Monday, February 22, 2016

Daddy's Office Has No Door

In our old apartment, there was a small room, off of the living room, that we made into an office. We lined it with bookshelves- all of which were stuffed to the brim with books on everything from commentaries and Hebrew and Greek texts to C.S. Lewis novels and Harry Potter. In the nooks and crannies and little openings between the books I had set pictures of Annie as a baby and pictures of our family. Also in the room were whiteboards covered in Aramaic, Hebrew, and other languages I could never decipher- clear evidences that this was Matt's studying cove. Annie knew this room as "Daddy's office," the room enclosed only by a thick red curtain, but no door.

As our Annie girl grew and began walking, this room held more and more of a draw for her. She no longer looked at the curtains as barriers, for she knew that she could easily and quickly sneak right through them into a room filled with books, pens, markers, and other treasures. And, if she made her little escapade at night when Daddy was home, she knew she would most likely find him sitting in his tall black chair, and that he would always welcome her with a smile and a warm hug (even though Annie hugs only last for a few special seconds before she is on to something else :)

As I watched this happen night after night, I began to see a beautiful picture of our unlimited access to our loving Heavenly Father. Through our union with Jesus, the "door" to Him has been torn down. We no longer have a barrier between us and Him. We can crawl to Him at any time, knowing He will always receive us with loving, gentle arms- not because of anything we have done or because of who we are, but because He has chosen to set His perfect, steadfast love on us.

Watching Annie crawl through the curtain, her face lit up with her beautiful baby smile, and seeing her climb up onto Daddy's lap encouraged me to "crawl into" my Father's lap as often as I can- praying to Him as I'm washing dishes or rocking my baby to sleep. And listening to His Words throughout my day. I can know with confidence that He will never turn me away, but will always welcome me with loving arms.

"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Thoughts on "Loving the Little Years" (Part II)

Besides the encouragements and challenges for mommies Rachel Jankovic gives (see Part I), she also shares some helpful and practical parenting advice throughout her book…

