We Have Kids Because We Have Hope {Introducing Our New Baby Girl}

I awoke at 5 am, stirred by a gentle tightening of the muscles stretched around the great balloon of a midsection that used to be my waist. Just five hours earlier, Hero Hubs had pulled into the driveway and collapsed into bed, after capturing a beautiful wedding day with his camera, over an hour away.

But that’s not where this story begins.

The day before I’d tiptoed around the house, trusting that nothing was going to happen while HH was so far away. The wedding was scheduled before we knew we’d be expecting, and it was the day after my due date. We had a sense of peace that it would be fine, all would be well, and I held on tight to that in my heart, and did my best not to be anxious.

I decided to get up and start making notes, just to keep track on my phone of the timing of the contractions. Unlike the birth of the Tank — a story better suited for Hollywood with a high-speed drive to the hospital and a birth nine minutes later, and different as well from the arrival of the Belle, when contractions started sometime after 5 in the morning and she was on the outside before 7 am, this was a peaceful increase.

I stood in the bathroom waiting to see what would happen, started putting on makeup because if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that is somehow part of my relaxing-my-way-into-giving-birth routine, and things were still and slow and peaceful. I got back in bed, from around 6 to around 7 am, and the contractions were still happening, but still more than ten minutes apart, so I’d snooze for a bit, wake up and mark the time of the contraction, and then fall asleep again.

Finally, around 7:30 the pace was beginning to pick up, and I woke a bedraggled dear Hero of a Hubs to announce that I needed a lift to the hospital, to which he replied:

“You’re joking, right?”


They offered to wheel me up to the Labor & Delivery floor when we checked into the hospital around 8:30, but I decided it would be better for me to walk and allow labor to keep progressing. It was a pleasant thing to think about: walking in as one and walking out as two.

Just a week before I walked through those hospital doors, a precious fellow Mom who is a part of our homeschool community gave birth. Her due date was just two days before mine, and we’d been talking about who might go first, and she was also expecting a girl, to add to the three beautiful daughters she already has. The baby was stillborn. They named her Caroline Grace, and her funeral was just the day before I went into labor.

I wept when I read the news, wept again nearly every time it came to mind over the next two weeks. How do you keep going when a part of your own heart stops beating?

By 8:45, I was hooked up to a monitor, and the nurses were waiting for my next contraction to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing. Those squiggly lines on that piece of paper meant something more significant than ever before.

For as long as I can remember, the Hubs and I have had a sense that four was our number. With each child’s arrival, there was a sense of great joy and excitement, but there wasn’t yet a sense of completion.

Does the story of a life start when the parents are dreaming of her coming into being?

After twenty minutes or so of monitoring, contractions were beginning to progress, and the unanimous decision was that I should head to a delivery suite. We shuffled down the hall, and chose the same room I’d shuffled into three years ago to give birth to the Belle.

A familiar face greeted us, as the OBGYN I’d visited during both of these last two US-based pregnancies, recently transferred to a practice in another town, was back covering a weekend shift. I was happy to see her.

Just like the Belle, my water hadn’t broken, and with contractions coming steadily, she decided to break my water and see if things might speed up a little.

They did.


Two weeks after her arrival, the tiny little stump of an umbilical cord finally came off and I sighed a deep sigh — happy that the little stump was gone because I am always so nervous about those things getting caught on something and yanked out, but sad because it was a sign of change, so soon — her need for her Mama will slowly transition from complete dependence to complete independence, perhaps me at home hoping to hear how she’s doing in some far corner of the globe if she follows in my or her Dad’s footsteps one day.

After they broke my water, the contractions gradually went from significant to intense to ohmyheavens thankyouLord thispainisforapurpose.

Unlike previous deliveries where the feeling to push was so intense I couldn’t imagine not pushing, this time the doctor suggested maybe it was time to push, and I decided maybe that was a good idea.

Today this little treasure of a girl is three weeks old, and I’m following the news about the great loss of life in Paris. I visited the City of Light when the Bear was just ten months old. We adored the sights, the ambiance, the food, and we took in all that we could on a shoestring budget with a baby in the baby carrier, strapped to Hero Hubs’ hero chest. The Bear fell asleep as we strolled through Notre Dame, my mouth consistently gaping open at the beautiful, my neck strained from so much looking up.

It’s hard to see so much darkness falling into a beloved city of light.

The dim lights in the delivery suite were shut out as I squeezed my eyes tight and pushed for all it was worth. After the suggestion about pushing, we all got ready and I, not having any pain medication coursing through my veins, took to my normal practice of hollering my way through those final moments before birth. Fortunately, there were only a couple of minutes of pushing or else I might’ve had a couple of days without a voice after her arrival. And the nurses might’ve stopped to get earplugs.

I pushed and my thoughts were with my friend who lost her precious girl. I pushed and thought about my Dad not getting to meet this last baby until we’re reunited in heaven someday. I pushed and gave thanks that this pain was for a purpose — holding onto faith instead of fear and believing a healthy baby girl would soon arrive.

