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Discipline: Round 3000. FIGHT!

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

From the red corner, weighing in at four hours of sleep and three cups of coffee, we have Mom. Seasoned and known for her quick “NO!” jabs right into the middle of unexpected situations. She anticipates her oppontents’ moves and is best on the defensive, adept at keeping her feet pacing the periphery.

From the blue corner, weighing in at eight hours of sleep and sugar from Grandma, we have the Kids. Known for their element of surprise, they easily take down Mom by pulling out stunts that she’s never seen before. Their art of distraction gives them the upper hand by taking Mom’s focus off the center of the problem.

Ok, ok. I honestly don’t view my general interactions with the kids as a fight. But I wanted to share a recent experience that we’ve had with them that genuinely felt like a caged fight every single day.

After Elena was born, the kids did beautifully. They seemed to adjust with such minor hiccups, and I was so thankful. That’s why I think it took me by surprise when, after several weeks, our lives flew up into chaos. Suddenly it was like we had never taught our kids to obey what we asked, and they pulled out these ridiculously crazy stunts – both physical and emotional – that left us standing there with our hair blown back and crazy in our eyes because we didn’t even know what hit us.

Between lack of sleep for everyone (maybe I should mention that our 4 and 2 year olds still don’t sleep through the night?) and all of the emotions and adjustments for us as parents, Davy and I didn’t realize it, but we had grown lax in our discipline. Not just lax, but inconsistent. We would discipline for something one time and then, instead of doing it again the second time, we would give a warning or a verbal rebuke because we were either too tired or didn’t want to discipline again. It felt like that was all we were doing all day long!

Out of desperation, Davy and I had almost nightly conversations about what the heck was happening to our children. Nothing we tried worked. Then I stumbled upon this blog post and it opened my eyes: my kids weren’t the “problem.” Our inconsistency was the problem. They weren’t trying to wreak havoc on our lives, but suddenly the rules seemed to have changed: where once the things we disciplined for were very clear and understood, now they were muddled, and if done in just the right way, the kids could get away with whatever they wanted. Where once the expectations for their behavior were simple and upheld, now they were confusing because ugly behavior wasn’t being called out. There was fighting like never before. There was hurting each other like we’d never experienced. There were frustration levels at new heights for all of us.

We had forgotten the most important element of discipline. Every single time we didn’t follow through, we undermined our own authority.

Let me give you a basic example. I would say something like, “Don’t get out of your seat during dinner,” and one or both of them would get out. Obviously, they had heard me. Instead of following through on my request, I would have a conversation with them as they wandered around the room or started playing or drawing. See what I did? I just showed them that my requests aren’t important enough to listen to. No, it’s not a big thing, and often I didn’t enforce it because I didn’t want to make it a big thing. But because I didn’t enforce it, that little thing added up with a bunch of other little things to make a big habit of thinking, “There’s no consequence for ignoring Mom’s request.”

This is where the yelling came in. I’d tell them to stay in their seats, have conversations or play with them while they disobeyed, all the while telling them to get back in their seats, then finally use my mad voice because they weren’t freakin’ getting back in their seats. Only then would they jump to action.

Oh duh. Of course they aren’t going to get into their seats the first time! By not following through right away, I showed them that they get to have an extra 10 minutes of play time while I casually ask them to get back in their seats before they get in trouble for disobeying. What kid in their right mind would willingly give up 10 extra minutes of playing in favor of sitting still on a hard chair and eating broccoli?

Somehow I thought all the warnings were me being nice to them. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not being nice to them! A funny thing about kids is that they feel more secure within defined boundaries. If they know that when I say something, I mean it, and if they disobey, they get this specific consequence, they feel more in control and more willing to obey. They have a very clear choice. If they don’t know exactly when Mom is going to mean it and when she is going to blow her top, they push the boundaries over and over and over trying to figure out where they are. The fight will happen every time because the boundaries may not be in the same place that they were yesterday.

