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Live!

“Easter is the most important holiday we have.”

“It is?! More than Christmas?! WHY?!”

Micah couldn’t believe me. Mind blown. Easter is the most important holiday for us because without the resurrection, our faith is worthless. Jesus died for our sins, but if He had stayed dead? We would also die in our sin and everything we believe about God would be for naught. Don’t take my word for it. Paul said:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
and
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
(1 Corinthians 15)

Without the resurrection, there would be no power in our faith, no grace for our weakness, no salvation from sure death. Without the resurrection, evil wins.

But because Jesus rose from the dead, good triumphs. After taking every evil onto Himself and dying so that the evil would also die, Jesus, in perfect and complete power, triumphed over death itself by coming back. He gathered everything terrible that had ever happened, was happening, and would happen, gave Himself as the absolute necessary blood sacrifice to pay for all of the horrific evil, and then returned in ultimate victory. For you. For me.

Because of the resurrection, we can be cleansed from our sin (or the “yuckies in our hearts,” as Norah says)

Because of the resurrection, we can receive grace to have full relationship with God again.

Because of the resurrection, we can receive power to overcome sin.

Because of the resurrection, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can live in us.

Because of the resurrection, we can live in freedom, from sin and habits and hurts, because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Because of the resurrection, we can live!

We can live, my friends. Jesus died so I don’t have to. Jesus died so you don’t have to. He took our punishment and instead handed us life, and life abundantly. Our Savior is alive, and He invites us to live with Him!

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Living Grace by Grace

“Mom? Is Jesus bigger than monsters?”

Norah and I usually have important conversations like this when she’s sitting on the toilet.

“Yes, honey. He is.”

“Then why does He always look like…regular size in the Bible?”

Looking back, I really should’ve taken the opportunity here to reinforce that monsters are not, in fact, real. I didn’t. Instead I launched into a big, theological explanation about spiritual bodies and how God took on a man body when He came to save us so that He could identify with us in all things. Hmmm…Well, in any case, she was happy with my answer because we ended by singing He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.

Lately I have felt like our life is in upheaval. Scratch that. I’ve felt like that since we added another child to our family and we became a circus act. As I’m sure so many of you can identify, some days it’s all I can do to get the kids dressed. What the heck am I doing with the rest of our day? I’m not sure…except it may include one of the following: pulling out my hair, crying or holding a child who is, singing Elena’s name to the tune of thirty different songs, enthusiastically encouraging them to SLOW DOWN or CHILL OUT, fishing unknown and slimy objects out of my baby’s mouth, or playing Octonauts (“the one where Barnacles is asleep and it’s Tweak’s birthday” *Disclaimer: this episode doesn’t exist. I always play it wrong because I have no idea what is supposed to happen because it is not a real story. But apparently the story is real and the same in both of my kids’ minds.*). In any case, there is one thing that is the same every single day. The grace of Jesus. I cling to it like my life depends on it. Because it literally does. I cannot step forward in my day, my home, my relationships with my family unless grace has made a stepping stone for me first. The days that I try…whew. Those are bad days.

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And I think that’s why we’ve been having more conversations about God lately too. As I’m clinging to Jesus in every single second, it seems that He broadens the grace stone to include my children, and our atmosphere becomes safe to explore questions. Yes, I’m clinging to Him for a bucket load of patience and wisdom, desperate for His presence because I’m only human in a home with three “silly souls,” as Norah says. His presence comes with His gift of grace, and I can see them being drawn to Him.

If there’s anything I’m learning in this season, it’s to seize the moment to talk about Jesus. I need His grace moment by moment, so why wouldn’t they? And why not teach them to turn toward Him or think about Him in connection with every day things? By infusing our day with references to Jesus, saying things like “Oh, the Bible talks about that too!” when they bring up things about nature or people, or even showing them in the Bible what God says about their sin provides fodder for their thoughts. You’d be amazed at how much kids think about things and mull over them if you talk about them often enough. They aren’t too small to begin to understand and to begin to come to conclusions about God on their own.