She did.

They laid her in the little baby bed nearby and I saw her tiny face, and I was once again transported back to Scotland, to seeing the Bear’s little face for the first time. From the look on her face to the hairs on her head, she seemed like a beautiful little carbon copy.

I was overwhelmed this time, with hearing her cry. I know it: this isn’t always the outcome. This world is broken, and there is darkness and people are blowing themselves up and trying to take as many people out with them as possible, and babies don’t always get to see the light of day.

I wondered then, and I suppose I always will, why I am the recipient of such gifts.

Of this I am deeply aware: I am undeserving.

I mess up. I yell. I make bad choices with words. I say things that hurt other people. I choose the low road sometimes.

But there is hope. I hope to raise these four precious children to be lights in a dark world. Although I’m occasionally the one pulling out my hair, I believe in the possibility that HH and I can raise kids who will challenge convention by radically pouring out their hearts. There is evil in the world today, but there is good, too. The good is what makes life worth living.

They laid her on my chest and I could scarcely make out the word in a whisper, as if saying it too loudly might mean it wouldn’t come true: Catriana.


Her name has roots in our beloved Scotland, a variation of the Gaelic version of Catherine, meaning pure.

Perhaps her story starts there, where her Mom and Dad met, just over a decade ago.

The truth is all of our stories have their genesis in the Creator who dreamed us into being, long before our parents’ parents’ parents’ took their first breath. He saw it all. He knew who would arrive on October 25, 2015, how much she would weigh, what plans He had for her life.

While lots of folks seem to think we’re a little crazy to want four children, I sometimes think a lot of folks are crazy not to. 

I’ve stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and marveled at the beautiful city of Paris below. My heart has swelled full at the beauty of Cape Town, from the vantage point of Table Mountain. Looking over the incredible blue-green waters off the coast of Roatan in Honduras from a little boat-plane in the sky made me feel like I’d found a slice of paradise. Walking across the stage with my second Masters’ degree at the University of Edinburgh was exhilarating.

But my hope for the world, and my hope for the next generation, are tied to this gift from the Lord that keeps on giving. These children that challenge me, show me how selfish and flawed I am, and still make me feel so precious and important.

It is exceedingly, above and beyond glorious.

Perhaps the greatest mark I’ll leave for His glory, with the days and years I’m given on Earth won’t be the folks I helped encourage toward the God who loves them, the feet I’ve washed, the things I’ve said.

I imagine it’s quite likely that the greatest mark HH and I will leave for the glory of God will be the legacy of raising children who unashamedly love God and want to make this world a brighter and more beautiful place for His glory.

The calling of the church is to be the true City of Light — the city on a hill that loves so pure, so deep and so selflessly that the world can’t help but see, and say Jesus.

Catriana Claire Collie is here. A gift that weighed exactly 8 pounds and 15.6 ounces. We rejoice as undeserving recipients. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.” Her peaceful arrival, her joining our family — it is truly a taste of grace.

We have kids because we have hope.

We welcome this precious girl with hopes that the world will be just a little better each day, because she is a part of it.



–With Prayers for Paris and for the Fellers


Introducing Torch {And Why The Internet Could Use This Makeover}

A few months ago I shared the ups and downs of the experience when our family quit media cold turkey for 40 days. It was on the back of a trip to South Africa (visiting family) where the kids had experienced lots of media time, and I was nervous that it was going to be just really dang hard to let it go.

The experience of ripping media off like a nasty old bandaid turned out to be amazing. It brought us a heap of new perspective on life at the Collie house and helped us reach some fresh conclusions about how to handle media moving forward. We decided that the kids would only watch TV on the weekends, and other screen time (computer games at our house) during the week would be very, very limited.

Four months later, we’ve been happy with that decision, but two little things have still been challenging: 1) I struggle to regulate the amount of computer time my kids are getting and 2) I don’t feel like I’ve successfully regulated the specific content they’re allowed to take in. They know what websites they’re supposed to visit, but I also want them to be able to search for arthropods while we’re talking about the different groups of invertebrates in homeschool, and know they’re not going to end up somewhere they shouldn’t be.

And somehow that needs to happen without my hovering above the computer like Helicopter Mom all the time. Because?

I just can’t.

Good News, though.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a member of the awesome creative team behind Torch… and there’s a great possibility that my last remaining “Internet Problems” could soon be solved for me.

Introducing Torch!

The creators of Torch recognized the significant problem most parents have with regulating the amount of time kids spend on the net, and the type of content they’re allowed to access while they’re online. The solution they’ve come up with is a very clever wifi router which allows parents to regulate those two things, and more.

Insert happy dance here, because I’m really excited about this!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to write about something on this little old web space and I’ve said no because it just wasn’t something that lined up with my value system or something I felt would actually be useful to my readers. But I am seriously pumped to be able to tell you a little bit about Torch — and was absolutely excited to do so — because I know I’m struggling with this issue and I am not the only Mama facing it!

