Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayer for a servant's heart

God, please help my children develop servants' hearts, that they may serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord, not men. Ephesians 6:7

This is another of those lovely attributes that is better caught than taught. As in, they will naturally learn this more easily if I am demonstrating it. It takes so little effort ask the kids to wait on each other; and this is a good practice. Yet it only takes a little bit more effort to also show the kids how I can clean up daily messes without grumbling, because I know that it's as if I am doing the same thing for the Lord.

But what a challenge when I realize Boo Bear witnesses my frustration with yet another of Roosters yucky bathroom messes, and think about the fact that she is learning that there is a limit to how much work she should expect to do before becoming exasperated. Oops.

Not exactly modeling a servant's heart, there, am I? So today I pray that God will put this trait in their hearts, and I also pray that he will give it to me so I can pass it on through my example.

Friday, November 21, 2008

MOPS: Fuel for the Adventure

Life is all about choices. I used to think the difference between one person and another was told by what things had happened to them in life; but after years of observing human nature, I have come to the conclusion that the difference is really in how they have chosen to respond to the things that have happened in their lives.

One key choice we make at least several times a day, is of how we are going to fuel ourselves. From the first bite of food that crosses our lips in the morning to the last snack we top the day off with at night, the choices add up to determine whether our fuel was good or not so good. Good fuel makes all the difference in this great mothering adventure, as it helps us be healthy and and alert, and able to handle the many demands that come our way.

Another kind of fuel we choose throughout the day is emotional fuel. Sleep is a kind of emotional fuel, as are planning ahead, reading, and mommy time such as we get at MOPS. Choosing the right kind and amount of emotional fuel is critical in our ability to deal with all the unplanned stuff that comes on top of the expected load of diapers, dinners and general hubbub. Let's face it, there are many moments throughout the day when we just need a little perspective. Sometimes we choose a few moments of Dr. Phil, the newspaper, or Facebook for a window on the world. But the most critical fuel of all, the fuel that fills us up, meets us right where we are, and even equips us to finish making dinner (really!), is God's Word.

In Psalm 119:103 we tune in to the psalmist discussing his love for God's words: "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" The more the writer learns and thinks about God's words, the more understanding he has, and the more incentive to make good choices. As we make the effort to choose to put God's Word into our minds more and more, we will discover the power to make better choices in other areas as well.

We encourage you to train yourself to reach for God's word, especially in those moments of low emotional fuel. May God speak to you through his words, and give you what you need to make good choices along the way. And as always, we pray God's blessings on you as you grow in your mommy adventure.

This article was originally published in my MOPS newsletter. The twice-monthly series began in September and continues through April.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Public Speaking Reflections

I love my MOPS group both for what it is becoming to me, and for what it is helping me become this year. The more I attend, the more connection I feel with the other involved mommies. Beyond the breakfast, door prizes and affirmation, I get a chance to meet new people each time, and get to watch them become more comfortable with themselves and each other. MOPS is simply a great support organization that is touching over 100,000 lives around the world, and I am one of them.

I have had the opportunity to be stretched this year by finding and executing just the right crafty projects for 50 moms of different crafting backgrounds. I have been invited and affirmed to speak to the group personally each week through our newsletter devotional entry. And I have so enjoyed the experience of providing input on the Steering Committee and realizing that the sum of my life experience really does have some relevance here.

This morning was a special event for my personal development. I requested and was given the honor of a speaking slot, which turned out to be today. My topic was Fuel for the Adventure. If you know me at all, you know I love food and cooking. So this morning I got to trade my crafty lady hat for a cook's apron, and share a few things about nutrition with my girls.

As it has been at least five years since I have spoken in front of a group, I had a little public speaking anxiety; but knew that this was about the safest environment in which to expose myself as an inexperienced speaker. For the first time I wish I had some teaching experience to fall back on. Fortunately I was able to identify a few pointers for myself to improve for the next opportunity. Here are my reflections on the matter:
  • First, I literally kept having to take a break to BREATHE! Who would have thought, but the fluster of speaking overrode my involuntary nervous system. Next time, I will practice breathing, and may even insert reminders into my notes to pause.
  • Second, it's finally time to confront my MICROPHONE phobia. In high school public speaking class, we just stood at the front of the room and practiced things like avoiding "um", keeping the lower body still, and moving a step or two for emphasis when changing points. In college, my classes added a podium and multimedia presentations to my experience. I also really enjoy the aspect of creating meaningful handouts to take home. But nowhere in that experience did I have the chance to get comfortable with the microphone. I will definitely practice that before my next experience!
  • Third, my suspicion was true that HUMOR puts both myself and the audience at ease. I actually found myself cracking a covert poop joke in front of these church moms (as in, "I have been promised that my son will be potty trained by the time he leaves for college"), and got a great response! Yes, all I needed was a little affirmation to be funnier. Like I don't try hard enough already...
  • And finally, AGAIN? I think that for the right people, public speaking is a bit of a drug. I was just getting comfortable, realizing I had enough content for twice the time, and had to wrap up. Now I wish I had a couple more chances to do it again and do it better. But I do know that if this is indeed the path the Lord has put me on, then He will bring the next opportunity.
My fellow moms now know me for all the things I am passionate about: my crafty side, my thoughtful writing side, and my foodie side. They even know that for me, speaking does not come naturally but is a skill to be learned. It is such a pleasure to be known both as a mom and for the parts of myself that I feel are most like me, and I am grateful to have found a place that allows me to be me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prayer for Perseverance

