Platypus Parenting

A few years ago I decided to paint faux tile for our kitchen backsplash. All the other options were out of our price range and I was ready for the kitchen to be done.

I didn’t have a well thought out plan before I started – just a vague idea of painting something that looked like tile. I painted a base coat & it looked too blah.   So I went over it with a paper towel and a lighter color and made these sort of swishy marks. Mottled, really. It was barely discernible, but it added texture & depth.

Kitchen tileLater I drew a grid and painted grout. It was too crisp, so I took a darker shade and added slightly jagged lines along each edge. That was when it started to look like tile with shadow and dimension.

It was April and I’m from Texas, so I was missing the open fields of Bluebonnets… and somehow they ended up on the “tile.”  Stems, grasses, leaves, then the start of flower petals… As I looked at what was finished, I got more and more ideas of what to do next.

Sometimes I like to imagine the days of creation. I know God knows the beginning from the end, but he was so creative! Did he pause every once in a while and get excited about adding something new, like me with my “tile”?  Is that how the duck-billed platypus happened?

“Let’s put a duck bill on an otter and add webbed feet in front and claws in the back, and it will lay eggs like a duck, but nurse its young like a poodle.  Oh – a tail like a beaver would be perfect!”

Platypus

Whatever the six days of creation were like, one thing is certain. God delighted in adding beauty, creativity, and variety to everything from landscape to creatures to weather patterns to food. Our days are filled with variety and delight because he intended us to have it.

He could’ve provided a single food to nourish and sustain us, but he didn’t.  He is capable of it. Remember the whole manna period when the Israelites were in the desert? When they complained, he added quail. Only quail. Quail until they were disgusted with it. But his normal mode of operation is variety.

While my kids are young, in a way I stand in the place of God in their lives.  In later years when they hear “God is father,” some part of how I’ve parented them will inform what that means.

We have an in-house joke that I can provoke my children all I want since I’m a mom and the Bible says, “Fathers don’t provoke your children….”  (Ephesians 6:4), but in reality, I don’t get off easy just because I am the mom.

No, I am an image bearer of a God as much as my husband.  And my parenting choices define “parent,” too.

Personally, I get caught up in laundry, meals, education, manners – all things that are important and needed, but it can get to be a little like manna & quail if I’m not careful.

After all, why did God create humanity?  In part, for relationship.  Not because he needed relationships, but because he wanted them.

And why did we have these kids?  So I’d have something to do?  Admittedly, I often respond to comments about the size of our family with a good-natured, “it keeps me out of mischief!” But really we had kids because we hoped to enjoy them. (Incidentally, we do.)

So lately I’ve been wondering: What if each day were about making each kid see I am delighted with them?  What if my purpose is to show them how special they are?

Of course I cannot neglect my responsibility to care for them, instruct them, and provide for them. But what if I use my creativity and gifts to do all that is needed with variety, beauty, and delight?

What if I live out a picture of a parent who really, really wants their kids – even when they make poor choices, disobey, and require great sacrifice to restore them?

Wouldn’t that prepare them to embrace God as Father in their adult years?

Isn’t a right relationship with God the best thing I can offer?

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Photo of platypus by Stefan Kraft.

Taming the Sock Monkey

Sock monkeys

Maybe laundry is loads of fun if you are thinking about the fun you had making the clothes so dirty.  Maybe it’s fun if you are planning what you’ll do to soil them next.  Maybe just the idea of banishing wrinkles brings a smile to your face.

Not mine.

Laundry is that to-do item that never. gets. checked. off.  If you were to return to the garden state and have everyone naked and unashamed for the day, you could actually “finish” laundry.

We cannot return to the garden state (unless you are planning a trip to New Jersey).  We have to wear – and maintain – clothing in this post-fall, pre-glorification world.

And, while I feel a little bit funny about writing a post about sorting laundry, a friend just asked me to write this post, so here goes!

