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.


The Sins of Neurology

Up to this point, I’ve been writing an extended critique of The Connected Child and the related Empowered to Connect (ETC) that I’m trying to develop one step at a time . I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to show the connection between what I’ve said about their approach to “normal” and their foundations, and how that leads to some more specific problems.

An element that comes up over and over again with ETC is that kids from trauma have been hardwired into their behaviors by their experiences, thus their brains don’t work normally. “The deprivation they suffered early in life has hardwired their primitive brain to believe that starvation is just around the corner.” “Research shows that motor memory can trump cognitive, thought-based memory for very young children.” Here’s a longer quotation:

Thinking in terms of our children, we must recognize that for many children from hard places, fear is their best friend. Due in large part to their past, fear has ruled their lives—their mind, emotions and behaviors—for so long that it has become a familiar, and even oddly comforting, companion. Rather than having more brain activity in the frontal regions of the brain (i.e., the part of the brain that can process thoughts such as, “I can communicate my needs,” “I can communicate my wants,” “I can tell you that I am hurt or afraid,” etc.), children from hard places often operate in the more primitive part of the brain, called the amygdala. As a result, their behaviors and interactions are more likely to be driven by more primal thoughts such as, “How do I get food?” “How do I get safe?” “How do I get what I want?” and “How do I get my way?” They are stuck in survival mode and, therefore, they are prone to misinterpret communication (both verbal and nonverbal) as threatening and respond in ways that are unacceptable

Let’s put aside this idea of “primitive” (hearkening back to an evolutionary understanding of the brain, which is problematic in its own right but not central to their points) and deal with what they’re really saying: these kids have brains that are hardwired differently and that’s why they act differently.To which I say, “Sure, I agree. Different experiences will lead to different wiring and different responses.” If that were it, I’d be fine.

But they don’t stop there: “But remember, inappropriate behaviors are driven by old traumas, neurological limitations, and the appropriate urge to survive.” “When your child appears physically perfect, it’s easy to erroneously assume that his or her poor behavior is willful and intentional.” “[Y]our child…is controlled by his primitive brain…”

And this is where I can’t follow that logic. According to ETC, “inappropriate behaviors” and “poor behavior” aren’t wrong–they simply need to be retrained. More than that, their behaviors are outside their control. They can’t help it! Their brains made them do it! But biblically speaking, sin is sin is sin, even if there are environmental factors at play (and there almost always are!). It’s not possible to drive a hard wedge between volitional and involuntary responses–at least, the Bible doesn’t permit that division, even if we like it.

Let me address this a few different ways. Let’s say I grow up in a house that’s stable and loving, but very little is expected of me. My parents do everything for me so that I never have to work, never have to try. So, I’m hardwired at this point toward low effort. Now my circumstances change–maybe I’m at school for instance–and I’m given a project. I’m hardwired not to work hard. So is my laziness and failure to complete the project not my fault since I was raised and wired that way?

Maybe that’s too anecdotal. Let’s use pornography. This article shows how persistent viewing of pornography leads to neurological changes. So if the hardwiring of their brains are changed, does that mean lusting via pornography isn’t a sin?

Or perhaps that feels too volitional since those individuals made the choice to get in that position. This article suggests that there might be a link between genetics (a.k.a. non-volitional hardwiring) and negative thinking. So would we say that if these folks are genetically geared toward anger or faithlessness or hopelessness, then it’s not a sin? I mean, they can’t help it, right?

Understand that answering “yes” to any of these questions means that there are sinful behaviors that aren’t really sins. And that, my friends, is not how God has revealed himself. Let’s take the last example: who made that individual’s genetic makeup? God did. Did God make a different set of right and wrong for these people than he did for those to whom he gave cheerful personalities? Nope.

Let’s expand this one step further. Is God sovereign over everything that happens, “working all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”? Absolutely. So doesn’t that mean that he was even sovereignly guiding the circumstances that led to the “hard places” of these kids? In fact, doesn’t the Bible tell us that suffering will be part of the story God weaves for all who believe in him and follow him? You bet your tushy it does.

Thus these behaviors are sins, even if they are responses to the things that happened to these kids that were outside their control. Does that mean that we should ignore their past and treat them like they ought to know better? Of course not. And when I start buildling back up everything I’m dismantling right now, I hope to demonstrate that.

