Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thoughts on Mommyhood...

Melody had asked about my recommendations for parenting books, and I was going to send her a short little comment about it, but it ended up not being very short! The topic of parenting/discipline strategies has been on my mind a lot lately, so I decided to dedicate a whole post to the topic. Not that many will care. But it's my blog, and I'll write about it if I want to. =)

As for discipline and issues related to having a toddler, I really like Shepherding a Child's Heart. I've said that before. But the following is a list of books/systems that I am familiar with because of reading portions of them or by seeing how people close to me have implemented them in their own families, and I have learned enough from them to want to read them in entirety. I'm in new territory now with Jonah, so I'm sort of at the starting point of learning how to parent a toddler, and I have lots to learn. So, know up front that I have not yet read all of these completely, so it can't be an official recommendation at this point. But I know enough about them to know that they teach principles that we feel God desiring us to implement in our home. As with all parenting resources, everything should be measured by not only God's Word but also God's personal leading through our own relationship with Him. More on that later. Here's my list:

  • Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman
  • Growing Kids God's Way by Gary Ezzo
  • Parenting With Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline
  • To Train up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl

Now, as for when Jonah was a baby, we used a combination of the ideas in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and the Babywise books. I'm a big fan of both books, but like I said, I combined their ideas, taking a little and leaving a little from both. What was important to me was that we created an atmosphere in which structure and order existed but where loving affection was not abandoned in the pursuit of a schedule. Flexibility is key. Both of these books promote a eat-wake-play routine based on about a 3-hour schedule for a newborn. It is a concept that I feel works very well for babies. Mine didn't sleep through the night any sooner for being on this schedule (due to some late-discovered eating issues), but most babies do! I saw it over and over again in the infants I nannied for before having Jonah, so I knew immediately that this was the system I wanted to follow for nursing, naptimes, and other aspects of infant life. Oh wait, what other aspects?! It seems like that's about all you do for a few months, right? =) But anyway, that's why I like those books. I just want to state those reasons clearly, because if you're looking to follow a more child-centered approach (like attachment-parenting), then you won't like my infant-book recommendations! Don't bother reading them. And there are other methods that I'm sure work too. This is just what we did.

But two things have been on my mind lately regarding this stuff. One is an ever-growing conviction that our parenting should reflect God's character. We know that. But we often forget that God's character is a blend of grace and justice, mercy and righteousness, compassion and truth. His character traits don't contradict each other, but they work together perfectly. He has a high standard - holiness - but He is full of grace as He mercifully leads us to Him. It just seems right that godly parenting would reflect this seemingly-paradoxical reality of God's character. Our parenting should be blended. There seem to be a lot of people who adhere to more extreme views on parenting. I could talk ALL DAY about the two polar-opposite views of baby-raising that I see all the time. Attachment parenting vs. Hyper-scheduling. I've noticed that a lot of people choose one of these views and have nothing to do with any aspect of the other. I'm not going into detail about what I feel is wrong about adhering to such an extreme view or what the effects I've seen from either end. I will just say that the reason I want to find a mix of the two philosophies is that I want to do my best to represent the whole of God's character and not just represent one part of it. As my child's parent, I am an authority in his life and have the responsibility to set boundaries and teach him to obey. I don't have to apologize for that. God put me in that role! I also have the responsibility to show love, grace, mercy, compassion, and tenderness to my child. BOTH are profoundly significant responsibilities in helping to shape my child's understanding of who God is. Which leads me to conviction #2....

The other thing that God has reminded me of lately is that the ONLY way to be a godly parent is to know Him more and nurture my own relationship with Him. Everything I do as a parent should flow from my relationship with my Savior. Anything else is futile. Really. I'm trying to reach my child's heart; good behavior is not the goal. So if I'm living a life based on "behavior" and not out of real love and heart-devotion to the Lord, then what am I doing? What kind of model am I for my child? If I parent out of anything other than heart-love for God, then I know I won't be the one who gives my child a picture of Christ. That thought makes me sad. Yet, this is hard for me. I confess that too many days I parent, teach, and discipline my child out of my own selfishness - wanting to make life easier for myself, wanting to "prove" myself or my skills, wanting others to be impressed/not wanting to be embarrassed by my child's behavior. That is YUCKY stuff. So I'm just realizing afresh this week how important it is for me to kill my selfishness and pride every day and rely on the Holy Spirit to transform my heart daily so that I desire more of God's glory than my own comfort. And it's a beautiful thing that it works this way. If I focus on my own heart and becoming who God wants me to be, then naturally, God gives wisdom in parenting. I won't say it's a breeze always! But I've yet to not get answers from Him on any parenting question or challenge when I'm really seeking Him from a right heart. Sometimes He'll even lead me to some other source. It's why book recommendations are great, but you really only want to read the ones or take advice from the people you know God is leading you to listen to. Now I'm trying to only seek out answers or help from a book or from a friend when I know God is giving me peace about turning in that direction. And I'm afraid I won't know if the nudge is from Him if I'm not in the Word. It all goes back to "Where is my own heart?" So I hope no one follows any of my reading or parenting recommendations unless they are walking with the Lord and sensing His leading to do so. He might want you to learn from someone other than me or the authors of the books I've mentioned.

