Tis’ the Season

I used to hate winter. I hated the cold temperatures that made me feel like a prisoner in my own home and the gray and brown colors that seem to dominate everything. In the past couple of years, I’ve realized my feelings about the season have changed:

The low temperatures remind me of how cold and dead my heart is without Jesus, and somehow it brings me comfort when I feel the bite of a winter wind. I know that only love can thaw a frozen heart. Not the love of a sister, but of a Savior.

The neutral colors make me remember that I can’t keep God in a box. He created all colors, not just the vibrant ones, and he’s far more complex and beautiful than every one of them. The contrast of gray sky pops out the dark landscape, helping me see minute details I don’t notice otherwise. And I see that beauty often comes from darkness.

The bare trees show me inner beauty and how apart from it, outer beauty is pointless. I could look at branches and knots on wood for days. Few things are more intricate. But I want the leaves. They cover the flaws. I want people to praise the leaves I put on myself in the form of hair, makeup, and clothes, praying they don’t see all the yucky parts. I forget that the yucky parts, the ones that have withheld through the elements, the chips and strikes, the twists and bumps, the weaknesses, are the parts God uses to blossom me into looking more like him, becoming more seasoned and gorgeous from the inside out.

The quiet. The blessed, craved quiet of winter. When animals are sleeping, when neighbors are inside, when crickets stop chirping, and when the air itself seems to be sleeping. These moments are the times I most see the beauty in simply resting in Christ because he did all the work for me.

Winter helps me see that I’m incredible flawed. I’m the worst wife, mother, friend, and servant of all of mankind, completely dreary and dead on my own. Yet when God looks at me, he sees his Son, the most beautiful spring. I’m dormant, waiting for the life that’s mine, a life I did nothing to earn.

And I’ll sit here and marinate in the beauty of winter while I wait.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1:15-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Advertisements

Kids and Sleep

20160724_160613000_iosOur sweet friend, Leia, who we made a makeshift bed for during our gathering one Sunday.

When I first had Liam, my mentor gave me the best advice on practical parenting I’d had before or since–make sleep the biggest priority for your kids.

Thank you, thank you, oh Yoda. Your words have served our family well.
(Her name isn’t actually Yoda…)

Her philosophy was that most behavior problems in children come from a lack of sleep. I’m far too lazy to look up any research to back her up, but trust me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was right. OK, OK, theologically their behavior problems come from sinful heart issues. But we’re body and soul together, where our flesh affects our hearts and our hearts affect our flesh. It goes both ways.

For instance, there are many times my physical body is broken down, maybe from hunger or fatigue, and sometimes the gift God gives you to fight temptations that invariably increase during those times is to simply eat something or take a nap. Same for our little ones, even though they can’t quite evaluate this for themselves. Sleep is an important tool to help our kids, even the littles, fight the temptations that come from living in our sinful flesh.

Now, before I tell you how the Bells have handled sleep so far, remember that kids aren’t robots. None of our children fit into a perfect box here. I know you’ll hate this, but you just have to use the instincts God gave you according to each child’s needs.

Also, as I’m preparing to write this, I’m thinking, “Oh crap! I don’t actually remember what we did with babies!” I’ve done the baby and sleep thing six times, and my youngest is only four, but yeah–you really do forget. This should let you know how helpful this article will be. Please excuse me while I refresh my memory a bit…

And I’m back! I’m sure you noticed my absence.

(The recommended hours of sleep are in parentheses beside each age, according to WebMD)

Newborns-4 Weeks (15-16 hours): During these first weeks, we do a mix of feeling out baby’s rhythms and helping them adjust to ours. We typically do a feed-keep awake for a short time to play-sleep routine. If baby wakes up before three hours, I feed them and start the cycle over again. If they try to sleep longer at this age, I wake them up at the three-hour mark from start of the previous feeding. We do the same through the night, too. Our experience has been that baby stretches closer to the three-hour mark if we really try for the play time right after the feeding. I have no idea why (WebMD should totally hire me to write for them with all my research), but baby just seems to sleep better when they’ve played a bit before naptime.

1-4 Months (14-15 hours): There’s a slow transition that begins here to let baby begin sleeping through the night. We gradually allow baby to have longer stretches during the night until their body adjusts to full nighttime sleeping. For our six kids whom we raised from birth, 10-12 hour stretches happened between weeks 9 and 11. That’s not right or better or anything–it’s just what our kids did. If your kids don’t, they’re still awesome and so are you. We still wake them up in the daytime if need be, we just switch to more of a four-hour instead of three-hour cycle.

