21 Days–Set Three

To see what this is all about, see my post here.

Update on previous goals

Drink eight glasses of water a day:  Kept up with this one pretty consistently and am already noticing a change in my energy

Organize something each Thursday:  Um, yeah, this one pretty much went out the door. Much of that had to do with logistics and busyness, but I think I have a better way of thinking through this now. I’ll be continuing trying to work this in.

Prep all meals in the morning while the kids eat breakfast:  We had some last minute things come up on the calendar which meant I didn’t have to cook as much as I had originally planned, but oh my goodness this made a huge difference in our household. I actually looked forward to dinnertime most days the last three weeks.

Next “21 Day” Goals

Continue with previous goals

Be careful about portion sizes:  I’m starting work on the body clutter this week. Since Josiah is still getting some of my milk, I have to be careful here to make sure I don’t lose my supply, but I feel like the Pillsbury dough boy when I walk. That’s only cute on babies. Seriously, the bigger I am, the less energy I have, the more my joints hurt, and the harder it is for me to move around. Not good when you have six little people who depend on you.

Begin couponing at one grocery store:  I used to spend a beautifully low amount on our groceries, but now I totally max out our budget. I have never been an extreme couponer and probably never will be, but I can save our family a bundle of money by simple using coupons to stock up on a few items.

Have a clean kitchen and dining room at the end of the day:  This means all dishes are taken care of by either washing them in the sink or placing them in the dishwasher, the countertops and tables have been cleared and wiped down, and the floors are swept. You would think I’m trying to attract pet mice with the state I leave these rooms before bed sometimes. I think it’s worth saying here that I don’t do this (or many of my goals!) by myself. Bill and the kids help out a ton, especially with housecleaning, laundry, and cooking.

Managing Several Small Children–Individual Time

When we started this series, a friend asked us to address how we get alone time with our kids. I would imagine this is difficult for any family with multiple kids, whether that be two or twenty. As Bill talked about on Monday, much of our time together requires the kids learning to love one another and a big part of that is teaching them to talk less and listen more. So when do we really get to hear them out and find out more deeply what’s going on in their little hearts? The Bells attempt to do this in two main ways listed below, and I’ve listed another idea I’ve heard about but don’t currently do.

Late nights–When the kids reach the age of three,* we let them stay up later than their siblings with Bill and me. This started at 30 minutes, but we recently extended the time to an hour. Though we’ll sometimes make suggestions, usually the child gets to choose what we do. This in and of itself helps us see what makes our kids tick. One of our children will almost definitely include puzzles in our time, one will include books, one games, and one art. One thing that’s off limits with very few exceptions is technology. We want this to be a time open for lots of talking, and usually they have plenty to say! Each child gets a late night every other week, and I find myself wishing they could last all night long.

Date nights–Once a month, each child gets a date night with either Bill or me. Bill gets the younger ones one month, and the next month we switch. We usually go out for a couple of hours and do something super simple and free or almost free. For instance, this month I took Liam to Toys R Us to simply look around and play with toys that are set out for that purpose. I’ll be repeating that date with Ariana next week.

Special Occasions: We haven’t done this yet, but I think it’s a great idea and one worth noting. I know of families who will set up babysitting so both parents take out one child for a special occasions like birthdays. Often they will stay gone all day. I think that would be super sweet event for both parents and child.

We usually don’t have a problem getting our kids to talk when we get them alone, but if you have a child who needs some probing, we love the book 201 Great Questions for Parents and Children.

*We find that trying to fit in much individual time with kids under three ends up being a bit of a waste. For one, they end up getting more individual attention naturally simply because they’re so dependent on us as the parents. Second, God designed them to simply discover during this time. More often than not, our tots are good if we’re simply in the room available but tend to get frustrated if we try to engage too much or too long with them. Though we talk to them, play with them, and read to them often, for the most part they want their freedom.

Kidisms

*We couldn’t decide which blog these should be on. They reflect fun parenting moments and are sweet memories for our family, so we’ll be double posting these each time.

Ariana and Liam were being competitive one day trying to get their school work done first:

Me: You two don’t need to race.

Ariana: Yes, we do.

Me: Why do you think you have to race?

Ariana: Cause when we mess up, we have to race.

Bill: Do you mean erase?

Ariana: Oh. Yeah.

Big announcement:

Miriam: My favorite colors are black and green, cuz that’s the color of my poop.

