Saturday, February 26, 2011

Put God in, Get Good Out

A very dear friend & sister in Christ has inspired me to write this post, so for those of you who follow Asley J.'s blog, this may look like I'm copying. If you don't follow her, check it out: Funny how God's timing finds people going through the same thing at the same time.

Recently I have begun re-evaluating my parenting. I didn't like some of the behaviors I saw in my kids, and I knew deep down in my heart their temper & frustration was a reflection of me. I know a lot of this behavior is normal in kids, but I also knew that I wasn't always doing my best to show them how to control their tempers either. The most humbling thing I have ever (and quite certain will ever do) was to admit that I did not know everything when it came to parenting my kids. In fact, I knew very little. God, how could it be that you trusted me with such a huge, important job and I was failing? I was much, much too prideful to admit that. But God can only use you if you allow him to break you, so I did. About a month or so ago I gave up, hit my knees & asked God to do my parenting.

Now don't get me wrong, I did a lot of things 'right' in my parenting. I was firm & consistent. My kids knew when Mom meant business, they knew how they were supposed to act. Most of what I practiced was right, and I tried my hardest to do everything out of love, because I knew that not disciplining at all was not loving. The problem was I didn't really know how to discipline out of love. I knew how to discipline out of anger, or frustration or just being annoyed at their behavior, but I didn't really know how to do it out of love. I also thought that I would eventually gain control over my kids if I was consistent & firm enough with my children. STOP. Re-read that last sentence, it was important, and it was the biggest pitfall of my parenting: The problem was, I also thought that I would eventually gain control over my kids if I was consistent & firm enough with my children.

After four years of this parenting style I realized that I hadn't yet, nor would I ever be able to control my kids. And my inability to control their behavior was what was causing so much of my own frustration & anger. But why would I want to control them? I won't always be around and they will have to rely on their own character to know right from wrong. And, God made them unique & different, with different quirks & personalities. I needed to stop trying to control their actions & start trying to guide them.

And then I realized one thing that will forever change the way I parent my children:

Disciplining out of love is putting more importance on the future character of your child than on their present behavior.

I don't know about you, but when God spoke that to me it was HUGE. I was so caught up in trying to control their behavior at the moment, I was missing these GIANT opportunities to shape their character and mold them into the person they will grow to become. And suddenly the grown up version of Charlie, Sam, Ben, and even baby Henry was so heavy on my heart. I just wanted them to grow up to be loving little boys, that loved Jesus, loved others, loved one another. Of course, I'm not saying their current behavior is not important, I was just shown how these two go hand in hand. How we handle their current behavior has a huge impact on who they will become.

So I stopped 'disciplining' my children and started Loving them. I started being patient and kind, caring about who they will become, caring about the way they treat others & me, and caring about what they say & do, trying to guide them & teach them to always make the right decisions, and to make them out of love.

First, I had to ask God to change my heart. I had been so focused on the negative, overwhelming behavior of 3 wild boys that I was letting it steal the joy that God intended me to have in them. So, I stopped focusing on their bad behavior & started praising them for their good. Instead of disciplining them for every little offense I merely encourage them to do what is right & expected of them, and when they do right, I tell them how proud of them Mommy, Daddy & Jesus are! I asked God to help me love these boys the way he does- to see them as the ultimate blessing that they are. And he did! I now never miss up an opportunity to show them love & let them know how special they are, to cuddle, praise, snuggle, kiss & play with these boys.

We also learned the ten commandments. I wrote them on flash cards they decorated & memorized them, putting special importance on loving God, loving your parents, and loving others. That way these were God's rules, not ours! We also talk about love, ALOT! I often say "Are you being loving right now?", or "What's the love thing to do?". The times when I found myself having to discipline my child I asked myself "What would Jesus do in this situation? If he were here right now, how would he handle this precious child? I searched my heart and found that more often than not he would 'love' them out of a situation. He would encourage rather then discipline. He would guide rather than spank. When the boys are really having a rough time, really acting out and melting down, I hold them tight & tell them how much I love them. Then I will pray with them "God, please help Ben to be sweet. He's having such a hard time right now and it's making Mommy sad because I know how sweet & special you made him. Please help him to do the right thing!".

You see, I realized that there is a difference between rewarding bad behavior and encouraging good behavior. I honestly thought that if I let them "get away" with these meltdowns without being punished, it was the same as encouraging them. But I soon realized that just because I wasn't disciplining them for acting out did NOT mean that I couldn't teach them what was expected of them. Now don't get me wrong, many or our old rules & punishments still apply (can't sit down nicely to eat? Dinner plate, gone! Splashing in the tub? You're out! Won't go to sleep? Can't pick up toys? Mommy gets to keep them! I even still spank occasionally for certain things) but the funny thing is, the more I love them through their really frustrated times, the less I find myself having to correct them for other smaller offenses. The boys seem to be playing better with one another, more fun to be around, and try even harder to please Mom & Dad. I can't tell you if they have changed because I have changed, or maybe I am just seeing them the way Jesus sees them, therefore I am finding more joy in them. Either way, the change is for the better.

Quite honestly if you would have told me two or three years ago that THIS would be my new parenting approach, I wouldn't have believed you. I was tough, and expected my kids to respect & obey. I would have thought this sounded like a big softie, and that these kids just need a spanking, seriously. But, this technique was only leading to frustration on both ends. I saw a Minute Maid commercial that sums up what was lacking in my parenting technique. The slogan was "put good in, get good out". Aha!