When Davy and I realized that we were undermining our own authority by being so inconsistent, we took several steps to turn the tide back in our home. First, we established together what we would discipline for. Did it matter if they did that thing? Was it life threatening? Does that thing matter in shaping their character, not just their behavior? We tried to keep it simple enough for everyone to remember, especially me with new-mom brain. Then we sat the kids down and explained that our home was feeling out of control. We gave them examples, and we showed how this kind of behavior from everyone (including ourselves) brought chaos instead of peace to our family. We talked about what kind of a family we want to be – kind, loving, and examples of God’s love to each other. Then we outlined exactly what would happen if they disobeyed, and yes, I mean literally. If they did —–, they would get —– consequence. We had one for each infraction, and we lovingly told them they would get no second chances until we reestablished obedience in our home.

Guess what? For the first time in weeks, I could count the number of screaming, thrashing fights on one hand. It took considerable energy from me at first because I was retraining myself in being faithful to discipline. So many times I wanted to let something slide because I was too exhausted to go deal with it! But I’ll tell you what, the fruit of being so consistent and reestablishing that Mom means what she says was completely worth the initial exhaustion. And when Davy came home at night and showed them that Dad means what he says, and that Mom and Dad can’t be pitted against each other, we began to see peace peeking through the dark thunderheads.

Yes, my kids disobey often. I still have my hands full disciplining every single day because, as long as I have small children, we will always be working through something. But the disobedience is nothing like it was. Now my word means something again. Now I don’t have to bring out the consequences all day long, and I don’t have to use my mad voice either.

I was reading in Psalms the other day (side note: busy moms, do yourself a favor and read this post on daily Bible reading. It revolutionized my view on it and took away so much guilt for not having more time!) and I stopped full force on this one verse:

Trust in The Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Psalm 37:3

Befriend faithfulness. Being faithful in discipline isn’t easy, and it isn’t something we just do. Like making a new friend, we have to work at it. We aren’t best friends with someone we had coffee with once. It’s only after being acquainted with them over and over do we really allow them to be part of our lives and hearts. Being consistent to follow through, faithfully doing what we need to do to shape our kids’ hearts, gets easier the more we intentionally implement it in our lives. So grab your spouse and take faithfulness out for coffee. Befriend consistency. She’s a valuable advocate to have in your corner.

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Love Covers

I took a poetry class in college that was a crossover graduate/undergraduate class. One of the graduate students came in with the tiniest poem one day, and we were supposed to workshop it. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember the poem. It went like this:

Love,
Please bury me
In this hole.*

There may or may not have been more to this poem, but that part always stuck with me. We conversed the entire class about how even though the title of the poem was “Love,” the rest of the poem was anything but loving.

And a couple of days ago (yes, apparently that poem had a huge affect on me), that got me thinking about Love as a concept. We expect Love to be something we feel, and often it is. Falling in love, loving my coffee, I love this weather, Love of my Life, Can you feel the love tonight?, I love you Mommy, I love you more.

But Love isn’t always a feeling to me. Sometimes I just can’t muster up the tenderness that we associate with motherhood. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I really, really can. But sometimes….like when I’m being spit up on while one kid calls for help from the stinky bathroom and another starts screaming about being alone? I can’t really feel it in that moment. Or when I’m trying so hard to just get dinner on the table and I’m being followed by the whine crew and fit throwers? Nope. How about when the kids conveniently forget how to obey? Hmmm, not those times either.

This brings me exactly to where the poem left me. Love wasn’t feeling anything. Love was asked to do something. It reminds me of that verse in 1 Peter, which says, “love covers a multitude of sin.” In the back of my mind, I used to kind of imagine that verse meaning that if I love someone enough, that feeling of love would always “cover” the bumps in our relationship, like laying a blanket over a fire. Everything would be ok because, hey, we love each other.

Oh, little naivete, how sweet.

No, my friends. This verse isn’t talking about sweet feelings of Love, just like that poem wasn’t. This verse means that Love actually does. And what’s the action? Love covers.