So when the Torch team contacted me to ask about sharing some of my parenting and media stories, I offered to write about their new product, because I really want the vision to become a reality. I asked a few key questions that I think we’d all like to know if we’re considering purchasing this kind of tech to help the Parenthood regain control of our kids’ online lives, and here are the main things I discovered:

  • Torch will allow parents to regulate which sites your child is able to view, and to block sites they are not allowed to view.
  • It’s possible to create multiple accounts, so that the seven-year-old’s content is different from the two-year-old’s. Which totally makes sense because National Geographic is scary to the Belle, but it’s awesomeness personified to the Bear.
  • You can give the internet a “bedtime” or create certain windows of time where the net is “off” and kids need to go out and play or do something else. (You can also tailor this based on each kid’s restrictions and privileges.)

And this might be my favorite:

  • Torch allows you to see what sites your kids are viewing in a live feed. Parents are able to see how much data is being used at different sites by each kid, and the sites are categorized so that you can tell whether the time is being spent mostly on social media, education, gaming, and so on. Kids will also be able to look at their own stats and see where they’ve spent their time and when their time is up.

Torch is launching a big Kickstarter campaign today to spread the word about their awesome new tech, and garner the support of believers (like me) who are willing to invest in the dream and help make it a reality. They’re offering special rewards based on different levels of support, and hoping that Torch will begin shipping to the doors of many-a-happy-customer around March next year.

Yes, please.

So, I’d love for you to click over to check out their Kickstarter campaign, and seriously, help make the dream a reality! I need it and if you have any humans under the age of 18 in your house, you probably do, too! Torch’s website can tell you lots more about this wonderful innovation!

I’d also love for you to leave a comment to let us know — what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced, regulating media consumption at your house? Or, if you’ve already got this gig altogether, would you leave some advice for the rest of us?

Happy Internetting, Friends!



The folks at Torch graciously agreed to sponsor this post. But the thoughts and opinions expressed here are absolutely mine. Just so’s ya knows.

The Best New Mantra You Can Adopt For Today (And Tomorrow)

I had a birthday last week. You might be the type that dreads the reminder that you’re adding a year to that fateful number that just keeps getting higher, but I’ll be honest with you, that is so not me. I really, truly love birthdays. Mine included. Especially.

I love reflecting on the year that has passed, thinking about all there is to give thanks for in the present, and dreaming about what might happen in the year ahead.

And I like cake and presents, too.

I also like thinking about what I’ve learned in the year that has passed. For example, this year I observed that the comfort level of a pair of underwear seems to often be inversely proportionate to the price I paid for it.

Lesson learned.

Kids at Jockey's Ridge

But one of the things that’s consistently remarkable to me is how easy it is for me to forget some of the basics in the midst of all the “big stuff” of life. 

Yesterday, we woke up to the usual morning routine. We’re showered and dressed and have usually read the Good Word — and Hero Hubs has usually put in an hour or so of work — before the kids’ feet hit the floor. Little feet patter towards our bedroom around 7:00 am (it doesn’t happen sooner thanks to this little clock we bought on Amazon), we do breakfast and coffee and then get started with whatever needs to happen on that particular day.

This morning, I offered to read the Belle a book before getting started with homeschool with her big brothers. To my surprise, she ran down the hallway and grabbed a book off the shelf at the end of the hall — a shelf that houses some books I ended up with that were my Dad’s and some that belonged to my sister, most of which I haven’t read.

She came scurrying back to me with The Power of a Praying Woman — clearly not a children’s book. When I suggested an alternative, she insisted on that book, and then proceeded to open it up to a random page as if she intended to do the reading.

Have I mentioned yet that she’s two?

So I sort of said, “Suit yourself” and offered to start reading the random page she’d opened the book to. She clenched the book even tighter–perhaps out of concern that I intended to pull a fast one and swap the book for something else. Then she started to “read” in an adorable sing-song voice, belting out words I’d never heard her say before:

“God loves me, too.”

And on it went, over and over, just those same four words, usually followed by a giggle:

“God loves me, too.”

{You might’ve seen this already if we’re Instagram buddies or you’ve liked With Love on Facebook!}

The strangest part? I’m not sure where these words came from. We do pray, and talk about God (more so with the boys since they’re older) and we do go to church, but this little creature’s usually in the nursery with the littlest kiddos–and her most beloved nursery workers speak Spanish during nursery time. So when the Belle responds to Dora the Explorer’s promptings, she has incredibly beautiful pronunciation… but I don’t think she heard those words at the church nursery.

I decided to take a video of this precious declaration with my phone, and she was very willing to say it over and over, smiling and laughing almost every time.

And then I thought–this girl knows she’s loved, but do I? Did I need this reminder today?


You know how I mentioned forgetting the basics because of the “big stuff” on the road of life?

Man, I really do that sometimes.