The other day I got really mad because Norah was picking fights with Micah and knowingly pushing his buttons just to make him cry. I had tried disciplining and talking and having them reenact the fight with her doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing, but nothing worked. Finally I sat her down and showed her in Proverbs where it says God hates when people knowingly cause strife with each other. It was kind of a last resort, I’m-outta-ideas-here, plan. But, surprisingly, she really listened to me. I could see that she heard me and she realized it was serious. It hasn’t completely stopped the behavior, but she has brought it up to me several times. Taking the time to infuse the moment with Jesus helped her realize that her actions affect others in a bigger way, not just that she’ll get into trouble with Mommy if Mommy hears her being ugly.

But infusing the moment with Jesus and His grace extends beyond discipline. I overheard Norah all alone in the bathroom singing about why we worship Him, telling all her barrettes to worship too. It inspires beautiful conversations about what God is like and how He has brought us freedom from sin, though sometimes the questions they ask can be hard to answer. I love knowing that Jesus has grace with me when I am confused or struggling with something, so I can extend that grace to my kids when they bring up something they don’t understand about God or about why we have sin or why bad things happen. I don’t have to have all the answers, but I also don’t have to feel stressed or pressured to “set them straight” when they have genuine questions. Grace for all of us means that I can be open that I’m still learning and growing too, always pointing to a good God who willingly and gently teaches us.

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I’m not gonna lie, though. Sometimes the questions stump me or make me realize I better up my game. Like when Micah asked tonight, “Mom, how can Jesus like, hold the world in His hands and still be inside it?” And sometimes…well, sometimes we have conversations like this:

Me: The armor of God is the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness —
Micah: The breast milk of righteousness?!?

And I think God and I have a pretty good laugh. So when I’m singing Elena’s name, I sing that Jesus loves her. When I’m playing the mystery Octonauts episode, sometimes they pray for help to accomplish their mission. When we’re struggling through “BIG EMOTIONS”, we remember that God also has big emotions, but He helps us control them. And when some of our conversations turn silly, we laugh with Jesus because He has a sense of humor too. We are learning to live moment by moment, grace by grace.

PS. Here’s another picture of my cute baby.Why yes, those are pants hanging out of the Duplo bin. And no, I’m not totally positive as to whether they are clean or dirty.

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Let’s Make a Deal

I’m about to tell you one of my most favorite parenting decisions I’ve ever made. No, it’s not the hidden sock basket, though that is one of my favorites. (FYI: Kids don’t put dirty socks in the laundry basket. But they DO put them in the secret hidden sock basket in the living room. Because it’s a secret basket. Like a treasure chest…but with dirty socks.)

One of my most favorite parenting decisions is to make a deal. Have you ever tried letting your kids in on the discipline/consequence process? I don’t do it with everything, obviously, but there are certain issues that are resolved much easier and quicker when I let my kids in on creating the consequences.

One day awhile ago I was extremely tired of Micah’s whining. I had tried everything to stop it, and my ears were bleeding. Finally, quite by accident, I said to him, “Micah, I can’t handle your whining anymore! What are we going to do to get you to stop?!” And he replied, “Well, Mommy, maybe I just have to hop around the circle every time I do it.”

I honestly didn’t think it would work, especially because none of my very smart and perfectly thought out consequences had helped. But I was desperate, so we tried it. Every time those whinies came out, all I said was, “Hop the circle” in response, and he immediately got up, hopping like a rabbit all the way through the kitchen, down the hall, and back to me. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he dropped it and hopped. Let me tell you what, it worked like a charm! By the time he got back to me, not only was he out of breath to even try whining, but he couldn’t remember why it was worth whining about to begin with. Plus, it made me laugh.

And since then, whenever there is a non-serious issue that I can’t make a breakthrough in, I invite them to help me. We strike a deal: you help create the consequence, I help enforce the consequence, we all abide by the rules of the consequence. See, it seems to me that when I hand over some of the control in creating the rule, they take more ownership over it and more initiative in following it. They also seem to follow it easier and quicker when I’m not there to enforce it because part of it has come from their hearts.

For example, Norah loves her long hair. Loves Loves Loves. But she HATES when I brush it or pull it up, or wash it, for that matter.
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This is an old picture, but this is her real bed head, my friends. This is real trouble. So we struck a deal. IF she lets me wash her hair the night before, she gets to wear it down. IF she doesn’t let me wash her hair, I pull it up, and she gets to pick the barrette. We both follow the rules of this deal, and she gets all the choosing. No more struggle.