Uhh…what?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean Love glosses over a sin and makes everything ok. It doesn’t mean that Love ignores the wrong and covers up a problem. It doesn’t mean that Love puts up with an ongoing sin because it’s trying to hide the fact that there’s an issue. It definitely doesn’t mean Love is passive aggressive.

It does mean that Love, contrary to being a sweet feeling, is an active participant in a relationship. It actively seeks to forgive.

Love covers.

It means that Love closes the record book and wipes the scorecard clean.

Love covers.

It means that Love pursues peace and restoration of relationship.

Love covers.

It means that Love hopes and believes over again.

Love covers.

It means that Love is patient and kind in her patience.

Love covers.

It means that Love speaks out of humility.

Love covers.

It means that Love chooses to not be selfish.

Love covers.

Much like when we put our kids to bed, pulling up the covers to tuck them in and kissing them goodnight, Love decidedly looks our relationships in the eye and declares its steadfastness. Love covers because its nature is tenacious, fighting for the good of our relationships. Love covers because its nature is tenderness, gathering us back to restoration.

Sometimes I don’t feel a river of love flowing out of me. But that’s ok because that’s not the depths of what Love is. Love is an action, and when we act rightly toward our kids in the middle of their temper tantrums, we allow Love to cover their sin. When we act rightly in the middle of the argument with our husbands or wives, we allow Love to cover their sin. And when they act rightly toward us, they allow Love to cover ours.

So next time our children throw themselves on the floor screaming or say something that hurts our hearts so bad it stings, let’s actively turn from our knee-jerk reaction and act rightly toward them.

Let’s remember. Love Covers.

*I honestly don’t remember the name of the student who wrote this poem, but if you know her, by the most random chance in the world, please tell me so I can credit her properly!

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Game On

Have you ever been in the middle of saying something and realized you didn’t mean to sound that way? Or started speaking and it comes out as though you’re insufferably agitated, except that you don’t actually feel as upset as you sound?

Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I am that person.

About a week ago, I had a startling come-to when I heard myself speaking to my kids. I wasn’t being kind or gentle or patient. I wasn’t communicating in a way that made sense to them. But strangely, I wasn’t even communicating how I actually felt- my words were way more agitated and demanding than I intended them to be. Ew. I would not want to be in my kids’ shoes as they look up at this weird monster mommy spewing strange ugliness from her mouth.

I realized I have been way too serious lately. I think I have new wrinkles between my eyebrows. My patience for kid-stuff seems to have gotten lost somewhere or melted in this desert heat. I haven’t been Nice and Nurturing Mommy, which is maybe why Micah has started calling me Sir.

So, I decided to try an experiment with myself. It goes like this:

Play more games.

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Dear me, ease up a little! When I feel grumpy, the last thing I want to do is play Mario or Angelina Ballerina or Super Why (“Mom, you’re Super Wide!” Norah says) again. But playing games with my kids is an easy way to connect, enter their lighthearted world, and shed some seriousness between us. Really, it isn’t hard to play games as we go about our everyday life, and what it often comes down to is my decision to do it. Sometimes I don’t want to because I don’t want to be silly and laugh with my kids. Sounds stupid, right? But sometimes I just want to be serious and grumpy. I want everyone to obey and be quiet and just calm the heck down. Then I end up making everyone grumpy with me. So this week I’ve started gaming.

Since we need a game all of us can dive into, we came up with some super silly ones that can be played anywhere. We can revert to these quickly whenever we need a good laugh together. Or when I’m about to lose my mind because they just won’t take anymore bites of their dinner, dang it!

1. The Rule Game: each person takes turns saying a rule they make up. It has to be outrageous. Last night Micah made the rule that we never put flowers on our toes. Norah made the rule that we can never drink coffee, at which point I threw my head back and shouted a desperate “Noooooooooooooo!” straight to the heavens. I know God heard and had compassion on me.