And I carry my personal failures around on my back like a heavy sack of rocks with tiny little mouths. They whisper: You aren’t being patient with your children. You raised your voice again? You said you were going to get up but you slept in. This thing or that thing isn’t getting enough of your attention. You are falling short. Overspending. Overeating. Overdoing. Have you ever heard the word balance? Be honest with yourself… you’re just a hot mess right now.

It’s a lot of weight to carry. Every mistake. Every shortcoming. Every time things don’t work out how you hoped they would and you feel sure you’re to blame even if you’re not sure why.

But what did the God of the Universe want to whisper to my soul–and to yours through these words you’re reading right here–so badly that He was willing to align the stars for my two-year-old to declare it?

God loves me, too.

I am falling short in a heap of little ways. I don’t always do the right thing. Say the right thing. Make the right choice. But still:

God loves me, too.

If you can take a deep breath and really let that truth sink in friends–then it can become a truth that truly changes everything. The God who stretched out on a cross to show how deep and wide His love is? He’s not watching your performance and taking notes to send home a report card. He’s not waiting for you to fail so He can zap you in some cosmic bug zapper.

What He’s been whispering all along is that He loves you without a thought for your shortcomings. And, because of your shortcomings, He decided to make a way for you to still know His love, for you to be forgiven and welcomed into His love.

Will things go better if you ask for His help and follow His lead?

For sure.

Will He love you anyway when you don’t?


His Grace and forgiveness are almost unfathomably deep mysteries. But we can start with this truth that’s simple enough for a two-year-old to smile at, though perhaps we can live our whole lives still coming into a fuller, deeper understanding of the incredible goodness of it:

God loves me, too.

Let it sink into your soul today, friend. And make it a mantra to remember, for all your tomorrows.


Inexorable Mercy and I’m Sowwy

So, we have this thing going on at the Collie house right now.

Yes, this thing.

And it goes a little something like this.

For about the last hour or so, I’ve tried to avoid giving our two-year-old-bundle-of-curls-and-joy anything to drink.

For bedtime, it approacheth.

And here is bedtime, and the Belle has on her little jammies with Dora, d’ spora or the family of owls that she identifies as Mama, Dada, and it’s meeeeee.

The teeth are brushed. We gather on the Tank’s lower bunk for prayers. The lights are out and a little fan is on in the boys’ room, and the door closes.

We take the Belle potty one more time, just in case. Then, the little darling who has been mostly pooping in the potty since she was like, four months old (yes, really), who has been tinkling in the potty during the day for months and months and months… we put a diaper on her.

Why? I don’t know. It’s an exercise in futility, it turns out.


Because the story continues. We sing Twinkle Twinkle together and lay her down in her crib. The shutters are closed and the lights are out and the door is shut.

She talks and sings and opens the shutters and watches the world outside for approximately two hours.


And, when it’s all said and done, she starts hollering.

So one of us goes in to visit the little Belle, and to reencourage her about this whole bedtime gig.

But? There’s a problem.

Whether her jammie pants are strewn on the floor or hanging over the crib railing, or back on her body inside out, whether her top has been successfully removed, is still intact, or she has somehow wriggled it so that the collar is now around her waist, you can be sure of one thing…

her diaper is on the floor.

And? 11 times out of 12?

She has taken the diaper off and then and only then wet the bed.

That diaper on the floor?

It’s dry. Perhaps the tabs have been ripped off, yes maybe, but it’s dry.

{Although we used cloth diapers for ages, we switched back to disposable while we were “wrapping up potty training” (smile, giggle, snort hahahaha) because we were barely using a diaper a day and it didn’t feel worthwhile to have separate laundry going for one diaper.}

So this evening, I was in there to discover, for the thirty-seventh time, that one sneaky little so-and-so had pulled the take-off-the-diaper-then-wet-the-crib routine.

She sees I’m upset and starts in with “Sowwy, Mama. Sowwy, Mama. Sowwy, Mama.” And will repeat those pitiful words twenty times if necessary — until she hears my huffing, disgruntled, I forgive you.

Her tiny feet plant firmly on the rug stretching across her bedroom floor and she watches me change the sheets and mattress protector for her crib with great interest.

I observe her interest and wonder if she likes seeing me change her sheets so much she is peeing just to watch me change the sheets.

We put on fresh PJs, and strap on that dry diaper again, and then it’s well and truly bedtime for the Belle. We might hear murmurings for another 30 minutes, but diaper high jinks are over and she’ll be asleep soon.

On the thirty-eighth occasion of this occurrence, I walked out of her room and into ours, and turned to one Hero of a Hubs and said, with a flabbergasted smile on my face, “It’s hard to be mad at that little girl.”

And I well and truly meant it.

There’s just so much sweetness.

I immediately started to think… is this something like the Lord’s grace for us? If He loves me, even more than I love these precious little people sporting half my DNA, and I’m sure that He does… then, wow, that is truly some amazing grace.

Because, sure it’s easy when your little one says “Sowwy” from behind bright eyes filled with heavy tears — but when the four-year-old who clearly knows better decides to pee on a pillow on the floor when he’s supposed to be in time out?