Another deal we have is Pennies at Dinner. I’m not sure if this happens at your house, but dinner chairs at my house apparently contain secret springs that shoot my children out of them as soon as they sit down. No amount of convincing keeps my kids sitting. So we struck a deal. It goes like this: you, child, get five pennies. Each time you get down, you give me one. If you go through dinner with all five pennies, you get to buy a candy from me. If you lose all five pennies, you get to have trouble.

“Pennies! CANDY!” yell my children.
“SIT!” yells their mother.

And they sit. And to date, Micah has never lost a penny, and Norah has only ever lost two. (And for the record, a candy is equivalent to one chocolate chip or one miniature candy cane. My poor, poor children. They have no idea how minuscule that is.)

I’m really into teaching my kids responsibility and obedience from the heart. I want them to know that rules are for reasons, like keeping them safe or keeping the family running smoothly, not just because mom likes to be mean. So in handing them partial control for non-serious issues, they get to evaluate the situation, be creative in coming up with possible solutions, and recognize the need for the rule to begin with. When they do this, it helps them to feel the responsibility for follow-through on their own. They’re not just going to get in trouble for disobeying, they’re actually letting themselves down because they know internally that they are doing something wrong. They get to experience the natural consequences of not following the rules.

The wonderful thing for me in all this is that I get to simply follow the rules too. It takes the power struggle out of it because we came up with it together. When Norah lost those two pennies, she didn’t want to give them to me. I geared myself up for a battle, but when I said, “Norah, that’s the deal, remember? Every time you get up, you give me a penny. That’s just how it goes with Pennies at Dinner,” she begrudgingly gave me two pennies, without a fight.

Sometimes the deals don’t work, so we throw them out. But when we hit on a good one that helps solve an issue that’s causing everyone frustration, we all win. And we all grow through the issue, eventually coming out of needing it all together. Micah never hops the circle anymore, and I’ve stopped saying, “Hop the circle!” in my sleep.

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It Just Isn’t A Thing.

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So we’ve been doing this three-kid thing for about six months now. And let me tell you what has become one of my main goals in the day: minimize the drama, man. For reals, though. The drama around here can get pretty deep. or steep. or something.

Now I’m actually all about walking through feelings with my kids. I try to make time for that in our day so that we learn how to communicate well and they feel like we are a safe place to express themselves. But here are some “feelings” we’ve been feeling lately.

Me: Ok, go brush your teeth.
Child who shall not be named, bursting into tears: IT HURTS MY FEELINGS WHEN YOU TELL ME THAT!

Child A: I’m pretending to be a super hero!
Child B: I WANTED TO BE A SUPER HERO!
Child A: OK! YOU CAN! DON’T YELL AT ME!
Child B: MOM! I’M BEING LEFT OUT AND THAT HURTS MY FEELINGS!

If you hadn’t noticed, we use a lot of caps around here. One day, out of partial craziness, I made up a song that says, “If you want to cry, poke yourself in the eye. But don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” They think it’s hilarious until I sing it to them, at which point it makes them cry. And sometimes one kid will recommend that I sing it to the other kid during a meltdown…which often makes it worse.

In any case, being up to the ceiling in drama, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring it down. While some tears are legitimate, some of them are over things that aren’t really…well, Things. So I’ve been trying this lately, “Oh, babe, that’s not actually a Thing.” Like when I say it’s time to get shoes on to leave the house, and they start to fight me, I say in a totally pleasant voice, “oh, that’s not really a Thing. We aren’t actually going to fuss about that.” And I move on. And you know? Maybe it’s because they’re so surprised (or maybe it’s because I use The Force), but they move on too.

I’m not really recommending that you try this (but if you do and it works for your kid, let me know!), but I’m more writing about it because I think it’s hilarious that it works. Of course, if there’s a real issue, then we definitely take the time to work it through. But I’ve decided that those non issues are no longer Things.