I should preface this by saying that my mother did teach me the proper way to sort when I was growing up.  We took our laundry baskets on wash day and sorted darks, lights, and whites into individual piles.  We added those piles of whites to all the other people’s whites and washed them with hot water all by themselves.  The darks, too.  Cold water, like colors.  I know this is how you sort clothes.

But, it doesn’t work for me.  There are not enough hours in the day to do all of the laundry for nine people in a single day.

So, in comes FlyLady with her plan to tackle Mount Washmore.  A Load a Day… that idea works for us!

But, we are minimalists regarding what we keep in our closets, and I have not been able to produce a spreadsheet that allows for the right things to be clean at the right time for everyone to have a whole outfit to wear on the same day if we sort by color and weight of fabric and do laundry on multiple days.

So, in today’s world of color-fast, pre-shrunk clothing, we sort by – drum roll, please –  person (for the kids, anyway).

That’s right.  All colors.  All weights of fabric.  All in the same load.  All clean at once.

In a family our size, it helps to have a high capacity washer.

  • We have assigned unique laundry basket for every two kids to share – one bigger kid and one littler one.
  • Each pair of children unfolds their collars, straightens their socks, unrolls cuffs, and empties pockets before their clothes go into the wash (any treasures left behind are mine – baaaah haaaa haaaa ha!)
  • On their assigned day at bedtime, that bigger kid loads the entire load into the washer, adds soap, and hits start.
  • Later that night I switch the load to the dryer, and when it beeps, my husband and I fold the clothes and deliver the basket back to the room in question.
  • The next morning, they load their shelf with the delivered clothes and they are ready for the week.

I will say that Mike and I have a sorting hamper in our closet – we sort whites, colors (light and dark) and wrinkle clothes (anything that needs to get out of the dryer immediately so that I don’t have to iron).  When we change the kids’ load, we start one of ours.

Thursday mornings we wash everyone’s sheets WITH PAJAMAS.  Since laundry happens at night, PJ’s would otherwise be left unwashed.  Plus, having sheets and PJ’s clean on the same day kind of makes sense.

Fridays we do towels. All of our towels are white, so it’s an easy load to toss in – no sorting required. (The towels are solid white, but each child’s towel has their name embroidered in their favorite color and a grosgrain hanging loop that matches. The thread & ribbon are bleach-safe.  It does add a little element of fun!)

Oh – and one other little item.  At 13, our kids graduate to doing their own laundry – start.to.finish.  So our teens get out of the “paired baskets” and into their own.  Really their clothes are getting too large to fit with anyone else’s anyway.  And it’s a great age to have them start taking responsibility for their own possessions.

Just be sure to provide instruction for new responsibilities.  And it is important to pair added responsibility with added privilege. (There’s more on this in an upcoming post on “Milestones.”)

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Photo by Chambeshi

“I Pledge Allegiance…

… to the flag of the United States of America….”

Chances are your mind continued with the Pledge of Allegiance with just the few words of the title of this post.

Public domain

My earliest memories of school include standing at the beginning of the day with my right hand over my heart, facing the American flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with my teacher and classmates.  The PA system would crackle and pop, and the whole school, united for a moment, would say:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I didn’t think much of it at the time.  It was simply what we did everyday.  But my memories of that “everyday” are sweet.

In my adulthood, I understand more of what it means to live in a republic (vs. a democracy, dictatorship, monarchy, etc.), to be under God (vs. under the whims of man), to be indivisible (vs. war-torn, under a military coup, factioned), and to have liberty (vs. bondage) and justice (vs. anarchy).  Those words mean more to me now than they did when I memorized them as a kindergartener.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a sort of national catechism.  And it isn’t allowed in some schools anymore because it positions us under God – an unpopular position today.  By banning things like the Pledge of Allegiance, policy makers are unwittingly affirming that catechisms work. They don’t want America’s children reciting the fact that we are a nation under God, because they might believe it.