The grace I have to pass out is not particularly amazing.

And, if, in my future imaginings, the sixteen-year-old who has been entrusted with an important set of keys crashes into something because he wasn’t really paying a lick of attention to the road? Once I know he’s safe and sound, I have a feeling there’s a possibility I won’t be feeling particularly gracious.

But the God of the Universe who created the cosmos and the caterpillar, He actually, totally, fully, completely loves us. And is slow to anger and quick to forgive when we look up with a “Sowwy.”

One of the things King David was quick to praise the Lord for, again and again, in the Psalms was His lovingkindness, His unfailing mercy.

These attributes of the character of God were sweeter than honey to David, and he described them as more refreshing than finding cold water in the desert.

David knew his own heart and that he was not perfect. He knew he was human, he knew he’d fallen short.

But he also believed fully in a God who was simultaneously full of power and mercy (Psalm 62: 11-12).

Even in times of distress, it seemed every Psalmist could cling to God’s character as a ray of hope. Psalms 42 and 43 end with the exact same declaration:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. {Ps. 42:11, 43:5}

If you examine Psalm 69, you can see David openly admitting his faults:

“O God, You know my foolishness,
And my sins are not hidden from You.” {Ps. 69:5}

But he still goes on to put every ounce of trust in God’s goodness and mercy, His incredible love, His ability to always come through:

“But as for me, my prayer is to You,
O Lord, in the acceptable time;
O God, in the multitude of Your mercy,
Hear me in the truth of Your salvation.
Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink…” {Ps. 69:13-14a}

If we are the cheeky toddlers who take off our diapers and then wet the bed, God is the parent who can hear us say sorry thirty-seven times, and still be ready and willing to love us and forgive us at number thirty-eight. Or thirty-nine. Or forty-six.

His love for us is inexorable.

What’s that mean? His love is impossible to stop or prevent.

Take a moment to soak in this concept: The God whose mercy is new every morning? He absolutely, truly deeply loves and is ready to forgive you.

Don’t be afraid to look up when you make mistakes. They don’t need to drive you away from the God who loves you. Know that you can run back to the one Whose mercy and compassion never fail — Who is always ready to love and forgive.

Don’t be afraid to say Sowwy. And then breathe deeply in the confidence that God truly has amazing grace set aside, just for you.


After Quitting Media

Recently I’ve been chatting about the experience of “quitting media” for a while as a family, and this post continues the story. You can read the part one here and part two here.

Boats hummed by, skimming the Pamlico River in the distance. Cicadas occasionally erupted in a chorus in the trees nearby. Birds and dragonflies flitted about and we watched their aerodynamics show as conversation ensued.

It was Sunday night, our children were bathed and brushed and “pajamaed”, and with kisses and prayers, they were in bed. We fed the baby monitor through the kitchen window so that we could hear, and then sat outside with a cold drink, and just talked for about two hours. At the end of those two hours, I felt very relaxed, and very excited about the plans we’re discussing, the ways we are trying to plan and think and be very intentional in living our lives and raising our children.

An hour and a half or so of conversation, side-by-side staring at the river in the distance isn’t an entirely unusual thing for us these days (although it used to be). It is always a breath of fresh air.

Library Blake

When we arrived at the end of our 40 day media fast, we had to decide what the best path was for our family moving forward. After observing all the positive results of unplugging, we knew we wanted to carefully choose a very limited amount of screen time for ourselves and for our kids, so that we wouldn’t fall back into the pattern of consuming and consuming without a second thought.

After lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered that if I don’t make a hard, fast and firm rule for my kids, they can talk their way into just about anything. (This principle often applies to me, too.) And if I don’t stick with the rule and hold to it in an almost-no-matter-what-this-is-the-deal stance, they observe the weak links in the chain and immediately set about to exploit them.

For example, if I say the kids aren’t allowed to watch anything during the week, but then suddenly cave and suggest they watch something to give me some breathing room and help me achieve something on a rainy, stormy, Tuesday afternoon, you can be sure that the next Tuesday will roll around and we’ll have a conversation like this:

“Mom, can we watch something?”

“No buddy, it’s Tuesday.”

“But last Tuesday, remember you let us watch an episode of Wild Kratts because…”

I’ve learned my lesson. Blurry boundaries are hardly there at all. And blurry boundaries tend to look a lot like slippery slopes for falling back into old habits at our house.

We arrived at this conclusion, so these are the rules we’re sticking to, to the best of our ability, regarding media.

The TV Rules for Our Kids

1. No TV for children during the week.

Yup. We ripped it off like a bandaid. On a special occasion, or for a special reason, and always with very clear communication that this is a special treat, there are times when the weekday TV ban is lifted for an hour. It’s pouring rain and they’ve already played their hearts out indoors and there are still two hours until dinner. I give. But for the most part, they know what to expect when it’s Tuesday and they have a hankering for an episode of Wild Kratts. I simply say, “Buddy, it’s Tuesday!”