For example, I’ve stopped asking my kids to clean up and help me set the table. They kept turning that into a Thing, and I was tired of fighting. So instead, it’s not a Thing anymore. I just call them to me and start a conversation, and in the course of the conversation, I hand them dinner plates and forks and cups, or piles of laundry and toys, casually directing where they are to go. And the times they’ve stopped talking long enough to fight with me, I simply tell them, “Oh this isn’t really a Thing. Take this to the table while you tell me more about Mario.” The art of distraction. Like a Ninja.

They’ve been fighting a lot lately too, and partially I think it’s just because they don’t know what to play next. Obviously there are fights I have to mediate. But doggone it, the fights born of boredom or plain old pettiness aren’t worth it, and learning all the sides doesn’t really help anything because they just want to be dramatic. So when that happens, it’s just not a Thing anymore. I’ll tell them, “Guys, we don’t treat each other that way in our family. We just don’t. It’s not ok to fight, and this isn’t going to be a Thing anymore. Don’t do it again.” And sometimes, like a miracle, it works. Sometimes it works just long enough for me to leave the room. But sometimes it really does work.

And eating. OH. MY. GOSH. One of my children has started crying, “I don’t like this! I never like this!” before I even have a chance to put it on the table. The list of vegetables I could use could be counted on one hand. I started missing them. Dreaming of them. Longing for them. So, it’s no longer a Thing around here. I cook with every vegetable that sounds good to me. Take that, tiny people! And when the whining starts about what they see on the table, I tell them, “Oh, we aren’t going to make this a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” I do have a stipulation here, though, which is I only cook one dinner, and yes, peanut butter sandwiches count as cooking. Oh, and dinner time is family time, not whiny, go away and play time. So they gotta sit with me while I thoroughly enjoy my food. Now, I know this may sound harsh, but I’ll tell you how it’s worked for us: they eat dinner every night. With me. With minimal whining. Sometimes there is a pile of unliked vegetables on a napkin next to their plate (but not ON their plate. Because that is sacrilegious). But they eat, and actually hardly any one complains anymore because they know my answer: Oh, this isn’t going to be a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.

Trust me when I say I’m not flippant about my kids’ feelings. But I realized that I’ve been feeding some drama through my responses, and often these are the dramas that don’t need to be Things anyway. And honestly, through saying this to my kids, I’ve realized some of my own Things that I have had to give up. Like the pouty attitude I get when Elena doesn’t nap as long as I’d like. Instead of getting grumpy and mulling over how much I couldn’t get done, I have to put my grown up pants on. This just isn’t a Thing, Kim. Or how unbearably long it takes us to get through a store. Sometimes I just want to sob all my feelings to the cashier because we’ve been there for three hours and I stood through a long line with three crying kids and I just realized I forgot the celery that my kids will pick out of their soup tonight. But I have been telling myself, “This doesn’t have to be a Thing, Kim.” Because it doesn’t. There are enough Things in life that are inevitable that I don’t need to make anymore for myself. And there are enough Things that my kids have to learn and grow through that I don’t have to allow unimportant stuff to become more Things.

I’ve been working to pare down our lives to what’s important and not. Fighting isn’t. Drama isn’t. Showing patience and boundaries is. So even if I refuse to take up some of the Things that my kids want to cry over, placing that boundary around us for next time is good for them. And good for my sanity. Because my sanity….well, that should be a Thing.

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The Clash of the Personalities

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There are some battles that I always determined to win. There are some that I always felt could be negotiable. And there are some that I never expected to fight, most of which I have come away waving the white flag.

I’m not sure how the thought escaped me that I may have a child with a very different personality than mine. In my beautiful, peaceful, serene dreams of parenthood before I ever had a baby, my children were always compatible with my personality. Sure, we would have to establish discipline and rules, but after that, we would always get along. Downright smooth sailing.

Enter: my child with a completely different personality than me.

If you’ve read any of my posts about muddling through discipline with my two year old, you may have picked up on this before I ever did. But once I realized it, life is a whole new world. Not usually always in an easy way, but now I’m trying to approach things differently to help us both to thrive instead of clash over and over and over.

