The Answer to Life’s Problems

Don’t you hate it when you get click-baited by some article that claims to solve some problem in life? You get excited looking for answers only to discover the article ends up just ranting instead of giving any useful solutions at all. Don’t you want to scream at that person for wasting your time? Don’t you just get so annoyed???

Yeah, me, too.

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Transitioning to Tween Years

If there’s one topic that’s almost absent in the self-help genre of books, it would be the topic of raising tweens. This title was coined several years ago to describe the years right before our kids become teenagers. It’s a confusing age for kids. Their bodies are changing in weird ways, and they flip back and forth constantly between wanting to act like a young child and wanting to act like an adult. They don’t really fit anywhere, often feeling like outcasts because of it. And we parents sit on the sidelines all like, “What? The? CRAP???”

And there are basically no good articles or books to help us. Woohoo.

So, I’m about to write an article that isn’t going to be all that helpful either. You’re welcome.

But from much trial and error and a plethora of tweens in the house, here’s the one thing we’re learning the most: These years as parents are mainly about transitioning from hands-on to overseer.

A couple of years ago, Liam made the comment that it must be really hard for me to raise eight kids. I told him that physically, it was actually much harder when I had four kids. At that time, none of my kids were even school aged. It was me who had to prep all food, do all cleaning and laundry, dress my kids, strap them in car seats, carry them to and fro, teach them everything new, and make all decisions, usually with a baby on my boob. Now, I only prepare one meal a day (with a cooking helper I might add), do minimal cleaning, only fold my own laundry along with Bill’s, shop for kids clothes that my children dress themselves in, walk myself to the van where all kids are strapped in and ready to go (many times with lunch packed that I had nothing to do with), listen to them tell me about what they’re learning from reading on their own, and often get creative ideas from my kids to help me make decisions. And, well, there’s still a man who occasionally sucks on my boob, but never while those other things are going on… [oh to be a fly on the wall so I can see my poor, mortified mother’s face as she’s reading this].

The little years are the years your hands are literally full all the time! You never stop doing, and it’s physically exhausting. For us, this has changed immensely. Even with the amount of children I have, I don’t need to be nearly as active as I once was because my kids share so much of the load.

However, I’m not less exhausted.

My exhaustion has simply transitioned from a physical (though I’m still plenty active here, too, as a mom!) to a mental exhaustion.

These are the years my kids want time, time, and more time with me. They want to talk about everything from the newest Super Mario game (it’s Odyssey, if you didn’t know–I do now!) to feeling left out with friends in the neighborhood. They get extremely vulnerable late in the evening, ready to spill everything. Their slap-happy gets more ridiculous and funnier all the time. They tell me that I’m their best friend.

I’m loving it!! And it’s so incredibly hard because I would almost rather give my energy to physical work than that much emotional work. But the times I give myself up to listen, really listen, and simply talk as friends to my tweens have truly been some of the most blessed moments of my life.

Here are a few ways Bill and I have changed our parenting focus with this age:

  • Instead of us doing most of the physical work around the house, we watch over the kids work, giving them instruction and letting them learn by trial and error. We also inspect what we’ve expected. If you’re still doing most of the work here and your child is at least ten, I can almost promise you they’re able to do almost all the work you do.
  • I push myself to stay awake later at night. Even in college, I cried if I had to stay out after ten. I figure since I’ve acted like an old person for so long, it means I’ll be the best grandma ever.
  • Bill and I really try to carve out time for each other and give the kids most of the rest. The two of us really really love talking to each other, so we find every excuse under the sun to do so. Family walks–let’s hold hands and talk. Working in the kitchen–let’s talk. Family games–time to talk to Bill. Great quality in a relationship, not so great if it means the kids rarely get opportunities to talk to you because of it. We have time set aside as a couple every day and other times throughout the week, month, and year. And we push ourselves to be patient in the other times to wait for each other (cause true love waits–ba dum bum) so we can be free for the kids to talk our ears off.
  • We have weekly time set aside just for our tweens. We call it Dude/Chick Time. After everyone else is in bed, we split into guys and girls to talk about tons of things relevant to their lives.
  • As they enter this season, we take them on an individual weekend trip to talk to them about the changes that are coming up for them, how our bodies work, and sex. Every year after that, each of these kids get a day trip with one of us for some individual time and to continue these conversations.

We’d love to hear other ways you guys pour into your tweens. And we’d love your list of resources, too. Though we haven’t had great success finding quality ones we love, we still have hope they exist.

Discipling Our Kids as Individuals

A few folks have raised a question from Courtney’s last post about how we do life together as a family: how do we disciple our kids individually and how do we ensure that get enough individual attention from us? There are a few different ways I want to approach this because I think there’s a lot of clutter and assumptions we need to work through before really getting to the meat of that question. I hope you’ll show me a little patience as I work through that before getting to the answer I think most would expect.