4-9 Months (14-15 hours): At this point, our kids were on a schedule of three naps during the day, usually sleeping between 1-2 hours at a time and 10-12 hours at night. We still kept the same eat-play-sleep cycle with them. Dropping the third nap is different for each child. Two of my kids have always LOVED their sleep. Honestly, my ten-year-old could still nap every day if I wanted her to. They tended to hold on to that third nap longer than the others. If over time they simply don’t sleep, stop acting tired before the evening nap, or stop sleeping well through the night, it’s often an indication they need fewer naps. Dropping the evening nap can also means a bit of an earlier bed time for a transition period.

6-12 Months (14-15 hours): Our children still take two naps during this phase, and often we let this phase go longer than the 12 month recommendation, sometimes as late as 18 months. Again, it depends on the child’s needs. Twelve-hour nights of sleep are usually the sweet spot for Bell kids at this point.

1-3 Years (12-14 hours): Like I said, we often keep two naps past the one year mark, but most kids can switch to one nap a day not long after their first birthday.Our kids still sleep around twelve continuous hours during the night.

3-6 Years (10-12 hours): This is the point we usually start to look a bit different from other families. It seems like most families are anxious for their children to drop their afternoon nap so they can have more freedom to run errands, explore, whatever in the day. We typically don’t drop it until they’ve made it through this phase. Threenagers’ little bodies are changing so much, and it’s rough to make it 12 hours with no rest. Now, a couple of my kids did stop napping consistently when they were three, but I haven’t had one who was ready to drop completely at this age. This is where “rest time” becomes more the norm. They would read books in bed for an hour or two. A few days a week, they fall asleep, and a few days a week they don’t. Currently, one of my four-year-olds could take a four-hour nap each day if we’d let him (we don’t!), our other four-year-old sleeps 5-6 days a week, and our five-year-old sleeps 2-4 days a week.

7-12 Years (10-11 hours): We gradually let our children stay up a bit longer during this phase, pushing bedtime back by 30 minutes as the child grows. Our 11-year-old goes to bed around 9 and wakes up on his own between 7 and 7:30. He did recently get a late Friday night bedtime of 10:00, and he’ll usually sleep a bit later on Saturdays. This basically means he stays up later than me most Fridays. Dang, I’m a party animal…

12-18 Years (8-9 hours): No words here. I haven’t raised a cub in this age range yet. I just thought it was fun to include it like I have a clue what I’m doing.

One last thought here. I don’t believe in a child-centered home. Nor do I believe in a parent-centered home. I believe in a Jesus-centered home, which entails giving up your own desires as your Big Brother did. I mentioned this briefly above, but the biggest reason it seems parents push their kids out of the sleep they need (I do it, too!) is because we’re just weary of revolving our schedules around our kids. We’re ready for an easier season where we can add in activities we’ve missed or look forward to. Or we want more freedom to do things on our time for our convenience. Sometimes, the right thing is to blow off a nap or drop naps for necessity. But I think more often we need to remember that rest is a precious gift from God. It’s good for our kids, and it’s good for us. Sit and be still, knowing this season is from him and for him. Use their rest time to be content in this season. And if you do this well, let me know in the comments. I would love to learn from you.

Prepping for Tomorrow

Many of you know I’m decent with time management. This embarrasses me. I’m not kidding. Cause I think it makes me like a Trekkie before being a Trekkie was cool. It’s cute in it’s own way, but really there are just a few of us out there who make up conventions just to know we aren’t alone. Without costumes and character makeup. Usually.

But the dude who’s even crazier than me and chose to be my husband often reminds me this is the area friends seek me out for the most. Ya know, cause I have the spiritual gift of organization that’s listed in Hezekiah 481,516:2,342. And he claims I should be less timid to share my processes. So welcome to the convention. Make sure you tweet about all the crazy you observe while here so others can be entertained, too.

So I’m going to start this series that isn’t going to be a series with my number one tip to help you manage your busy a bit better: Take a few minutes to prep for your next day.

photo-1435527173128-983b87201f4d

OK, I’m going to go ahead and take a Zack Morris Time-Out before going further. The reason I hesitate to talk much about time management is because I almost always see this giving fellow parents a feeling of defeat, like there’s something sacred about being organized and they’ll never measure up. Every flippin’ magazine has a focus on it, especially in January. It dominates Pinterest almost as much as recipes. And the organized mom is the one who seemingly has it all together and is far superior.