That makes sense:

Bill: Should you disobey Mommy?

Ariana: Uh huh.

Bill: What?

Ariana: Uh huh means no.

A child’s observational skills:

After Esther held Josiah in the bathtub so Bill could give him a bath, she observed: “Daddy! Josiah has a tail like you and Liam do!”

We obviously still have much to learn with time concept:

Liam: How long will it take you to drive to Florida?

John: About 18 hours.

Liam: Whoa! That will probably take you 4 days! Maybe even 12 days!

Managing Several Small Children–When We’re All Together

So far in this series, Courtney has covered working with our kids when her hands are tied, when training on different things/levels, and when they all go out somewhere.  I’ll be discussing today how we handle our whole family doing things together.

When we’re all together, I tend to be the one that herds the cats. This is partially how I see my role as a dad but also just a practical way to let Court take a little step back from what she does all day long. Our time together can be incredibly structured or incredibly free–we like to leave room for both.

Aiming toward the older kids. There are a couple of ways to approach a group of kids who are at different levels. One is the lowest common denominator where you aim for what everyone can do. But, as you might imagine, always going this way would be painfully laborious for the older kids, especially since some of our littles can’t even talk. Another approach is the middle ground approach where you aim for, well, the middle ground. While this is certainly better, it still doesn’t engage the older kids very well. Instead, we tend toward aiming at our oldest kids. This means we play games that work best for the older kids. We read books as a family that are on a higher reading level. It’s been our observation that even though our littles don’t catch everything and they struggle with some of it, they understand more than we expect them to and the effort to keep up is a good challenge for them.

That’s not at all to say that we don’t sometimes go for the low or middle ground. We have times where we all sit on the floor and roll a ball around (which any kid who sits can play) or play a preschool game that is overly simplistic for the olders. Most of the time, though, we’re aiming high. (And maybe sometime I’ll talk about how we put that to work in our church since we meet in a living room.)

Modifying to suit short attention spans. In line with the point above, just because we aim at the oldest certainly doesn’t mean that we literally expect the littles to do everything the olders are doing. We freely modify things for the littles to help them cope with what we’re doing. For instance, say we’re having a conversation with the olders about how Jesus is the Son of God, but also God (this came up the other night). That’s a long and tough conversation…for me. Not to mention any of my kids. So, while we’re trying to discuss this in a way that makes sense to our olders (if that’s even possible), we may allow the littles to get crayons and paper to draw pictures while we talk. On that note, I’ll frequently ask the littles to try to draw what they hear us talking about so they’re still involved. I’m not a fan of letting the littles totally check out–we just simplify.

Giving boundaries. This is probably the most “duh” item on the list, but I put it here for a reason. There’s no such thing as total “free” time in our home. Standard rules certainly always apply, even when we let loose.  That’s what makes games work. With several kids, the whole “let them loose” concept always–always–ends up leading to disaster, usually with someone crying and hurt. So though there are some very free times we have where craziness abounds, we still put up fences to help our kids do well.

At other times, the boundaries are very, very defined. Not only do I not trust kids (or adults) to make totally free and good decisions, I know my kids need to learn about authority and responsibility. There is always authority over them–us, bosses, the law, certainly God. And within that authority lies a responsibility to respect the laws/rules/boundaries around them. Putting these things in place when we’re all together gives us a chance as parents to observe how they do and correct as they go.

Asking guided questions. One of our traditions is talking together at supper, the only meal we pretty consistently have together. Since I’m usually gone throughout the course of the day, I like to use the time to find out how they’re doing.  This usually comes out like “Tell me about your day” or “What was cool about your day?” or “What did you learn about it school?” or “Who did you hit today?”  OK, kidding on the last one, though now that I think about it, that question could get answered almost every day. What’s pretty fun about this is that the kids now frequently compete with me to ask these kinds of questions of each other (and us!) before I get the chance to.  So, basically, the kids playfully fight over asking others about themselves, which is great because they’re learning to put others first.  Of course, that backfires when they actually fight over who gets to ask the question.