But just because kids have brains that process differently than our white-bread, middle class, American easy-peasy lives does not mean that their behavior stops being sin. And thus (and I’ll build more on this later), it’s not that these kids need to be treated differently than “the normal kids”, it’s that their sin needs to be dealt with in a way that knows how they were formed (Ps 103:14). But it is sin and it should be corrected as such, even if that method of doing so might be tailored differently.

ETC has no category for sin. Just “unhealthy”. An unhealthy person just needs a new diet. A sinful person needs a new heart. That’s apples and oranges.

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

Broken-Hearted Parents

In light of Court’s last post, I wanted to give an example of a friend—a brother—stepping up in our need and loving us when all we could see was our own failure. In a particularly low moment, I sent my pastor-elder Dan this text late at night as I was struggling with my own failures in trying to help direct this child after an especially challenging series of weeks with her. Here was my text: “Man. How do you love a kid who despises you and has only one life mission of worshiping herself–and thus continually coming up with new and varied ways to rebel? How can I love her when I despise her? What do I do when it feels like her heart is harder than the hardest stone and will never ever be turned to flesh?”

Dan heard my pain—not just this time, but every time I’d shared with him—and didn’t pounce. He didn’t latch onto my angry frustration at not being able to make a dent in steering my kid’s heart toward Jesus. He didn’t attack my clear self-righteousness and finger pointing. He saw the hurt and failure, and instead, emailed me this shortly thereafter (lightly edited):

My heart breaks for you, bro, really. I’ve hated that we haven’t been able to help you guys. I know things come up but also, we don’t know what to do and feel so ill equipped to really help. (Please don’t take that as us not being willing because we are completely willing to step in even though we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing.)

So first of all I want you to know that your daughter’s rejection of you is not a reflection of how “good” of a dad you are. Heck, look at Yahweh. Perfect Dad, providing just the right amount of “spoiling” vs. chores in the garden. The perfect amount of “family time” vs. free time. Perfect in EVERY way… boom! Rejection!!!  With Cain, God provided perfectly loving and wise counsel  which Cain rejected. Yahweh chose a people. Not a spectacular people of greatness but to the contrary and He adopted them to be His (see where I’m going with this ;)). He set His love on them and cared for them and provided for them but the norm for that people was rejection of their Father. But He kept pursuing them… HE would bless them with a good crop or pregnancy or some other blessing and they would run and praise Baal for it! The “dad” that used them and abused them and only took from them! The bastard that would leave them naked and beaten and he’s THE ONE THEY LOVED!!! Not the good Dad, the One that chose them for no other reason than to bring them in to be part of His family. But He didn’t give up on them. You know the  story… The cycles over and over… The relentless pursuit… The repetitive rejection… The ultimate rescue…

You know who we are in the story, bud. So the only way you’re going to love YOUR child that despises you is to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for you. I’m praying that for you right now as I type and my screen is a blur through my tears as I sob for you. Please, Holy Spirit, fill my brother with your love. Overtake him with the depth and width and height of your love. Help his heart break for his little girl who is rejecting him but far worse is rejecting YOU! Give him a love for her that is beyond comprehension because it’s rooted in a love that he received first. Use that love to melt her heart of stone.

I’m here for you brother, even if I don’t really know how to be. Please tell us. If it means taking the kids away sometimes or a combination of certain kids.

I love you. Be encouraged. You have not thwarted God’s plans and in fact He is working this for good. Hard to believe, right? Well, it’s true. Our Daddy’s electing love proves it day by day!

One final thought… Your little girl has had unthinkable things done to her by the people that were supposed to protect her. I’ve not dealt with abuse like that but my guess is that she has a mangled concept of trust, love, family, fun, etc.—a bunch of things we probably take for granted. I just say that to say that it could be a VERY long road but your hope is not in your daughter getting better. It’s that one day this will seem like a VERY light affliction because of the glory that will be revealed…

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

You Make Life a Song

My Love,

In lieu of the usual paragraph tribute I give to you on Facebook, I want to write something more substantial and permanent than that. But I also want to share it on the interwebs to give others a peek into the inner beauty most see glimpses of but don’t even know exist. And I think this is the closest version of praising my wife in the gates that I can come up with. My adoration of you is so profound that, like Luigi, “I must scream it to the world, my excitement from the top of someplace very high.” So here goes…

Like Daddy Warbucks/Will Stacks sings about Annie, “You’ve made life a song; you’ve made me a singer.” That phrase has been bouncing around in my head for weeks, because it’s truly what you’ve done for me. It’s like (nerd moment coming, love) all my life up to that point had been listening to scratched up LPs with a bad needle when suddenly you came along with digital clarity. I’d heard before, but never really heard. I’d sung before, but never really sung.

