November 18, 2015

Filtering the Experts

“Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.”

~ Proverbs 20:18

It’s easy to gather parenting ideas and tips online these days. (Honestly, I wonder how in the world I would be surviving right now without Google!) But today’s devotional reminded me how important it is to make sure that all the advice we’re gathering and implementing aligns with God’s Word. We must test every idea against what we know about God and how He designed us to operate in the world with our children.

While I’m not fond of comparing parenting with waging war, I can see the benefit of having a solid, guided-by-wise-counsel plan in place for how we want to raise our children. Erik and I tend to parent unconventionally or “like hippies,” as my mom likes to say. We align our style most easily with a Christian, Attachment Parenting (AP) type model. Strategies of working with C that respect her developmental levels and personhood while gently teaching her appropriate ways to behave and interact with the world work best for us. There are plenty of blogs and other resources available for the Attachment Parenting/Gentle Discipline crowd, and while there are even a few that promote Christian values, they certainly are not ALL biblically-based, which makes it important for us to take everything we read with a grain of salt.

Even if the parenting advice we’re given by some “experts” lines up with what we believe as Christians, there could still be aspects of the writer’s work that aren’t healthy for us to be reading and allowing to live in our minds. One popular “mommy” site, in particular, has had several articles I agree with in theory, but I have learned to avoid it because it tends to have crude language and complaints about their children or other people that are less than respectful. Sometimes it’s really good content, but the biting commentary almost always comes with it, and I don’t want that kind of negative attitude seeping into my interactions with my family. My mind tends to focus on the negative anyway; I don’t need to be reading anything that would poison my thinking even more.

So, here’s to carefully vetting those we allow to influence our parenting choices. May we be surrounded by loving, supportive people and ideas that will help us raise a generation who loves and serves well!

Who are some of your favorite parenting “experts”? What criteria do you have for those you allow to influence your thinking?

November 16, 2015

Arguing & Always Being Right

“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep.”
~ Proverbs 25:27 (NIV)
I’ll be honest and say this particular devo had me stumped for several days on how to respond. The devo itself focused a lot on not arguing about things that don’t matter, not stirring up trouble, and just leaving well enough alone sometimes. It wasn’t until I looked up other translations for this verse that I finally got a clue. For most translations, the second half of the verse focuses on avoiding self-seeking glory:
  • “… or to seek glory after glory.” (HCSB)
  • “… so for men to seek glory, their own glory, causes suffering and is not glory.” (AMP)
  • “… and so is trying to win too much praise.” (GNB)
  • “… nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” (ESV)
Combine the original commentary about not arguing with this other concept of not seeking out one’s own glory, and my own version of the verse came to light:
It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to arguably “persuade” someone into my own way of thinking or insist my way is the only way all the time.
Most of the time, I put a lot of time, energy, and thought into the decisions I make. I hate being wrong, and I go to great lengths to avoid it. So, when someone challenges my hard-fought opinions, I immediately set out to prove that I am right and will readily outline the reasons why. In my family, that behavior is expected. It’s just part of “being a Stufflebam.” But, with those not so familiar with our ways, it comes off as argumentative, arrogant, and stubborn.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I only argued about being right on big, life-altering issues. But often, I find myself debating about things that just don’t matter in the long run. Who cares if the bed gets made sloppily? Who cares how the towels get folded? Yes, if those things were done the way I usually do them, it would mean less work for me later on because I wouldn’t have to remake the bed every single day or restack the towels because they fell off the shelf. (Again.) But, is it going to kill me? Probably not. (Though getting hit on the head by a stack of 6 poorly folded, falling towels is enough to give anyone a headache for a while!)
This verse seems to be reminding me to count the cost before disagreeing and belaboring a point. It’s a good thing for me to think through the way I do things and the decisions I make. It’s a strength for me and those around me most of the time. But, too much of a good thing is still too much. If arguing is going to cause a rift between another person and me, I need to take a step back and decide if it’s worth losing the relationship just to be right. For some big ticket items, it might be necessary to stand up for what I believe and walk away. But in most cases, it’s okay to inwardly agree to disagree and move on in order to preserve the relationship.
How do you handle it when others challenge your way of thinking or behaving? Do you have any tricks to help yourself not argue?

November 12, 2015

A Refreshing Drink for My Spirit

“Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master.”