In this, I’ve carried over some of what I learned from leading small groups of Christians in opening up.  The questions don’t always have a positive slant to them.  Sometimes they’re “What was really hard about your day?” or “What made you sad today?” or the mixed “Tell me the best part and the worst part about your day.”  Sure, I’m running the risk of openly inviting the kids to complain, but I’m trying to teach them that we’re not a glossed-over family where we only talk about the good stuff. Because there’s sin throughout the world and in us, there will always be difficulties and trials to face. And we’re not going to act like they don’t exist. Instead, we want to face them directly and honestly, even when they’re really young. And then it gives us a chance to talk through those things as a family.

Raising hands. I’m not talking about in the 1 Tim 2:8 way (though we do that sometimes, too) but like the you’re in elementary school and you have a question for the teacher kind of way. Yeah. Not kidding. I was comforted the other day when we were invited over to eat with some friends who have seven kids. During the meal, one of the kids raised her hand to ask if she could be excused. We’re not alone! The thing is, there are a lot of little voices in our house and their volume level falls somewhere between loud and piercing. Not only that, but the size-smallness of our family lends itself toward a bunch of children who a) still like to talk a lot (no sullen teenagers here) and b) haven’t really mastered the social skills of asking questions and listening. So, literally, we raise hands if there’s a question or a comment that someone wants to make.

It’s probably worth noting that even then there are guidelines in our home. Interruptions should be minimal and they should relate to what’s going on. For instance, we even stop raised hand comments about dinosaurs when another child is in the middle of telling about the craft they made that day.

Teaching love for one another. Really, this is the overarching theme of all of what I’ve listed. While I can’t make or teach my kids to love one another, but we can certainly point them in the direction of understanding what loving others looks like. That means watching how the kids interact and instructing them how to handle the different scenarios that arise. “Child A, when Child B takes something from you, you don’t scream and yank it back. Instead, you politely ask them to give you the toy back.” In all of this, we’re trying to show the kids that we put others first all the time, because that’s how the kingdom of Jesus works. Sure, it’s an absolute farce sometimes. But we’re trying to lay the groundwork for palpably putting others before yourself. When we’re all together, there are plenty of opportunities to see this happen in playing games and conversations and sharing and the such. And in the midst of failures to love each other (which abound), we get to point them to Jesus who perfectly loved others–including us!–and showed that most by saving us from our selfishness.

Managing Several Small Children–Outings

Outings are peaceful for me when I have all the kids. I’m calm and don’t get stressed because I’ve got it all under control. My kids and I end up being shining examples to the rest of the families who observe us.

That’s the opening to a new fictional story I’ll be working on in my free time. Do you like it?

I don’t like to stay home, but it pretty much always seems like a better alternative to going out. Ever. For anything. No matter how necessary.

I ain’t gonna lie. It’s hard to go out with one kid, and adding more to that number does nothing but make it harder. I’m also not going to lie that anyone who claims you can predict how your kids are going to act in any situation is a liar and a thief. No exceptions. I am not a liar and a thief at this particular moment, so don’t think this post is going to be some fix-it to all outing problems. I stink at outings, and you probably do, too. But we can stink together and learn from each other. Here’s the deodorant I have to offer for both our problems.