Lord, help me to love, guide, direct & teach my children the way you intended me to. I know that I can be a pretty good parent on my own, but what good is good if it's not of God? I want you to be the central focus of my parenting, I want to parent my kids the way you would parent them. Help me to put GOD in to get good out!"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Peace or Perfection

A few weeks ago I found myself in one of those "life is going faster than I can move" situations. I needed to be 3 places at once (in the kitchen baking a wedding cake, at the hospital for my grandma's last days, and here at home taking care of the daily grind & loving on my family). I also missed two good "work" days when the boys missed preschool thanks to all the snow. Needless to say, housework wasn't even on the list. Anyone with kids knows that unless you are constantly staying on top of housework, your house comes apart very quickly. Do you ever feel like someone just picked your house up, turned it over, gave it a good shake & set it back down? That's what I felt like. I was surrounded by messes, dishes, laundry, bills & things to do but I didn't have time to get to any of them. As I was rushing around between children & cakes I mumbled under my breath: "I just feel so out of control here, Lord!" Then I heard that beautiful, small still voice inside me respond:

"Child, you are NOT in control, I AM!"

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you Lord! I wanted to jump & skip around the house (although I didn't for fear of tripping over a the pile of laundry or a kid!). Thank you for reminding me that you are in the middle of EVERY mess! What freedom I felt when I remembered that He is in control, not me! I tend to be a control-freak, but those times when I try hardest to have control over things are the times when I fail so miserably. What an awesome reminder that I need to just step aside & let God do the work around here. When I do that, he always gives me the strength, peace, energy, & joy to get through even the most stressful times. Help me strive for your peace instead of my perfection, Lord.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Greatest of These is Love

A few months back the boys came home from Sunday School with a memorization project. (Corinthians 13:4-8). I had heard it before, infact it was read at our wedding. I hadn't really paid it much attention though until I started learning it with my children, breaking it down bit by bit so their young minds could memorize the verses. I taped a copy of it in our kitchen to remind myself to practice memorizing it with the boys. It just so happened to be taped right above the corner in the kitchen I generally use as the time-out spot. It turned out to be the perfect place to keep that verse! One day I was not so patiently or kindly repreminding one of the boys as I was sticking him in time-out. I looked up and saw that bible verse taped to the wall and I literally stopped dead in my tracks. I could hear God speaking to me in a major way- "Is this loving? Are you being kind and patient, slow to anger?". I was so stunned at how provoked & selfish I was being, by giving into my own anger. Of course God wants us to discipline our children, but he wants it done out of love! One thing that has transformed the way I mother is the thought that I am the first glimpse of God my children will get. They are too young to comprehend what God is, but they sure understand when Mommy is being loving and when she isn't. I have to let God love them through me to set a Godly example for my boys. I have kept this verse taped on the wall far beyond the Sunday school memorization time, as a reminder to myself on what it means to love my children. I hope you read it and meditate on how God wants us to love others, especially the precious children he has given us.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps not records of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Today my Grandma passed away at the age of 88. She lived a wonderfully full & long life, and it's so bittersweet at that age. On one hand death is never easy, you're never ready to say goodbye. I am also so sad for my Mother; my Grandma was her biggest fan, and I know my Mom will miss her so dearly. On the other hand, she lived to see her children's children have children. She was responsive & mentally 'with it' up until the last day of her life. She loved the Lord and I know she is rejoicing in heaven right now. And at 88 years old, so many of her loved ones have gone before her, and she is dancing on streets of gold with them as I write. I can't help but be excited for her, she got to kiss the face of God today!

I don't know how people handle death without a deep & intimate relationship with the Lord. I could just feel him all over the place for the last few days. What a comfort it was to know that He had prepared a place for her, and she was ready to go meet her maker. Her sadness has all been wiped away. She has been given a new body, a perfect body. She no longer needs her wheelchair or her glasses. She has her smile back that the stroke took away a few years back. She loved to lead line dance classes at the senior center back in her 'prime', and I can just see her leading line dances to praise songs up in heaven!

This experience has also made me realize how truly short life is. Even after 88 "long" years here on this earth, it was still just a breath, just a vapor in the grand scheme of things. Our whole lives are simply leading up to the day when we will leave this earth. What a peaceful feeling it is to know that I know that I KNOW that I will be in heaven someday! And as I was thinking this I looked around and thought- all this means NOTHING! Money, my home, my car, even my earthly body- it's all just here for a while, given to us to 'borrow' until we finally make it home. It certainly gave me a new perspective on life.

Lord, help me to stop focusing on things of this earth, and to keep my eyes fixed on you. Help me to love others, to lead others to you. Help me to quit worrying about money, I can't take it with me and you will always provide for my needs. Help me to stop obsessing over my body not looking the way I want it to look. I want to feel good & be healthy, but what does it matter what it looks like? The body I get to spend eternity in will be PERFECT! Help me to quit stressing over a messy house, someday this house will no longer be standing- but Heaven will stand forever! Help me to quit worrying what others think of me, all that matters is your opinion of me! I want to spend whatever time I have left on this earth letting your love shine through me.

I want to leave you with the 23rd Psalm. It was my Grandma's favorite. I had the honor to read it to her several times in the past few days.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures:
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul:

He leads me in the path of righteousness for his namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
His rod & his staff, they comfort me.
He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
He anoints my head with oil, my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.