~ Proverbs 25:13

As an introvert, I never anticipated needing people to help me feel refreshed. But after transitioning from a busy Resident Director, constantly surrounded by students and other staff, to being a stay-at-home-mom to one bouncy toddler, I found myself growing lonely. No more were there random students popping in just to say ‘hi’ throughout the day. Handfuls of college women (and sometimes a few college men) were no longer piling into our living room to watch “Once Upon a Time” and just enjoy being together for an hour. My lunch dates no longer have boy troubles or girl drama for me to help them process. My world suddenly got very, very small.

In fact, it had been over a year since I really felt connected to someone outside my immediate family. Now, however, I finally have a friend to join in playdates and park excursions, and we just joined a church where we feel already loved and accepted. My world is slowly expanding again. (Yay! J)

A couple of evenings ago, our pastor and his wife came to visit with us and help us start thinking of ways we can plug in with our new church. We did manage to cover that topic a bit, but mostly we talked and got to know each other. We laughed together at C’s potty-training antics and her insistence that they were there for the sole purpose of playing with her. We simply enjoyed being together. After they left and we had gotten C to bed, I told Erik how much I had enjoyed having people in our home again, how much I had missed it. Both Erik and I had scored fairly highly on hospitality on our spiritual gifts inventories, and this visit reinforced our need to reach out and invite more people to spend time relaxing and fellowshipping (is that really a word??) in our home. Finding people who can refresh our spirits with their presence is vital to our health and sanity, and we need to be offering that refreshing drink to those around us, as well.

Paul writes frequently in his letters of being or needing to be refreshed by like-minded, life-giving friends and partners:

  • “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” (Romans 15:31-32)
  • “For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.” (1 Corinthians 16:18)
  • “By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.” (2 Corinthians 7:13)
  • “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” (2 Timothy 1:16)
  • “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon 7)
  • “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 20)

It’s hard to be “out on an island” and feel like we have no one who really GETS us, no one who can comfort and encourage us as we work to serve Christ and each other. While I never really appreciated it while I was working, as an RD I was surrounded by loving, giving people who fought to refresh each other daily. That community was like nothing I have experienced since, and it makes me incredibly sad that it took me this long to appreciate it. I am forever grateful for those who loved me so well in that setting, and I am so thankful God has seen fit to bring me back into a fellowship to refresh my tired heart here. They may be few in number at this point, but the “snow-cooled drink” they are to my spirit is EXACTLY what I needed.

Who has been that refreshing drink in your life? How can you offer that refreshment to those in your world?

November 11, 2015

Triumph in Trouble

“The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”
~ Proverbs 19:23

“If there is a God, and He’s so good, why does He let bad things happen to His people?” It’s a common quandry among those struggling to believe, but this verse in Proverbs redirects our perspective: It’s not about why He allows trouble to come, but how He protects us in the midst of it. I can hear my disbelieving readers’ harrumph from here. “God doesn’t protect His people. They’re tortured, killed, or given over to illness every day. Just like everyone else,” you say. Yes, yes they are. What I’m learning, however, is that God’s protection isn’t necessarily a here-and-now, physical shield. It’s a promise that no matter what attacks us in body, our spirit will remain indominable, and our future is secure.

Jesus himself guarantees that trouble WILL come in John 16:33. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (emphasis mine)  The best example I have ever seen of taking heart in times of trouble was through my former co-worker, Connie Puryear.

Connie was the kind of person who smiled all the time. There was a joy about her even during the most stressful times of our year that was just contagious. For the entire first year I knew her, I had no clue that she had been diagnosed with cancer as a newlywed twenty-some years before or that during her fight to live, she had lost her ability to have children. I didn’t know she had recently gone through yet another round of chemo, lost her hair (again), and was wearing a wig. Nothing about Connie ever gave the impression she saw herself as a victim. She was a warrior, a conqueror, and like David, danced in the streets, celebrating victory and life every day. She had a peace about her life because she knew Who controlled everything about it. I see now that Connie never sweated the small stuff – and compared to fighting cancer, repeatedly, everything else was small.

When I left my job in Texas, I once again didn’t realize Connie’s cancer had returned. I found out a few months ago that she had died, and just sat in stunned silence. If ever there was someone I thought would win the battle, it was Connie. Now, as I contemplate these verses about being untouched by the trouble we are sure to face in this life, I wonder if Connie didn’t manage to beat cancer after all, because she never let it beat HER.