1. How much is enough?

In meeting with people over the years for discipleship and the such, a question I frequently ask is “how often do you read your Bible or pray?” and I consistently get an answer along the lines of “not as much as I should.” Then I follow up with the question, “How much should you be?” which no one can really answer. There’s a deep shame that most carry around where however much time is spent on a worthwhile endeavor such as Bible reading, it’s never really “enough.” It seems to me that individual time with our kids would fall in a similar vein. There’s an unspoken expectation that our kids should get lots of alone time with us, and we never really do it enough.

This Enough Complex really has a set of problems all its own and bleeds into all kinds of areas: parenting, spiritual disciplines, eating well, exercise, serving others, caring for the poor, giving money, and on and on and on. We never do “enough” but we never really know what enough is–just that we’re falling short of it. I’m not even remotely arguing that we should just be content with our shortcomings. But I am trying to question how we have set some unstated standard which is probably impossible to meet and does nothing but drive us into shame and guilt instead of driving us into the Sabbath rest of the Savior, who has both accomplished our righteousness completely and given us his Spirit to make us into a new creation.

To sum up: what would be enough individual time with your kids? If you can’t give a definitive, faith-filled, convicted answer then you have a problem before we even start this conversation.

2. Why individual time?

I think this has become my shtick to ask “Why?” about everything, but here we are anyway. Moving past “enough,” I really want to question the foundations of individual time. If nothing else, we have a pressing biblical question to ask about what God requires of us as parents: Does he expect us to give individual time to each of our children and, if so, how much?

I’m going to go out on a limb here by saying: he doesn’t. So where does this idea for individual attention and the importance of it come from? I can’t pinpoint it, but I can assure you it’s a North American socially driven idea, not a biblical one. Now, the fact that it doesn’t come from the Bible doesn’t make it bad. The Bible doesn’t say to sleep with a blanket and I’m a mighty big fan of that, so that’s not the point here. But I would say that if someone wants to sleep without a blanket, then good for them–because it is not commanded or implied by Scripture.

What we’re really dealing with here is a pressure that exists because of our current social context that is driving our parenting priorities. I love individual time with my kids. I really do. But I am under no conviction that I must do so or that I must do so for a certain amount of time or frequency.

This is probably the point where the gut reaction against what I’m saying is coming out. “Don’t you think that all kids should get individual time? Don’t you think that’s important for individual development?” Again, I’m not arguing that they’re bad, but the assumption that they are necessary is the issue. And perhaps (in my context) our American superiority complex is coming out. There are plenty of cultures that spend almost no one-on-one time with their children–while still maintaining strong family connections. Shoot, the central premise of the British-cultured Harry Potter books is that the children spend 3/4 of the year completely separated from their parents. And no one bats an eye. But in America, one-on-one time is practically a non-negotiable.

I also strongly suspect that much of this comes from the shrinking family size of American families as well. With the preponderance of one- and two-children homes, individual attention for each child is either the norm or very easy to attain. Historically, that certainly hasn’t always been the case, nor is it true for many other non-Western cultures. Regardless of the causes, we’re standing on an expectation that is groundless from God’s perspective. There might be wisdom in it (like taking your kids to the dentist), but we need to place this conversation into the right context before trying to really parse it out.

3. Doesn’t God want something greater?

I think my big issue about all this is to see something greater that just a parent-child relationship. In Deuteronomy 6 after the great pronouncement that Yawhew is one God, we should love him completely, and we do that through obeying his commands, we’re told:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

This isn’t a program. It’s not a kid date. It’s not even individualized. Parents are to impress upon their children the words of God. Why? So that they’ll know him, his mighty deeds, and his holy commands. And this isn’t at set times, but all the frickin’ time. The way we train our kids and invest in them is by continually pointing them to the Word, Jesus himself.

We do this at shared meals, while taking walks, on long drives, when playing games, when disciplining, when reading together, when praying together, when going on vacations, when fixing the leaky sink, when sweeping the floor, when cooking dinner, when loading the dishwasher, when getting the mail, when raking leaves, when throwing snowballs. It’s all the time, not just these set one-on-one times.

But more than that, individual time with our kids really needs to be geared toward something other than a deepened relationship with our children–and let’s be honest, that seems to be what most of the concerns are with individual attention. The Shema of Deut 6 is about continually pointing our children toward their True Dad in their True Family. We parent for only a little while. By faith, we believe that those who are our kids will one day be brothers and sisters, all of us sitting at the feet of our great Father. We’re not raising them to a closer relationship with us, but toward the infinitely relational God himself.

The fact is that our kids don’t actually need one-on-one time with us as their parents. We’re striving to raise our kids into Jesus–something far grander than us and our pale imitation of God’s family. And we are bringing our kids into God’s family. This is more than just a God-and-me religiosity, but the fact that God has called himself a people. This people is made up of individuals, but individuals called into a community.

Let’s even draw an analogy from Jesus’ time on Earth. He had his “family” of twelve who went along the road with him. He preached the kingdom to them in houses and along the road, as well as in the morning and in the evening. And as far as is recorded, he spends very little time one-on-one with each of his disciples. He brought them with them everywhere and used the opportunities of day-to-day life to train them toward the Father.

