, and he was very quiet. It wouldn't be long until he was sleeping.

Then suddenly, he sat up straight, his eyes flew open, and he pointed toward the fields. "A DOW!" he said, loudly.

("Dow" is Isaac-speak for cow.)

"Yes, those are cows," I affirmed. "See all the cows?"


We rounded another curve, and again he pointed. "A dow!"

"That's a horse. See the horse?" I said.

"A dow," he repeated, matter-of-factly. "A dow."

He pointed out every cow he saw, and also a few things that were not cows, as we drove through the countryside.

He did eventually fall asleep-- as we were at the traffic light to cross the highway on the way back home. So much for getting away from it all to help him sleep. ;)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Labels: Good or Bad?

Labels. They're everywhere. They're in parenting. Politics. Religion. Sexuality. We are constantly using labels to define ourselves. Why? And are labels really such a bad thing, or do they serve a positive purpose?

I think there are pros and cons to labels. On the positive side, when we see that we identify with the stated purposes of certain groups, it's convenient to be able to use that label to give others an idea of where we stand. Attachment parenting. Libertarian. Emergent. Democrat. Baptist. Gay. Muslim. Christian. Republican. Those labels all evoke certain thoughts and images in our heads, and if the labels are accurately understood by the people we're talking to, they can be a positive thing and an aid in getting to know people better. And labels can create unity. As a parent, if I see someone else label themselves as an attachment parent, I know right away that we are going to have certain goals in common, and possibly certain practices as well.

On the other hand, labels can also create division, especially when they are misunderstood.

I've noticed over the past several years the tendency for Christians to be hesitant to label themselves as such, going with terms like "Jesus follower" instead. Why? Because for many people, the label "Christian" is a loaded one. It often evokes a mental image of legalism, judgment, materialism, and a whole host of other things that are not true to the heart of Christ. Many people feel that the proper response is to distance themselves from the label that brings up negative feelings for so many. And I can completely understand that.

At the same time, though, I wonder if we should distance ourselves from labels that have become misunderstood, or if we should seek to redeem those labels by keeping them and showing what they really mean. But that brings me to another question-- do labels keep their original meaning even when they bring up other connotations for large segments of the population? Or does the actual meaning of the label change along with the popular perception of it?

Another alternative would be to throw out labels entirely. Perhaps it would be a good thing to simply live our lives according to what we believe, have honest conversations with people about our thoughts on things like parenting, politics, religion, and so forth, and never bring labels into it.

I tend to believe that there is value in sticking with the original definitions of labels and seeking to clarify their purpose when people misunderstand. At the same time, there is also value in abandoning labels that are creating division.

Labels are complicated. They can bring unity and clarity, but they can also cause division and misunderstanding. Their meanings can change over time, at least in people's minds if not in the strict definition of them.

I'd be really interested in hearing thoughts from people who are well-versed in social psychology or linguistics. I definitely think both of these things play a part in the dynamics and understanding of labels within a culture.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Isn't That Just Good Parenting?

My last post sparked an interesting, and very good, conversation about the implications of the attachment parenting label. It was pointed out that, if attachment parenting really is what I described, then it’s simply what good parents do and it doesn’t need the “attachment” label. It’s just parenting.

I agree with that statement-- but I would be hesitant to say it without first attempting to clear up the common misunderstandings of what is meant by "attachment" parenting in the first place. Here's why:

Suppose you have been given the impression that attachment parenting is breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping, and then you heard me say, “Attachment parenting is really just what good parents do, and it doesn’t even need the label. Just call it parenting.” If you hear that statement with an inaccurate understanding of what attachment parenting is, that would be an incredibly hurtful statement! What you would actually “hear” me saying is that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are bad parents. And, if you read my last post, you know that’s not what I believe at all.

At the same time, though, I concede that the label itself can cause confusion, but I would say that part of that confusion does stem from not knowing what is actually meant by the term. When you hear “attachment parenting,” it is logical to assume that anything that isn’t described as attachment parenting would be described as detachment parenting. So, if you think that attachment parenting is about outward actions, then you would assume that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are being called detached. And if you read my last post, you know I don’t believe that either!

Hence the clarification of what, exactly, the point of attachment parenting is. It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to have an honest conversation about the label itself if you think it is implying something it isn’t. This misunderstanding of what the actual goal of attachment parenting is contributes to a lot of the confusion about it.

As I stated in my last post, the heart of attachment parenting is relationship. It’s about forming a healthy parent-child attachment by being responsive and sensitive to your children and parenting them as individuals. Sure, things like co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and babywearing are common ways to help foster attachment, but you are not a “detachment” parent if you don’t do them! Attachment has been one of my main goals with both of my children. Yet one of them hardly ever slept in our room, only nursed for a couple weeks, and was never worn in a sling (I didn't even know they existed!), while the other has co-slept since he was born (now only part of the time), is starting the weaning process at the age of 2, and has been worn in a sling some (but not frequently because of back problems that I have). And I have a very healthy attachment with both of them!

Attachment parenting emphasizes having plenty of nurturing physical contact with your child, breastfeeding (when possible) both for nourishment and comfort, being within close proximity at night (not necessarily in the same bed), and continuing to respond promptly and sensitively to a baby’s needs at night. In all honesty, these are things that are biologically appropriate. Mothers have God-given instincts to hold our babies, to comfort them when they cry, to nurse them, and to be responsive no matter the time of day. However, in recent history, there have been parenting books that promote the author's "methods" rather than encouraging mothers to trust and follow their natural mothering instincts. Here are some common examples: Don’t hold the baby so much; you’ll spoil him. Don’t nurse him whenever he cues that he wants to; put him on a strict schedule. Don’t ever put him in your bed; he may never leave. Don’t respond to his nighttime cries; he needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping.

Could it be that attachment parenting has to be qualified with the “attachment” label to distinguish it from this attitude of parenting that has honestly become quite common in our culture? I agree that responsive, sensitive parenting shouldn’t need a label; it should just be “parenting.” But in our culture, maybe the label serves a purpose.

I also want to talk about why I think many parents are so eager to identify themselves with various labels and methods, and the pros and cons of labels in general (not just in parenting), but those topics will have to be for future posts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Is "Attachment Parenting" Anyway?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about this thing known as "attachment parenting.” Some of the misconceptions are perpetuated by authors who are trying to "sell" their particular method, so it isn't surprising that many times they negatively characterize parenting styles that differ from whatever they’re selling. Attachment parenting, then, gets unfairly labeled as permissive, child-controlled, spoiling children, and so on. While I’m sure that those things could be true of some people who claim to be attachment parents, I definitely don’t think it’s true for the majority.

But some of the misunderstandings of attachment parenting stem from the AP community itself. As with anything, there can be a tendency to become so caught up in the "rules" of what you're doing that you lose focus of the heart of it. That’s human nature. Unfortunately, because of this tendency, many people have a negative impression of attachment parents as self-righteous and judgmental of others who do things differently. And, again, this may indeed be true of some people who practice attachment parenting, but it’s not true of the majority.

Nevertheless, there's this idea out there that attachment parenting is all about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and looking down our noses at people who don't do these things. I'm going to go on record as saying that, actually, attachment parenting isn't about any of those things.