Catechisms are documents, usually written in centuries gone by, that distill particular concepts down into simple, easy-to-understand-and-memorize statements. You can see how the Pledge of Allegiance does that.  There is a lot packed into those 31 words.

In church history, catechisms generally took years to draft and are full of references to scripture supporting the statements.  Often they have a Question and Answer format to aid with memorization.  It’s sort of like the FAQ of theology for different periods in history.  The documents were typically composed in response to something that was happening in religious circles at the time.  They were formulated to say this is what we believe (and why).

My home church reads excerpts from various catechisms in the worship service from time to time.  Since I didn’t grow up with catechisms, this is something new in my adult life.  But my kids have memorized parts of the Westminster Shorter Catechism with it’s Bible verses in their Sunday school classes.  Like the Pledge of Allegiance, it will likely mean more to them as they mature.

Scripture instructs us to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….” (1 Peter 3:15).

A good catechism, rightly understood, is one tool we can use to prepare us to defend our faith with gentleness and respect.  A good catechism can help us find and focus on truth in the moments we need to defend our faith in our own failing hearts.

Another catechism is the Heidelberg Catechism. I like it.  It has a certain warmth and practicality to it that resonates in my heart.  I find it substantive, but also practical for everyday life.

Recently we read the Heidelberg Catechism Question/Answer #26  in our worship service.

Question:

What do you believe when you say: I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?

Answer:

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.

THAT is packed full of substance.

One paragraph discusses the eternal nature of God, the diety of Christ, the reality of creation, God’s ongoing providential care over the affairs of his creation, our connection to him only through Christ, and our place as his daughters.  It also helps guide my response to such awesome truths – if I hold all these things to be true, the natural response is to trust him to provide everything I need and rest in his promise to work all things together for my good since I love him.  I think that’s where the peace that passes all understanding arises.

But my heart really swells with gratitude, awe, and relief when I read that last line:

He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.

God is able.

God is willing.

God has the power to supply all I need and to work all things for my benefit.

God is willing to supply all I need and to work all things for my benefit.

In an eternal sense, the death of his son on the cross was not too great a cost to supply what I needed and work things together for my good.

In an every day sense, he owns the cattle on a thousand hills…. surely he can fill my refrigerator.

Life is hard.  Sometimes it is really hard.  I gain courage to face hard things in life by calling to mind scripture about God’s faithfulness and control.  It is good and right for me to do so.

But often I get caught up in remembering God can take care of me, and I lose sight of the fact that he will take care of me.

Let’s think about that for a moment.  God can, and he will.

Scripture is full of promises for hope, peace, vindication, comfort, and supply for his beloved children.  Not promises for heath and wealth on this side of heaven, but promises of good for us in this fallen world even if we experience sickness and/or poverty.

I need to trust in his goodness as much as in his sovereignty.  I need to remember God will.  As a matter of fact, he already is.

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Photo is in the public domain.

Please Touch!

I seem to regularly stumble upon articles that suggest children deprived of touch suffer developmental delays.  Usually this comes up in the context of evaluating orphanages in far away lands, though I’m not entirely convinced that America does a much better job.

One study states:

The unfortunate reality of overcrowded orphanages provides indirect support for the negative impact of touch deprivation. Recently, researchers observed the development of infants raised in orphanages where the ratio of care providers to infants was low (9). While infants were appropriately fed, most often they were left alone in their cribs with minimal or no physical contact with the care providers. These children suffered from severe delays in physical growth and neurobehavioral development, and elevated rates of serious infections. Although these case studies suggest a link between tactile deprivation and developmental delays, findings should be interpreted with caution as several other factors may have had an impact on development.  [(9) Albers, Lisa H. Johnson, Dana E., and Hostetter, Margaret K. “Health of Children Adopted from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: Comparison with Preadoptive Medical Records.” Journal of the Medical Association 278.11 (1997): 922-924.]