Lord, teach my children perseverance in all they do, and help them especially to run with perseverance the race marked out for them, as written in Hebrews 12:1.

I can't stop thinking about my reading time last night. I think getting into the inner lives of these other mommies changed something inside me in some profound way.

As I read, I kept wondering what these mommies do besides blog. The eternal tension is between living life or journaling about it, and I have seldom been able to do both (well, sometimes I have been able to do neither, but that is another story for another day). Yet these moms seem to post all the time, and apparently they spend time reading each other's blogs, as well as the comments on their own.

As I sit here now, my house is a shambles. Rooster is watching Noggin clad only in undies, I have three projects strung out around the house, there are clothes in the washing machine that have been waiting to be moved to the dryer for 24 hours, and I am supposed to be prepping for a presentation tomorrow.

And I promised Boo Bear we would make pie from scratch, using a real pumpkin, after school today. What was I thinking?

And what am I thinking sitting here typing something that is unrelated to either my presentation, the recipe book I intended to pass out with it, or my totally awesome Big Idea book that I now haven't even looked at since Saturday?

I think I could stand a dose of said perseverance right about now. Those mommies persevere by journaling day in, day out. They take photos and post them, and do so consistently. Boy do I ever struggle with consistency.

I would like to be one of those mommies who posts multiple times daily. Perhaps they don't truly sit at their computer and compose their thoughts on a blow-by-blow basis. Perhaps it only appears that way because I am only privy to the moments they do post about.

If it happens that I can be one of those mommies, then great. But I think I need to focus on what I am doing, and do it well. And at the moment, it looks like the things I need to persevere with are my presentation, cleaning my house, and then my book later tonight. As they fit in around being a single mommy while daddy is out of town.

Those are ambitious enough goals. So ambitious, I think I need to sit down and persevere with my Bible study first. See you later, I'm going to be busy for awhile.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thankful to be Average

This evening has been a quiet one, as my man has left on his monthly business trip. With the kids in bed, it's just me and Lulu hanging out--and while she is typically active at this time of evening, she doesn't have much to say yet.

As part of avoiding kitchen cleanup, I fell into the pit of reading up on a few other mommy bloggers tonight, and now am feeling reflective. Started out reading my friend Michelle's blog entry about her sonogram a few weeks back--we are due within a few weeks of each other--and was brought up short by her acknowledgment of how amazing it was to have an average ultrasound. She is absolutely right.

The older I get, the more aware I am of how fragile life is. I had forgotten, but in the weeks before my ultrasound back in September, I had several nightmares. Not specifically about baby, more about my vulnerability and sense of powerlessness in the face of a life that goes beyond my control. Although I have had two nearly perfect pregnancies, for some reason doubt has begun to steal across my mind about this one--and I am fairly sure it is just my eternal Enemy playing games with one of God's children.

That ultrasound did put all of my reasonable anxieties to rest...but of course there are always the other kind. And so, every time I go in for a checkup, I press the doctor for news.

"Yes, sir, I realize this baby is measuring perfectly normally, but my last two measured large. Should I then be concerned that an average result relatively means that this baby is lagging behind my other two?"

"Are you absolutely certain that you have visually verified everything you can verify from an ultrasound? I know I declined the genetic testing, but you would be able to tell a lot of things just from looking, right?"

The assurances never waver, but my uneasiness remains.

I was humbled this evening by my further visits to a few other mommy blogs. Michelle had told me about Bring the Rain, one mommy's story of her journey from the moment of life change that was given to her during her 20 week ultrasound this past January. Reading up on her story tonight, I realized how small my world is, that I worry over average news. I encourage you to stock up on your kleenex before investing your heart into this story.