  • At all costs, try to plan outings as close to waking time as possible but as far from sleeping time as possible. In other words, go out as soon as they wake up in the morning or from a nap. Stay home as it gets close to nap or bed time. You’re welcome.
  • Have food and drink ready, and then have more. Food keeps sugar levels up and keeps mouths busy doing something other than whining, crying, or talking loudly.
  • Do something a little active (but not too active) beforehand and in between if you’re running several errands. Kids get stir crazy when their movement is limited, so give them breaks; however, try to steer away from letting them play on a playground for an hour when it’s 90 outside, cause then you’re going to have hot, sweaty, tired, cranky kids who just want to go home.
  • Be flexible. If I can run to the grocery store by myself in thirty minutes, I plan two hours when I have the kids. This may seem insane to some of you, but I perpetually think it will take a shorter amount of time than it really will, and then I get snappy when we’re running behind. More often than not, I also end up dropping something I had planned to do while out or cut a trip short. The more OK you are with this, the calmer you’ll probably be.
  • Practice makes better. Sometimes. We do a lot of practice beforehand with the kids about what’s expected of them when we go out. Think about the situation and what you think will work best, then go through that over and over with your kids at home. For instance, our previous church’s building had narrow hallways and lots of older people. It didn’t take me long to realize my kids couldn’t run or walk side by side, so all my kids learned to follow in a single file line behind me. I frequently got picked on for having ducklings, but it worked. Some approaches we’ve taken for this:
    • For the above duckling approach, I start by having the kids follow me all over the house. Funny enough, I started calling them ducklings when I wanted them to do this so they understood what to do. I also got very specific in my instructions–hands by sides and not on a sibling or any other object, stay close enough that you can touch the person in front of you, line up by age (this keeps bickering to a minimum about who gets to stand where & keeps the smallest ones close to me), etc. Once we got comfortable around the house, we went to the church building when no one else was there (my husband was a pastor so he had a key), then we finally did the real thing.
    • For crossing streets, walking in parking lots, or going places with more room like the zoo, we usually use a hand-on-stroller approach. I train the little ones who walk around to always have a hand on the stroller since I don’t have a hand available for them to hold. The older kids walk behind me either in pairs or single file. We start by practicing at a secluded park so I don’t have to worry much about them running off, then we move to our sidewalks in our non-busy neighborhood, until we’re finally comfortable trying this out in public.
    • For sitting still like in doctor’s offices, I do a lot of practice at home. Every morning and evening, we train our children to sit still and look quietly at books. Again, we get specific here, telling them what we expect them to do with their legs, hands, and arms. My kids can usually sit for an hour or more around the age of two or three, making long office waits a bit more bearable.
  • Think ahead of time about logistics of the situation you’ll be in. For instance, when I take all the kids shopping at Kroger, I go in the entrance that has the kid car attached–two go in the car, one goes in the cart, the baby goes in the carrier I wear, and the olders walk in a pair behind me. If I only get two seats in a cart, I’ll also take the stroller in and have one of the older children push it behind me.
  • Busy bags! Though I’ve never attended one, I’ve heard busy bag swaps are awesome, so try to go if you can. I use them with our kids from ideas I get on the web, and usually they keep them occupied for long periods of time. Pack some up that will work well for your outing. To get some busy bag ideas, you can go to Play Create ExploreMonkey Butt Junction (she also links to busy bag ideas on other blogs), or this Pinterest board.
  • Play things like I Spy, Twenty Questions, or ABC games (finding objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet)

That’s all I got. One thing I want to emphasize here quickly. Even if you do everything perfectly and are totally prepared, remember that your children live in a fallen world in sinful flesh, and so do you. They will embarrass you, you’ll embarrass yourself, and much sinfulness will probably be displayed. For those who are in Christ, all screw-ups have been paid for on the cross, so don’t condemn yourself or your children. The goal of our parenting is never to produce well-behaved children but to point our children to the gospel at all times.

Managing Several Small Children–Working With Kids On Different Levels

I often say all our children come in size small. That’s certainly true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ginormous difference between a 2nd grader and 17 month old, so what do I do when I’m trying to teach math to one while trying to train another to sit still? Basically, I cry a lot. Then I pull out a few more tricks I’ve learned for this very situation.

Bill will be addressing some ways we handle different ages when all our kids are together doing the same thing (listening to a book, talking at dinner, playing a game, etc.). This post is addressing what I typically do when my kids are working on different things at the same time, mainly in relation to keeping the little ones occupied.

  • You can pull anything from my post on occupying children when your hands are tied.
  • Use a timer. All day. My tots and preschoolers are more likely to keep at a project if they know the timer will go off in 10-15 minutes and they get to change to something else.
  • Do as much as you can with the olders when the littles are napping. For instance, though this breaks all homeschooling rules that say to give your kids harder subjects first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, we don’t start school with the older ones for the most part until the littles are down for naps. I’ve found with my kids that if they’re going to struggle in math, it doesn’t matter if it’s 8:00am or 3:00pm. They’ll struggle just as much, and this schedule just seems to work best for our family.
  • I have lots of different “times” planned for my littles throughout the day. These help them learn to stay still and keep them moving around from thing to thing. Here are my names for them with short descriptions:
    • Table Time–They sit at a table and do something artsy. This can be as simple as playing with play dough to a craft you get ready beforehand. You can also choose to have the preschoolers work on some educational worksheets. For toddlers, I start this by having them sit in something that keeps them confined, like a highchair.
    • Mat Time–Use a play mat, blanket, whatever. The point is to help them learn boundaries. They’re free to stand, walk, crawl, move all over that puppy, but not go off the blanket entirely. I’ll give them toys or activities special for this time, things they can’t use during free play. I’ve written a post to be published later that addresses how I train our toddlers to do this.
    • Room Time–If they’re small, I’ll put a gate in front in the doorway of their bedroom or playroom and let them play. Sometimes I give them toys to play with, sometimes I don’t. It’s like Almond Joys and Mounds. I don’t feel comfortable leaving my very small toddlers unsupervised in a room, so I’ll usually use their crib or a playpen for this.
    • Station Time–I’ll just set up different inviting stations around the room and let them roam freely. This might be blocks in a corner on the floor, a comfy chair with books in another corner, some stencils with colored pencils at a table, and some cars with paper towel rolls on a mat. They’re given a bit of freedom but still stay relatively quiet.
    • Technology Time–I know there are many mixed feelings about this one, but we personally don’t have a problem with putting on a short video for them to watch or letting them play a game on the tablet or computer.