Simply stated, the heart of attachment parenting is about knowing your children, fostering a healthy attachment with them, and responding sensitively to their needs. It's not about following a list of rules; it's about knowing your children as individuals and choosing to do things that are in their best interest. And it's definitely not about being self-effacing and being controlled by your children; there is a lot to be said for balance. Consider everyone's needs and find what works for your individual family. For example, in some families, co-sleeping is a great solution. In others, it's just not. And that's okay! We don’t need to judge others or ourselves against some imaginary list of AP rules.

When my oldest was a baby, I knew just a little about attachment parenting and I was convinced that I couldn't possibly be considered “AP” because I wasn't breastfeeding my son. Years later, I realized that wasn't true. You can be an attached parent whether you breastfeed or formula feed, co-sleep or sleep separately, use a sling or not, stay home or work, homeschool or school away from home. Because it's not about checking certain things off a list; it's about relationship, sensitivity, and nurturing. I can't see how making certain choices "just because" you think they're on the list of proper AP things is all that different from making certain choices "just because" that's what mainstream culture does. In both of those cases, you'd just be adhering to something without actually thinking it through for yourself and making an active choice.

In the end, it comes back to the same thing I always seem to come back to in posts like this. Don't do anything "just because." Do the research, think about your own family's needs and your own child's needs, and make the choices that fit best with your individual situation. Make informed, educated decisions and confidently own your choices.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Busy Restaurant, Tired Toddler

It was 6:00 on a Friday evening, and our family was circling the parking lot of the crowded restaurant, hoping to find an empty spot. When we were finally unloaded and we met up with the rest of our group, we found out that it was going to be about an hour before we'd have a table.

I looked at my already-tired toddler and thought, "Oh no. This is going to be a disaster." We were having dinner with several members of Clark's family, a couple of whom were visiting from out of state. It was one of those times where I desperately hoped my children would be well-behaved, and I was starting to realize that may not work out as well as I'd hoped.

As we waited outside, we all took turns playing with Isaac. Eventually, our table was ready and we all went inside. Isaac was uninterested in sitting in a highchair, so I let him sit with me and he had a great time trying to crack peanut shells. When the food arrived, he happily moved to the highchair and began eating. Once he was finished with his food, he returned to our laps and the peanuts. A few minutes before we were all ready to leave, he did begin to get restless, which was easily remedied by allowing him to walk around to the other side of the table and crunch the shells under his feet. (Don't worry, this was one of those restaurants where it's fine to put the peanut shells in the floor!)

At the end of the night, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had worried that the combination of crowded restaurant and tired toddler would be disastrous, but it actually went quite well. We stayed patient with him, gave him things to do, and set him up for success as much as possible in a situation that was challenging. I thought back on advice I've heard from other parents and even from books, about training children to behave in restaurants by using physical punishment. Yet I have never done this with Isaac, and he is learning to behave in restaurants anyway. It was a good reminder-- and I need those as much as any parent sometimes!-- that many of the frustrating behaviors present at certain ages/stages are simply grown out of as the child matures and as the parents model and teach the appropriate behaviors, no punishment necessary. Very, very cool!

Just a few days later, my friend Ashley mentioned this very same concept in the guest post she wrote:

One last point: It helps to remember that a lot of the annoying behaviors that come with certain ages and phases are just that: phases. Children generally mature out of them, just by maturing and consistent, gentle reinforcement of boundaries. (Really, they do. It's like magic.)

I was encouraged by these reminders-- both the real-life experience we had at the restaurant and Ashley's post. Sometimes when you're in the midst of challenging stages in a child's development, it's hard to remember that they will eventually grow out of those behaviors with time and patience. But they do! And it's such a neat thing to see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's Talk Toddlers (Guest Post)

This guest post was written by Ashley Van Otterloo. She's a good friend of mine and is the mom of three children. I hope her words speak to you as much as they spoke to me!

So. Let's talk toddlers.

It's really common, as the parent of a budding toddler, to feel a little "duped" by any easy-parenting fantasies you held previously, or completely steamrolled by the realization that gentle parenting (and ANY parenting) is really long, really hard, often thankless work.

While creating a loving bond with our tiny babies, it's easy to imagine that our little one and ourselves will enjoy the euphoria of "togetherness" forever, and that baby will seamlessly become an equally agreeable child, in sync with our every idea. Even if a baby has been high needs or cried a lot, we might look forward to easier time of it once they get older and less colicky/clingy.

For many mothers, including myself, 12mo-2.5 years is a HUGE reality check about what it means to be a parent. I discovered very fast that my daughter is and forever will be her own person, with her own ideas, her own hopes, her own God-given bent and personality...that is often in contrast/conflict with mine! What a RUDE awakening!

It was a time that I spent much time in prayer, realizing the weight of the task I was about to undertake: leading an individual gently and thoughtfully through childhood, and realizing that *I* was now the adult in her life that she looked to for protection, instruction and nurture. Despite any cranky moods, unfairness, and challenge that the commitment brought me, I was committed to being her mom! What a HUGE paradigm shift this was for me!

In light of what I've gleaned from my limited experience (this is our 3rd time around), and from observations of emotional trends that tend to happen at this age, I thought I'd compile a little list that might be helpful for a mama navigating this for the first (or second, third, fourth...) time!

Things that make this time unique:

Differentiation (Mama and me are different!): From 12 months, babies begin a fantastic journey of finding their own place in the world, as they no longer view themselves an extension of mommy! This means exploration; fuzzy, emotional opinions of their own; unique ideas; lots of experimenting with behaviors and words. This age can be charming, funny, busy and exhausting for parents!

New experimental expressions like the infamous "NO!!!" are healthy, but can take some adjusting to emotionally, especially if your background (like mine) was a punitive paradigm. It can take a while to find a balance between allowing for individual expression and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Need for reassurance: The flip side of differentiation is need for nurture! Babies this age often get overwhelmed by their own ability to stray from mama, and from the sheer new volume of stimulation and information at their fingertips! While they're struggling to get down and explore their world, they also need plenty of cuddling, loving, direction and reassurance!

Increased Mobility : If you have a child this age, this point is obvious. Childproofing, wise choices in playdate location, lots of redirecting and on-feet time for parents is a hallmark of this busy phase!

Changing lifestyle: Up until this point, it's easy enough to tote along little Rex or Regina in a stroller or sling, and friends are generally happy to see your little bundle of cuteness. Once toddling is reached, however, things like eating and the bowling alley become more challenging. (Sometimes challenging is a laughable understatement! ) You're now responsible for making sure the boundaries of others are honored, AND setting your little one up for successful behavior by providing appropriate place to explore. If your social life is mostly composed of single or childless friends, this experience will likely be even more obvious.

For extroverted or social couples, this can be especially challenging, and it may take time and patience to reinvent your social support system in a way that nurtures you and provides a safe, successful environment for your child. The work put into it is always satisfying! Don't give up, and be patient with yourself and your spouse as you navigate these new waters.

Changing sibling relationships: For toddlers with older siblings, this is often an age of discovering rivalry (and relationship!). Different children with different needs and opinions about things require lots of involvement and navigation of physical boundaries from parents (especially in the very early years! ) The baby is all of a sudden more interesting and, sometimes, more scary. The Mama Bear that is awoken when on child hurts another can leave you feeling wild and breathless sometimes.