Beyond the Scriptural instructions God gives us about parenting, there are so many different ways to parent our children, and I've really come to believe that God leads many people to do a lot of the specific, practical parts of parenting in different ways than He leads others. I know that sounds simple. And for all of you who score high on mercy when you take spiritual-gifts tests, you're probably thinking that's pretty obvious. But I've been slow to learn that one. I tend to think really black-and-white on a lot of issues. There are lots of black-and-white issues in the world. But I'm thinking that nap schedules, breastfeeding, creative correction techniques are not some of them! I shared my convictions earlier on the dangers of adhering to an extreme view of parenting that limits our portrayal of a large part of God's character. I believe that so strongly. But what we do as parents between the two extremes is something that looks different from family to family, even when God is the one the parents are following. I wish the world of mommies could all respect each other, despite these differences. I wish the differences didn't affect friendships as negatively as they do sometimes. I wish women weren't made to feel like big disappointments and failures by other mommies because of these differences and instead received encouragement and respect. I want to learn more from other mommies and our differences. I've met some great families here that I admire and respect what their children are becoming, and a lot of them I've found out have done a lot of things differently than our family has. It is important to have relationships with people who have the same biblical goals, but how we get there is going to look different a lot of times. And that's ok! I think the world of mommies just needs to show each other some more grace. I'm working on this one. After all, none of us is perfect. We will never cultivate our relationship with God into perfection while on this earth. We all go through times when we resist Him in our hearts, refusing to commune with Him, choosing not to spend time studying the Bible - and we all receive GRACE when we come to Him with broken, repentant hearts. We all need grace. And we should all be extending it to one another. Especially as fellow mommies!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fall Fun

This is such a fun time of year to have a little one! There's been a lot of fun fall stuff happening lately. Here are some pics to show you what we've been up to. On Friday, our playgroup went to a farm/pumpkin's a new one in town and it's my favorite ever because it's first of all, FREE, and secondly, adorably cute. There was a fun playground, a maize of haystacks, a big hill of hay to play on (or "mountain" to the kids), a catfish pond where the kids could feed the fish, a hayride out to the pumpkin patch where the kids got to pick out a pumpkin, and tractor-pulled "train" rides. It was fun to be somewhere that finally Jonah was at the age where he could do all of the activities. He had a blast.

And, somehow, I'm ending up taking a lot of pictures on the "ch" in "cheese" instead of the "ee" and his face tends to look like this in a whole lot of our pictures:

Last night we went to our church's Halloween block party, and Jonah had fun as a lion. He finally figured out the point of the games (getting candy!) towards the very end of the night, so he didn't accomplish as much as I'd hoped, in terms of collecting candy for his Mommy! But he had so much fun seeing everyone in their costumes. I'll post more costume pictures when actual Halloween comes, but here is what he looked like after I got him dressed at my parents' house to go to church last night:

And I love the back view, with the padded behind and cute tail:

For those family members who want to see Mom's almost-complete redecoration of her hall bathroom, there's a little peak. It's looking really good!!! You can't see the texture on the walls, but it's beautiful. It's really quite a transformation in that room!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Catch-up Time

My, have we had a lot going on lately. Last week, Joel's mom came to visit us, and we had a great time with her. Jonah had a blast playing with Nanny every second of the day for five days! He's still talking about her lots and misses her. Last Saturday, Joel had a conference to attend, so Nanny and I took Jonah to the Rose Parade. It's his second year to go, and he's been spellbound by all of the parade participants both times. He especially loved the marching bands, horses, and the Shriners riding around in miniature cars...he called them the "funnymen." Here is what his face looked like the entire two hours:

He's been acting really sweet lately. I'm enjoying it! He seems to have more hugs to give and wants to cuddle more than usual. He's seemed so big lately! I was telling someone today how amazed I am by how much kids change from their second birthday to four months after it! There have been SO many changes in Jonah in the last four months, it seems like he's a different kid. Really, he's changing so fast, it's hard to know what to get him for Christmas because I have no idea what this kid will be like in two more months! There is no question that there have been more challenges in discipline and new things to teach him since turning two, and he's tested me quite a bit during these last months. But the truth is, I'm really having fun with him at this age! (Remind me of that if next week is rough.) Seems crazy. But even with the challenges, there are so many more developments that are really FUN. It's so great to watch his personality develop and especially his little social skills. And then there are moments that just melt your heart: One day a few weeks ago, I was complaining in front of him about something I didn't want to do. It was totally wrong of me to not be careful about what I was saying in front of him. I had to work on this project for a shower I was helping to host, and I had been sick and didn't feel good that night, so I was saying something like, "arrgghh....I don't feel like doing this." It didn't register at that moment that he was listening, but as I walked into the other room to begin working on it, he followed me and said, "Mommy, God will feel you better." Oh. My. Goodness. I couldn't believe my two year old was so sweetly encouraging me and reminding me of Truth! It was so cute how he said it but even more amazing that God would not only convict me through Jonah's words but show me the sweetest kind of mercy in allowing my son to see past my whinyness and be able to give me perspective on God's ability to help me do what I had to do. We prayed together right then asking God to help mommy feel well enough to do her work. It blew me away. We had talked before about God helping him do things and we pray for people to feel better when they're sick, but sadly, we don't talk about it enough. It was neat to see that any truth from God's Word that we talk about in front of our kids has power to actually reach them and get into their hearts enough that they can recall it at appropriate times. INCREDIBLE!

Speaking of him seeming so much older....yesterday my friend Holly came to Tyler with her two punkins, and we hung out at Kate's house for the day. It was so refreshing just to spend time with girlfriends, but it was so incredible to watch our kids all play together. 3-year old Brantley and 2-year olds Jonah and Tyce played so well together the whole day! We didn't have to stay in the same room as them for most of it....they didn't fight over toys or anything. Well, at least they worked it out themselves mostly. We would just listen to them talking to each other and every once in a while they'd crack each other up. Their laughs were precious. But it was such a weird moment to realize that my baby boy was big enough to play with other kids without needing his mommy to intervene every few minutes. I can't explain how strange it was....but I realized in a whole new way how much he has grown and how fast he's changing. I felt like it was a big accomplishment, in terms of his independence. Of course, Brantley and Tyce are two of the sweetest little guys. They all three were so good. And all of us mommies recognized it as the gift from God it was to US, to be able to talk and actually finish most of our sentences and feel like adults for a day! Just a day, but, aaahh, what a day it was! I'm sad I didn't get pictures of all of them, but here is Brantley driving Jonah around in his Jeep:

These boys made me laugh so hard. They got "stuck" at the fence at one point, and it was really funny to me, for some reason. So funny that I was no help to them getting it in forward gear because of laughing so much. Jonah loved it. By the way, Kate found that Jeep at a garage sale for $25!! Can you believe that?! Where are those kind of deals when I'm at garage sales? She should get an award for that kind of bargain.

Today was our last day of Bible study, and I'm a little sad. I really sensed that God did a lot of amazing things in the hearts of so many ladies in that room. It's been really rewarding to hear these ladies share some of the major fears they've been delivered from and the things that they've let go and surrendered to God's control during these seven weeks. All of them testify to experiencing God's peace now. Over half of the ladies told me that they've sent copies of this book to friends of theirs or bought extra copies to send to people...even one lady sent copies to her three sisters (two of which she doesn't know if they're believers) and has invited them to participate in an online version of this Bible study that she plans to lead. I think it's been most encouraging to hear that not only have people in the class been changed by what God has revealed to them and have started walking in victory in some areas that used to be strongholds, but they're reaching past themselves and investing in others' lives with these truths we've studied, as well. It's neat to see God's work continue and see them take an active role in encouraging and leading others. It blesses me so much to see that. I'm very humbled today by the outcome of this class, and not just for them but also the results in my own life. I was excited to lead these ladies through the Calm My Anxious Heart study but I'm struck by how this study was meant for me as well at this time. I didn't realized how much God would work in my own heart when I first decided to lead this one. I learned so much through this journey and have learned to trust God in areas that I honestly wasn't fully trusting God with before this class started. It's just such a neat thing when God does step out to teach others and He teaches you! Like I said, humbling. But incredibly beautiful.