Through everything Connie faced, she never let her momentary trouble affect who she was in Christ:

  • Her character never changed. If anything, it only grew stronger with each chemo round.
  • She knew her station would never change. Even if her hair fell out yet again, she knew she was still a Daughter of the King, a Princess, and a Beloved Bride.
  • Most importantly, Connie knew her inheritance would never change. Regardless of how many times she had to fight or even if she died in the battle, she believed the promise that God would welcome her home with open arms, show her to a mansion filled with the treasures she had stored up during her life well spent, and give her a new body, free of the shackles she wore on Earth.

Connie’s life and legacy remind me that though our lives are not protected from the crap that comes with living in a fallen world, we ARE able to “rest content,” knowing that who we are in Christ and all He has promised us in the life to come will be “untouched by trouble.”

Have you expected God to provide His people with an easy, trouble-free life? What trouble are you now fighting? How can you begin to focus on God’s promises that will always remain untouched by your circumstances?

November 10, 2015

The (Wo)Man in the Mirror

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
~Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)

The past several days have been eye-opening for me as a parent. C & I started potty training last Wednesday, and it was an intense, lonely few days of me just home with C, focusing solely on her, and not being able to take care of anything else. Honestly, it brought out the ugly in me, and I’m not terribly proud of how often I completely melted down once Erik came home. Changes, in general, tend to make me anxious, and big changes to my daily life – like switching from the relative ease of diapers to having to be uber vigilant about not letting a toddler pee or poop on the floors – are enough to send me into full-blown panic attacks. That said, C is doing really well with learning to use the potty and I’m aware (once again) how badly I tend to blow things out of proportion when I let fear get the best of me.

When I read the devotion centering on Proverbs 27:19 on Day1 of potty training, I knew I wasn’t going to have enough mental energy to tackle the topic in the midst of those intensely focused days, so I put all writing on the back burner until we had our training well in hand. So, today, we’re back to it, and I’m still not entirely sure I’m ready. Having to think about how my life reflects the state of my heart and what that passes on to my child is just heavy.

Until recently, my heart – and therefore my behavior – was spewing bitterness and anger. I know God and I are working through that now, and I’m trying to let go of the shame I feel surrounding the previous state of my heart, but it’s extra embarrassing to be reminded that my daughter spent the first two years of her life soaking up that attitude. However, despite my poor example, C is a very happy, well-adjusted little girl, and I am SO thankful. When her needs are met, she exudes innocence, joy, wonder, independence, gentleness, compassion, and powerful love.  If those qualities are indicative of the state of her 2-year-old heart, when most of the world complains about tantrums and “The Terrible Twos,” I feel like we’re doing really well.

When C’s needs are NOT met, however – when she’s overtired, hungry, or just hasn’t spent enough quality time nursing, playing, and rough-housing – she isn’t quite as pleasant to be around. Like most other young kids in a compromised physical/mental state, she becomes demanding, self-centered, frustrated, and angry. It’s an all too real reminder of the less than stellar emotional and spiritual inheritance I’ve left for her thus far. In those moments when she’s wailing about not getting a toy at Target or blantantly disobeying Erik’s instructions to begin clean-up at night, I see myself in her actions. I see my tantrums, rantings, and disobedience toward God. It’s not a pretty picture in that mirror she’s holding up for me.

I am incredibly thankful that God got a hold of me and shook me out of my bad attitude when He did, and that He’s giving me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and begin to pour into my daughter in a positive way while she’s still young. I have ZERO idea how I’m supposed to guide her into her own faith, but living by example and making sure my heart is right with my Maker seems like a good place to start.

How have you seen your heart/behavior reflected in the actions of your child(ren)? What stories and lessons can you share about the “mirror” they’ve held up for you?

November 5, 2015

A Strong City Wall

“Help your relatives and they will protect you like a strong city wall, but if you quarrel with them, they will close their doors to you.”

~ Proverbs 18:19

Why are family relationships so doggone hard?? Our families have the ability to build us up or to completely destroy us with just a few words. And because we’re family, and “have” to love each other no matter what, we tend to think it’s okay to be careless with our words. They should just “get us” enough to be able to explode at them and say what we really think extremely tactlessly, regardless if it hurts their feelings or not. If it’s not safe to “blow up” with your family, then where IS it safe?

Maybe we need a new way of thinking about family. Maybe we need to start seeing them as a strong city wall, instead of a deaf and dumb sounding board. City walls are only strong if the citizens put time, effort, and energy into their upkeep. If the walls aren’t maintained, they crumble, and what good is a pile of rubble when the enemy attacks? We NEED the protection of our families, therefore we NEED to make caring for those relationships a top priority.