If your toddler is the older child, this is often a very rattling emotional time for mama! Feelings of betraying your toddler with another pregnancy, worry that you won't have enough resources to go around, feelings of annoyance that they won't mature more quickly, feelings of being overwhelmed by the needs of TWO small people can be daunting. It's a great time to take a deep breath and ask yourself what your child is actually capable of (and not what you WISH he/she were capable of), and trouble-shoot from there.

Body changes for mama: Most women notice changes in their bodies or, at very least, the amount of time/energy that can be devoted to self-image or self care after the infant year! This can contribute to rattling of the way we view ourselves, and tends to lend an emotional intensity to our reactions to increasing demands on our energy and patience.

Remembering that people who feel good behave better will help. Pick a hobby or pursuit you love. Call a girlfriend. Hand your toddler off to your spouse or a trusted loved one for a couple of hours. Taking care of ourselves (even if it's just half an hour in the tub every week to unwind and soak out the stress) isn't selfish. It's prudent.

Need for increased body boundaries, but continued need for nurture: While being an attached parent, it's often healthy and useful to recognize that there are age-appropriate times to gradually set limits on our children's access to our bodies (nursing boundaries, need for personal space sometimes). This can look different for every parent/child, according to individual needs. It's also important to recognize that while setting boundaries and limits, we can honor the fact that our toddlers are still very small and very much babies who continue to need some level of physical reassurance. As in all things, a healthy balance for everyone can be struck.

Discipline choices take a central role: This is a sorting out time for most parents in the area of discipline philosophy. Toddlerhood is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. The realization that parenting and reinforcing the same boundary over and over can be HARD sets in, and many mothers previously delighted with Gentle Discipline can feel disillusioned. (It is, after all, a lot easier to imagine being gentle with a cooing baby than with a mobile baby who has their own set of needs and opinions! )

Parenting isn't easy. It takes committment, time, patience, repetition, and a commitment to strive for teaching and instilling of love for the long haul. It takes *time* and energy, and there are no easy solutions when cultivating compassion, kindness and character.

It's also an age where the decision has to be reached to become educated and confident in your OWN parenting choices, and to grow rather thick skin from the flurry of advice that's bound to come your way. Others often have strong opinions about how we should parent our own children. I've found that with family, it's good to take a no-nonsense approach, and simply "out" myself as a proactive, gentle mother, and make it clear that my parenting choices aren't up for discussion. I do the same with close friends. This isn't forceful or rude; it's taking on the appropriate role of authority and protector in your precious child's life, and making the boundary of your place as Parent clear.

Much of parenting is donning a flame-proof attitude about the decisions you prayerfully and thoughtfully make, and then standing your ground, and surrounding yourself with those who will at least be respectful of your choices. It's a time when you step out of a follower role yourself, and become a leader for your children.

One last point: It helps to remember that a lot of the annoying behaviors that come with certain ages and phases are just that: phases. Children generally mature out of them, just by maturing and consistent, gentle reinforcement of boundaries. (Really, they do. It's like magic.) To be sure, each new phase brings with it it's own set of unique and what often appear to be bizarre behaviors. Read up on ages and stages...Ames and Ilg's "Your Two Year Old" is a great place to start.

I challenge each mom to pray and ask God to help her to fall in love with THIS child that you've been given. Not the child you imagined you had, not the child you expected, not the child you wish you had. Ask the Holy Spirit to wind your heart around what it is that makes this specific child's personality fantastic and capable, and then commit to pouring your effort into nurturing that. It's a beautiful journey, if hectic and crazy sometimes, and one that's worth the walking!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In the middle of the night, he wakes. He stumbles bleary-eyed into my bedroom, calling, "Mama! Mama!" I welcome him into bed and he snuggles next to me, immediately comforted. His eyes close, his breathing steadies, and he is back to sleep.

But I'm awake, and I lie there looking at him. I remember sleeping with him beside me for the first time, opening my eyes over and over again just to peek at him, amazed that this little person was finally here, and amazed at the beautiful birth we had just experienced.

Almost two years have passed. He has grown and learned so much. He's becoming more independent every day. Yet, underneath it all, I still see my baby. He still needs me for comfort, and he comes to me in the night to cuddle. These are precious moments.

Monday, November 15, 2010


As we near bedtime, I go to the boys' room with Isaac, who is nearly 2. "It's time to pick up your toys," I say. "Let's start with your animals." I pick up the small red storage container we use to store his dinosaurs and zoo animals. "Pick up your animals and put them in here," I instruct him.

His reaction is predictable, especially if you're familiar with young children. He sees the toys, and he wants to play with them. Bedtime, schmedtime. It's playtime! And then, of course, he realizes that it is not playtime; Mom seriously wants him to pick up the toys. He feels a flood of disappointed and angry emotions, which team up with his sleepiness, and it all bursts out in the only word his limited vocabulary can come up with to describe what he's feeling:

"NOOOOOOOO!" he cries, as I demonstrate what I want him to do. I put a couple dinosaurs in the box. He grabs the other side of the box with his hands and tries desperately to pull it away, hoping to dump the toys back out and get just a few minutes of playtime.

I stand firm. "It's hard to pick up toys when you want to play. I know," I empathize. "It's time to pick up now. See the elephant over there? Put it in the box."

He has relinquished his grip on the storage bin but he is still protesting verbally. I reach over and get the elephant, making it "walk" to the box with exaggerated large movements. "Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp!" I'm providing sound effects for the elephant. "CRASH!" as it lands on the other animals in the box.

The tears have stopped, and there is a smile. There he is. Now he's with me.

"Can you find the giraffe?" I ask. He does. "Put it in the box." He does. We do the same thing with several other animals; I name one for him to find, then he finds it and puts it away. Soon we are done with the animals, but now there are cars. We approach the cars similarly, looking for red ones, yellow ones, motorcycles. Then we move on to putting away a few larger items that go in the closet. He works hard, following every instruction I give.

When we are finished, I look around at the tidy room and smile. "Look, your room is all clean!" I say. He nods his head in agreement. "You did it!" I say. He beams.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I'm Thinking...

I may resurrect the blog. :)

I think I'm finally starting to feel like writing regularly again. Yay!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where They Are

I've heard many people say that God "meets you where you are." He's not angry or punishing us for not being able to do everything the way he knows is best. Nor is he throwing out expectations and standards; he expects us to grow and mature. But God recognizes our abilities and weaknesses at any given spot in our journey and he guides us through them. He patiently disciples us and helps us grow, and as we mature, we start living more as he desires us to live.

It hit me the other day that this is an excellent model for me as a parent, and it's something I've forgotten quite a bit lately, if I'm being honest. I've realized how often I refuse to meet my children where they are. As the adult, with my adult logic and rules and plans, I end up frustrated because my children are simply not on the same level. And it is so easy to become harsh and punitive when, rather than meeting my children where they are, I expect them to be where I am! But I was reminded that this is not how God treats me.