2. Limited TV on the weekend.

Friday afternoon is when the TV ban usually gets lifted, but that doesn’t mean the TV stays on from 3 pm to bedtime. I might let each child choose one episode of something when everyone is up from nap time, but then I’ll encourage them to get back outside, or do something else. Saturday morning is when we’re the most relaxed, and we will let three or four episodes of this or that show run, and usually the first two happen while I’m transitioning from the comfort of my own bed to making breakfast. But after a certain point, (I think 4 episodes is probably my subconscious limit) it’s time to turn off the TV for a while and find something else to do.

Saturday afternoon or evening, when everyone is awake from nap, there might be the opportunity for one or two more episodes of something, or if we call it a family movie night, we’ll all sit together on the couch with popcorn {do yourself a favor and get a Popcorn Popper like this!} and enjoy something as a family.

The Other Screen(s)

1. Time during the week on “other screens” is very limited — there’s almost none.

2. Weekend “Other-Screen” Time is also limited.

The only other media we have to reckon with at the Collie house is my old MacBook, which has been transferred into the kids’ possession, mostly. They enjoy playing games on the PBS Kids website and on the National Geographic Kids site. The Nook our eldest was gifted for his birthday a while back has all but given up the ghost, so we don’t have to regulate that time anymore, and we don’t have any games on our phones or on HH’s iPad that would make those devices something the kids would ask about.

Screen time for computer games is mostly limited to weekends. If they’re having trouble sharing, the laptop gets shut and computer time is done.

One other thing our eldest really enjoys doing is looking at maps online. Google’s interactive world map allows him to scroll to Madagascar and examine the lay of the land, and then decide he wants to find Athens and Sparta, since we’ve been talking about those places for a while in history.

While to me the map is wonderful learning time, to him it’s still a “special treat.” One the weekend, if he asks for screen time, I typically ask whether he has read books yet that day, and ask if he’s done anything creative, like drawn a picture, worked on a story, etc. Once he has done some of those other things, he can have typically have 30 to 45 minutes to look at the map or play a game on one of the “approved websites”. If it’s during the week, all of his schoolwork will need to be done before he’s allowed to have map time, and I usually suggest one more little assignment (two pages of cursive, for example) that he ought to do before he has screen time during the week.

Other screen time, for computer games and fun websites, is usually limited to the weekends. Similar to the TV regulations, I will occasionally bend the rules, but only after making sure other, more constructive things have happened first. It’s also clearly communicated this is a special treat, so that it’s clear that it’s not “our new normal.” I won’t allow an hour of screen time and an hour of TV time back to back, even on the weekends, so I’m usually paying attention to what’s going on and making sure when the timer goes off (our oven usually does the trick) the device goes off, too, and something more constructive is done for a while.

The Grown-up Media Rules (Because We Need Them.)

We do not watch TV during our children’s waking hours, and we typically turn on the TV once during the week after they’ve gone to bed. Wednesday is often our “Mid-week weekend” where we might pop popcorn and watch a movie just the two of us — and that is especially nice for us since we’re wedding photographers and our Saturdays are sometimes work days. But other than an occasional decision to relax with This Old House or a movie — as long as we can get in bed close to a reasonable hour — we have been reading much more often before bed.

We’re more lenient with our TV time on the weekends, but as we’ve been focusing on reading both for education and for pleasure so much, I often have a book I’d rather dive into than turn on a screen. In total, I’d guess we watch an average of one movie and one episode of a TV show, in total, each week. And that really feels like the best thing for us.

Why do I need Media Rules?

I have discovered that media has had this strangely attractive, addictive pull on me. I’m willing to admit it. I love a good story. When the LOST series was coming out, and we lived in South Africa, I couldn’t get to the free internet spots fast enough to download our weekly fix when it became available for download. Even here in the States, with free seasons of a LOT of TV available at our fingertips, I used to feel the pull to just watch one more episode of Parenthood or whatever else we’re interested in, even though I needed to head for bed.

I want to know what happens!!!

But is it really profitable for me?

Once we decided to change our habits, instead of rushing into finding something to entertain us for the evening, I’ve found that we often enjoy just talking. We find out how the other person is doing, listen to what’s on each other’s mind. We spend time discussing decisions we need to make, upcoming events and opportunities, and things we’d like to do around the house.

I also feel at leisure to step outside and take a peek at my garden. And wowzers, growing stuff can be really life-giving. And when I give less of my time to entertainment, I have more time to give to good stuff like that!

FullSizeRender 6

The golden hours — after the kids are in bed and it’s just the two of us — have long been neglected for the two of us. We were together in the evenings before, but there was often a screen garnering our full attention.

I’ve shared before about how good it is to regularly ask purposeful questions like these of your spouse, and to spend time caring for one another and discussing the answers. Now that turning on a screen for entertainment is less a part of our routine, we are naturally asking more of those important questions on a regular basis — the ones that normally get set aside because there are urgent things that have to be discussed.