  • “Set behaviors into stories”- just like the Biblical example of Nathan the prophet telling David a story to help convict him of sin, Rachel suggested setting your children’s behaviors into stories to help them see their sin in a different light. One example she gave was telling boys a story of a very brave knight and how he was set out on a mission to slay the dragon, but instead, he hit the beautiful princess. Right away the boys would be able to detect what was wrong about the story! And it would be much more effective than “Don’t hit your sister!” I thought this was brilliant and am keeping this in mind for when our girls are a bit older. 
  • “Words are like knives”- We’ve heard this before, but Rachel puts a twist on this truth. She acknowledged how littles tend to repeat e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g they hear- we are just now entering into this stage! Now, there are obvious words we do not want our children saying (and we shouldn’t be saying), but what about the more obscure words? Sometimes littles might hear words used by adults like- “Oh, I was being really dumb when I said that- I’m sorry” or “Shut up! You’re kidding!” It’s in these situations the littles might stare at you with those wide and wondering little eyes, silently asking, ‘Wait a minute, they said that word!” To explain why adults might use certain words but her children are not allowed to use them, Rachel said she and her husband explain to their children that words are like knives… there are different uses for different kinds of knives, and children are too young to discern these uses. If they played with the knives, they would most likely end up hurting themselves or injuring someone else. Adults, however, have more wisdom and know how to use certain knives for appropriate circumstances. This does not give them liberty to use the knives to hurt others; that is still wrong. But sometimes they might use knives when it is appropriate to do so. … I had never thought of explaining words in this way before. It shouldn’t mean parents don’t guard what they are saying, but I thought it could be a helpful illustration for how to view words. It can help get to the heart behind why we say what we do rather than just using a blanket “dont’ say that word” rule. Because all words, including “not so bad” words like “Stink!” or “Shut up!” can be said with an appropriate heart attitude or out of a heart that is full of anger or revenge.
  • Discipline = moving from one set of temptations to another. I thought this was SO helpful! Rachel explained that disciplining a child does not result in a perfect child, but children will continue to struggle and continue to need discipline throughout their entire childhood- they might just move from one set of temptations to another (from throwing food on the floor to not saying “no” to mommy!). And this is not a discouraging thing- this can be a sign of growth! Sometimes as a mom, I feel like I am constantly disciplining and teaching all throughout the day, and it can be super discouraging as I think I’m not seeing any progress! But Rachel encourages moms to look for progress in the little things! Your toddler isn’t hitting her sister with the whisk anymore, she’s giving her kisses instead of biting her, or she's coming the first time you called her instead of the tenth. Yes, there might be new things she is struggling with. but all of these are signs of growth! How easy it can be to see all the ways she still needs to grow and miss encouraging her for all the ways she has already grown! Growth is growth; it is not coming into perfection. No one can ever, ever, ever be perfect! And it is this truth that can help point our littles to Jesus, Who was perfect for them. This was a good reminder to value growth, don’t be discouraged by imperfect littles (how imperfect am I anyway!!!), and to keep pointing our girls to Jesus. 
  • The “Bulk Effect”- This can be defined as a number of little things that aren’t so bad in and of themselves, but together, they create a chaotic situation. Example: sequined craft hanging on the fridge + toddler who still loves to put things into her mouth + pot boiling over + baby who just had a blowout diaper. This type of “bulk effect” situation can bring the temptation to be impatient with the toddler and take the craziness of the situation out on them. Knowing our tendency toward this and being able to detect these types of ‘bulk effect” situations can be extremely helpful! It can help us be faithful and fair in our discipline and treatment of our children as individuals, not all together in a lump. We should gently and lovingly teach and discipline individuals, not situations. 
  • Fights & “Breaking fellowship”- Rachel shares in one chapter how she talks with her children about fights, especially fights over toys or whose turn it is to do what, etc. She says her goal is to help her children see that they are “breaking fellowship” with each other and to help them learn how to prioritize their relationship over things and to eventually reconcile with each other so they can be “in fellowship” again. I had never before heard this “big word” used with littles in relation to fighting before. But how neat is it to teach them this important truth at such a little age! Instead of focusing on “she had it for x amount of time, so you will get it in y amount of time” or to continually be telling them to stop fighting and to share, etc., it would be helpful to give them a picture of the root of what is happening when they fight. I was thankful for Rachel’s explanation of this, and can see it being very helpful with our girls in the near future!
  • “Childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational problem.” - Last but not least, this statement really challenged me and gave me a fresh perspective! I feel like I often focus on routines and schedules and how to run a house smoothly- certain days for laundry, certain times set aside for cleaning, naps at such and such a time, etc. And it can be easy to try to “organize” my littles into the perfect little routine (which RARELY gets carried out and tends to cause more frustration and discouragement on my part). So this was a good reminder that, although routines are not bad and can definitely be helpful (toddlers thrive on them, I’ve found!), I should be continually caring for (“pastoring”) my littles’ hearts. Some days organization might go out the window for some much needed quality time when an adorable little lady takes my hand asking me to do “special craft ‘gether pweeeeese!!!” It’s good to remember she needs me and her heart and our relationship is more important than following a perfect routine. This is so refreshing. 

Hopefully sharing all of this has been encouraging!

And if you are a mommy with littles- or a daddy!- or even just work with littles, I would really, really encourage you to read this book and let your heart be encouraged and challenged! 

Thoughts on "Loving the Little Years" (Part I)

Just yesterday, I finished reading the book Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. This thin, little book was stuffed to the brim with encouragements, challenges, and nuggets of truth for mothers. Rachel shares her stories in such a warm, honest, and heart-touching way that at one point I was laughing out loud, many times I was smiling, and one time I even had tears in my eyes while I was reading. I was so touched by her book at this stage of my life, as a mommy to two littles, that I wanted to do a little journaling about it to help me think a little more deeply on some of her points…