So I have been re-evaluating my parenting and reminding myself that my children are in completely different places developmentally than I am. They have their own abilities and weaknesses. I need to understand what they are and are not capable of at any given age/stage and meet them where they are. Of course this doesn't mean tossing out rules and standards of behavior; that would be permissive, and that's not how God treats me either. ;-) It means coming alongside them and patiently discipling them, guiding and teaching them, and helping them grow and mature.

I want the fruit of the spirit to be evident in my parenting-- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I am reminded of God's patience, kindness, and gentleness to me, and I want to show the same to my children. It seems that in meeting my children where they are, there is a greater likelihood for grace, patience, and understanding to characterize my relationship with them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


"At first, everything was going great. I was happy, my needs were being met, and everything was going smoothly. I couldn't have asked for more! But lately, things haven't been going so well. I don't feel like my needs are being met anymore, things aren't going the way I want them to go, and I have to admit, I've been mighty tempted to look elsewhere. I'm just sure someone else can meet my needs better. I know I made a commitment, but now I'm thinking that maybe it's time to give up on this and walk away."

If someone said this regarding their marriage, they would probably be encouraged to work things out. Every marriage goes through rough times occasionally, and these times are opportunities for growth. The couple could talk through things honestly, figure out what isn't working, and work together to move in a healthier direction.

Over the past couple of years, I've come to realize how many similarities there are between committing to a marriage and committing to a church community.

When you're trying to find the right church community, you do look around. But eventually, you are hopefully able to settle into a place that feels right. You're on board with the church's vision, you're getting involved and building relationships, and you're growing closer to God. But communities, just like marriages, go through hard times occasionally, and you may begin to feel less happy with the situation. Maybe you don't feel that your needs are being met anymore, or maybe you don't like how things are going. At that point, it can be tempting to walk away.

But should you walk away?

Now, I know the analogy breaks down. Sometimes, even when you've made a commitment to a church, things in the church change so drastically that it really is best to move on, or you've tried your hardest to make changes and it just isn't happening. I'm not talking about situations like that, though. I'm talking about the general hard times, the times where you don't feel like your needs are being met or you don't like how something is going.

Personally, I feel that if I've made a commitment to a church community, I am with them through thick and thin, and I'm not going anywhere unless I've done everything I can to make it work. Of course, that doesn't mean concerns should be ignored. Just as you would in a marriage, I think it's vital to talk it out within the community and be honest about what's working and what isn't, and then move forward together to try to get to a healthier place for everyone. This obviously implies that the community is honest enough to talk about things that aren't working and that the community is open to change if needed.

What do you think? Have you ever found a church that you feel you could commit to through thick and thin? Or are you still looking? If you're still searching for the right fit, I hope you find it. And once you find it, I hope you will commit to it and do everything you can to make it work. And I hope that within the church as a whole, we can move away from the consumer mindset that asks, "What can the church do for me?" and instead move toward a mindset that asks, "How can I contribute positively to this community?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I have noticed that the times I feel most connected to God are also the times I feel most connected to other people.

Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another... I have heard this scripture used many times to explain why it is so important for people to go to church. And while I agree that this verse can mean that, I'm not sure that's really the heart of what is being said.

Let's be honest. A person could easily attend church without ever really meeting with any other believers. Sure, they're all in the same room, singing the same songs, listening to the same sermon. But the real question is, are they meeting with each other? Are they connecting, are they conversing, are they sharing their lives, are they encouraging each other and being encouraged?

I think I feel more connected to God when I am more connected to people because God made us this way. We are made to need connection with others, to desire and pursue relationship and community. And that connection, the meeting together that happens within community, that is what should not be neglected.

Does that happen within the confines of the church walls on Sunday morning? Well, sure, it can, and I hope it does. But it happens elsewhere too, whenever we are connecting with each other and pursuing authentic relationships. There is no doubt that a relationship with God is important, but honest relationships with other believers are also vital. Let's be sure we do not neglect one while pursuing the other; they go hand in hand.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I'm settled in on the couch with the laptop and a goal: I will write. I don't know what I will write, but I will write. Not writing regularly is taking its toll on me; I know very well that I process things better and am able to make connections between things when I write, yet I have hardly written a word in months.

I've been in a weird place in my life, not exactly a dark spot, but a quiet one. There has been no flurry of new ideas or new realizations, no burning desire to write passionately about topics that matter to me, no interest in sharing much of myself with the internet world.

In some ways it has been a dark spot, though. I go through seasons of feeling very connected, both to other people and to God, and then I go through seasons of feeling rather disconnected. I have felt alone lately; not often lonely, but alone. Alone with my thoughts and my feelings and my struggles.

Eventually these seasons of quiet introspection give way to seasons of connection, understanding, discovery, growth, and change. The quiet times in between seem to be necessary for me to process the last season of growth and prepare for the next.

So that's where I am now.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Homeschooling Update

Well, here we are, two weeks into our first year of homeschooling. Many people have asked me how things are going, and all things considered, I think they're going quite well. We've had some ups and downs as we get used to our new schedule, and I've identified some areas that need to be changed so they'll work better for us, but I think that's pretty normal.

I didn't realize how fulfilling this would be for me. Homeschooling is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I never felt ready until this year (second grade). Now I find myself wishing I had started sooner! I worried that homeschooling would overwhelm me. I asked myself how I would ever manage to get things done if I was also educating my children. But as we've gotten started, I've noticed something so interesting: I actually feel less overwhelmed and I'm getting more accomplished. I think there are a few reasons for this.

I'm one of those people who thrive on staying fairly busy. When I don't have enough to do, I get bored and lazy. I fall into this a lot as a stay-at-home mom, to be honest. I mean, yes, there is obviously a lot to do, but it doesn't provide me the structure I thrive on. I find myself thinking, "I can wash those dishes or clean the bathroom later, so why do it right now?" and I end up not getting everything done. Homeschooling adds more responsibility to my plate and gives more structure to my day, and I find that I'm actually managing my time better and getting a lot more done every day.

Besides that, there's something about educating my children that fulfills me in a way that cleaning and even childcare do not. I love having a clean house, but it makes me want to pull out each of my hairs individually to do the same tasks over and over and over with no end in sight, ever. Dishes, laundry, picking up toys, sweeping, dishes, laundry... But homeschooling feels more purposeful to me; it is not simply a task that I will do over and over in exactly the same way multiple times a day every single day. It changes, it's a process, something is accomplished, we move on, growth is seen.

Plus, I'm a nerd and also a tad bit (okay, a lot) OCD, so I get great satisfaction out of lesson planning and getting things ready for school. It's something I truly enjoy doing.

So I think those things-- doing something structured, purposeful, and enjoyable-- play a part in why I feel less overwhelmed and am getting more accomplished now that I'm homeschooling. The level of fulfillment that I am personally receiving from homeschooling also leaves me feeling more content and confident in general, which is certainly a positive thing.

Have you ever noticed a difference in other areas of your life when you start doing something that is fulfilling to you?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The One Where I Talk About Boobs

The other day, I heard a statement that made me giggle a little inside, but the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. This is nothing against the person who said it; in fact, this was said by a very pro-breastfeeding individual. But what was said was that breastfeeding moms should be discreet about nursing in public and they shouldn't just pop out their boobs where anyone could see them, because, after all, "You wouldn't want someone's eight year old son or a teenager seeing that."