2. Snail. Who knows where this came from, but one day our fingers turned into snails. We often play this at meals because it’s a sure fire way to keep my kids in their seats. By making our first two fingers into snail antennae, and bobbing them up and down when we speak, we can create innumerable snail adventures all within the confines of our trusty dining room table. (Snails can only live on dining room tables, obviously.) We gave them names to create an ongoing game. Norah’s is Cutesy Baby, and Micah’s is Super Basketball Star. Mine, quite anticlimactically, is Snail.

3. Word Face. This one is simple. Say a word, any word, and make a face. They don’t have to match. It helps if you also do some weird motion or noise. The best part about it is how absurd it is, and how absolutely hilarious the kids find it.

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4. What I love about… : This one isn’t funny, but I’ve found it very useful in breaking the heat of the moment when I’m about to lose it or when we just need to calm down a bit. I’ll pick a person and say, “ok, for the next three minutes, the only words we can say are what we love about Daddy (or whoever else I think of in the moment)”. This one helps to break the whinies too.

5. That’s too bad. I don’t know about your family, but we can ramp up considerable amounts of drama around here. Sometimes I have to just roll my eyes at the level of screaming over the tiniest things. So, for things that aren’t really a big deal and don’t need to be coddled, we’ve started ramping up the drama more. If they bonk their leg, we’ll say, ” oh, that’s too bad both your legs fell off and now you have to slide around on the floor for the rest of your life !” Or if they are being crazy and run into something, we ‘ll say, “that’s too bad you thought you could just break down the wall with your head!” This morning Micah didn’t want me to take a shower because he didn’t want to “be alone.” So, naturally, Davy and I started telling him it was too bad that he was all alone in the whole world, without any Daddy or two sisters sitting next to him on the couch. Of course, he’s the loneliest boy in the whole world, with no one next to him on the couch to tickle him for the rest of his life (at which point everyone started tickling him). Usually we make it as absurd as we can, which gets them laughing.

By finding little games that I can throw into the day, we break up the seriousness of discipline and the request repeats (Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes!). And often when I’m throwing in some playing, things like “put on your shoes” are met with more cheerful attitudes than when I’m walking around with my eyebrows furrowed and I bark, “Put! On! Your! Shoes !” Surprise surprise.

I feel better about the day because, amazingly, I benefit from silly games too. Laughter, especially shared with my family, helps me enjoy everyone more, which helps me enjoy life in general. So, the next game I’m planning to add to our arsenal is a dance off. Norah’s already practicing to be Disco Disco Crazy. Come on over and show us your best moves.

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PS. Here’s a cute baby.

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Raising My Expectations

I walked into the bathroom and found Norah putting change into a plastic container.

” What are you doing, Norah?”

“Putting money in here.”

“Why?” I ask.

“For the poor children.”

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I felt kind of surprised. I wish I could say we are a very outward focused family – one that continually looks for outreach opportunities and not only talks about helping others, but actually does it. I really, really wish I could say that. But I can’t. Lately, especially in the space of time that Norah can actually remember, it seems like our lives have been focused on simply making it through the day. Getting my kids fed, bathed, clothed; refereeing, acting as doctor, and keeping them from smothering the baby is my (very full) everyday routine.

“What made you think of doing that, honey?”

She looked at me with a straight face, not one seeking approval or praise, and said, “Jesus told me.”

Oh my. I had noticed lately that when things started to heat up in her little life, she disappeared into her room for awhile. A couple of days ago, I overheard her say in a very agitated tone, “Jesus, thank you for my better attitude.” But I didn’t ever actually expect that Norah was having a real encounter with Jesus.

But why didn’t I? Why wouldn’t I include “Jesus meeting my daughter” in a daily list of expectations, instead of on an “I hope this happens someday” list of expectations? No matter that she doesn’t understand the difference between a Thankful prayer and a Request prayer. No matter that she doesn’t understand what being a poor child really looks like. Her having a spiritual encounter with God shouldn’t be so surprising to me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my expectations lately. More specifically how my daily expectations are not being met. Like how I should be able to clean something in my house and get my kids outside and read more and teach them how to read and get yesterday’s laundry out of the dryer and fold last week’s clean laundry to get it out of the laundry basket and make a meal plan. And somehow stop my kids from fighting and keep the noise level down and create a napping routine and try to remember how long it’s been since the last feeding/changing/bath and –