For several ideas of what to do with the littles when working with the olders, check out the Resources tab at the top of the page or click here. We will be adding to it as we continue to find ideas. Feel free to browse them and give us suggestions of things we can add.

Managing Several Small Children–When My Hands Are Tied

In a perfect world, I would never be distracted from my children. I would probably also sing all the time, wear puffed sleeves, and be woken up by non-morning-breath true love’s kiss each day. But Eve ate the fruit, so none of that’s real.

In reality there are several times throughout the day that I can’t give all the kids my full attention. The baby has to be fed, a diaper has to be changed, the soup has to be stirred constantly until thickened, an important phone call has to be made, a friend unexpectedly shows up at your door crying. Those things are part of life and are good, but that doesn’t change the fact that all children are born with a MIDaR (Mommy Is Distracted Radar). Somehow they can hear the sound of me being busy from 15 miles away, and this inner switch goes off that says, “Ha ha! I am now free to tear down the great wall of China.”

Through my few parenting years, I keep learning new tricks to help occupy my children in these moments so tyranny doesn’t run rapid. These tricks are particularly geared toward times when you really can’t take many risks for them getting into anything because you pretty much can’t leave what you’re doing. We’ll deal with tricks for occupying kids when your hands are more freed up in the next post. Obviously, things can still happen, and none of these tips are perfect or work all the time, but often at least one of them helps diminish chaos.

  • Feel freedom to get things ready for the other children. A phone call, a weeping friend, and even a hungry baby can wait a few minutes while you get the other kids situated. You don’t go to jail if you don’t get caught.
  • Change any diapers and/or have potty trained children who still need assistance use the restroom just before you’re ready to start your task. Nothing quite says, “I’ve got it all together” like cleaning poo from clothes while talking to an AT&T associate.
  • If possible, spend some uninterrupted time, even 15 minutes, with the children once or twice a day. This can often help them feel less of a need to try to get your attention when you’re busy.
  • Have them do chores they can do completely independently. My kids haven’t realized they should hate chores yet, so this is awesome.
  • Use a sling or carrier to keep the baby soothed.
  • When doing things like stirring soup or feeding a baby, have the kids hold books for you so you can read to them.
  • Let them have some art time. We’re talking super simple here (crayons, play dough, cutting), something that doesn’t require your assistance or clean up.
  • Books! Each of our kids love to look at picture books. Added bonus–our two oldest know how to read, so I’ll have them read books to the younger ones. Win win.
  • Toys, games, and puzzles they love that will keep them busy for the time you need. I’ll talk more about some great resources I’ve found for this in the next post.
  • Let them watch a video. If you just can’t get yourself to feel OK in your conscience about that, make sure it’s an educational video. We like “Super Why,” “Blues Clues,” and “Dora the Explorer” for example. I have a clear conscience about it, so I also like to watch things like “Phineas and Ferb” with them, mainly because it makes me laugh. Hard. Then later the kids and I recall funny moments from the show and laugh again. See? Bonding.
  • Related to the above brain-diseasing idea, let them play a game on the computer, phone, Wii, tablet, whatever. Again, there are lots of educational games out there. We, though, never claim to be good parents, so we’re more an Angry Birds kind of family.
  • Have them practice piano or sports, work on an age appropriate workbook or printable, or do school work they can do individually. The point is to have them work on something that challenges the mind or body but that doesn’t require your assistance. Ah, redemption from the previous two bullet points.
  • If your task allows you to go with them (aka feeding a baby),let them play in the backyard. The change of scenery is often enough for them to leave me with a bit more peace, and your presence sometimes helps them stay away from the temptation to hit each other in the head with bats. Hypothetically.
  • Make sure everything is safe in their bedroom or playroom and put a gate up in the door. Let them play in there freely while you nurse. If they’re really small like my 17 month old, you can put them in a playpen with some toys.
  • Play games with them that you don’t have to move for. Some examples are “I Spy,” “Mother May I?”, “Telephone,” What Am I?”, name an animal for them to act like, or do storytelling where someone starts a story and then each person adds on to it bit by bit.
  • Some of this takes a small bit of prep work beforehand, but you can also set up a zoo with stuffed animals, a grocery store with play food, or a tea party; have a scavenger hunt ready for the kids around the house; do some word, color, or counting games; make a tent with blankets; or set up chairs and let the kids pretend they’re on a train/airplane/bus and role play a trip anywhere they want to go. Many times activities like these will keep them occupied for long periods of time, and they can be right in the room with you.
  • Have them eat! Anything goes here, but one of my favorites is whole apples or pears if they’re old enough. It’s yummy enough to keep them eating instead of talking, (which leads to all kinds of conundrums), but hard enough to eat that it takes them a while to finish.
  • Understand that most emergencies in your kids’ minds aren’t real emergencies. There may be some of you who disagree with what I’m going to say, but in my house bloody murder screaming has never equaled bloody murder (or murder of any kind for that matter). It often doesn’t even equals a boo boo I need to kiss. It usually simply equals feelings of injustice over a stolen toy or something similar. Use judgement here, weighing the importance of the task you’re doing to the problem behind the screams, but there are many times I will quickly scan the situation, place the child somewhere while I hurry to finish what I’m doing (depending on the situation that somewhere is often a room with a door that can be closed to muffle out the crying), and then tend to the horrific travesty of justice when my hands are freed up.