Ok, I admit. We sometimes still clash over and over and over. But now I can approach the clashes (or aftermath) with some levelheadedness and solutions instead of feeling completely helpless. This is what I’m trying to do:

 

1. Realize my child is an individual, not an intentional source of conflict. This means that often the way she is acting is because she’s wired differently than me. Even though our personalities may clash, her actions and reactions aren’t necessarily always an attempt to buck my authority. In the same way that I may not understand why she reacts to something a certain way, she may not understand why I’m acting or disciplining this way either. This potential for misunderstanding has led to so many huge outbursts between us that could have been avoided had I stopped to remember that this approach is actually part of how she is wired. When I realize that she isn’t (always) trying to just be a little stink to me, then I can be more patient and gracious in how I respond.

2. Do my research. Once I realized that Norah is not only the namesake of my sister, but also her carbon copy, I was able to pinpoint so much of why we struggle. As kids, my sister and I fought like cats, but after we learned how to relate to each other in high school and adulthood, we have been able to become very close. I’ve spent several a long conversation with her on how her personality works, what makes it tick, and how to get through on a level that make sense and sticks. Knowing and understanding the aspects of a personality that seems to foreign to me has helped me to recognize when these triggers pop up and how to approach them so they don’t explode. There are quite a few books out there about how to determine your child’s personality, as well as free online Myers-Briggs and other types of personality tests. I’m planning to read and do some of these things as Norah gets older to help me better understand her as she solidifies more of her personality.

3. Realize the strengths of her personality, and celebrate and encourage them. Sometimes the strengths of another personality can show up in unmanaged or rough ways. Like a diamond that isn’t always beautiful in the middle of the rough, these strengths have to be worked on in order to be used well. Sometimes, they are downright frustrating to me because I don’t understand them well. But choosing to recognize them as strengths, instead of seeing them as conflict and trying to shut them down because they don’t match with my personality, allows me to invest in the person God created my child to be. Instead of creating patterns of frustration and negativity in her, I can encourage her to walk in her strengths within healthy boundaries. For example, it’s a big deal when she feels wronged. Not only does she outburst, but she wants the wrong to be righted. This can be a huge challenge when she is so focused on the wrong being atoned for, and it can be frustrating. Until I remember that it isn’t just that she wants it to be fixed, it’s that her personality is justice oriented. If I realize that being justice oriented can be an asset to her and that it also is accompanied by a bigger heart of compassion for those who are being wronged than any I could ever muster, then I can see the beauty of that diamond in the middle of the current rough and work toward drawing it out instead of throwing it out.

4. Discipline based on building character. I try to do this anyway, but with a conflicting personality, it helps me to focus on what to discipline for, instead of disciplining whenever we have a clash. We want to build solid, godly character into our kids – respect, responsibility, kindness, patience, a good work ethic, etc. Because this is our goal, we try to tailor our discipline for building those things, choosing character battles instead of, say, fashion or food battles. I never expected to have such a struggle over clothes and hair with my daughter – I always thought I would let her choose but still have the influence to help things, you know, match. But often we struggle because she wants to pick the thing that I specifically don’t want or like just because I don’t want or like it. This especially drove me crazy on Sundays. Seriously, who lets their daughter wear jeggings and tennis shoes with dress socks under a frilly pink dress, without combed hair to church? Me, apparently. I finally let go and don’t even give an opinion about her clothes anymore because it isn’t worth it. As long as her attitude toward me isn’t ugly or spiteful, I’ll wave my white flag for fashion and not even think about a time out for not wearing matching clothes to church. On the other hand, if she decides to scream ugly words at one of us, we discipline for treating us wrongly.

5. Recognize the pitfalls of my own personality, and work toward growth in those areas. There are so many things I struggle with, and the weaknesses of my own temperament are often exposed when we are in a conflict. Just because I’m the mom doesn’t mean I am always right or always deal with things rightly. I have to be careful not to teach my kids weakness in these areas as well. For example, I have a tendency to struggle with fear. My personality tends to look at things through a lens of disaster preparation. But to my wild and carefree two year old, my constant irrational warnings (“don’t climb on that, you can fall and get tangled and we’d have to call the fire department to cut you free!”) can implant a fearful tendency that would normally be absent in her personality. By seeing both of our strengths and weaknesses realistically, I can tailor my responses to help teach her strength in areas where where she is weak, and receive from her where she can really impart strength into my weaknesses. Because, honestly, I could really benefit from some of that wild and carefree spirit.