At first, I laughed to myself. I have an eight year old son, and honestly, yeah, he sees me breastfeed every day. And it's no big deal. It's how a woman's breasts were meant to function.

But later that day, our family was in the checkout line at the grocery store, and right there on my eight-year old's eye level was the newest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. And hey, look, there's Jessica Alba on the cover with her boobs nearly falling out of the top of her dress, surrounded by headlines like, "Untamed Va-jay-jays" and "Guy Sex Confessions: 37 Things He Doesn't Have the Balls to Tell You." Oh, did I mention that my eight year old son can read? Yep. He can.

And that's when I got angry. What a double standard! In our culture it's perfectly fine to put adult images and headlines like that right on a child's eye level in the store, but if a woman shows any boob while nursing her baby, people want to shield their eyes or get the woman to cover up or leave the room.

I would rather my son see women nursing their babies in public, breast showing and all, than to walk him through the grocery store and see sexy pictures and headlines about sex confessions and, um, female grooming.

It's no wonder so many people end up being uncomfortable or even grossed out by breastfeeding; what else should we expect when we make it clear from the time our kids are small that breasts in our culture are meant for nothing more than sexual arousal? Our society as a whole-- and this includes children!-- needs to be exposed to breastfeeding as natural and normal, and not something to hide or be ashamed of. For heaven's sake, women are just trying to nourish their babies the way God designed them to be fed. Why should they be expected to hide that? They shouldn't be.

Can breasts be sexual? Well, yeah, but so can mouths, and we don't ask people to hide them when they're eating. Think about it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Homeschooling Adventure Begins!

A few months ago, I attended an informational meeting for parents who were thinking about homeschooling. One of the women said that when you're just getting started with homeschooling, it can be a good idea to start slowly and ease into things rather than starting every single subject on day one. This made a lot of sense to me, and I filed it away to use in August.

Well, now it's August. Today the county schools started; we heard Elijah's old bus drive past the house this morning. I get nervous and excited butterflies in my stomach every time I think about it: I am officially a homeschooler. I already was, but this realization that he would have been sitting in a second grade classroom right now makes me even more aware that we're really doing this.

I'm taking the advice to ease into things. I think after two years of being used to public school and a long summer break, it would be overwhelming to both of us to start out on day one with every subject. We have plenty of time ahead of us; we can take it slow for the first few weeks.

This week we're doing lessons on nutrition. We're reading about fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the five food groups. We're talking about a balanced diet, and Elijah's making a book with one page for each of the things mentioned above. Next week, we'll start our Sonlight core (this includes history/geography, Bible, reading, and language arts). Later in the month, we'll add our science curriculum (also Sonlight) and math. My goal is to have everything introduced by the first week of September.

I think easing into things gradually will be a good fit for us. I'll let you know how it goes. Let the adventure begin!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Point of Grace

Lately I’ve felt distant from God, and, honestly, a little angry. Some of it is righteous anger at the awful things that have been (and are being) done, said, and taught in the name of God. But I haven’t just been angry at the people who do these things; I’ll admit I’ve been feeling a little angry at God too. He surely sees the hurtful things that people do and say in his name, and yet he seems to do nothing about it. If someone attached my name to teachings or actions that I knew were wrong, I’d want to make it clear that I most certainly am not okay with those things. So many Christians twist scripture and use God’s name to justify manipulation, abuse, and teachings that are not true to God’s character. How does God put up with it– and why does he? Doesn’t it break his heart? Doesn’t it anger him?

I don’t have an answer, really. I’m going to assume the answer involves love, mercy, and understanding of a magnitude I cannot even begin to grasp. I’m going to assume that God must have a plan. He sees things I cannot– situations, motivations, consequences, people’s hearts– and he must be working it all out in ways I don’t perceive. The only other option is a God who’s weak, passive, cruel, or non-existent. And my heart tells me that just isn’t true; my heart tells me God is there, and that he is powerful, loving, and good.

But as I think through all of this, I feel God nudging me to consider some hard questions and answer them truthfully…

Yes, there are people who do and say wrong things in the name of God. But what if I’m one of those people and I don’t realize it? After all, it’s not as though I have a flawless understanding of God; perhaps there are things about him that I firmly believe to be true, but they aren’t, and those beliefs influence my actions. If that were the case, would I want God to become angry, lose patience, and disassociate himself from me? Would I want him to punish me and make a public example of me? No. I would want him to patiently work in my heart, show me the areas where I was wrong, and point me in the direction he wants me to go.

So why do I want him to make a big scene when people continually attach his name to things that are not of him? Honestly– and this is a hard truth to realize– I guess it’s because I believe they’re wrong and I’m right, and that they deserve his anger and I don’t. It’s as though I believe that at some point, the transforming love and grace of God are not enough. In the face of lies, oppression, violence, and abuse, love and grace feel too subtle, too weak, not big enough, not powerful enough. (I know this isn’t the case, but I’ll admit that it feels that way sometimes.) I imagine that God does feel angry and heartbroken when his people attach his name to things that are not of him. Yet he chooses to respond in love.

All I can do is ask God to show me how he feels toward those who do wrong things in his name and to help me see them the way he does. Left to my own devices, I become angry and harbor these feelings I didn’t even realize I had, feelings that they don’t deserve his love, mercy, and grace.

They don’t deserve it. But I don’t deserve it either. That’s the point of grace.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting Started With Homeschooling

As I make preparations to begin our first year of homeschooling, I am already learning a few things that I think will make our journey easier.

Don't wait until the last minute. With this being our first year, I was unsure about which curriculum I wanted to use. I looked at several and also considered creating my own. Eventually I decided on a curriculum that really appeals to me-- but it's quite expensive and I had to get creative (see the next paragraph). All things considered, I don't think I could have avoided waiting until the last minute to finally pull it all together. Hopefully by the end of our school year, I'll know from experience what works for us and what doesn't, and I'll be able to make decisions earlier.

Save money when possible. A brand-new curriculum can be pricey, and our budget necessitates that we find frugal ways to get what we need. Over the past few weeks, I've discovered several ways to save money.
-Borrow from a friend. If you know someone who has the curriculum you need, see if you can borrow it from them for the year. A friend offered to let me borrow her second grade curriculum. It was a different curriculum than the one I was looking for, and in the end I decided to find a way to locate the one I really loved, but her curriculum was a close runner-up (and it would have been free for us!).
-Buy used. This is what I ended up doing. I bought different parts of the curriculum from different places. Some things came from a friend at Gentle Christian Mothers, some from VegSource, and some from Homeschool Classifieds. I've also gotten books I need from Paperback Swap and from a local used bookstore. I may end up having to buy a few things new from Amazon, but they are kids' chapter books and they don't cost much. Hopefully next year I'll also be able to take advantage of local used curriculum sales; this year the sales happened before I had decided on a curriculum.
-Use the library. For the books we're going to read over the course of a week or two, the library is a good option, especially if we don't feel any need to add the book to our personal collection. Unfortunately, our library doesn't have many of the books we need, but I can always get an interlibrary loan if necessary.