And are we really going to say that Jesus didn’t know his disciples personally and individually? That if only he’d spent a little more individual time with them, Judas wouldn’t have betrayed him or Peter wouldn’t have denied him? Jesus was perfect and he disciples his disciples perfectly.

Wrapping it up

Maybe it sounds like I’m giving very little direction about how to disciple our kids as individuals. In one sense, that’s true–I’m not helping build much and instead am trying to tear down a lot of unhelpful assumptions. Though I think that’s incredibly important, because we’re driven by our core convictions and if they don’t come from God’s Word, then we ought to question them. But in another sense, I’m advocating for discipling our kids in community and for community. I’m advocating for getting to know our kids not so much through individual time, but through the many ups and downs of daily life. I’m advocating for knowing our kids as individuals and discipling them as individual souls, but without feeling like we need all kinds of separate time with each to do that. I would argue that I know each of my kids, I know what they like and hate, I know their preferences, I know their sin struggles–and I know almost all of that from the variety of daily life situations we’re in, not from a kid date here and there.

And lest we be accused of being haters, we’ve posted in the past about how we pursue individual time with the kids. But the point of that time is to fill in any cracks that might come out of our parenting along the road of life. Some months, those individual items might go by the wayside–and we don’t sweat it, because our parenting is built on the gospel of Jesus, not on the quality of our planned one-on-one times.

How We Do Life Together As a Family

Like many parents, Bill and I tend to feel pulled in several directions all the time. We have work, extended family, personal health, friends, kids’ extra-curriculars, neighbors, and various things we want to learn about or get involved in. That’s all fine and dandy, but when you have kids, there tends to be this low-lying guilt we feel that we aren’t spending ample energy on our kids.

First, stop it! Often that guilt isn’t a biblical guilt but a societal guilt–a guilt that comes from what articles say you should be doing as a parent, what your friends are doing as a parent, what your favorite bloggers post about (wink wink), or your own self-made laws about how much time you should spend on your kids. Don’t turn something into sin that was never sin in God’s eyes.

Second, though, evaluate to see if there’s merit to the guilt. While guilt can come from social pressure, sometimes it’s a reminder from the Spirit that we’re pursuing something lesser than the glory God has prepared for us. Are other things, even good things, putting your kids close to last place on your list of priorities? If so, repent, pray for wisdom to see how that repentance should look, and rest by faith in the blood of Jesus which washes away that sin, too.

For the Bell parents, we’re in both camps several times every day. Especially me. And each year we look at things we need to drop along with ways we can improve our time with our kids.

Enter this past year’s theme: Almost everything we do is centered around discipling our kids, which we then invite others into. 

This sounds so duh now that I’m reading it. But it’s been huge for our family. In the past, the way we decided if we could add something to our calendar looked like this: We had a few things that were priorities for our family. As long as the new commitment didn’t mess with that, we usually said yes. This meant that our core activities involved the kids, but just about everything else didn’t. What we realized was how many opportunities we were missing to teach our kids, because many of those commitments pulled us away from our little disciples.

Now, we ask ourselves some questions to evaluate if we should commit:

  1. Can we bring our kids into this activity? I focus on this below.
  2. If the kids can’t be brought in, will it still be for the overall benefit of the whole family? One instance of this is Bill’s seminary classes. Bill is a better leader in every way when he’s reading challenging books and writing. He gets more geeked about Jesus and bleeds the gospel most when he’s immersed in this kind of deep thinking. He would also tell you he isn’t self-disciplined and that he works best with deadlines. Enter seminary, where he’s pushed to do both of the above. Though, funny enough, he’s even talked about taking some of the older kids to class with him since his professors are usually good with it. A couple of our kids go crazy over this stuff, too.
  3. Is this worth the temporary sacrifice of family for the sake of the gospel? There are some things that will fit here: helping a friend on a house project, counseling a brother or sister in a sensitive situation, very early/late commitments, etc. But I would also say that I think we probably use this question too often to justify the discipleship of others at the expense of discipling our own kiddos. Often we need to understand we aren’t Jesus and can’t save everyone (even Jesus didn’t “fix” everyone he came in contact with, and he was fine with it!), and we may not be in the right season for that. There are also many times we actually can bring our kids into these situations if we’ll think outside the box.

Here are some ways we’ve tried to bring our kiddos more into our world this year. None of this is necessary for any family to incorporate, and it certainly may not be best for yours, but maybe it will help some of you incorporate ways to do more life together as a family. And lest you think we’re a Leave It to Beaver-like family who has their crap together, please let me be the first to inform you we frequently look much more similar to the Simpsons in real life. We strive toward this but fail constantly, mainly because Bill and I prefer to be by ourselves with no kids around and ridiculously often give in to that desire when we’ve committed to be with the kids. Our posts are honestly written more as reminders for us than for you guys.