From the story of Audrey Caroline, I found a link to the story of another mommy blogger, MckMama,who recently delivered a perfectly healthy miracle baby after having been told this past July that his heart would not tolerate life. Stellan's mom also shares how her journey was made possible by Jesus. Yes, he healed her son, but he also carried her and continues to carry her through all of the ups and downs and jolting turns that the journey of life has handed her this year. Takes this year's MOPS theme of Adventures in Mothering to a whole new level.

The frailty of life was pointed out to me a little more personally a couple of weeks ago. When we lived in Salt Lake, my Maren Bear was ecstatic to meet another Marin Bear at VBS one summer day. The other Bear kept coming back, and soon her family began to get more and more involved at our church. By the time we moved 15 months ago, the other Bear's birthday party on July 29 was the final "normal" event we attended before leaving town August 10.

Marin Bear was the oldest of three girls, and her mama delivered a baby boy the week we moved. I was thrilled for the family, but the birthday party was our goodbye, and we had since lost touch although my Bear still mentions the other Bear from time to time. Then two weeks ago we heard sad news that baby brother had choked in the church nursery and subsequently went to heaven a lot earlier than anyone had ever expected. From the front-row perspective of another mommy blogger and one of my real life friends, I had the chance to confront the shock of this event, as well as to read more stories of Jesus. From what I understand, Bear's parents have reflected their pain to the glory of Jesus. Bear's aunt is also a blogger, and has beautifully shared stories from the family's perspective.

Life is fragile. I grow more aware of it with each passing day. Yet I cannot despair. These stories remind me first of all that I have so very much to be thankful for. Ordinary is not such a terrible way to live life. But they also remind me that while I am more aware of it, life has always been a fragile thing, out of my control. Worry is just dishonoring to God, because he has been orchestrating all of what we know since before we knew enough to be concerned at any outcomes. And if, as these women whose stories I read tonight, I am surprised by some course-changing event along the way, I will know that God is not surprised by it. He never is.

So I am thankful for my amazingly average ultrasound and checkup results. I feel compelled to release my silly worries and remember:
I lay down and sleep in peace, for you, Lord, keep me safe. Psalm 4:8
After I get back downstairs and clean up the kitchen, of course.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Baby experts will tell you that raising children may sometimes bring you to the point of considering doing harm to your child. In those moments, they counsel, walk away from the child and find a constructive outlet for your anger.

I apologize to those who are tired of hearing me talk about poop. But since all I do is shut my loving hubby down when I try to vent to him, I feel this is the most constructive way to avoid doing harm.

So back to the subject. We have been in the process of potty training Rooster for . . . oh well I guess I sorta started him at 18 months, but started in earnest back in June. So let's say 6 months or so.

One day in September I simply put cloth underwear on him, and told him we were on a new way of doing things. It seemed to click after a few days, with the exception of ye olde #2. My cousin has helpfully commiserated with me that she went through six months of daily messes before her youngest son took it upon himself to control the moment and start pooping on the potty.

Six months! I am about to pull my hair out after 10 episodes!

My mom recommended that the "Potty Boot Camp" way involves having them clean up their own messes. So I added that to the routine about two weeks ago. You should have seen the Rooster's face the first time I had him do that!

"But . . . I'll get my hands all dirty!"

No, really?

It takes steely determination to allow a child to clean poo off of himself. The self-cleaner ends up getting it all down his legs, all over the tile floor (and in the grout, gross!), all over the inside and outside of the toilet, and pretty much all over the tub, too. Then he has to clean all of that up, which involves half a roll of paper towels, sixteen flushes of the toilet, and two baths: one for himself, one for the tub. I'm gritting my teeth and trying to stick with it, but dear Lord the amount of smeared poop just turns my stomach. And I happen to be allergic to bleach, so no chance of actually disinfecting it to my satisfaction.

I think we are having limited success with this method. He now only poops every second or third day, and in the last week has done so on the potty exactly 50% of the time. Two hits--hooray! And three spectacular messes. One day he went on the potty, then in his pants an hour later. That is so unfair! It's almost worse now, because my expectations have been raised.

I read a new book last week, a male expert's natural consequences method of parenting. His advice regarding potty training:
There is a certain number of underwear you can wear in a given day. If you took a poll of people in your community, you would find that the mean, median and mode are one pair of panties a day. That means if a child forgets to come in to go potty and wets his pants outside, he comes into the house, and his day outside has come to an end. It's a simple cause and effect that makes a child responsible for his own bladder.
Are you serious? Let's think about this. So, am I to let the child roam the house exposing his jewels to the family for the rest of the day? I think that could be more accurately classified as reward than punishment. And what about the natural consequence of "Mommy has to go get big sissy from school, and you have to come"? Mommy could get arrested for not providing a second pair of undies for that outing!