Don't get too stressed out. One of the great things about homeschooling is that I can choose when to start school. We had originally planned to start on August 9, but because I'm still searching for a couple books we'll need that week, and because the science portion of our curriculum won't be here by then, we may start a little later than that-- and that's okay. I'm also not letting myself get stressed over not having every single book I'll need for the whole year; as long as I have what I need for the first month or two, I can look for the rest as the year progresses. (All I'm missing are kids' chapter books; reading is a huge part of this curriculum!)

Be flexible. The curriculum I chose includes a schedule that tells me exactly what we need to do every day, but I'm free to make modifications if needed (and I'm sure I will). I don't plan to jump in on day one with every single subject; we'll probably spend the first week or two on language arts, reading, and history, then add in math and science (and eventually piano lessons, karate, and Spanish). With this being our first year, I don't want to overwhelm us in the very first week. We can gradually ease into things and still get everything done. There's plenty of time!

So that's what I've learned so far. I'm sure I'll learn lots more as we continue on this journey. If you're experienced in homeschooling, what have you learned?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lessons I've Learned

I originally wrote this post over two years ago, but it has been on my mind lately and I wanted to share it.

Families often experience unique circumstances that teach them new lessons about parenting. My son Elijah was diagnosed with developmental delays at the age of three, and although these delays are now in our past, the truths I learned from that experience have become the foundation of my parenting style. These also apply to children who are not developmentally delayed, so I hope other parents will find them helpful.

Listen to your heart. My heart told me that something wasn’t quite right with Elijah, but for a long time my concerns were shrugged off by family, friends, and even professionals as “just a stage.” If you feel strongly that something is not right with your child, you’re probably correct. A parent’s gut feeling should not be ignored. When Elijah was young, I was not very confident in my role as a parent. I worked hard to please the people around me and do what they thought was best, which led to a lot of inconsistency and confusion. If you see that something is not working for your family, listen to your heart, even if everyone else around you is doing things differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising children; know your child, know yourself, and do what is most beneficial to everyone involved. Do it confidently—this is your family and your child.

Slow down. I started college when Elijah was three weeks old, and I graduated a month after his diagnosis. While my education is valuable to me, I wish I had spent more time focusing on my son during those years. Since my graduation in 2005, I have intentionally slowed down by becoming a full-time mom. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be at home with him. During this time, I have gotten to know and understand him better, and I have been able to work with him one-on-one. While I do have other interests and goals, right now my highest priority is raising my children. I realize that being a full-time parent may not be the best fit for everyone. This is what slowing down looked like for me, but it may not be what slowing down looks like for you. (Remember to follow your heart!)

Recognize and understand your child’s developmental abilities. This will save you a lot of frustration! Elijah’s developmental delays meant that, for a time, I could not expect age appropriate behavior from him. Chronologically, he was three, but developmentally, he was on the level of a one year old. Even if your child is not developmentally delayed, educate yourself on the behaviors that are expected during each developmental stage. When you know what to expect and why, you are better equipped to respond appropriately.

Punishment is not the same as discipline. When I expected Elijah to behave in ways that did not match up to his developmental ability, I was quick to become frustrated and punish him. One of my biggest regrets is that it took a diagnosis of developmental delays for me to realize that punishment was ineffective; it increased our frustration levels and did nothing to remedy the situation. When I chose to discipline by calmly modeling and teaching appropriate behaviors instead of punishing for inappropriate behaviors, our frustration levels dropped and he responded positively.

Know your child. Know his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, personality and temperament. My children are unique individuals, and my understanding of them equips me to parent them more effectively. I am able to focus on their strengths and interests in order to teach them new skills, and I am more aware of what to expect from them based on their personalities and temperaments.

When you intentionally slow down, get to know your children, and understand where they are developmentally, you will gain a new perspective on their behaviors and your role as parent. Your relationship with your children will blossom as you listen to your heart, grow in confidence, and actively teach them new skills and behaviors. Although I learned many of these lessons while parenting a developmentally delayed child, they can be applied in all families. These lessons changed my perspective on parenting, and I hope you are able to find them helpful or encouraging in some way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


When it comes to things like pregnancy, birth, and parenting, it's important to provide information in a loving and supportive way. But, if at all possible, I also think it's best to do this in the context of relationship.

Now, obviously, for those who blog (like me!) it may not be possible to develop a relationship with everyone who may encounter what we're saying. I'm not suggesting that we should never write about the things that matter to us; I am suggesting that we pursue relationships with people in our real lives. When we do this, we will naturally get to know people whose experiences, circumstances, and choices differ from our own. Understanding issues and choices through the eyes of other people instead of through our own perspective and idealism can go a long way toward helping us approach people in a loving and supportive way (rather than a judgmental or condescending way), both in person and in writing.

When people in our lives make choices that differ from our own, do we attempt to see things through their eyes and understand what's behind the choices they've made, or do we judge them? They're lazy. They care more about their own convenience than what's best for their child. They haven't done any research. They're detached from their kids. Ouch! In the end, are we more committed to our ideals and the issues we're passionate about, or are we more committed to people? Relationship, I think, is the key to loving people more than our pet "issues." And in the context of a true, loving relationship, it is very unlikely that we will simply assume the worst about the other person.

As someone whose choices regarding pregnancy, birth, and parenting have changed drastically from my first child to my second, I can guarantee you that being harshly judged and looked down on by others would never have done anything to change my mind; it would have just hurt my feelings and made me feel bitter. You know what opened my eyes and my heart to other perspectives and choices? Relationships. While my oldest was still quite small, I met and developed relationships with loving, caring people whose choices differed from my own in various ways-- but they didn't try to force their choices on me. They just did their thing with confidence and were willing to talk if I had questions. Some even blogged about their experiences and perspectives, but I never felt judged when I read their posts-- I felt encouraged.

In relationship, we get to know other people and understand where they're coming from, and we let them get to know us and understand where we're coming from. We live life authentically in front of each other, and we all grow and change. It impacts our assumptions, our words, our choices, our understanding. There is so much to be gained from relationships-- and so much to be lost if we overlook their importance.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Love Comes First

I have really been struggling to write lately. There are so many things I passionately believe in; I love to read and talk and write about things like pregnancy, birth, and parenting. So it only makes sense to do so on my blog.

But some other blog posts and articles I've read recently in various places have given me pause. I've been seeing a lot of well-meaning information, research, and thoughts put out there but expressed in such a condescending or judgmental way. And I find this really frustrating.

I think it's so important for parents to be able to access the information needed to make truly informed decisions, and I believe that many OB/GYNs, pediatricians, and parenting publications often provide only one side of the story while telling us it's all we need to know to be fully informed. And so I definitely believe in getting the "other" information out there. The problem is that it's so often done in a way that feels like guilt-tripping and condescension all wrapped up in a pretty package that says, "I'm just trying to help!" Both "sides" use research to support their claims and use language that make people feel like bad parents if they don't measure up to whatever that particular side is saying about that particular issue.

I can hear people saying now, "But you said yourself that people need to have access to information that will allow them to make truly fully informed choices! If we care about the issues and the parents and the babies, we need to speak up!" And I agree-- but in the context of love and support. Unfortunately, a lot of times it feels like people are bombarded with information and expectations in a way that feels less like love and support and more like piling more and more burdens upon people's backs.