How do I even explain this?

Like John Nash’s beautiful mind needed his wife’s sole encouragement to find hope, you have centered the wild musings of my mind into a Jesus-centered focus on forever. Like Christian and Satine, I “never knew I could feel like this, like I’d never seen the sky before.” Like Sun and Jin, time and space and crashing planes and sinking submarines could never keep us apart. Like Darcy’s poorly expressed ardor for Elizabeth: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

It’s like all that and more. Far, far more. The song didn’t start until you came. And it wasn’t just enough that you started the song, you somehow roped me into singing along with you.

Worse: you got me to like singing with you, no matter if serious or frivolous or silly or wild or earnest or intense.

More profound than what you did for me is the fact that you do this for the souls you touch. You’ve left behind a trail of grace through your encounters over the years. There’s something about you—a spark, a vivacity—that is irresistibly contagious. What bothers me more than anything is that I find describing it so difficult. Your influence is so subtle, so understated. It’s not that you make people laugh (though you do). It’s not that you’re the life of every party (though you are). It’s that you bring out the hidden trueness of someone without them ever knowing you were doing it. Never have I seen anyone who can draw out even the shyest person like you can. Never have I seen anyone convince other people to do these silly, crazy things like you can. It’s astounding.

This gift from God would, of course, be despicable if you used to for self-seeking gain. You don’t. I don’t think it’s ever even occurred to you to do that. This gift of yours that finds the truest part of a person’s soul and helps them draw it out is also the truest part of your soul, too. Not that you would ever see that. You’re so blinded by failures and missed expectations and ludicrous goals and unrealistic hopes that Superman would have trouble pulling off in one 24-hour period that you don’t see this gift at work in you.

I’ve been watching it for fifteen years. I’ve been on the receiving end of it for fourteen years. I’ve been one flesh with it for twelve years. And I’ve seen it spread to our offspring for ten years.

You make life a song and you make us all singers.

What would life be without music? That’s not really any different than wondering what life would be like without colors. Or soft fleece. Or warm summer days. Or mighty mountains. Life without any of these things would be cold and drab and flat. Life without music , the music of the Creator weaved through our very souls, would be stunted and empty. Your gift to me, to our kids, to so many others has been the gift of song. Your life is a song—shoot, you practically live in a musical. But more deeply, your clear, luminous soprano voice has only ever been an outer reflection of your very soul. I still remember Dr. Black telling me that every singer’s personality leaks into their voice. A whiny person has a peevish voice. A timid person has a feeble voice. But your singing voice has always matched your soul voice: strong, clear, pure, and unafraid.

Your voice matches the song you present to the rest of us, the song you’re always tacitly urging us to sing with you. It’s like you’re walking up to each of us and singing, “My gift is my song; and this one’s for you.” This gift you pass on has been the Spirit’s gift to you. So, lest anyone be confused about the song you give each of us, let me be more explicit.

The songs you give are songs of life, rooted deeply in the gospel of King Jesus. Even the saddest songs from you are gilded with the hope that godly sorrow must always carry intertwining. Your songs are a reflection of the same joy that could look at all of creation after six days and call it very good. The songs you give are filled with jumping dolphins and early morning sunrises and crashing waves. Your songs are ardent greens and luscious purples and bold blues and deep reds. Yours songs are laughter and joy and sadness and togetherness and filledness. Your songs are the closest glimpse I’ll ever have to the cries of “Worthy is the Lamb!” that John heard and saw.

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Maria was never a problem—her song was bursting forth and needed a place to burst. You’re more like Maria than you know. I’m probably far more like Captain Von Trapp than I know. You’ve done for me what she did for him.

Fourteen years ago, we were wandering the streets of Rome, jet-lagged and clumsy. I had no idea this gorgeous woman who kept tripping over thousand-year-old cobblestones and who slipped down the Vatican steps would be the beginning of a radical change in my life. Our Father steered us together and showed us a new path he had for both of us. His hand has always been active and powerful, though seemingly in the background of the mundane and the everyday. But he was there then and he’s here now, shaping and molding us into a creation we would never have become without each other.

Today I want nothing more than to praise you for being the singer and the songwriter. For being exactly who God created and called you to be. For being able to laugh at the darkness and sing away every fear. For being the most amazing person I’ve ever had the joy of knowing.

And I want to thank you—again—for saying “Yes”.

Happy anniversary, Courtney Brooke.


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.

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.