I find this advice so unhelpful! And it's the one snippet of thought that I simply can't get out of my head. I would dearly love to ask this expert how he would apply that advice to an actual three year old, because I simply cannot work out a scenario in which that advice works for this situation.

While dear sweet hubby does a fantastic job in the dad category, this is one area in which he is utterly unhelpful. When we are both home during an incident, our sense of futility combines into an unholy rage that neither of us is capable of defusing. Half the time I find myself intervening on behalf of the Pooper in order to spare his life from one even less charitable than I! Now, after several of those experiences, I am beginning to harbor feelings of resentment toward both of the favorite men in my life. This just totally sucks.

I refuse to give up and put pullups or diapers back on him. I think that would be allowing the Rooster to win. So we (excuse me, I mean I, except for those occasional moments when Daddy has mercy on Mommy and carries the load for her) just deal with the messes every two to three days, and pray each time for the grace to get through one more time.

But I am simply at my wits' end. And I am so incredibly, definitively, thoroughly sick of poop.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Well it has been an interesting week around here. Last week was interesting too, in a different way. But both weeks are related to traffic signals.

In first grade, Boo Bear is awarded a green, yellow or red light each day to indicate her level of social conduct. Beginning with the second week of school, when light status was first awarded, Boo has received at least one yellow or red light each week. After a few weeks of this, we offered to reward a full week of green lights with a prize. There was one four-day week in October in which she accomplished this; however, in the AT&T store just before we headed to the prize store, she sat in a corner and doodled on a table. Both parents agreed that this canceled the prize trip, because appropriate social behavior is a requirement outside of the classroom as well.

This escalated the requirement in our household to green lights at school as well as at swimming, at AWANA, at church and at home. And the yellow and red light behavior only escalated to keep up with it.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the things Miss Boo has received red lights for:

Two boys were fighting on the playground, she tried to break it up. They ignored her, so she struck one of them.

The students in class were mocking the substitute teacher. So she stood up and screamed at them to be quiet.

The boy in front of her at the drinking fountain line was taking too long. So she spanked him.

The boy sitting in the square behind her on the carpet invaded her space. So she turned around and hissed at him to get away from her.

A boy came into the girls' restroom while she was in there. So she decided it would be only fair to visit the boys' restroom in return.

And she wonders why the girls on the playground won't pick her to play with them.

With yellow lights, I just get notes that she has unsafe hands and feet, or that she didn't respond when called or asked to do something by the teacher. One day she was poking at an anthill at recess and they actually had to use the megaphone to get her attention, which apparently merited a yellow light.

It all came to a head last week, when she came home with reports of disrespectful behavior two or three times. Wednesday she was frustrated with her swim coach, flailed her arms in protest, carelessly hit another swimmer in the process, and was dismissed from swim practice. Sunday morning after church we heard that she had hidden from the teacher, then had ignored her and played video games.

Sunday afternoon was spent at Grammy's house, where she got in trouble again. Then Sunday night we went to pick her up from AWANA, and both Justin and I were cornered by two different teachers making us aware of behavior problems during the meeting. Seriously, we were to the point of locking her in a room mostly just to save our own humiliation at having a child whose behavior needs to be addressed by every single authority figure in her life.

In desperation, we laid down the new law: for the next 7 days, she would sit at home. She would not attend swimming, not ride her bike, and would sit with us in church. She would spend her afternoons helping me with housework, and she would go to bed at 7:30 (almost an hour early). The Halloween candy bucket was removed. There would not be one minute of TV or video games. And she would get green lights every day or the confinements would continue until she could get a green light every day for a week.

And somehow, something amazing has occurred: our headstrong daughter has gotten herself up and dressed every day this week. She has had green lights four days in a row (already an accomplishment), and I will find out about today in an hour. She has helped me with laundry, cleaning, cooking and dishes. She has set the table, started asking for things respectfully, and even spends time reading her Illustrated Family Bible. She has suddenly started requesting to say the dinner blessing, and every night has asked for grace for tomorrow.

There is still a little attitude beneath the surface, but this is such a huge change that we are very pleased to feel that we are moving in a better direction. If she had changed any more suddenly I would start to wonder what this girl had done with my real daughter.

The intended consequence was that this strong young lady would start to realize that her actions have consequences: when she doesn't control her hands and feet, people get hurt. When she uses her mean voice, people don't want to be around her. When she doesn't listen to the teacher, she gets in trouble. We expected her to feel her boundaries.