The same God who is a God of order (referencing order in the church BTW, not your labeled pantry) is also the God of seeming chaos in changing plans, bringing insanity through unpredictable natural disasters, and creating a new, never before seen sunset each night. And we all reflect him. Meaning if you are the most spontaneous, all-over-the-place personality of everyone you know, you still bear his image. You’re not a worse mom. You’re the way God made you. And it’s beautiful and right for your kids.

God made me to reflect more of his ordered side. And some day I should write a blog post about the sinful tendencies that brings about in my own heart and how I envy those of you who can fly by the seat of your pants. But for now, know I’m just writing here. Take it or leave it, but don’t condemn yourself by feeling the pressure to add one more thing to the rules you make up for yourself. If this post serves you, great! If not, toss it and rest in the freedom of the person God made you to be.

OK, Time In!

Each evening, I do the following to get ready for the following day.

  • Check the calendar to see what’s going on and prep for any events on there (pack lunch for an outing, get dance bag ready, make sure I know address of location for GPS, etc.)–my older kids help with this prep work, cause we’re a family, not a one-woman show
  • Check the forecast to see how the kids and I should dress
  • Lay out my outfit–the kids do this with their clothes, too
  • Look at the menu and prep what I can. This could be pulling meat out of the freezer to thaw or marinate, measuring out some ingredients into prep bowls, making muffins for the morning, or assembling a casserole.
  • Check or make a to-do list and plan how and when I’m going to get it done
  • Reply to or write emails, texts, private messages, or voxes
  • Sometimes, I take this time for social media, mainly to check notifications and see if there’s something to which I should respond.

All of this usually takes me no more than 15 minutes. Obviously, food prep can take a bit longer depending on what’s planned, but I try to keep meals pretty simple throughout the week when we’re busier.

Depending on your lifestyle, there are many other things you may add to your list (getting school supplies ready comes to mind!), but this is my process, and it’s served me for a long time with just a few simple tweaks.

If you’re just getting started with this, I’d recommend you only add one thing at a time, maybe just getting in the habit of checking your calendar. That simple habit can make a big difference.

Happy prepping! That sounds like something I’d say to someone the day before a colonoscopy. Says the woman with Crohn’s disease. And this is how my post ends. Ends, hee hee, see what I did there?

Our Discipline Chart

There’s this funny thing that happens when friends come to our house for the first time. Often they take out their phones to snap a picture of a piece of paper I have posted in various places throughout the house. That paper is our discipline chart.

There’s nothing magical or pretty about it. When our two newest were placed with us, we wanted a visual for us and our kids to help everyone know discipline that would be given when needed. It was also helpful to show this to their case worker to make sure she approved of our methods.

DisciplineThe first two levels on our chart are far less about consequences than about helping the child regain focus. Oftentimes when a kid is acting out, they simply need to sit somewhere quietly to take a break, or oppositely, they need to burn some excess energy. So we tend to start here, especially in cases of self-control. Many times, that’s all that’s needed to get him back on track.

Journaling is listed on most of them, though that makes me smirk because we’ve actually required our kids to do it maybe twice. Don’t be jealous of our consistency. We do like the concept, though, so we keep it on the sheet in hopes that someday-maybe we’ll be good parents. The idea is to have them copy a passage of scripture and answer simple questions to be grounded in truth about the heart issue they’re struggling with.

As far as the other levels:

  • Loss of privilege is simply what it sounds like–not being able to do something you would normally have done. This could be watching a movie with the family, going to a special event, etc, for a short period of time.
  • If our kids have finished all their work for the day, they get 30 minutes of screen time. Which can also be taken away.
  • After dinner, kids who have eaten well get a small treat. Regardless of eating habits, though, we’ll snatch that cookie right out of your mouth if needed.
  • On top of daily chores, our kids can opt to do a paid chore, usually involving cleaning or yard work. If they reach this level, we’ll give them extra unpaid chores: same chores but without the moolah.
  • We try to give our children friend time at least once a week. That can go, too.
  • They can lose a toy, one they love, for a longer stretch of time or, in extreme circumstances, permanently.
  • Community service is hours determined by us to do work around the house/neighborhood. Seems fun at first, then the hatin’ it happens.