It makes sense that “tactile deprivation” is linked to developmental.  We were made in the image of God, and God is intrinsically relational. As the three-in-one, He has built in relationship.

Then, in the garden, Eve was made as an answer to the lack of relationship Adam had with the other created beings. We were made for relationship with God and other people. So when that is withheld, our young cannot thrive.

But what about the old?  I don’t know if studies have been done, but we all know older couples who have died within minutes, days, or weeks of each other.  We’ve heard the stories of older folks who couldn’t bounce back after the death of a loved one. I wonder if part of their failure to thrive is tactile deprivation, too.

Older couple in love

Think about the sweet older couples we adore – the ones who walk hand in hand as they shuffle along the boardwalk, or sit close enough to touch in the booth at the restaurant. We are moved by photos of ancient couples cuddled together in a hospital bed.

When one of them dies, the power and comfort of touch is gone, too.

I recently hugged a couple of widows on my way into church – it’s not something I usually think to do, but this time I did. One of them commented that “a hug never goes amiss – it always feels good to be touchable.”

That comment still echoes in my heart.

Do our widows and widowers feel like “untouchables”?  In a society that fails to value the wisdom that comes with age and marginalizes the elderly, do they feel like lepers?  Are they another class of orphans?  At animal shelters it’s the puppies that get adopted – the older dogs get passed over. Do we do this to the aging in our midst?

I think tactile deprivation is a serious issue for the young and the old.  I want to make sure I am hugging my own kids a lot.

I also want to touch the least touched.

I want to be deliberate to touch the women in my circles who don’t have access to physical touch.

I want to make sure I make eye contact and give my full attention to those who are nearing the finish line.

I want to remember that “a hug never goes amiss – it always feels good to be touchable.”

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Photo by Ian MacKenzie http://www.flickr.com/people/7105595@N05

Defeated Christian Living

Defeated Christian Living.  Probably not the most inspiring title ever.  But there has been so much written on the victorious Christian life and how others experience freedom from and victory over sin, and I just don’t live there everyday.  I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of days where I am defeated.  I know I’m not alone in this, because I just walked through it with one of my kids.

It was one of those moments of clarity that often follow effective corrective discipline.  This child was struck by the weight of the outcome of sin.  My child recognized how ugly this particular repeating sin pattern truly was and vowed to not do it anymore.  But there was a hopelessness behind that vow, as if s/he was defeated before ever getting off of the edge of the bed.

How many times have I sat in that same seat, worn down and grieved by the gravity of a particular besetting sin, repentant, and resolved to turn from that sin the next time I am tempted?

Too many to count.

And too often, I meet with defeat again and again and again and again as I face my particular pet sins.

Where is the victory over sin Scripture promises?  If Jesus came to deliver me from the power of sin as much as the penalty of it, why am I still defeated?

If you are sitting in that seat today – feeling helpless and defeated – grieved by a sin pattern that will not let you go – can I shine a little light in your darkness?

Stopping the sin is not the goal.

G.I. Joe always said, “Knowing is half the battle,” which  I think is why so many of my battles are only half won.

GI Joe

I know what needs to stop, but I have not made a clear plan as to how to stop it.

Stopping the sin is not the goal.  Living righteously is.

G.I. Joe is not the only authority on the subject.  Scripture teaches us to put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 4:17-5:21, Colossians 3:1-17).  This is an active command and will require effort.

Let’s look at the way the Ephesians passage addresses this:

… put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then there’s this great list of examples:

  • Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another…
  • Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Do you see the idea there?  First we name what we don’t want to be doing (G.I. Joe’s “knowing” half), then we identify what we do want to do instead.

All of these examples go a step further to define the positive outcome of righteous choices.

  • Don’t lie.  Do be honest.  Then your relationships will improve.
  • Don’t steal.  Do work. Then you can share.
  • Don’t criticize harshly.  Do encourage appropriately.  Then grace abounds.

And so on.