What ended up happening was that this strong young lady started getting some of the positive attention she's been needing, which perhaps has satisfied the need to act up in class. What happened was that she got a chance to be a helper around the house, so she didn't need to try to be a helper in less appropriate ways (i.e. shouting at Rooster when he does something a mother should be getting after). What happened was that she gained a positive sense of her place in this house, which perhaps we have been unskilled at showing her.

This week we have a child who seems to be enjoying herself while cooking sausage, cleaning mirrors, and folding laundry. Well, the laundry got mostly folded, after several pieces of it were tried on and run around the house, but in the end it was done and put away off my couch! And in the process, she and brother Rooster played happily together.

Time will tell, but I have to share now because this is already progress. For her, yes, but for us as well. As we all experience success in interacting positively as a family, we can grow closer, which is one of our top priorities. Today, it is a good day and I am looking forward to a much happier weekend.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Thanksgiving Craft Traditions

As part of my labor of love as the Craft Lady at MOPS, I've come up with a couple of meaningful ways to celebrate this season of thanks, and I thought I would share them with you. At the end I have also included a few Bible verses I find especially inspirational at this time of year.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

We worship God when we admire His creation by decorating with natural elements.

Our 6” nature vase uses 3' of ribbon, 16” of thread, pinecones, sprigs cut from a stem of dried flowers, a filled glass votive, 8 oz of small river rocks, and a few glass marbles for sparkle.

To create your own original nature vase, simply place a filled glass votive in a clear glass bowl and fill with natural elements. This could include potpourri, rocks, spanish moss, or shells. Just make sure any flammable materials stay clear of the candle!

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. Psalm 92:1

A gratitude wreath helps us remember what we are thankful for.

Start with a straw wreath, a box of straight pins, a few dozen silk fall leaves, about 5” big, and a metallic or sharpie writing marker.

Start by writing a verse about thankfulness on a leaf. Pin each leaf to the wreath. Hang wreath in a prominent place, such as the front door.

Keep a basket of leaves handy throughout the fall season. As guests visit your home, have each write something they are thankful for on a leaf, and add it to the wreath.

On Thanksgiving Day, have family members add their own thanks to the wreath, then spend some time together reading the verses and thanks out loud.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Psalm 103:1

Purchase a white tablecloth for your Thanksgiving table, from Party Time or a restaurant supply store. Get a few permanent writing markers in different colors.

Break the ice by writing out a few favorite Bible verses in different locations on the tablecloth.

As guests sit down for your Thanksgiving meal together, have each one spend a few moments writing something they are thankful for on the tablecloth. Make sure they sign and date their entry.

In future years, repeat the process, taking time to read old entries and remember past visitors.

An alternate idea is to purchase white napkins and have guests write on their napkin. Or, scatter silk fall leaves around the table and offer guests the opportunity to write on a leaf.
  • Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4
  • Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Psalm 105:1
  • Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 108:5
  • Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything. Ephesians 5:19-20
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

Friday, November 7, 2008

MOPS: Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster

Emotional fluctuation seems to be an essential ingredient of my life, as I navigate the little ups and downs that are part of my daily adventure. A stain in the laundry; a forgotten expense found as I reconcile the bank account; an item I need for dinner that my little helper removed from the cart back at the grocery store. Some days the highs are higher: a new baby, a new job, a new house. And some days the lows are lower: marital coolness, an unexpected doctor report, or a situation at school.

All kinds of things fight to upset my equilibrium each day, and I suspect yours as well. Regardless of the specifics, I constantly seem to find myself stumbling to the front of the line to ride the Emotional Roller Coaster. You know the one I mean: that speedy trip of highs, lows, and sudden turns that leaves you breathless and, well, exhausted.

These roller coaster rides seem to lurk around every corner; in fact, Jesus actually promises His followers, “In this world you will have trouble.” Why am I surprised every time? There it is in black and white: the perfect day simply does not exist. That should be a relief!

The real question before me is, how will I respond to the unexpected twists and turns? Jesus follows His statement with this encouragement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” That is indeed an encouraging thought! The offers to ride come every day, but I actually have a choice each time of whether to get on the Emotional Roller Coaster. Often all I really need to do is take a breath and acknowledge that while I may be out of control of this moment, God has His hand on the whole situation—and was even prepared for it.

Sometimes we get thrown off balance despite our best efforts to the contrary. That, too, is a fact of life as fallen human beings. But we still have hope! God our Creator, who knows us so well, gives us this message for those times: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It seems the crazier life gets, the more opportunities God has to show off how awesome He is. God's grace is there waiting for me, reminding me once again that He is in control of every last detail of my life.