But it's a balance that can be hard to find, especially when it's complicated by the very real situations in which people feel judged even if nothing judgmental was said or intended. So some people end up tiptoeing around, afraid to say anything at all out of fear of unintentionally offending someone, and some people end up saying, "Screw it, I'll just say what I think and people can deal with it!" I don't think either approach is all that helpful, though.

My mind keeps coming back to speaking the truth in love. I think it's okay to share research and information and our own thoughts and experiences, but it's so important to pause and ask ourselves if our motivation is really love. If we're saying it in hopes that other people will see how wrong they've been and how right we are, that isn't very loving. If we're saying it as a way to passively-aggressively comment on other people's choices, that isn't very loving. And I'll be honest enough to admit I have said things in the past with a less-than-loving motive, and I am truly sorry. So often when people are passionate about something, it is easy to start caring more about the issue than about people, and I have definitely been guilty of that before.

So in the midst of all the passion and concern and research and information, let's remember that the people around us are real people with unique circumstances and struggles. Instead of bombarding everyone we know (and even people we don't know) with ideals and "shoulds," let's form relationships with people, get to know their situations, love them, and empathize with them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I lay outside looking up at the night sky. Neighbors were shooting fireworks all around, and as I watched them, I felt a strange sense of connection to other people all over the country who were doing the same thing I was right at that moment. In the midst of all the differences we may have, this was a shared experience.

As the fireworks died down, my attention turned to the stars. I lay there on my back and gazed up at them, thinking of the beauty of creation and marveling at the enormity of it all. Again I felt a sense of connection. How many people all over the world throughout history have done just that? We are not so entirely different, even across time and cultures.

My thoughts went to my friend who was in labor with her first child at that moment. Another connection. We women are connected by this amazing ability to carry, birth, and nourish a new life. We divide ourselves over different opinions and choices, but we have such an awesome thing in common!

People share so many experiences. We have more in common than we realize. We are more connected than we know, but too often we let our differences drive us apart. I have been more conscious of it lately than ever, and I am weary of it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Temptations and Boundaries

Lately I've been thinking about weaknesses and temptations. Many people, maybe all people, have their own weakness or temptation that they would almost certainly give in to under the right (or wrong) circumstances. So if you know what your big weakness is, do you take precautions to try to be sure you never reach the point that you cannot resist anymore?

It helps me to think about it in terms of alcohol. (Not my weakness, personally, but it's a familiar enough example that I think it will make sense to most people.) Suppose alcohol was my big temptation, and I found myself all alone in a room with a bottle of it. I still might be able to resist at that point. But suppose I allowed myself to inspect the bottle, touch it, open it. Suddenly it would be much harder to resist. And then if I poured some into a glass? Game over. If that was my weakness, and I let myself go so far as to pour it, could I actually continue to resist taking a sip? No one would ever have to know...

I've heard parents say that in setting boundaries for their children, sometimes they will actually set the boundary a few steps before their kids would ever reach that one thing that drives the parents particularly nuts. For example, you may not mind if your kids run and play loudly in the house, as long as they don't start jumping on the furniture-- but you know your kids well enough to know that once they start running and playing loudly in the house, jumping on the furniture is soon to follow. So rather than setting the boundary right on the edge of the thing you absolutely do not want (no jumping on the furniture), you may decide to set the boundary a few steps back (running and loud play need to happen outside).

But how often do we set these kinds of boundaries for ourselves? If I know what my big temptation or weakness is, do I allow myself to get right to the edge of it and then expect myself to somehow resist? Or do I set the boundary a few steps back, at something that may not seem like that big of a deal, but I know where it could lead me?

I think a lot of times people feel silly setting these kinds of boundaries for themselves because the boundaries seem excessive or ridiculous, especially to other people whose temptations are not the same. You won't go out with friends who are drinking? You won't be alone with the opposite sex? You installed a porn filter on your computer? But sometimes, in order to keep ourselves from reaching that big thing that tempts us, we have to take precautions.

Do you have a temptation or weakness that you're aware of? Have you put boundaries in place to help ensure that you won't reach the point where you can no longer resist?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just As They Are

One of the things I love most about our church’s recent transition to meeting in homes is the presence of children. There is something so beautiful and natural about having everyone gathered together, from the youngest to the oldest. Worship was beautiful today; it brought tears to my eyes to hear everyone singing together to just the music of a guitar, and to hear the smaller children making noise too, and to hold my youngest son close while I sang. I think there’s so much good to be said for children experiencing worship and hearing adults talk about and praise God. No, children are not always quiet, and as a mom I do feel a little embarrassed when it’s my kid making noise—but at the same time, children are part of life and I love seeing them accepted into the community just as they are. It’s a picture of life, love, family, worship and discipleship. Beautiful.

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. –Luke 18:15-17

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When I was a child, my dad worked third shift in a factory that made brakes. It was hard physical labor, but the money was good and he was able to provide for our family. During the summertime, he often got an extra night off each week, and Thursday nights became ours. I was a night owl just like him, so on Thursday nights after everyone else was settled in for the night, we would go out.

At the time-- I was probably around ten years old-- we had an old Volkswagen Beetle, white with a black convertible top. My dad would start it up (the engine sounded so loud against the silence of the night) and we'd drive. Back then, he considered it nearly a crime to have to pay over a dollar for a gallon of gas, and both the sales tax and the gas prices were cheaper in Georgia. So we'd go to Georgia to fill up the gas tank and bring back a full gas can or two for the other vehicles. Sometimes we'd go to Dalton, and sometimes to Fort Oglethorpe, and while we were there we'd stop at Walmart. We'd look around at stuff we were interested in, taking care to spend extra time in the books and magazines because it was one of our favorite sections, and we always bought a roll of Sweet Tarts as we were leaving the store. They were mostly for me, although I would give him the orange ones because I didn't like them, and sometimes the yellow ones too. They had recently introduced the blue Sweet Tart, and to this day if I taste one I immediately feel like I am back in that Volkswagen with my dad, driving through the night with the wind blowing through my hair.

My dad and I were close throughout my childhood. We had (and still have) similar personalities and senses of humor. Certainly we clashed sometimes; I was always very stubborn and persistent about what I wanted, and often he would say no for one reason or another, so I would do everything in my power to argue, bargain, and convince him to change his mind. (I was rarely successful, although he would smile and say that I'd make a great lawyer one day.) But we had so many good times together and countless wonderful memories. I'm grateful that I had a father who understood the importance of connecting with his children and who set aside time to spend with us one-on-one (and who is now committed to spending time with his grandchildren as well).

Fathers are so important-- yet many, many children are growing up without them. Thankfully, there are people and organizations out there who realize how significant it is for children to have a positive male influence in their lives, and they're doing what they can to be sure that fatherless children have mentors. The Mentoring Project is one such organization; they provide mentors for boys between the ages of seven and fourteen. This weekend, people from our church are coming together to hold a garage sale to raise money for The Mentoring Project. If you are in the area, I hope you'll come check it out. This is for such a good cause.

Sappy But True

Recently a few friends and I had a conversation about weddings and how something always goes wrong. After giving a couple examples of things that had gone wrong with our wedding, I made the statement that, actually, the only thing that turned out right about my wedding was the husband I ended up with. Of course, such a sappy statement was met with groans-- and I agree, it was sappy, but it was also pretty true.