And Norah’s beautiful encounter shattered my expectations. I’ve been aiming so low. When I set my eyes and my expectations on what is below my shoulders – cleaning, laundry, perfection in myself, and my kids becoming “better people”, I find myself continually disappointed. I never arrive, so my expectations are never met, so I feel upset about life. There is always another dish to clean and load of laundry to do and squabble to work out and character issue to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out why I make expectations out of these things. Sure, they have to be done, but why set my heart on them? Why not set my heart on what’s valuable: meeting Jesus daily and teaching my kids how to meet Him daily, investing in my kids, modeling character, and reaching out to others? Why not set my daily standard on those things, knowing that if I focus my energy on these, we will reap beautiful reward?

Lowering my expectations and raising my standard means I have new hope for the day. It means I can let go of controlling the noise level and feeling inconvenienced by the mud and stop counting the number of burp cloths we’ve gone through. By raising the standard, instead of just expecting to be doing the same old stuff, we invite life here. Because opening ourselves to the creativity and will of God means no more disappointment about not meeting my own imperfect expectations. It means that what I look for are the opportunities – to hear God speaking to me, to create an atmosphere for Him to speak to my kids, and to create a family culture where we act on what He says.

I can’t say I know exactly what this looks like in “real life.” But I know for sure that changing the tune in my own heart sets the stage for the rest of the family. Raising my eyes to Jesus throughout every day will cause my kids to want to see what I’m looking at. And that’s exactly where we are going to start.

 

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And Now There Are Three.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who said she would never have kids. And now she has three.

Ok, ok, give me a break. I know my storytelling abilities should be way more developed by now, but I’ve never been great at storytelling. I did tell the truth, however. Once I genuinely thought I wouldn’t have any kids. And now I have three. Welcome to the circus.

My sweet Elena was gigantic when she was born. Eight pounds, 13 ounces. I will mention this only once (please don’t hate me, Lovely Other Moms), but I thank God a million times over because I only really labored two hours with her. It was the weirdest and most amazing thing, and also the biggest answer to “an easy labor” prayers. My little love was (and is) perfect.

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I held off on this post because I wanted to see what things were really like with three before I wrote anything about it. I didn’t want to be too gushy about the beauty of three kids. I didn’t want to harp on how hard it is. I didn’t want to bemoan my lack of sleep. So here’s what I’ve realized over the last 2 months: having kids, regardless of how many, is all about perspective.

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Take today, for example. I ventured out with all three by myself and had quite the afternoon. It consisted of a rousing game of I Spy, a lot of smiles from strangers because of my baby in the wrap, a lot of scowls from strangers because of my loudly crying children, explaining exactly why I don’t put money in the rides at the mall, an extensive trip to Mars (an echoing countdown to blastoff included), chasing a bouncy ball across the store while dodging other customers and leaving my two year old spinning in circles and screaming, letting my four year old get drenched in a splash pad I didn’t plan for, and having my feet peed on. And while I genuinely questioned my sanity on the drive home (and for the next several hours, actually), I realized that this life is good. It’s not easy, but it’s good.

Keeping my perspective that this life I have is good, even in the mess and stress and craziness, means that I’m training myself to be thankful for everything instead of upset that there are hiccups along the road. Often the beautiful moments happen in the same sitting as the challenges – interactions morph almost instantly back and forth, and the presence of the challenges doesn’t diminish the quality of the sweet or meaningful moments. For example, just because one of my children (who shall remain nameless) decided to throw chewed food into my face at dinner doesn’t take away the sweetness of the fact that two minutes before we were reading a Bible story and having a really good conversation about Jesus calming the storm. Keeping perspective means that I intentionally remember the good and the potential for good in my children and my situations, even when my natural tendency is to be pessimistic.

So today I am thankful that I have three kids who are healthy and able to cry and have meltdowns, even if those meltdowns embarrass me.