Managing Several Small Children

It’s really not surprising to anyone–managing a family with several small children presents a number of unique challenges.  And it’s pretty obvious most people are aware of this considering the unending comments we get about how many littles we have.  As with many things, there are overlapping layers of complexity that go into making our family of eight work like the well-oiled machine hobbling contraption held together by MacGyver’s duct tape that we are.

We’d like to take the next handful of posts to talk about some of the principles and tactics we manage our multiples.  This will run the gamut from handling the older kids while, say, nursing an infant (as you might imagine, Court will cover that one) to interacting with all the kids at the same time while they compete over who gets to talk next.

As we dig into this discussion, we invite your feedback and corrections.  We’d especially love to hear what you do with your families–we know we don’t have a monopoly on effective parenting techniques.  And please, you don’t have to have “greater than or equal to” the number of kids we have to make suggestions.  No matter the age or number of your kids, we want to hear from you.

Here are the four sections we have planned right now.  If there’s something y’all think of that we’re not covering, let us know and we’ll pull it onto this discussion.

  • Keeping kids occupied while hands are tied
  • Working with kids who are on different levels
  • Handling kids while on outings
  • Group activities

21 Days–Set One and Two

It’s been a crazy year for us. Bill and I went on a getaway the first week of February. The following week started a four month process of getting our house ready to sell and moving to a new city. The summer was filled with unpacking followed by a month-long hospital stay when Josiah made an early appearance, then life with a newborn, figuring out our way around the city, getting our church going, and learning a whole new way to do life. As things started slowly settling in, I finally looked around and realized what a mess everything had become. I have house clutter, schedule clutter, body clutter, marriage clutter, parenting clutter, sin clutter, financial clutter. Honestly, I can’t think of anything that feels together.

For a woman who loves order, that’s been hard for me. And sweet. I’ve learned much about what it means to live by faith alone, not my plans, order, and knowledge. It’s also been kind of like those moments when you lose a to-do list that had some 200 items on it. You’re forced to start the list with new eyes, realizing you didn’t really need to do all those things that have been adding weight to your shoulders, just cuz they’re on the list.

While some of the messiness has been good for us, most of the clutter that’s appeared has made life more difficult, distracting me and my family from following Jesus. It’s not that I feel like we’re falling away from Jesus–just that the daily junk obscures my view of him.  This is about repenting of the foolishness of letting the worries of this life become the main thing.