Our wedding was in turns a comedy of errors and a tragedy. When you're seventeen years old and still in high school, and you're getting married two weeks after you got a positive pregnancy test, the ideas you had about your dream wedding kind of go out the window. I had no engagement ring, and our wedding rings were cheap yellow gold (we replaced them with something more our style a few years later). It was not the beach wedding I had dreamed of; we were at least going to have it outdoors at a local park, but it was moved to my parents' church at the last minute because it was a cold, rainy December day. Despite the fact that this was the church I grew up attending, it was the last place I would've chosen to get married. With very little time to find a dress, I went shopping with my two closest friends and decided on a very pretty dress that I loved and that fit me well-- but it was navy blue, not white. I decided that was fine with me because I was okay with not being "traditional," but looking back, I do wish I'd chosen something that looked more like a wedding dress and less like a dress you'd wear to a high school Christmas dance.

The ceremony itself also included mishaps, some comical and some heartwrenching. Our music, which was on a cassette tape, loudly screeched to a halt when Clark walked out, so my dad and I came up the aisle without music. The tape began working again when we reached the front of the church, and no one knew what to do at that point, so we let it continue to play while we all stood there trying (and failing) to keep straight faces. In the video, you can see me snickering, then becoming serious again, then looking at my best friend and snickering some more. The pastor who did the wedding used the oldest and most traditional vows possible; they included the term, "and thereto I plight thee my troth." (I did request to have that changed at the rehearsal because I had no idea what it meant, and I sure as heck wasn't making a vow I couldn't even comprehend). To wrap it up, our parents had thought it would be nice to surprise us with a special song, so Clark's stepmom got a guy she knew to play his guitar and sing. It was a lovely thought, except for one minor detail-- the song she chose was Creed's "With Arms Wide Open." If you're not familiar with the song, it's about a guy finding out he's about to become a father. We stood at the front of the church awkwardly throughout the entire song, and I cried, trying to pretend it was because I was so happy and not because I was so mortified. (Eventually I did ask her why she chose that song. She'd had no idea what it was about; she just chose it because she knew we liked it. Oops!)

I do have a few good things to say, though. My mom and grandmother worked hard to put the wedding together and decorate the church despite their shock at the situation and the short amount of time we had to plan it. The church was filled with our friends and family members. My best friend was my maid of honor. And our friends put together a lovely reception for us. So no, it really wasn't ALL bad. :-) Still, I'm glad that the wedding was no indication of how our marriage would go. Eight and a half years later, we've worked through some difficult stuff, we've grown in so many ways (individually and as a couple), and I couldn't ask for a better person to spend my life with. The wedding may not have gone the way I would've wanted, but I am so blessed to have my husband.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Strollers and Slings

Just so we're on the same page here, I do have and occasionally use a stroller. But I still think this cartoon is funny. Slings are no more complicated than strollers; they're just less common in our culture.

I do like our stroller for certain things-- for example, going for a walk on a hot day. Maybe I'm a big wimp, but when it's 90+ degrees outside with insane humidity, I barely want to walk outdoors even without another human being strapped to my body. ;-) I also use our stroller when I'm shopping for clothes because, for me, that's just easier than moving my child in and out of the sling each time I try on clothes.

But overall, when it comes to convenience, I'll just be honest with you... our ring sling wins. It fits easily in my purse along with my other stuff; the stroller takes up the entire back of the van and leaves no room for anything else unless I lay the back seats down. Obviously, safety is a good thing, but the stroller has all sorts of safety features that significantly increase the complication factor; for example, the only way to get our stroller open is to simultaneously hold down a button, twist a thing on the handle, and pull the stroller open. The strap buckles in three different places. The sling, on the other hand: put it on, put the kid in, and adjust the tightness as needed.

Besides the convenience factor, I'm also just not a big fan of using things like bouncy seats, swings, strollers, cribs, pack & plays, and carseats (out of the car) more often than necessary. Don't misunderstand me; I definitely think those things can have their place and can be useful from time to time (and I have made use of them all at one time or another), but I also think it's really easy to over-rely on them to the point of constantly moving the baby from one baby-holding contraption to the next without spending very much time holding the baby in arms, and this can promote parent-child detachment. Slings keep the baby with the parent, where babies are most content, keep the parents' hands free to do other things they need to do, and promote attachment. Neat!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Children and Sin

Usually I'd back away quickly if a book I was reading started talking about children and sin. Most of the "beat it out of them" parenting methods seem to originate with the idea that children misbehave because they're sinful, and I honestly believe that young children misbehave because of immaturity and where they are developmentally. They still have so much to learn, they're curious, and they have very little impulse control and very short attention spans. Young children need patient guidance and understanding of where they are developmentally, not harsh punishment based on the notion that they are sinful little creatures who need to have the sinful impulses driven out of them.

But tonight, as I was reading Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, I came across the following sentence in a chapter about her teenage son: "It turns out that all kids have this one tiny inbred glitch: they have their own sin, their own stains, their own will... all of them are wrecked, just like the rest of us." Out of context, or if you aren't familiar with Anne Lamott's writing style, that still may sound a little out there to you. But please bear with me for just a moment, because it got me thinking about something that I think may be really important.

I still think that young children disobey or mess up because of developmental abilities and immaturity. But it's also obvious that sometime between those early years and adulthood, people do develop certain areas where they struggle. I'm not sure when that starts happening, but it does.

Our job as parents is not to try to drive sin out of our children somehow (an impossible task anyway because no matter how old people get, they will never be completely rid of sin), but instead our job is to teach our children what to do when they struggle with it. We can teach them how to recognize areas of weakness in their own lives, and how to make amends when they mess up, and how to look to God for help, and how to do their best and still accept God's grace and forgiveness when they miss the mark. And we can't teach all of this just by telling them; we teach them by living it in front of them daily. They see us struggle with our own sins, and they see us make amends and go to God and accept grace and forgiveness. My oldest child is almost eight, so obviously immaturity is still a factor here, but I do see certain patterns and tendencies in him that I think could be the building blocks of particular struggles he will have in his life. Instead of punishing him for them, I need to help him learn how to deal with those things and also what to do when he does mess up.

I don't know about you, but it makes a huge difference to me to realize that my children are in the same boat as me. They need the same love, grace, and forgiveness along the way that I do. It makes me think of the story in Matthew 18 where a servant owed the king a debt that he could never have repaid, and the king had mercy on him and forgave him the debt-- but then the servant went out and found someone who owed him some money and refused to show him any mercy. The grace and forgiveness and patience that God gives us, we should also give to others, including our children.

I think about all I've gone through, and will go through, in my life-- the habits and temptations and weaknesses and failures, and the lessons I've learned along the way-- and it breaks my heart to realize that my children will have to go through these things too in the context of their own weaknesses and struggles. It's an inevitable part of the human condition; no matter how much I live these things in front of my children, and no matter how much I teach them, I simply cannot spare them from this human journey. They will struggle, they will fail, they will learn about grace and forgiveness in their own relationships with God. I can equip them for their journeys in certain ways, but their unique journeys are theirs to take. I can't do it for them. All I can do is be there to guide them, prepare them, and love them.