Today I’m thankful for a baby who sleeps well, even if she only does so in my wrap.

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Today I’m thankful for a car to drive us all around, even if I have to fight with the car seats every time we get in.

Today I’m thankful for keeping a kids’ potty in the trunk, even if it means having my feet accidentally peed on.

Today I’m thankful for the absolute, adoring love Micah and Norah have for their new sister, even though I spend a good majority of my time protecting Elena from smothering.

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I’m coming back to the blog with a new sense of transparency. More than ever I understand what it means to be stretched beyond my capabilities – my heart feels close to exploding with joy and love for my family one moment and exploding with frustration and agitation the next. I never imagined the feeling of expanding my wings to hold all the love, emotions, and developments of three ages, three people, and three distinct personalities, and yet looking back to just eight weeks ago makes me feel like there had to have been a void – unknown and unrecognized – that Elena now fills. We are growing together as a living puzzle, and among all the learning and wonderfulness and difficulty, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Five Tips To Surviving Your Third Trimester

My dear readers, I owe you an explanation. I did not intend to drop off the face of the blogosphere, but it was inevitable. My reason for disappearing is good – I am currently about 95% crazy pregnant lady. Being only 4-6 weeks away from my due date (Dear God, please let it be 4!), my nesting drive is in full swing. Every morning I wake up with a list longer than my pregnant brain can actually remember of things I want to accomplish before Elena comes, and everyday I accomplish about 1/3 of one of those tasks. The irony that I am more motivated to get things cleaned and organized during the same season that I am at about 20% of my ability to move has not escaped me. And yet, everyday I hope…I dream…

I have also been mentally consumed, not with writing my next post, but with deep and life altering questions. I find the need to imagine my way through scenarios such as, if I drop my keys, is it faster to call for Micah across the house , convince him to stop what he’s doing , and come help me? Or is it faster to squat to get them myself? And if I choose to get them, is there the possibility of me actually getting back up off the floor? Another frequent question is, how can I plan my trip around this grocery store to take the fewest number of steps and still get the maximum number of samples?

So here, my readers are five tips I’ve come up with to survive the third trimester of your pregnancy, especially if you have two other children in tow. Feel free to share this wisdom with sisters, daughters, friends, cousins, etc.

1. Train yourself to think of the hippopotamus and the whale as beautiful creatures. This will help you immensely when getting dressed every morning.

2. Don’t stress about the mess. Think about it. It’s so much easier to park yourself in the middle of all the toys that are already out and play with your kids for a couple of hours instead of bending over to pick up the same car six times a day. Think of it as organizational play and make piles of the ones that you’ll scoop into the give away box when you finally get the energy to stand up.

3. When in doubt, go for the dark chocolate. Hungry for a snack? Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants. Can’t decide if you prefer dark blue to baby blue in the nursery? Dark chocolate is the perfect brain food to help you creatively solve this problem. Arguing with your husband over just how many prenatal massages you need? Come, let us reason together over some dark chocolate.

4. Groaning and grunting are perfectly acceptable forms of communication with your family for weeks 32-40. Just try to explain to your two year old that she is actually still big enough for real words, but that mommy is too big for them.

5. Bond with that baby. It’s easier to endure all the discomforts when you remember that there’s actually a tiny human in there. Take the opportunity to lay on the couch and watch your bump move, and let your kids do the same. Talk and sing to that unseen wonder, and teach your kids the excitement of seeing the baby respond to what you do. I’ve taken many a necessary short nap while my kids shout jibberish into my belly button and kiss my stretch marks.

So there you have it. And now I will leave you for some chocolate ice cream and a brainstorming session on just how I’ll get off the couch when I’m finished with it.

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The Powerful Trade

Me: And the earth shook, and an angel came and -
Micah: He pushed the stone away! Mom, if I were like eighteen hundred years old, I could push the stone away, and the angel wouldn’t have to. I would be strong enough, maybe even stronger than Daddy!