  • Exercise is important to both of us, and I push myself to run (yes, you can note the absence of the word “enjoy” in that statement). Every time, though, that would take away an hour of my time. One hour is not a big deal, but I was ending up with several hours like this each day or week. We decided to see how our kids would do with the Couch to 5K program. Well, they rocked it! Seriously, even the smallest Bell can run circles around me. Two of our kids had a hard time with it (not the smallest might I add) after a while, so they ride bikes along with us. We run the distance of a 5K 2-3 times per week, and it’s been such a sweet way to learn working together (instead of competing), encouraging one another, and persevering when things are hard. The kids have also learned some life lessons. Ha!
  • I open my bedroom door during my personal Bible study time. The kids are asked to respect me by not being Chatty Cathys, but watching me has encouraged my kids to study for themselves. My girls frequently ask if they can highlight in their Bibles, too, and they’ve come up with some great questions from their own study.
  • The kids sit with us during our church gathering and participate in our church’s Bible study. I know this can seem intimidating for a while, especially if your kids are in tyrannical ages (aka 3-5; OK that’s not a rule, just my own personal opinion of 3- to 5-year-olds). We’ve found that our kids, even the little ones, catch a ton of what’s going on. Our church has welcomed our kids to the adult Bible study we attend, too. They treat them like mini-adults instead of under-humans. They let them read the Bible passage aloud, answer their questions without mocking them, and even humble themselves to learn if one of my kids has wisdom they want to share. It’s been beautiful. We almost always talk as a family after both of these. Since we’ve shared the experience together, our talks go deep quickly since we don’t have to ask what we all did in our separate classes.
  •  We bring the kids with us to music practice. They don’t participate here, but they learn the songs by listening and sing them constantly since we shared the experience.
  • I used to teach a neighborhood women’s Bible study. Some of my daughters began attending, and they were treated with respect there, too.
  • This one’s probably obvious, but if Bill or I have an errand to run, we almost always grab a kid so we can get some one-on-one time, or we just all pile in the van just for kicks.
  • We take neighborhood walks when the weather’s nice to see and meet neighbors together.
  • We throw block parties with our friends. The kids help plan, cook, and set up. They are wonderful hosts–better than I am, actually.
  • If we’re hanging with another family, we encourage our kids to be part of the adult conversation. One of my sons recently told me he prefers talking to adults, and he’s my most social kid who fiercely loves his friends.
  • One way we’re trying to push ourselves more is simply inviting others along to our everyday stuff. Outings, game night, watching a movie together. We have much room to grow here.
  • If a woman asks me to mentor her, I almost always just invite her to come be part of my everyday world once a week. She simply comes over to hang, let her kids run around with mine, help out where needed, and chat when we can. This has proven to be much more effective than sitting down privately once a week over coffee to discuss a good book.
  • If Bill goes to play sports with friends or a meeting with other men in the area, he takes our oldest boys.

If your children are very young, this is going to look different for you. We found with the very little ones that out-and-about commitments were next to impossible to accomplish as a family. For instance, our church building at the time was in a low-income neighborhood. Every once in a while several members would walk around the neighborhood offering to repair gutters for free. We loved this idea but couldn’t imagine how we could actually help with four kiddos under the age of four. Um, no. And at a time when it was already hard to connect as a couple, the idea of one of us leaving the other to do this good deed felt horrible. As I mentioned above, I generally think this season in your life isn’t right for tons of things that will take you away from each other. Rest in Jesus as Savior, knowing he put you here in this time. And that’s beautiful. Even in that season, though, Bill and I spent much time with friends, counseled many couples, mentored friends, and trained small group leaders. It was just all in our home after the kids were in bed.

Let it be said that I DO NOT think every moment of your life should be with your kids. In the words of Luke Skywalker, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” There’re still many things I do apart from them. Date nights with the man, coffee with friends, weekly walks by myself, personal prayer, and doctor’s appointments to name a few. The kids also have their own things. I’m a selfish mom, though, who’s always looking for ways I can get away from my kids to do the things I want, dang it! And I find there’s always room to include them more.

Why You Think Your Kids Need Youth Group

Most of you probably know we met with our church in homes for 5 years here in Indy. In that time we didn’t have organized ministries, and our kids of all ages gathered with us in the living room.

One of the concerns that would come up every now and then would be our lack of a youth group. What about our teens and their need for interactions with kids their own age, others they can relate to?

We always decided against it. Part of that was simply how small our church was, but most of it was because Jesus didn’t make youth group part of his church. Once when he preached, there was a boy there who gave him his lunch to be shared with thousands of others. In Paul’s letters to both the Ephesians and the Colossians, he gives commands to the children–children who were present to hear the letter read. In other words, kids of all ages were right there as part of the church hearing the same message their parents were hearing.

Perhaps that’s not a strong enough argument for some. Some think that the gospel should be made more relevant or maybe even more entertaining to reach young people. But Jesus never made his gospel flashy in order to make it appealing to others or make them want to be part of it. He simply used words along with a righteous life, and people came by droves for this good news. The flashier we have to make the gospel, the more revealing the heart issue is. The issue that we don’t believe this salvation is the best news ever. We don’t rejoice enough in it alone because we don’t think we’re all that bad, that apart from this gospel, we’re doomed. And so we need to dress up the gospel, because it’s not good enough on its own.