As we come to know God more intimately, He gives us many opportunities to decline to ride the Emotional Roller Coaster, and ground ourselves in Him instead. But He made us and knows us, and also provided a way for us to stop the ride and get off, even at the top of that big first hill.

Come to think of it, I can live with the adventure of seeing how God is going to look great despite my next roller coaster ride. Most of all, I look forward to being able to claim His grace as being enough. Because most days, God's grace is the only kind I have.

This article was first published in the newsletter of my local MOPS chapter, targeted at mothers of preschoolers. This year's theme is "Adventures in Mothering."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Go Ahead, Laugh

Time for a little creative writing today, completely off the topic of my Prayers for Virtue theme. I could probably tie it in to my self-control post from yesterday, but as that would just smack of me needing to learn something from this, I will not. This is just a story from our household.

I wish I had a picture for you, because a picture says so much more than words can. But this morning, I had neither a camera nor the presence of mind to document the moment. I can, however, describe the scene and let your imagination fill in the rest.

First, however, I have to back up to an episode from last night. Last night was swimming night, in which we hurried through an early dinner in order to leave at 6pm to take Miss Boo to practice. Generally Hubby has been able to get home in time to join us and then keep J-Roo at home while I run out the door with her. But sometimes, work makes its demands and I end up taking the Rooster with me to observe. Last night was the second kind of night.

At 5:55, I dismissed Missy from the table to get her suit on. Roo complained that his tummy hurt. I pointed out this probably meant it was time for a visit to the bathroom, which he denied. He then left the table while I gulped the last few bites of my dinner, intending to hurry him through a potty stop and change him into a pull-up before we took off. Not a minute later, Miss Boo yelled down the stairs, "Someone has poopy pants!" Great.

A picture of someone else's son victoriously using the toilet

Meanwhile the Hub texted me that he was leaving for home in 5 minutes. Not helpful, since he wouldn't get home until after we left.

So there I was at 6pm, trudging up the stairs and fuming at the colossal poor timing of this event. I directed Roo into the bathroom and rolled up my sleeves to deal with the mess. This week we have been having him clean up his own messes, in the hope that he will get the message about how much less messy it is to just put it straight in the potty the first time. So I directed him through the S-L-O-O-O-W process of undressing, dumping, swishing, wiping... and it was still a mess.

It was time for a hose down, so I put him in the shower, still fuming that there wasn't even time to wash hair and give him the complete bathing he needed, just to rinse off the...sludge. Finish the shower, look for clean undies--oh forget it here is a pull-up, wouldn't it have been helpful to have THAT on five minutes earlier? and look at the time this is when we need to be AT the pool for Maren's lesson... And in the door walks Dad.

I left the child in his steamy, barely-rinsed, sweaty skin and a pull-up, and made a beeline for the door, muttering about the injustice of the situation that was clearly the fault of no one I could righteously blame for the sake of feeling better.

Someone else's street on a rainy morning

Now about this morning. I awoke to hear the sound of rain outside, but by the time I got Hubby and Boo Bear off, the sun was peeking through. This is my MOPS day, so I had to scurry a little to get ready. Rooster was playing in the backyard, all ready to go, so I shut myself in the bathroom for a 10 minute spit shine and makeup session. At 8:30 I emerged, ready to load the Roo into the car and take off for my big day. I have been looking forward to this day because I was about to unleash a Really Cool Craft on the gang.

I went to the back door and called for the boy . . . no boy.

I called inside the house . . . no boy.

I walked to the front of the house to call up the stairs . . . wait, there was a boy out in the street in front of my house!

I charged out the front door intending to issue a spank and a stern warning about leaving the house without Mommy . . . only to realize that what stood in front of me only slightly resembled a little boy. Through the magic of morning rain falling on construction dirt, from fingertips to elbows, from toes to knees, what had been a (more or less) clean little boy had transformed in ten minutes into a Mud Monster!

I was speechless.

For the second time in 12 hours, I was about to be late due to this . . . boy, doing what a boy does so well: being a mess.

Well, I hardly knew where to start. I couldn't spank the child, couldn't find a clean spot to grab. Couldn't yell at him, he was clearly In His Element and the look of joy on his face was too precious.

So I brought him in through the garage, laid a newspaper trail from the laundry room to my bathroom, and threw him in the shower. At this point, I decided to finish the job of the night before, and I went ahead and scrubbed his hair, neck and behind his ears in addition to soaping off all the mud.

I dressed him, we scurried out the door, and all turned out well. I got to MOPS, got some help with my detailed setup, and laughed about the incident with my friends, who understood because they are moms, too. We even joked about his early morning spa treatment.