The biggest thing I realized was that I have tricked myself into thinking that I was trusting God and refusing to worry, but really all I was doing was ignoring the problem or the troubling circumstances. That's not trust. I won't have VICTORY in these areas if I can't embrace them as opportunities to let God work in my heart and transform me to reflect more of Him. Pretending pain doesn't exist will get me nowhere. There are blessings to be found in trusting Him....ignoring reality prevents me from going through the process of learning to trust Him even in the most difficult of circumstances. And embracing reality can be really hard. But I've been able to experience God's peace as I've stepped out to embrace some of my own fears and worries over the last couple of months and deal with them according to His desires, so I know for myself that His peace is real and it's good! What an amazing Bible study journey this has been for me.

Hopefully things are a little more back to normal, so I should be posting semi-regularly again! My task for this afternoon is finding a baby-sitter for tomorrow night. We have a community-group event, and all the high schools have Homecoming tomorrow night, so it's been really hard to find a sitter. I better get back to work on that!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ok, Ok....

I've been a very very bad blogger lately. I don't know what to say. It's not that I haven't had anything to say. When I take long breaks from blogging, it's never because there's nothing to write about. Life is way too full for that. It's just hard to know where to start sometimes.

My Bible study at church is going great - I have really been encouraged by the ladies' participation, and I can't believe we're past the halfway mark now. It has been such a good group. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's discussion. One of the chapters we've read this week is called "Worry is Like a Rocking Chair".....because it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere! This is a topic that's easy for me to talk about because I used to live in worry. A lot. Not that there's really any life there. But I used to invest way too many of my thoughts in worry, and it was so pointless. All it did was rob me of opportunities to actively experience God's presence in the present. I missed so much of Him and the peace He longs to give, and I lost chances to be prepared for whatever was to be faced next in life. That's the thing - we never know what lies ahead. Circumstances could change in an instant - to be better or worse. If I refuse to skip out on knowing Him right now in the midst of my circumstance (even if it is a very worrisome and troublesome situation), then I can count on always being in a place where I can handle what He has next - and handle it gracefully. Trust is huge. And while I'm grateful that God showed me very specifically how to move out from underneath worry's stronghold, I still have to be very intentional about not getting dragged back in. I still struggle with the propensity to worry about things, and I have to work to stay on top of my thoughts. But it has gotten easier! And for that, I'm thankful. And excited to share with others. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's class!

It's that time again when Mom and I are working on coordinating all the Bible study classes our women's ministry will provide in the spring, contacting teachers, reviewing and purchasing materials, and a whole lot of little details that have to be worked out and finalized in the next few weeks. I'm praying that God stirs the hearts of the right people to teach this spring and He lets us know who we need to approach and ask. If anyone has any Bible studies they'd recommend, please leave me a comment! What are your favorites? I'd appreciate all the input I can get. So many of you have had access to some great studies and know which ones are relevant to women today and really good for small group settings.

Jonah has a few new conversational habits that are just too cute. Well, some of them. For instance, he has begun responding to everything I say or ask of him with a "why?" - which really is cute only some of the time. NOT when it's used to buy himself time from obeying me. But he really just likes to hear himself talk, and he wants so much to communicate back and forth with us, in real conversation. So "why" is the best he's got, in terms of having something to say to continue the conversation when we tell him something. He doesn't really care for an answer. He just says "why". ALL the time! And he has this new thing where he's constantly narrating his activities and adds a "didn't I?" at the end of each sentence. Only it comes out sounding like this: "I put it in the trash, did I?" It's very cute but also a sign that he cares a great deal about verbal affirmation and recognition of his actions. It's not like firstborn children need any extra help in being people-pleasers! So I want to be careful not to teach him to be driven by a need for approval. Living for approval isn't exactly the best life strategy, and I sure find myself struggling with it too. So Lord, help me shepherd this child's heart in that direction.

This is very old news for most of you, but some of you don't know yet....I'm going to be an aunt again!!! My brother and his wife are having their third baby at the end of February. I waited to announce it on the blog until Amy gave me the go-ahead, but I'm pretty sure she forgot. =) So the news is a little late getting blogged about, but still...the rest of the world needs to know! They had an ultrasound yesterday (and didn't find out what they are having, of course), and everything looked great. The baby looks healthy, praise God. I'm thinking it will be a boy. I'm a little sad that with this child, we live so far away from each other. The hospital/birth experiences of my nephew Nathan and niece Maggie are some of my favorite memories ever, and I'm sad to think that I probably won't get to see this new little one as soon as he or she is born. I think that everyone who reads this should just collectively join together in prayer that God will move them back to Texas real soon. =)

All right, there you have some updates on my life. I haven't had the time to spend catching up on everyone else's blogs, but I hope to do that real soon. I'm planning on having out-of-town company this weekend and again all next week, so if the blogging remains sparse a little bit longer, you'll know why. But really I will try to do better!