Overall, our intentional decision to slow down and reduce the media consumption in our family has been incredibly life-giving. We are getting to bed at a reasonable time, waking up feeling like we’ve had a good nights’ sleep, and helping our kids become more creative with how they spend their time when they’re not being entertained. {If you’re interested, comment to let me know and I’ll discuss some of the ways I’ve been helping them learn to entertain themselves sans media in another post!}

Although I know these rules won’t work for every family, and may not be realistic in many situations, I think the important thing to have in mind is a standard of some sort, so that you’re not blindly consuming media, or allowing your kids to do so, without so much as a nod to how much of your day (and therefore your life) you’re giving away to entertainment.

I read this quote in Tsh Oxenreider’s Notes from a Blue Bike recently. (This is a good read, by the way. I’m reading SO much more now and it is so life-giving and good!)

“The cause of most of man’s unhappiness is sacrificing what he wants most for what he wants now.”
— Gordon B. Hinckley

Are we sacrificing the things we want most — a sense of togetherness as a family, a healthy relationship with our spouse, or even just a more restful and productive lifestyle where we use the finite time we have wisely — for the temporary rush of entertainment?

It’s worth switching off the screens long enough to at least start asking how often is too often when it comes to switching them on.

Have you thought about your media consumption recently? Tried a fast? What do you think?


What Happened When Our Family Quit “Media” {Part Two}

Hey! Glad you’re here! In case you missed yesterday’s post, I’d love for you to click back and check it out before reading on. It might be helpful for following along. Maybe. 

When our family decided to give media the Heisman for 40 days, I hoped it would just create some breathing space for us and for our kids. I could tell the desire to play a computer game or watch an episode of this or that was constantly tugging on my children’s heartstrings. And it pains me to see a beautiful, verdant backyard waiting for their feet to run across it, and to see them staring at a screen instead.

We needed to act, and with a little push from A. W. Tozer, we ripped it off like a bandaid. The quick way, not the slow, super painful way.

I knew the journey would be occasionally challenging, but mostly good and healthy, and it absolutely was. The good part. Less challenging than I expected, and more fulfilling than I imagined.

Shall we jump into some of the observations I made in the process?

Library Blake

1. First, I can use media to engage my children, or I can engage myself in the art of raising them. {Ouch}

Getting real honest here. It’s painful. In our house, I was leaning on TV like a cheap babysitter. On tough days, in a pinch, I’d let the two-year-old stare at episode after episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on a laptop because I’d rather have her “managed” than actually train her about how she needs to behave so that she can learn to entertain herself and play nicely while homeschool is happening.

My new term for giving a kid a media fix when they are behaving badly? Aiding and abetting.

Like the previously mentioned screen in the car, I sometimes put something on instead of engaging with my kids to help them learn how to be patient while we travel from place to place, or while they are between activities and need to entertain themselves.

I wonder if perhaps, for quite some time, we (as a society) have been using TV as a babysitter at home, instead of helping our kids learn how to function when we can’t personally be involved in entertaining them. And isn’t the natural consequence then that they can’t behave at a restaurant, or church, or in the classroom, or in other situations where they’re not being entertained?

Food for thought?

2. When they’re not being entertained, my kids are capable of some really amazing stuff.

Of course I think my children are ahhhmazing, but at the same time, I also think they’re just regular kids. Once we stopped overloading their tiny regular brains with someone else’s ideas, somehow it seemed like our kids’ imaginations went into super-tastic-overdrive. Their imaginative play just skyrocketed to a whole new level.

They already had different names for themselves and each other depending on whether they were baby cheetah cubs, dogs, cats, wolves, or superheroes. But now, there was so much more. Just one example? They now have seriously awesome superpowers like sticky jelly, a super-powerful shield (like Captain America) and “meat and fruit.” (Like no superhero ever before, I think. Still haven’t figured that one out yet.)

My six-year-old began writing dozens of creative stories that I think are almost publishable. Not because I said, “Hey, kid, go write a story” but because he felt like it, grabbed his journal and his markers, and just wrote, and illustrated, these incredible stories where he and his fellow superheroes solve problems, like the moon turning green, with their incredible rainbow rocket and their superpowers. And it’s a cliffhanger, but don’t worry! They make it back to earth long before they run out of oxygen, with plenty of time to drink their chocolate milk.

The boys are also waiters at their own restaurant, the Rainbow Star, and they invite visitors to select items off their impressive menu to enjoy. You better take them seriously when they give you the bill. Our babysitters have commented on how impressive their imaginations are, and one specifically drew the correlation between their ability to entertain themselves and our limits on traditional media entertainment — without me discussing what we were doing.

3. Books and Magazines are way underrated. Because truly? They’re awesome.

The adults in the family, as well as the kiddos, are now enjoying books like never before. Our eldest pours through the Nat Geo Kids and Rick Jr. magazines (we suggested these as birthday/Christmas gifts) when they hit the mailbox. The younger two are asking to be read to more, looking through and enjoying books on their own more, and listening more politely when the eldest reads with them. Everyone is excited about trips to the library and nearly every library book is read and read and read and read before it gets returned. We grownups sometimes go to bed and just read quality stuff now, which is wonderful… more on that in a moment.