Doing one of those complete overhauls, though, seems far too overwhelming and impossible. You know the switch-to-organic-exercise-get-enough-sleep-get-organized-drink-water-have-a-date-night-be-consistent-with-your-kids-pray-daily-journal-etc. overhaul that will bring overnight happiness? Soooo, I decided to try a 21-day approach instead. This comes from the fact that they say (before I die, I want to meet “they” and “experts”) it takes 21 days to form or break a habit. I think this number is probably as reliable as the number eight when it comes to how many glasses of water you should drink a day, but that’s the number I’m choosing nonetheless.

Every 21 days I’m giving myself three things to work on. This doesn’t mean I’ll let the rest of my life go to the junk yard (at least I don’t think I will), but there will be more emphasis on the three goals than some other things at the time. I’ll be posting my goals on here along with an update on how it went, mainly for accountability. And maybe it will help some of you, too.

I actually just finished my first 21 days last week, so I’ll be posting today about both the past 21 days and my new goals. Nothing has been life-changing here, but there has been a bit more peace in our home lately by God’s grace. Here were my first goals and some of the outcomes:

Grocery shop each Friday at Aldi: The thing that’s probably added to body and financial clutter the most this year has been eating out. I’m a couponer. I can feed our relatively large family for a very small amount. But when transitions started happening this year, couponing, and really shopping in general, took a big back seat. We’ve eaten out. A lot. And our bodies and budget show it. I haven’t gotten back into couponing much yet, but I wanted to start with simply making my weekly Aldi run for items I need from my menu.  There’s no magic to Friday. It’s just the day that works best for us.

The result–we’ve eaten at home almost exclusively the last 21 days, I’ve lost a small amount of weight, and we’re enjoying more conversations around the table instead of in the van, our second dining room. It’s also been nice to see a bit more money in our account.

Get at least seven hours of sleep each night: I can be (notice I said “I can be” not “I am”) a disciplined person. I love hard exercise, I can control my eating habits for months at a time, I rise early, I keep a schedule. All of these require sacrifice. I DO NOT want to get in bed at a reasonable time each night. I’ve never had any discipline in this area. Seriously, how hard is it to just get in bed? For me, stupidly hard.

The result–I never realized I could get to 1:00 p.m. and not feel the need to crash. Who knew!? And a better rested Courtney is a calmer, kinder Courtney. I also realized my body requires closer to eight hours of sleep, so I started making those adjustments, too. More than anything, the Spirit revealed to me my idol of vegging each day. I realized I don’t, like I thought, stay up late to get things done or to spend time with Bill. Rather, I feel entitled to simply veg, whether that be in the form of watching TV, reading, or gossiping about others (openly confessing that is a ridiculous amount of my “quality” time with my husband–whole future post there).

Do one color group of laundry each day, start to finish: I have a few friends who enjoy doing laundry. Can we all agree these are my weird friends? A consistent saying in our house is “Mom, I don’t have any underwear!” This is usually followed by me telling them to wear the same underwear they had on all day yesterday while I scramble to get something washed. They MIGHT have on clean underwear by the end of the day, and they might just go through the same ritual the next morning…

The result–my kids have had clean underwear every morning for 21 days! Our house has seriously been so much more ordered from this alone, mainly because there aren’t clothes all over the place. Dressing in the morning is crazy faster for everyone because clothes are washed, folded, and where they are supposed to be. What are we going to do with all our free time?

Next “21 Day” Goals

Continue With Previous Goals

Drink eight glasses of water a day (*snicker based on above article): Bill picks on me all the time for getting through an entire meal without taking a single drink. I basically go through the day feeling constantly parched, but I rarely drink anything. I am a logical creature, eh? Half the time, though, when I’m feeling sluggish, not much gives me more energy than taking a big swig of water.

Organize something each Thursday: House clutter being addressed here. I can’t find anything, and this is producing many of the same results as the laundry problem above. The magic of Thursday is the same as the Friday Aldi magic. It’s simply the day it works best for us.

Prep all meals in the morning while the kids eat breakfast: This is something that’s been in the plans for a while, but not something I’ve ever consistently done. I have the most energy in the morning, but when cooking time rolls around in the evening, I’m done. Enter more eating out problems. When I’ve done as much as I can in the mornings, I’m more likely to simply throw something in the oven or toss the premeasured (and thawed!) ingredients in a pot to stir.