There is a sweetness in the innocence of our kids. I love the way worlds merge and they understand everything in such literal ways. While I choose to believe that Jesus literally died for our sins, that an angel literally moved the stone away from His tomb, and that Jesus literally came back to life, the reality of the Easter story isn’t even a question to Micah. The real question for him is how many years old he has to be before he’s strong enough to move the stone (and also maybe how old Daddy really is, since by 1800 years old, Micah only might be stronger than him…)

Micah’s ready acceptance of Jesus’ death and resurrection speaks volumes to me. Not only does it test my heart – do I really, fully believe the way my four year old does? It also shows me the beauty of the simplicity of the gospel. Almost every kid understands the power of a trade, and almost every kid understands the sting of a consequence or punishment. Jesus didn’t just come to save adults. He came to save everyone, and in His beautiful wisdom, He did so through concepts that even kids can understand.

The other day I was trying to explain this to the kids. “It would be like if you did the biggest disobedience you could do. And Mommy was going to give you a gigantic time out, but then Jesus came and said, ‘I love Micah and Norah so much that I will do their time out for them. That way, you can forgive them, Mommy.'”
Norah started jumping on her bed at this point, but Micah said, “Yeah, and then I would not want to do that disobedience ever again. After that, I would ask Jesus to make me never do it again.”

At it’s most basic level, Jesus speaks His sacrifice to our hearts, whispering that His love is the motivator for making the trade for us. He didn’t do it because He wanted to have one up on us or hold it over our heads. He did it because He wants us to be able to be forgiven. He came to take the consequence for our biggest (and smallest) disobedience, willingly enduring the punishment so that God could forgive us and restore us back to Him. There is power in that trade. There is a heaviness and a beauty to that sacrifice. Christ, pure and sinless, enduring the wrath of a good God, justified in giving us punishment for our full, willing, and intentional disobedience, so that we can be allowed to be part of the family of God. So that we aren’t separated anymore from the wholeness that comes through being welcomed to God’s family.

Like a father, God can’t let us get away with disobedience and sin. It seeps into the cracks. It corrodes the good that it comes into contact with. My kids know what that’s like. How many times has everyone in the family become grumpy just because one of us woke up grumpy that morning? If they’re choosing to be ugly to us, or have yucky attitudes, or be willfully disobedient, they can’t be around the family. They have to be separated – a.k.a. “sit in your bed until you are ready” – until they can choose to say sorry and change their attitude or the way they’re treating us. In the same way, when we sin, we have to be separated from God, until we choose to accept the trade Jesus has offered us, asking for forgiveness, accepting that He already took the punishment for our big disobedience and that He can return us to the forgiveness and open arms of God the Father.

When I think of Micah trying to determine just how strong he would have to be to move the stone for Jesus, I can’t help but tear up. Jesus, powerful enough to take our sins and conquer death and the grave, big enough to shoulder the weight of the world’s sins (past and present and future), and strong enough to provide a bridge for us to a holy God, is still tender and focused enough to make the message of His sacrifice accessible even to small children. It isn’t a matter of whether this could happen . To Micah, it’s a matter of joining in because it is so exciting. Who doesn’t want to accept and be part of a trade this powerful? Who doesn’t want to trade their punishment for the biggest disobedience for being forgiven and restored to a family that loves you so much? And if being 1800 and strong enough to push that stone away and hurry up the process is the way to do it , Micah wants in.

At bedtime tonight, I told the kids that whoever asks Jesus to forgive their sins can go to heaven when they die because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. “I’ve already done that, Mommy,” Micah said. “But I really want Nay Nay to do it. I want her to know what it feels like.”

Me too, buddy. Because being forgiven and being restored is the most incredible thing , especially when we understand just how much we don’t deserve that trade. And the beautiful thing is, we don’t have to be strong or big or super smart to accept the trade. We just have to believe. Jesus has already done all the work. Instead of having to push the stone away ourselves, make the trade ourselves, or find a way to forgiveness for our dark secrets ourselves, we can do the other thing the angel did: sit on the stone and say, literally, “Jesus is not dead. Jesus is alive!” And because He lives, so can we.

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