Miriam almost drowned a year ago. We couldn’t get to her and were standing helpless in a creek watching our little girl bob under the water over and over. God miraculously sent two beautiful women who were close enough to her to jump in the water without hesitation and pull her to safety just in time. We didn’t respond with, “Man, we’re grateful. But it would have been better if you’d done it with some spotlights or amazing music. And actually, if you could provide pizza for her next time, too, we might even come back to thank you later.” No, we pummeled the soaking wet women with hugs, sobbing our gratitude because they had saved our girl’s life. We took their picture. I kept looking for them throughout the day because I just wanted to hug them one more time and thank them again and again. And I still pray for them and cry praising God for their placement and timing.

Good news is good because of the news itself, not because of the delivery method. And the good news of Jesus saving us from totally destruction and eternal death is the best news that could ever be. If we really got that, every other tool the church uses to try to impress us toward Jesus would just look dumb.

If what I’m saying is true, though, why do well-done youth groups seem to draw teens closer to God and to each other? Why do they produce a fire in youth that isn’t easily squelched?

It’s because these youth groups function more like the church than the church does.

I was raised in a healthy youth group. I still care deeply about those brothers and sisters with whom I did so much life. But here’s how that group worked:

I was blessed with a godly director who cared more about our spiritual well-being than how cool we thought he was. So we studied Scripture together, we prayed together, and we sang together.  So far, so good. Same as the adults.

But we also were in each others’ faces all the freakin’ time. Our youth director did plan fun, ridiculous activities. Q-tip wars, anyone? But outside the planned youth group times, we were almost together more. If something was wrong or I had news I wanted to share, I would call one of my youth friends (no texting in them there days). If a new movie was out I wanted to see, I’d invite one of the youth to go with me. Pretty much every Wednesday night a few of us would go out to eat for pizza or burgers, and we’d sing intentionally off-key to the radio on the way. If a friend was in need, we’d go as a group to their house to be with them. We called each other out when we saw sin and reconciled with each other over and over. The girls started a tradition on our own to meet at one of our houses at Christmas for breakfast and singing silly Christmas songs, complete with an ornament exchange. We knew everything about each other.

This, I believe, is the way the church is meant to function, regardless of age. But we’re a prideful, independent generation. We don’t like to have to lean on others or give up our important schedules to pour into the church or be poured into. Especially when we start families, we get very inward. The inner family becomes number one, and everyone else fits as is convenient. We forget to text others to check in on them or share our heart. We forget to share meals with those in our circle, to invite them to go with us to the museum. We cringe at traditions because we simply see them as another calendar entry. We forget that laugh-so-hard-you-cry inside jokes only happen with time together. Many of us function okay as a small family but forget we’re part of a much bigger family. This bigger family is the church.

Ironically, even though youth groups get this together-as-family aspect so well, youth groups aren’t realistic. After college, there will likely never be another time in life when your people will only be those who are the same age as you. And in my experience, we usually struggle to break down age barriers when reality finally kicks in. We still look for those who are in the same exact season of life as us. But God wants older men and women to disciple the younger ones. He wants younger ones to sit at their feet. He wants it all mixed up and jumbled together. I don’t believe he necessarily wants the church to have a strong youth group to grow young people in him. I do believe he wants the church to function like a youth group, but across ages and life stages and financial statuses.

I think youth groups feel needed mainly because we stink as a church to embrace anyone who isn’t majority. In my experience, that’s the married folks, preferably with kids. The core ministry of the church focuses around this majority group and marginalizes the rest. Those who aren’t in that category end up being outsiders in the church. Therefore, the outsiders feel the need for a group of outsiders like them and we create things like youth groups (and singles ministries and senior ministries and on and on). What we miss is that the church as a whole is supposed to be a whole bunch of outsiders joined together for support. When we only seek out those just like us and are unwilling to put in the hard work to become close–really close–to those who aren’t like us, we stop functioning as the church. And that’s one reason I think many youth groups do a better job looking like Jesus’s church.

It’s important here for me to say this post has nothing to do with convincing you that you should do away with youth groups or pull your kid out of one. Each church has it’s own needs, and often that includes a ministry that’s mutually beneficial for all the believers who are part of that local church, like youth groups. But I do challenge us to strive to function as a church more like a youth group, without holding back and totally in each other’s faces all the time for everything under the sun. If the church functioned more like this, maybe our youth wouldn’t crave an outside ministry just for them so much. And we wouldn’t think they needed it either.

Staying On the Same Page

Bill and I are ridiculously blessed to parent our children together. It’s a privilege I easily take for granted. Most of our neighbors and many of our other friends don’t have someone to partner with in their parenting endeavors. If you’re in the latter category, I look up to you more than you know. One of my closest friends on the planet has become a single mom in the last couple of years, and I’m amazed every week at how strong God continues to make her. He’s taken a horribly broken situation and turned it into something beautiful, but her lot is still much more difficult than mine.