I feel like familial relationships were easier to keep up when immediate and extended families all lived in the same town, if not on the same plot of land. They lived and worked together daily for survival, so letting frustrations, arguments, and hurt feelings fester between them just wasn’t an option. They HAD to deal with it in order to stay alive.

If your family is anything like mine, they’re spread all over the country. My immediate family is spread out over Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Add in the extended family, and we cover everywhere from Washington to Delaware and Texas to Wisconsin. When fights break out or feelings get hurt, it’s fairly easy to just avoid seeing the offending party until the next family get-together, at which time we just pretend like everything is hunky dory for a few days, then go back to ignoring each other when the holiday or reunion is over. They aren’t part of our daily life, so why put forth the energy to heal the relationship? (Not saying this is RIGHT; it just seems to be the way it IS.)

Perhaps another question to ask is this: Are families today the vital “city wall” they were in Biblical times? Or even a century ago? Is it okay to simply “leave and cleave” to our friends and church families that ARE in close proximity and allow them to become our surrogate families, our indispensable protectors? Or should we be putting more of a priority on maintaining familial ties, even across the distances?

Romans 12:18 has been reverberating in my brain all day: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Regardless of how we view our blood relations, we are still called to deal with conflict in a healthy manner – as much as is it in our power to do so. The verse we looked at earlier in Proverbs warns us against quarreling with our family members, and Paul takes it a step further in include ALL people. Whether we are close with our families or not seems to be irrelevant. We are still called to live in peace with them and love them well.

I know I’m not as close with my family as I would like to be, and since it’s a “so far as it depends on you” kind of situation, it’s going to be up to me to keep offering relationship to them. As we discussed earlier, it’s not easy. At all. But, if this promise of protection in Proverbs is still accurate today, I NEED to be making the effort.

How have you managed to stay close with your family, even if you don’t live close by? What tips or suggestions would you offer to someone struggling in a familial relationship?

November 4, 2015

For My Daugher: A Lesson in Friendship

My best friend and I were recently talking about how hard it is to make friends now that we’re both married and have children. We know how important it is to have friends around to support us, but we both now live so far away from our pre-marriage friends, and it’s hard to keep up just by phone, text, and Facebook now that babies are involved. Making new friends involves a lot of work, time, and energy that neither one of us tend to have in abundance right now.

On top of needing to make friends of my own, my devotion this morning brought up the concept of my children going out and making their own friends eventually, and it was a little frightening to think about. What kind of an example am I setting for C about how to make friends and what kind of friends she needs in her life?

Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous person is a guide to his friend, but the path of the wicked leads them astray.” It seems like such a simple concept: make spiritually solid friends to help you navigate life and avoid spiritually devoid people who would lead you down destructive paths. But how do we know who is “righteous” and who is “wicked” when we’re just desperately trying to make friends at a local babywearers’ meeting or moms’ group?

The one local friend I’ve made since moving here, I actually met at the park. She was there with her two young daughters, and we struck up a conversation while her oldest and C  played. I don’t remember much about that conversation, but I do know we talked briefly about our looking for a church home and what her church was like, and a few other values important to both our parenting styles. Before we left, this mom invited us to visit their church with them the next Sunday, which we did and loved. We actually just joined that church this past week!

The lessons I’m finally learning about making friends that I want to pass on to my daughter are these:

Always be yourself when meeting new people. Talk openly about the things that are important to you. People who will support you and walk with you through life will be drawn to your values. Those who would lead you astray will know you are strong in your beliefs and generally drift away toward someone more in line with their own thinking. We attract what we put out there for the world to see. If we are strong in our faith, we will attract others who are strong in their faith. If we are wishy-washy, we’ll attract others who don’t know what they want or believe – or worse, we’ll be easy prey for those wanting to use us for their own purposes.

Sometimes, though, Dear Daughter, you’ll befriend someone who is attracted to your strength, but is still looking for her own. It’s a great thing to love on someone who hasn’t yet found faith. Be there for her. Offer her hospitality, and draw her into the warmth and love you’ve come to know as the source of your hope. Share that hope with her. And always surround yourself with like-minded believers who can encourage and support you as you minister to this lost one’s heart. She needs you. And you need a loyal band of sisters to help you show her Christ.

I pray continually that I will live out strong relationship-building in front of you, so you will know what it looks like to cultivate your own sisterhood. And I will pray for those who will one day be your bosom buddies and kindred spirits. I pray for their strength and faith as they navigate life in their search for you.

May each of your enjoy deep friendship today, and I’d love to hear if you have any tips for making new friends!