  • “The state of your heart is the state of your home.” As noted many times on this blog, and I’m sure noticed by anyone who knows me, I really love order and organization. Scrubbing the kitchen sink or getting the grime out of the nooks and crannies of our stove is kind of like a refreshing sort of therapy for me. Strange, but true. So, when I read this phrase, “The state of your heart is the state of your home,” it made me think. I tend to want to flip this phrase around- in other words, the state of the kitchen or the state of our living room floor sometimes determines the state of my heart. Yesterday, when there were about one hundred toothpicks sprawled about on our living room floor, a chunk of bread surrounded by bread crumbs on our kitchen counter, play dough “cupcakes” in muffin tins spread throughout the kitchen, a crying baby, and a clingy toddler, I had one of those “moments”- moments when I can feel my heart becoming anxious, stressed, and frantic. With a toddler and a newborn these types of chaotic moments tend to happen more often than not! And, when they do it can be easy for me to want to be stressed or anxious because things are not as “orderly” as I’d like. This little nugget of truth from Rachel, however, stuck with me as I took in that situation yesterday. Things can be seemingly crazy all around me, but, by God’s grace, as I am thinking on Him and not on the craziness, my heart can still be calm and controlled. And this is what brings glory to my Father- and much more joy to me!
  • “Building up little people, and not tearing them down.” Just the other day, I was telling someone (probably Matt) about how fussy Clara had been that day. Annie must’ve picked up on this, because she has been playing with her baby dolls and saying, “Cranky! Fussy!” “Crella (Clara) so fussy!” Having a toddler repeating everything you say can really show you glimpses into your own heart and attitude that are sometimes not so pretty! When I read this section in the book about building up the little people in my life, it made me think of how I speak about our littles- especially to my husband. When he comes home from work or school, and I’m telling him about our day, am a building our littles up or tearing them down (even if I think they can’t understand me yet- because I’ve found toddlers are quite a bit smarter than you’d think!) Jesus always speaks well of children, and I want to follow His example. Not that it is wrong to share struggles I’ve had throughout the day with Matt- because my day is filled with little people, there will always be both joys and trials related to them!- But being careful to set a guard over my mouth, especially how I speak in front of them, and seeing my words as a glimpse into my own heart. Continual complaining reveals that my heart is not content and is not thankful. And I want to have a heart that is overflowing with thankfulness for the two little gifts of life that God has blessed us with! 
  • “Thanksters” vs. “Cranksters”- Going along with the previous point, Rachel says she and her husband are often asking their children (and in turn checking their own hearts as well!) if they are being thanksters or cranksters. She defines these in such simple terms- a “Thankster” thinks on what they DO have while a “Crankster” focuses on what they DON’T have. I love how simple and clear cut this is- no room for excuses! So when I speak (out loud or even just in my own head), what am I focusing on? Yes, the toddler may be clingy and fussy, but I can thank God that I have been blessed with this little toddler in my life. Sure, the baby screamed the whole way in the car, but I can thank God she is healthy and has an obviously healthy set of lungs! Being a thankster like this will not only make life more joyful, but will speak well of my heavenly Father and will help my mind be focused on Him rather than dwelling on thoughts of discouragement or self-pity. 
  • Sacrifice- Rachel encouraged mamas to sacrifice for their littles. After becoming a mommy, I realized you could define mother by this one word- “sacrificers” - sacrificers of our bodies, our time, our sleep, the list could go on. But Rachel gave examples of more simple kinds of “sacrifices,” ones that happen over and over in the little moments throughout our days… sacrificing peace and quiet for the joy your toddler gets from that musical toy, sacrificing a clean floor for special time with a little who wants to “help” grate the carrots for the salad, sacrificing time on Pinterest for quality time together sorting colored buttons with a toddler who took your hand saying “Mommy, do it ‘gether!” … And, after truly thinking about it, these are not really sacrifices at all. They are simply choosing the more important things over the lesser things in life. 
  • “Bodies are tools, not treasures.” This is a tough one, especially in our culture where we are bombarded by images of what is considered “beautiful.” And then we are confronted by the realities of what being a mom does to our bodies. The two do not seem to align very well! Mommy-hood totally changes your body, and it can be very easy to resent this. But, Rachel reminds mamas that our bodies are not ours to treasure. They are given to us by God to be used- and what better use of them than one of the things they were designed for- carrying and giving birth to new little lives! This is beautiful to God. We just need a redefinition of beauty.

Continue to Part II  to read on some thoughts I had on some her parenting advice...