(And, as you saw in the picture above, the Tank is hoping they’ll let him move in at the local library.)

4. Sleep is also way underrated. (And also? It’s awesome.)

You know those well-worn paths I told you about yesterday? One of ours went something like this. We decide we will watch something once we get the kids to bed, and then we’ll get in bed early. We get the kids to bed, then it takes us half an hour to find something we actually think is worthwhile watching. We comment to each other that we feel like we’re digging through the trash looking for something to watch on Amazon or iTunes. We are not cable subscribers, so the TV doesn’t dictate what we’re going to watch or when. From Parenthood to This Old House, every episode is always a choice, and we really like that. (And we like avoiding the commercials.)

We occasionally decide — even though this sometimes feels like a totally ridiculous waste of time to us — to watch something we’ve already seen because it is more appealing than anything else we’ve found. We have some pretty strict limits on what we’re willing to watch based on theme, content, and rating, (not just for the kids, but also for us adults) so that crosses a good bit of potential viewing content off the list for us. But let’s get to that thought another time.

We finally find something to watch after wasting 30 minutes looking, so we start the movie later than we intended. We pause around the halfway mark to pop our own popcorn (with one of these super cool stove top turny thing poppers, because you guys know that microwave popcorn is honest-to-goodness horrible for you, right?) and, without fail, when the movie finishes, it’s much later than we wanted to get in bed.

So? We hurry ourselves to bed to get some shut-eye, and we start the following day tired, irritated, and less-than-our-best, all because we wanted to include a little entertainment in our schedule the night before. The morning feels rushed, and we nearly always regret staying up late to watch something the night before.

It’s a well-worn trail that I feel like a dufus for taking over and over.

Since we decided to take a break from entertainment altogether, we began creating this new pattern where we have a little bedtime snack, and actually get in bed before 9:00. We read a little more, we chat, and we turn the lights out at a reasonable hour. And man, we sure feel a lot better in the morning.

Okay. Now this Scripture I’m going to include here might feel a little fire and brimstone, but bear with me — think about these words, and consider the possibility that it is, at the very least, a partially accurate characterization of our society at present:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3: 1-7, emphasis mine)

Do we love ourselves? How many selfies are being posted online every day? Do we love money? Well, we love the stuff we can buy with it. We love our trips to Starbucks and our new clothing and our Pinterest-inspired homes, right? Do we occasionally celebrate a lack of self-control with phrases like, “I saw it and I just couldn’t resist! {smiley face} #spoiled”?

Press on, though — the part that gets me the most: always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. We are so, so very educated as a society. At least, we have the opportunity to be incredibly well-educated. And we have access to a wealth of information, not just in our local libraries but also right at our own fingertips with access to the internet.

But how many of us are spending our media time watching ourselves and our friends on Facebook, watching TV that will teach us very little, or clicking over to see thirty-seven photos of celebrities we remember from our childhood? Do we feel proud when we actually read an entire article on current events from the New York Times, so much so that we share it on Facebook, even if it wasn’t that great?

Watch the news for half an hour, and you’ll probably get the same sense: while we might have access to a wealth of information, we’re not necessarily, as a society, getting any wiser.

But. Good News. The Good News is still the Good News, dear ones: God loves us anyway. His grace is unending and able to cover our mess.

But then how are we going to respond to the gift of grace? Will we say thanks and ask to return to our regularly scheduled program?

Well, you’re the one holding the metaphorical remote control for your life.

While I’m not suggesting everyone needs to leave their TV by the curb and never open Facebook again, I hope the anecdotal evidence I’ve shared with you from personal experience will inspire you to consider your relationship (and perhaps your children’s relationship) with media.

This is your one wonderfully precious life — would you be bummed if you got to the end of it and found out you’d spent 37% of your waking hours staring at a screen for entertainment?

The reward for making some hard-but-good changes around the Collie house has been significant. We feel like we have more time. We’re getting better sleep. Our kids are watching less, reading more, and often behaving better as a result.

When I asked the Hero Hubs what he thought the biggest benefit of our media fast was, he answered with one word: Perspective.

Stand two inches away from the canvas, and you will see a blur of colors and not much else. Step back a few feet, and the beautiful scenery created in one of Monet’s Water Lillies might stir your heart or move your jaw a little closer to the floor.

Sometimes you genuinely cannot get a good glimpse of something without stepping back. But step back, and you might find yourself overwhelmed by a new perspective — a gift you can’t put a price tag on.

What happened when our family “quit media” for a while? In a nutshell, I’d say we saw our lives, our kids, our time, and our purpose a little more clearly.

Maybe the hardest changes are the ones the produce the sweetest fruits.


P.S. After receiving lots of comments and questions following these posts, I’ve realized I haven’t actually explained where we’ve decided to draw the lines on media now that our fast is done! I’ll be posting on that soon, so stay tuned! 😉