For those of us who are married, we all know how difficult it can be to connect when kiddos are in the picture. Bill and I have intentionally set aside various ways to stay in sync. Obviously, this list is aimed at married couples, but if you are on your own, you can still use some of the same principles with tweaks. I pray you’re part of a solid church and community who’s praying for you and ready to be a sounding board, offering help whenever needed. My friend, for instance, made a decision early on that her church would take the place of her husband in most decision-making areas. We have a group text, and she uses it liberally to keep us updated as she asks for prayer and counsel. It’s been a sweet privilege to weep with her, rejoice at God’s deeds, and work through tough situations together. God called us to depend on those around who love him, so please don’t attempt to do this tough parenting thing alone.

With that in mind, here are some things Bill and I do regularly to stay connected:

  • Couch Time–We used to actually do this on the couch. (That totally sounds like I’m talking about couch sex! Go for it!!!) But I’m actually just talking about 30 minutes of catch-up conversation at the end of Bill’s work day. The kids know they aren’t to interrupt this time except for emergencies. We plan it for a time the kids are occupied, and in the past we’ve even set a timer so the kids knew when they “got us back.” These days, we almost always have this time during neighborhood walks which happen most days when the weather’s nice enough. When the walks don’t happen, yeah, we usually do it on the couch. [middle school snickering] We talk briefly about our day, but we mainly talk about issues we had with the kids and try to make some decisions moving forward with them.
  • Home Date Nights–One dinner a week, we hang out in the living room eating together while the kids eat in the dining room. This is usually a simple extended talking time. The kids know to quietly put themselves to bed, and we get a couple of hours without interruption since we start close to bedtime for most of our kids. We often use these evenings for some planning time, too, looking at the calendar for the week ahead and working out logistics.
  • Weekly Dates Out–These dates out are more about talking without interruption and about connecting. That means our dates aren’t event-oriented, but relationship-oriented. We’re at a point in our lives that we pay for weekly babysitters, but this hasn’t always been a possibility for us. In times past, we did a variety of things such as trading babysitting with other friends, trading services with others (once I mentored a college woman in exchange for babysitting; you could teach a skill or trade an item), paying for babysitting once a month or so, or simply asking favors.
  • Sex–And a lot of it. If you can be as vulnerable as you need to be with regular sex, it’s easier to be more connected in other ways, too. Just different ways to work things out together. [still snickering]
  • Guard Your Tongue–If you find out your spouse gave permission for something you might not have (or vice versa), table your thoughts for a private time with him or her. Best for you to decide together to change the decision than for you to undermine the decision in front of your children. Otherwise, you’re opening the door for strife between the two of you and causing anxiety in your children from the double standards.
  • Pray Together–Unity comes through the Spirit. And since one-fleshness is the deepest human to human unity, praying together is a beautiful humbling way to ask the Spirit to continue that unity and draw you even closer together in him.
  • Ask Intentional Questions–Each night, Bill and I ask a couple of simple questions to wrap our heads around the next day. We ask how we can pray for each other and for one way we can serve each other. It helps focus the next day on the right priorities.
  • Regularly Communicate Throughout the Day–Like most families, at least one of us works outside the home. But with modern technology, it’s usually possible to still connect. Many times if Bill’s at the office or working upstairs, I’ll send him a text to ask help about a decision with the kids. I know he can’t always answer right away, but he can almost always find a brief moment to chime in without too much delay. It’s also sweet to send encouragement and definitely fun to flirt this way.

What are additional ways you and your spouse stay connected in the midst of craziness?

The Meh of Me Time

I have a hard time with with the idea of “me time.” And I  can’t tell you how many times people tell me that, as a mom of ten, I “need” some time to myself. I know it’s easy to get caught up in nuances: “What you call something isn’t important. It’s the heart behind it.” Absolutely! But I find more often than not what we call something reveals how we really view it in our hearts, whether we know it or not.

Me-time is just that: it’s all about me. Every week Bill sends me out for time by myself, and I do the same for him. I pray, I blog, I take a walk, I breathe in the beauty of creation. And I tell myself it’s selfless. That if I’m overspent, I won’t be able to serve my husband and kids well. Trust me, my me-time is totally righteous…

Truly, I believe I deserve this time, and if I don’t get it, it becomes my justification for every sin under the sun. “I’m not lazy today, I’m just tired because I didn’t get my time out.” “I shouldn’t have yelled at the kids. Obviously, I’m overwhelmed by them since I didn’t get out last week.” “My mind is busy. I’d be able to focus more on Jesus if I got some time away.” I want rest, a Sabbath-rest that will refresh soul and body.

But the Sabbath God gave us, the rest Jesus sought (and found!), was rest in the Lord. Sometimes Jesus got that with “time away.” Sometimes he got it through compassionately caring for the people along the water’s edge that God providentially put there. Sometimes he got it by sleeping through a terrible storm.

When things didn’t work out the way he may have planned, he still never sinned. His rest came not from physical renewal but heart renewal, and that’s the renewal I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I still don’t know how to simply trust my perfect Daddy even though he seems to smash my plans and my personal time.