This starts to sound like I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps.  Bryan Chapell used to call it “Sola Bootstrapsa vs. Sola Gratia.”

Victory over sin will never happen in my own strength.  It will take the power of the Holy Spirit and a lot of courage to use the tools God has given me before I can have victory over sin.

One of the tools God has given me is the put on / put off principle.  And that’s exactly what I am talking about here.  Those verses in Ephesians and Colossians give great ideas of things with which to replace my sinful tendencies.  But I need to use my God given brain to figure out what it will look like in my particular situation.  I still need to appeal to his Spirit to convict me in the moment.

For me, it looks something like this:

I am not a patient woman and I have an easily distracted kindergartener.

  • It can take 30 minutes to write two lines in a handwriting book.
  • After months of adding numbers within 7, there are days we start math and it seems like we are working with a blank slate.
  • She’s been reading for over a year, but some days we can’t sound out the word “and.”

So, I get a little irritable.  OK, “a little” is an understatement.  It is amazing how angry I can become.  Often I end up yelling.

I know yelling is wrong.  I hate the way our lessons go after I have yelled.  Part of the reason we homeschool is to foster a love of learning.  Yelling does not foster a love of anything.  If she finally settles into her work to shut me up, she is not learning to love learning.  She’s not really learning anything.  At least not anything good.  If my goal is to “not yell today,” I will fail.

There in Ephesians it says, “Let all … wrath and anger… be put away from you.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…”

So, what if I make it my goal to be kind and tenderhearted?  What would that look like?  How can I be truly kind, and not say “kind” words while inwardly seething?

I have to make a plan.

  1. When I start to feel agitated (and I will notice this because internally my heart starts beating a little faster, my voice gets an edge to it, and, usually, an older child glances anxiously in my direction) I will stop.
  2. I will take a moment to praise this little girl for all she has learned this year.
    • We will go through the handwriting book and look at all those beautiful letters.  Maybe we glance at the pre-test and then flip back to where we are today and marvel at the progress.
    • Maybe we need to pull out the hundreds chart and review all those numbers we worked so hard to learn – and celebrate again the ability to count by twos, fives, and tens to 100.
    • I might need to take her to the shelf full of books she’s already read to me and remind her how hard she worked to read them.  Perhaps we read one of these “easy” books and remember the time when it was so hard.
    • Maybe I need to see how hard she is trying, and how much there is to learn about God’s world, and how many obstacles she has already overcome.  This it the little girl who couldn’t swallow four years ago.  Look at her now!
  3. Maybe, if I take time to give acknowledge the progress we’ve made and give thanks for it, I can do better than “endure” today’s lessons.  Maybe I can enjoy again the beauty of seeing the world opened to a young pair of eyes. And maybe, just maybe, I will be more likely to be kind and tenderhearted instead of angry.

A plan like that has a greater chance of success than grieving over my yelling and vowing not to yell again.  It takes the biblical principles of “taking thoughts captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), “giving thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and using speech “that builds up” and “gives grace” (Ephesians 4:29) and puts them into practice.  It also takes a look back at what has happened before – something God continually asked the Israelites to do so they would have the courage to move forward.  It is a deliberate decision to put off yelling and put on grace.

What does it look like for you?

Besetting sins come in so many flavors.  Mine may be yelling, but anything that entangles us in an ongoing way qualifies as a besetting sin.

  • giving the silent treatment
  • resorting to manipulation
  • abusing drugs/alcohol
  • excessive shopping
  • engaging in gossip or slander
  • avoiding conflict
  • viewing pornography
  • exaggerating or lying
  • shaming others
  • criticizing
  • belittling ourselves
  • laziness
  • overwork
  • striving for a good impression (fear of man)
  • hoarding (money or possessions)

Are you tired of half-won battles? Are you willing to pursue righteousness rather than sinlessness?  What can you do to plan to face temptation with righteousness? What can you do to fight against defeat? And, are you willing to celebrate progress instead of strive for perfection?