Walking in peace with our kids often means making sacrifices for them. Sacrificing our time and energy to learn about who they are and how they work can only be a benefit to our relationships and to their futures. It’s my goal to invest my heart into each of my children, tailoring my interactions with them to show them their value to me. So far each one is very different from me and from each other, but that just means we reap a beautiful complexity in our family, one that speaks volumes to a creative God. I want to encourage that complexity instead of stifle it and celebrate our differences instead of bemoan them. Even if that does mean going to church with dress socks with tennis shoes.

 

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When Fear Comes Knocking

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Tonight I’m going to write about something near but not so dear to my heart.

Fear.

It seems like the world has gone crazy over the last few years. Maybe it’s always been crazy and I just didn’t realize it, or maybe it’s a new feeling of crazy because now I have kids. The possibilities of death and disease and kidnapping and abuse that could snatch my children away from me are overwhelming. And, to be honest, can be quite paralyzing. If I let myself think for even two minutes about the ways the world can grab my kids, I end up on the twisty slide of horrible fear. It starts as that gripping feeling in the pit of my stomach, and much like heartburn, travels it’s way up my chest and throat, and eventually springs out my eyes as a gush of uncontrollable tears.

Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

Now I talk about this because I deal with it, not because I’ve overcome it. Fear trots alongside me like that obnoxious stray dog who thinks it’ll get fed if it sticks around long enough. And to be sure, each time I glance down to make sure it’s still there, I encourage it to get a little closer and a little closer. If I’m not actively sending it away, it becomes my constant companion.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but fear steals. It steals the joy of the moment because our thoughts are consumed with the future. It steals peace because our hearts are intent on living in a scenario where there is no peace. It steals thankfulness because all we can think about is what we don’t have in that imaginary scenario. Be it sickness or death or separation, or whatever, we imagine a situation where we are without. Without peace, without love, without joy, without comfort, without hope, without life.

But wait, aren’t we robbing ourselves of those things when we give our minds and hearts over to fear anyway? If my mind is there instead of here, what is filling it? That peaceless, loveless, joyless, hopeless scenario that may never come true.

See, God is really, really good at giving us grace for our circumstances. But He doesn’t ever give us grace for the ones that are not here. Why would He give me the grace to handle a situation that I’m imagining? Here’s the flipside to that: every time I let fear plant a what-if in my mind, I imagine the worst. I imagine a scenario that lacks God’s grace to carry me through. That’s what fear, and our old enemy, wants to do. To plant a seed of distrust in our hearts: if ______ comes true, God will not carry me through it.

But dear friends, that is the old lie. I struggle to remember and to set my heart on this truth: that if we or our children encounter any of the horrible things happening, be it sickness or death or pain or suffering, the grace of God will wrap around our hurting shoulders and carry us through the thick of the suffering. God doesn’t give us grace for the imaginations of our fearful hearts, but He does give us grace for the real struggles we do and will face.

When two of our good friends died from cancer, battling long and hard against it, I watched as God’s insurmountable grace carried both families. This nightmare was horrific, but God had not abandoned them. In the middle of all my fears, I have to remember that God will not abandon me either.

I can’t answer exactly why God allows terrible things to happen. But instead of dwelling on the why, I can look to the overwhelming evidence that He remains present to get us through them.

So to the fears that pile up against me, to that stray dog I abhor, to that rising feeling of panic that I despise, I turn my back. When fear comes knocking at my door, I’m learning to let Jesus answer it. There should be no room in my heart for them, only for the peace that comes with knowing my Savior, and the joy that comes from His grace for the present.

 

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Practice Makes Better

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You know what I hate? Anyone want to take a guess?

Cabbage. Swiss Chard. Herbal Tea. Feeling thirsty.

I also hate the phrase “Practice makes perfect.” If you know me at all, you know I’m a recovering perfectionist. It wasn’t until I had kids that I broke down and started letting God deal with my perfectionism (because I started to drive myself crazy trying to be perfect AND be a mother! Can those two things even go in a sentence together?).

But back to that phrase. Can I explain why this is the perfectionist’s nightmare? It gives the illusion that perfection is attainable. While it is impossible for someone to actually be perfect, this saying, something that I said to myself over and over growing up and something that is often said to kids who are trying to learn a new skill, makes you think that someday you will arrive. If you just try hard enough, work long enough, strive enough, pressure yourself or others enough, have high enough standards, or give enough, you will be able to attain that perfection. The clincher is that no matter how much “enough” you get to, you will never actually arrive. You will never be perfect.