Of course I know that our souls and bodies are intertwined, and there’s much teaching in scripture about getting rid of physical temptations in order to flee from sin. Physical rest is a gift from God, so if he grants it to you, take it. Make it a priority, even. Physical rest is good and necessary. The only one strong enough to not need this kind of rest is God, and our need for it is to remind us to rejoice in his strength since we have none on our own. If “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things,” then it seems like we could say that physical rest is of some value, but Spirit-filled rest has value for all things. And that’s because true rest holds “promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Physical rest, me time, getting away–none of those can do that.

When we find our hope in our physical rest or find ourselves miffed that we didn’t get a break, that just means we were seeking me-time, not Jesus-time. And we’ll never truly find rest there.

I think we got some Bible mixed with self-serving–yet-pseudo-spiritual language in our heads. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, so the Son of Man makes sure he gets his me-time, too.” “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will suggest some renewing time for yourself.”

No! Jesus tells us that if we’re weary and burdened, to find rest in him. More specifically, he says to take his yoke upon you in order to find rest. I find this interesting because the idea of having a yoke upon us is not a picture of sitting cozy on the couch or leisurely walking through the woods. It’s a picture of a strong ox doing insanely difficult labor. So the key to rest according to Jesus is not to rest physically but to rest in him, knowing he’s the one carrying most of the weight. To keep running the race because he did all the work for us already on the cross, and he’s continuing to labor for us as our perfect mediator. To always remember this truth so we can work in him and be rested. To make my work (or my time) about him, not me.

My prayer is for something better, deeper, richer, and more fulfilling than me time. I’m praying for a deeper rest, a rest in Jesus, a heart rest that comes no matter how much physical work is being demanded from my body, how much counsel is being demanded from my lips, or how much I’m “deprived” of my me-time. My prayer is to plumb the depths of the Sabbath-rest that allows us rest for our souls, a rest that has already started and will never ever end.

Chores with Our Kids

20171126_223716579_iOSA few months ago, a woman in our home for the first time saw our chore chart and started a conversation with one of our girls.

“I bet you guys are great helpers for your mom,” says woman.

Daughter responds, “Yeah, now that Mom and Dad have so many kids, they don’t have to do anything!”

That’s right, my minion. You now know your place in the family. Bon bons and Netflix, here I come!

Seriously, though, my kids are great helpers, and if I’m honest, I hardly clean a thing in my house.

Most of this is because I have older kids now. Even the little ones are old enough to take part in household chores. If your little ones are all, well, little, you obviously won’t be joining the sit-back-while-your-kids-rub-your-feet club anytime soon (I’m president), but I’ll reserve a spot for you when the time comes. I do include a few tips below, though, for how to start your little ones off.

Since I have so much time on my hands now, I’ll share how we handle this with our kids. Because I feel like I should do something useful.

We divide our kids’ chores into two categories: Daily required chores and paid extra chores.

Daily Required Chores:

These chores are general tasks that help keep our home running smoothly day to day. Our kids’ payment here is the blessing of living in our home. Praise hands! The child is in charge of a the same chore for an entire month, and then we rotate them to something different. Here’s what our children are responsible for in our home:

  • Clear and wipe the table and chairs after each meal
  • Sweep floors after each meal
  • Dry and put away dishes from dishwasher
  • Hand wash dishes that aren’t dishwasher safe
  • Take out trash and recycling
  • Clear and wipe kitchen counters after each meal
  • Sweep kitchen after each meal
  • Wash and dry laundry
  • Quickly wipe down each bathroom mirror, sink area, and toilet, including swiping out the toilet bowl with a toilet brush
  • Open and close blinds on main floor
  • Turn on and off porch light
  • Bring in the mail
  • Quickly dust mop main living area
  • Cooking helper (this is when that child gets to assist me and learn how to cook, eventually taking over some meals entirely)

We give each child a page with detailed instructions for each job when they get their new rotation. This is especially helpful for things like laundry, which can be very confusing.

In addition to the rotations, each child is also responsible to make their own bed each morning, to sort and stain treat their own dirty clothes at the end of the day, and to fold their own laundry each week.

This seems like a lot, and if you have fewer children, you’ll be doing more of these chores than I do. But our children often do 2-3 of these each month depending on how much time each takes, and we’ve found that kids can handle way more than we usually think. With the rotation, they tend not to grumble about their chores, and they’re happier to have something for which they’re responsible. Not to mention great life skills they’re learning.

It’s important to say here that the point is not to have a perfectly clean home. The younger your children, the sloppier the job will be done. Encouragement is so key!! Point out what they did well (“I like how you pulled your covers all the way to the top.”), and then gently work on one thing they can improve (“Next time, let’s work on tucking the sides of your blanket under the mattress.”), and then practice it with them.

Paid Extra Chores:

Each month, we post a Cleaning Checklist the kids get paid for. This is somewhat optional. Some of the chores are our weekly cleaning tasks. We do these one morning a week. The CC (Cleaning Commander, aka Liam) assigns his siblings with tasks, and they work through the assignments until they’re done.