Looking Beyond the Bricks

To start, let me give you an example of a guy that totally misses the point and is horribly guilty of what I talked about in the last post.  (Be warned that while this guy is seriously preaching this, it’s painfully funny and also just plain painful.  And no, that’s not Foxy.)

In a sense, my last post was a bit autobiographical, because I wanted to tell the process, the story, of how I get from there to here.  And not just because I want to tell stories, but because I’ve found story to be far more important than I ever imagined.  You see, I grew up seeing the Bible as a source of rules and principles to live by.   After college, I learned that it’s far more than that–it’s literature that needs to be mined as such.  I should understand genre and context and authorship to get the full scope of what each book of the Bible is trying to say.

The thing is, I don’t disagree with either of these ways of viewing the Bible: it does have rules and it is a work of literature.  But neither was…enough.  Because the Bible can’t be reduced to rules or literature.  It is the narrative about our redeemer and how he has slowly revealed himself to his people and to the whole world.  To say it differently, it’s a story.  One big story with lots of small stories that all feed back into the one big story.  Both views I had before always fell short in viewing the Bible as something to go to when I needed something, when I was trying to figure something out.  I viewed the Bible selfishly and used it selfishly, childishly.

I’m not sure I’ve reached adulthood, but I am growing up to see the Bible as something way outside of and far bigger than me.  And it doesn’t need me to interpret it or understand it or do anything to it.  In all it’s weirdness and surprises, it’s exactly what it should be.  And now my job as a disciple of Jesus is to view and read and use the Bible as the source that helps me understand by the Spirit who my King is, what he’s like, what he wants, what he did, what he said, what I am because of him, what he offers to a dying world.

And that’s the overriding idea I want to bring to the Bible and particularly so with this blog.  I say overriding, because it’s not the only thing.  Of these three levels (the sound bite, the whole letter/speech/book, and the entire story of God), which one is the most important for how we read the Bible and let it inform us today? Sorry, folks, but it’s all of them. The part informs the whole and the whole informs the part. It’s not about which way, but how to integrate the different approaches.  And I want the story of God to hang over how I understand the components.

And why is that so hard?  This is probably obvious, but it’s because the Bible is long, old, diverse, multicultural, multilingual, and just downright confusing.  It’s so, so much easier to just know a verse or maybe even a chapter or an entire book (probably a shorter one, like, ya know, 3 John or something).  And God is infinitely infinite, unfathomable in all that he is.  And besides, it’s easy to focus so much on the Bible that we love the Bible itself instead of our God whom the Bible is all about.

To be frank, I think this is really, really hard. Court and I are constantly wrestling through how best to do this.

But I bring it up because we’ll use the Bible all the frickin’ time to help understand the things we’re talking about. Sometimes we’ll focus on a sentence or a paragraph, understanding how that fits into the greater whole. Other times we’ll come at it the other way, focusing on the whole stream of thought through the Bible without landing in a particular chapter or verse. Many people I’ve had contact with (in recent years even) would feel a little uneasy with that. But I hope we can demonstrate how this is not only workable, but good. And right. I never want us to be guilty of parading our One Big Theme Verse™ to explain anything and everything.  We also never want to be accused of generalizing so much that nobody can tell why we believe what we believe.  We invite you to interact with us as we do this, whichever way we go. We very well may need to be corrected. But I wanted to lay this out as a guiding principle before someone starts charging us with “where in the Bible does it say that?” or the such.

One final note: Reading the Oz books to find out how to lay yellow bricks is inane not just because it’s not what the book is about, but because the book never even attempts to help the reader understand the best way to do that. Sometimes the Bible just has nothing to say about buying an iPhone or what skinny jeans say about someone (hello, Jonas Brothers) or whether one should live in the suburbs. Sometimes we can take principles and inferences to help us work through issues that aren’t clearly laid out. But sometimes–get ready for it–sometimes, it’s just not there. And that’s okay. Sometimes we make decisions by faith knowing that there’s not a moral high ground. And trying to appeal to the Bible for these things not only gets one into dangerous waters (cuz you starting making laws out of things that aren’t laws), but you usually end up dragging others into your new land of faux laws. Those would be the burdens that get laid on others’ shoulders.

_______________________

If you want some resources for this, here are some I highly recommend (and yes, I’ve actually read all of them):

According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm

My personal favorite for all ages: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

An excerpt:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne-everything-to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is-it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.