All I can do is laugh. My children have taught me that my options are either laugh or deal with a headache, and while last night I chose the headache (I still feel like that headache chose me), today pushed me over the edge and saved me from myself. I guess the saying is true, "Thank heaven for little boys."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prayer for Self-Control

Let us not be like others . . . but let us be alert and self-controlled . . . putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
1 Thessalonians 5:6,8

What in the world? I am just trying to implement a few imperatives in my own life, such as to pray for my kids, listen and digest my pastor's messages for blog purposes, and subscribe to daily emailed Bible readings. And lately they keep leading me back to this same theme of self-discipline. I get it! I suck at this and it's my time to fall in line!

I also notice because I have chosen this month to commit to writing a book. No big deal, just spew out 50,000 words by November 30. Not for the faint of heart, or the undisciplined. On this 5th day of the month, I am already struggling to sit in my chair and force myself to keep going.

A rare example of "alert" and focused

There is actually a fine difference between self-control and self-discipline, I suppose. The first involves keeping my emotions in check and resisting temptations. The second is the thing that forces me to follow through on my commitments such as raising extraordinary kids, writing a book, keeping a clean house, volunteering with MOPS, etc. But to me they are close enough to fit in the same category of convincing me that it's time to practice better time-management and be more intentional about what I do with that time.

While this post is dedicated to praying for my beautiful children, I have to pray it for myself as well. Actually, these prayers are part of the result of trying to build a little discipline in my own life, as well as reaching for that goal of raising extraordinary children. So it all fits.

It also fits because my precious daughter seems to be exactly that, my daughter. Day after day she brings home conduct reports saying that she needs to learn to control her hands and feet, and her words to friends. My own shortcomings are painfully obvious to me as I hear about the crazy ways she acts out at school.

But the seed of despair that wants to paralyze me when I read her reports, actually serves to drive me to prayer, both for her and for myself that we can address the root of the problem, a lack of self-control. I can't expect her to learn something I do not model very well, can I?

And so, my prayer for today, once again, is for both my children and myself:

Father, help us not to be like many others around us, but let us be alert and self-controlled in all we do.

Help us to put on faith and love to protect our hearts, and thank you for the hope of our salvation, which protects our thoughts and guards us with the power of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Prayer for Integrity

May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.
Psalm 25:21

I find it interesting that I have been brought to this verse on this historic election day. It is simply day 4 on a card called, "31 Biblical Virtues to Pray for your Kids" that I decided to pray through over the course of this month. I do not claim to have any kind of political insight that none of the rest of you could find, but here are my two cents.

I know a lot of people, some of you my friends included, are up in arms because they think the candidate they are not voting for would try to implement policies that are destructive to this nation. This is a time of economic uncertainty for sure, as well as what seems to me a faltering presence on the world stage. And it may even be true that this country is losing its moral compass.

But as I study scripture, which is the one sure thing I can always count on, I read the story of a great king, Nebuchadnezzar. At the time of his rule, Babylon encompassed nearly the entire known world. He was not a godly man, nor were his policies always humanitarian. But he was placed in that position of power by the Great Orchestrator of History, God Himself, for God's purposes and so that God could be shown powerful at the right time.

You can read the story in Daniel 4 about how God took away Nebuchadnezzar's sanity for a season, until he acknowledged that God was a higher authority than he. But certainly from the beginning he never would have declared that his leadership skill and power came because he was striving to follow God with integrity.

As I remember history I see the story of another great leader, Alexander the Great. In his short lifetime, Alexander grew the Roman Empire until it encompassed nearly the entire known world. He was not a godly man, nor were his policies always humanitarian. But he also was placed in that position for God's purposes.

You see, Alexander implemented education so a far greater number of ordinary people could learn to read and write in a common language. Then he began to build roads that encompassed the entire empire. And because of those two imperatives, the scriptures themselves became translated into a common language, and messengers were able to carry their message to the far corners of the known world.

God's purposes are higher than ours, and He stands behind all the events of history, orchestrating it to fulfill his own purposes. At the end of the day today, we will have elected a new president. But at the end of the day, the same orchestrator will still be in charge of human history. Nothing can happen without him allowing it.

I do pray that the man we elect will put his hope in God, that God will protect him because he strives to lead with integrity and uprightness. I will continue to pray that for our next president, whoever he may be. I think each candidate believes he can make a difference by doing the job of president to the best of his ability. But even if he does not, he will still be the man God has put into office, for his divine purpose.