Then four mornings out of the week, the kids set a timer for 30 minutes and choose a bi-weekly, monthly, or seasonal cleaning task. They put their initials by the chore they completed and get paid at the end of the month. The harder they work, the more they get paid. This motivates some kids more than others, but we intentionally give some freedom here so the kids can see that some things in life are simply expected (daily and weekly chores), but sometimes extra work pays off. Our kids can also choose from this list anytime they’d like some extra dough.

The monthly and seasonal tasks never get all the way done, so I sometimes have to take a break from my me-time to pick up the slack here while I grumble about how hard life is. Someday, mini-me’s, this, too, will all be on you and my day will have arrived. [maniacal laugh]

If you’d like to pay your children but are in a tighter time financially, there are other options here. We used to do what we called “Chuck E. Cheese” rewards. The kids would get stars instead of money and then would trade them in for different things. Sometimes they could choose from a box we’d filled with Target’s dollar section finds, but usually the kids would get privileges like screen time, choosing a family activity, getting a chore-free day, or a date with Mom or Dad.

With little ones, there are often small jobs they CAN do on their own, things like turning on the porch light at night. But they can learn harder ones insanely fast, too, especially when they’re immersed in it. For a long time, our littles’ job was simply to be my or an older sibling’s helper. They basically shadow an older sibling and help them by doing things like holding the broom pan while sibling sweeps, handing them dirty clothes to put in the washer, or carrying something into the kitchen to help clear the table. It doesn’t take long before those little ones are ready to take on their own chore, and they love it at that age!

The last comment I’ll make here is to inspect all you expect. The best way it’s seemed for us to train our children in this area is to simply let our kids try each job. We don’t usually give them tons of instruction beforehand, but we do make sure to inspect the jobs they’ve done. It gives them a chance to figure things out on their own, and then we only have to instruct them where they need it. As they have more experience, we raise our expectations and encourage them to rise to it.

Whew! My fingers are going to be sore from all that typing! Time for me to encourage one of my girls to give me a mani and hand massage.

Kidisms

Theology 101:
Josiah: Did you know Jesus dies on the cross every time he gets sick?

When Ariana and her friends kept talking through a movie:
Me: Don’t make me Avada Kedavra your butts!
Renne (friend): You’re sometimes really hilarious and sometimes really creepy.

Victoria was looking at toys online for Miriam’s birthday. One toy caught her attention:
V: Whoa! That’s creepy!! Kind of makes me want to have it…

Not correlated at all…:
Esther: I’m not actually close to full. It’s just that my belly hurts.

It certainly works in your favor:
Josiah: Mom loves me a lot because I snuggle with her lots of times.

That’s one kind of reputation:
Liam: I have street cruds now.

Instructing Victoria on how to use a British accent well:
Miriam: You just have to say British stuff like “Bonjour.”

Such a humble apology:
Victoria: I’m sorry I’m such a fast runner.

Girls rule:
Esther: Women think snoring is disgusting. That’s why they don’t do it.

Some people just don’t get it:
Miriam: Does anyone know where the 13 Colonies sheet is?
Esther: I don’t know what that is.
Miriam: It’s the 13 Colonies sheet.

Reading stories of Jesus for our Lent tree:
Bill: What does the footstool represent?
Aiden: It’s for standing on to wash our hands!

Letting Josiah try a coffee M&M:
Josiah: Mmmmm!!! Could I try…seven more?

Subtle, Kid. So subtle:
Josiah: Mommy, what’s for lunch? Oh, look! I see a McDonald’s!

Celebrating Epiphany

We’re weird. And we stick with that for how we celebrate Christmas, too.

First, we’re not Catholic. Second, we sometimes celebrate Catholic holidays. It makes sense.

So we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, and that ends on January 6, Epiphany, the day that celebrates the magi’s visit to Jesus.

Little lesson here. Bill is insanely particular that the wise men are at a distance from the manger instead of in the scene. As in they’re on their way but not there. That’s because most likely Jesus was around two by the time they got there, not in a manger anymore. Hence Harod commanding the death of all boys two and under instead of just infant boys. So Epiphany is 12 days after Christmas to try to depict that.

We don’t open any presents on Christmas morning, only stockings. Then the kids open presents every day leading up to Epiphany, reflecting the gifts the magi brought. Not every kid every day, but at least one present every day.

Then for Epiphany, we save up so that everyone gets one last gift to open, and I bake a king’s cake, complete with a plastic baby hidden inside. The finder of the baby gets an additional small gift. This is to show that the real gift, the best of them all, is Jesus himself.

Our family has enjoyed this holiday for years, a simple way to continue the celebration of God come down with us.

Oh, and it’s very important that all Christmas decorations come down January 7th, cause this mama can only take Christmasy things in the time period of the day after Thanksgiving until Epiphany. It’s a law. And all members of my household who attempt to violate this law give up all rights and provisions of my household, you know, things like food. At this point the kids begin referring to Christmas as the C-word, because it’s pretty much cussing outside these times. We’re a split household with this law. The man believes every day is Christmas. He’s a lawbreaker, so don’t do as he does.