Devastating.

Sometimes I see seeds of perfectionism growing in my kids. They’re holding themselves to some kind of standard that is unreasonable and can’t be reached. When this happens, it’s like I see myself in a miniature body, and it’s not the “Myself” I always wanted in my kids. One day we had a serious all-out meltdown because Micah couldn’t copy the drawing of a face exactly like the example. It literally ruined his day. You know what was wrong with it? The ears were lower than the original.

See, one problem with perfectionism is that it completely halts any kind of growth. Instead of being able to see that this drawing was an opportunity to learn more about art, or that the ears being lower could even be a nice change to the picture, perfectionism pointed the failure finger and slammed the growth door in Micah’s face.

When I allow perfectionism to actively participate in my life and into our home, we get hung up on what isn’t happening – the house isn’t getting clean enough, the kids aren’t reading enough, we aren’t getting outside enough, I’m not reading the Bible to them enough, we aren’t eating enough healthy food. They aren’t picking up toys often enough, they aren’t getting along enough, they aren’t responding to me nicely enough. Enough, enough, enough! Instead of getting hung up on what is good and right in our family, seeing hiccups and speed bumps and potholes as areas for tangible growth, we let the walls close in. We get tunnel vision and we begin to feel the pressure to meet some kind of standard that a normal, healthy, godly family is never called to reach.

For example, I aim for willing obedience from my kids.
My perfectionism aims for them never needing grace.

I aim for consistency in patience and kindness toward my family.
My perfectionism aims for never having days when my patience is tried or I don’t feel kindness.

I aim for teaching my kids to take chances in learning and growing.
My perfectionism aims for my kids trying something once and doing it right thereafter.

See the difference? Allowing perfectionism to seep into my kids’ lives from my own expectations creates stress, unneeded pressure, and all around misery. Because I don’t want this lifestyle, I’ve been trying to change. For example, for my own sanity, I’ve decidedly given up writing to-do lists. This might sound funny to you, but it feeds my perfectionistic pride to have a huge list of to-dos and to cross them off. Crossing them all off means I had a perfectly productive day. Leaving even one shows that I failed to accomplish. Sounds ridiculous, right? It is utterly ridiculous. Which is why I refuse to indulge it anymore. With my kids, I allow mess, like letting them cook with me and getting flour everywhere. And letting them paint or pour liquids or fold laundry in the way that they choose. Today Norah so willingly helped me fold a huge basket of laundry, and it took everything within me not to refold each piece she handed me. Instead of refolding them, I took the opportunity to teach her how to do it, and even though it wasn’t “right,” it was folded. Kind of.

I also try not to compliment them by saying things like “That’s the best picture you’ve ever drawn!” or “That was the funniest joke I’ve ever heard!” Guess what? Those kinds of compliments imply that they’ve arrived. If that was the best picture ever, the pressure is too great to keep working at it to get better. How can they compete with the best picture ever? Or on the flip side, if they’ve already done the best, then why even work for it again?

I know they don’t consciously think through compliments that deep, but I’m trying to feed their hearts and minds with a growth mentality, not a stagnant mentality.* If I say, “Wow! That is a really good picture!” I still fulfill the desire to be praised for a job well done, without giving them an unnecessary standard they have to meet or exceed next time. Investing in a growth mentality means that I feed their desire to keep going, keep learning, and keep taking the chances to succeed. They won’t be as afraid of failure because a less-than picture isn’t being measured against the already-perfect picture from before. Failure isn’t debilitating because their learning plane isn’t reaching for the highest heights, only to crash to the lowest lows when something isn’t just right.

Yes, some perfectionism and fear of failure is part of personality. It is in me. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in it. If anyone understands the struggle against perfectionism, I do, and I’m willing to do what it takes to help my kids not be paralyzed by its unreasonable standards. And the beautiful thing is, by them simply being around, they’re helping me learn the same thing.

*This idea of growth vs. stagnant mentalities comes from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what I have read has rocked my little perfectionistic mind.

 

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