I do not find either candidate to be the villain his opponents are trying to make him out to be; nor do I expect that either will be the white knight riding in to save America from its troubles. What I do know is that I will still sleep well tonight, regardless of the outcome. I pray for integrity and honesty of spirit for myself and my kids, and I pray our nation's leader may have that as well. But my hope is in God, who was around long before us, and who will still be here when this great nation has faded into history.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Prayer for Love

May my children learn to "live a life of love," as the Holy Spirit works in them to produce "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Ephesians 5:2; Galatians 5:22-23).

I've been thinking about all those evidences of the Holy Spirit. I've actually come to regard the pursuit of them as a bit of "snack mix" for the soul. Think about it: 4pm is well into the day, I'm cranky and have low blood sugar. So I reach for a snack to give me the strength to make it two more hours until supper. And what do I choose? I can pick the easy choice, a chocolate bar or cookie (yum!). Or I can choose smart, and have a handful of almonds, a serving of yogurt, or a bit of trail mix. The second option contains protein and more complex carbs, giving me more brain power in addition to just entertaining my mouth and tummy.

Just like with my body, my spirit tends to get cranky throughout the day. Suddenly I will realize that I need a few moments to take a break and breathe. I could turn on the TV for a few minutes, or go check my Facebook account. I could catch up on the newspaper or open my latest fantasy novel. Those are fun and entertaining options, for sure!

But there is also a smart choice, one that will actually make a difference in my mental state. I could choose to meditate on God's truth for a few moments, to give me perspective in the midst of the chaos. So I have made a list of verses that encourage me to practice the attributes listed in Galatians 5. My goal is to memorize these nine verses along with my children, so that God can bring them to our minds in times of spiritual crankiness.

My snack mix verse for love says, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud" (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Leadership Principles

Our pastor took some time the last few weeks of this election season to outline some leadership principles he found in Scripture, and present them as possible evidence as we make our decision on election day. I didn't particularly find them helpful in choosing a candidate, as I don't believe we have the option of choosing a leader that will implement biblical principles above all others. However, I did hear some good principles that provide guidance to me as I attempt to provide God-honoring leadership within my own circle of influence.

The first principle is that leadership is stewardship. None of us really has power in the first place, we are just sometimes given a little authority over someone or something else, that will later have to be given back to the ultimate authority, God. Two characteristics of this are that our leadership scope is time limited, and that we will someday be held accountable for what we did with the authority that was given to us.

A great biblical example of this is King Nebuchadnezzar, as told in Daniel 4. Nebby was the king of the largest kingdom in the world at that time, but his power had been given to him by God. But he continued to think that the size of his domain was due to his own power, so God took his leadership away until he acknowledged that God was ruler of all, and the king was only a steward of what he had been given.

Galatians 6:7 tells us, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap." God gives leadership authority to whomever he wishes; but he desires that his leaders also acknowledge him as the giver of that authority.

Another biblical leadership principle is that there are multiple kinds of authority. A leader is given a certain amount of positional authority, meaning she has certain responsibilities. But the way a leader exercises that authority is called moral authority, and influences the amount of respect and followership she inspires in those she is leading.

The example given of moral authority is found in the leadership style of Nehemiah. He was made governor of Jerusalem and used his authority to rebuild the wall around the city in order to protect it from attacks by enemies. But he did not just lead from the governor's mansion; rather he declined to take the bonus pay available to him, and he also went out and worked on the wall himself. This kind of leadership not only gave him respect among the local leadership, but inspired the others to work harder to accomplish the goal.

A third principle of biblical leadership is to have the vision to anticipate future needs, and the discipline to plan ahead in the moment in order to be prepared when those needs arise. Resource availability tends to fluctuate. Some times are times of plenty, and some times are lean. In general, when we have extra, we tend to become less vigilant about planning ahead because we see that we have at least as much as we need. But this kind of thinking can lead to problems down the road when we run into times of less excess. It is far better to live even in the plentiful times as if we had little, and to save the extra for those future times when we do not have access to as many resources.

Here we are back to my least favorite subject, self-discipline! But once again I am being shown that developing a disciplined lifestyle is not only worth pursuing, but something God desires from me and commands for me. Guess I should get my act together...

The key is to inspire others toward growth in their own leadership potential. As we remind ourselves of the wonder of God's grace, we remember to get our direction from him in the area of our leadership decisions. And the beauty of implementing God's wisdom is that eventually that wisdom may be recognized, and God may put any of us in a higher position, for his own purpose, that results in bringing others closer to him.

These principles of stewardship, character, and discipline give me good marching orders as I exercise leadership within the scope God has given me: parenting, MOPS, and my writing. With God's help, I hope to implement them more and more, not just for my satisfaction at becoming more effective, but for the ultimate purpose of continuing to empower others to take steps closer to God.