We certainly don’t use this list as a dogmatic form for parenting but more as a bucket list of ideas to use alongside belittling and yelling at them gospel instruction. Sometimes we skip straight to a lower level, sometimes we combine a few. Most things in life are gray, and what helps motivate a child once may not work again.

The Spirit is the one who changes hearts, not you and not me. Our ultimate goal with discipline should never be to “force a child to behave how you want them to.” Rather it should be a tool to teach them the folly of sin and point them to the only one who never disobeyed. And if you’re good at that, you can guest blog for us, cause we most certainly aren’t.

Optional Adoption

So far, we’ve spoken much about adoption as a support to those we know who have adopted or are considering it already. We expect that there are others reading this, but so far, we’ve not said much about them. You might be surprised how often we hear comments like, “It’s so great that you all adopted those kids” or “I can’t imagine ever doing anything like adopting” or “You all are so brave to adopt”.

I promise you it didn’t feel like bravery to us. Around the time we were in the thick of the adoption process, Bill read a book called Rich in Love: When God Rescues Messy People about a family who had birthed/fostered/adopted 32 children. This part stuck out in particular:

People have asked how we could have made such serious decisions about children so quickly over the phone, without praying about whether we should let more kids come into our home. When God says, “Don’t murder or steal,” I don’t have to pray about whether I should be involved in those things, because I already know his will. In the same way, God says in his Word that we should take care of the widows and orphans. I don’t have to pray to know if this is his will because he already told me it is. He wants us to do it. Period. And Domingo and I felt that as long as God kept bringing us kids, and we had room, we would keep taking them in.

It was never about bravery, just obedience.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”(Isaiah 1:17)

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:22, 27)

So why did our churches so blindly keep ignoring the weak and needy, the orphans and widows? Why were we ignoring them? Why are you?

You know why: Your life is hard. You have small children. You both work. You’re can’t afford it.* You’re already dealing with special needs in your family. You don’t have your crap together. You’re unorganized, impatient, sick, disabled, anxious. Maybe you even just adopted.

And yet if any of you, in the same situation you’re in now, saw a child you didn’t know about to be hit by a car, none of those things would hinder you making your best effort to barrel the child out of the way to save their life. You wouldn’t pray about it first, ask your friends, read a book, have a long meeting with your spouse, research on the internet. You would run straight into traffic, not caring how much it might hurt you.

But when we have time to think, we become a faithless people.

Most of you who read this blog live in North America. That most likely puts you in the 1% bracket of the wealthiest people in the world. But with most wealth comes the most entitlement. We’re so wealthy we whine when we get paper-cuts and recheck our finger a dozen times throughout the day to see the wound again and feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t have to do the hungry thing, the exposed-to-elements thing, and we don’t have to do the “my child was just beheaded by ISIS” thing.

Many of you have truly suffered. Honestly, you’re probably the ones who are most likely to do bold stuff like adopting and fostering and opening homes to the dirty and unwanted. But the rest of us? We’re just running scared, worshiping ease and comfort, completely acting as though we have never heard a word Jesus said. We think this life is it, and we’ll ignore whoever we have to, like widows and orphans, in order to make it great.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b)

I’m sure my frustration is coming through my writing. I’m frustrated that I’m with you in your hesitancy. We keep talking about whether or not to adopt again–and it sounds impossible. My life has been so out-of-control since adopting the first time. One of my children doesn’t really care for me at all and acts as though her life goal is to defy me. I don’t get breaks anymore because I have to keep such a close watch to protect all of them. I never have a clue what I’m doing and fear constantly. I’ve been more anxious than ever. And all I can ever do–ever–is see what a failure I am. Please, God, don’t ask me to do this again!

But He already has. In His Word. And who am I to say no to the creator of everything, the salvation of my undeserving soul, the only one worthy to be glorified, the one who has faithfully promised to work out everything for my good even though I was once his enemy?

How could we adopt again? How could we adopt in the first place? Because he adopted me. The way my life is affected is irrelevant.

I have nothing to say about what your story should look like. God wrote each of our stories to be different. Maybe you should adopt over and over for the rest of your life until you die, maybe you should only adopt once, maybe you shouldn’t adopt at all. Maybe you should foster. Maybe you should open your home to the lonely kid who always seems a little hungry and a little smelly.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum you probably should allow yourself to be pushed far past what you’re thinking right now. Certainly not because I’m telling you to. I’m simply trying to remind you of the hard truth I’d rather ignore, too.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:22, 27)

*We have a post coming on how to adopt basically for free.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable