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?

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.

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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.

xCC

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!

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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?

xCC

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?

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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.

xCC 

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! 😉

What Happened When Our Family “Quit Media”

It’s been a bit quiet around here. Here being the Collie house. And it’s been a really good quiet.

Back in February, I was reading a great book by A.W. Tozer — The Root of the Righteous — and I was challenged deeply to think about the place I give media and entertainment in my life.

In one chapter, Tozer discusses a dulling, even numbing effect, which entertainment can have on our souls. It can become an addiction, sought after like a drug, numbing to the moral conscience — an escape. But what are we using it to escape? A life we’re not content with? Time thinking about the deeper purposes of our lives? Problems which escape will never fix? There was so much food for thought I read the chapter again and again, impressed with some new thought or conclusion each time.

It eventually brought about a decision — discussed of course with one Hero of a Hubs — that over Lent we would take a break from media. We’d slice our beloved together-on-the-couch movie night, scrap the occasional watching of an episode of something we find worth watching on Amazon Prime, and curb our web-surfing enthusiasm to only specifically searching for things like “Chicken Enchiladas Recipe” or “testing your soil for gardening” (happened). We also decided — other than keeping an eye on the Quiver Tree Photography page — we’d send Facebook packing.

And? Our 6, 4, and 2 year-old kids were coming along for the ride.

Library Blake

We returned from our recent adventure to visit HH’s folks in South Africa, and a week later, it was time for Operation Media Fast to begin. Within a day or two, I began to feel aware of what a pull my phone had on me. How often I had to glance at it just to be doing something, because… because nothing really! Because HH had gotten off the couch to go to the bathroom or because I just had a moment between this and that.

If you ever find yourself in the southern hemisphere, out in the bush on the back of a Land Rover hoping to view game, you might see the well-worn trails that certain animals are taking each day. Perhaps to a favorite feeding spot or a source of water, you’ll spot a worn down stripe of trampled brown grass leading off into the distance, enveloped on each side by verdant strips of green. These signs make it clear: some creature, or group of creatures, walks this path and walks it often.

I quickly began to recognize some of those worn-down trails in my own life: habits I never gave a second thought, to peek at Facebook for no particular reason and distract myself for half a second (which can turn into ten minutes) away from the present reality, or to check email when it’s not a good time to respond to email — so why check?

Within the first week, it seemed like there were pockets of time in my day that could’ve been used more productively, but I saw: they had been given over regularly to brief, sporadic, but consistent moments of distraction.

By week two, the kids weren’t asking quite so often to play with the Nook or see the Wild Kratts. (The gentle reply was usually, “We’re just taking a little break from that remember?”)

By week four, the once-default question when we’re all tucked into the mini-van was seldom heard: “Can we watch something?” became a rarity. The kids began to actually play or talk or just enjoy the scenery in the car, and, yes, sometimes they’d fight, but instead of turning something on to keep them engaged, I started choosing to engage myself to address the behavior that’s undesirable in them.

One of the hardest things for me to observe was a sudden, increased awareness of how much media is coming out of my kids. How many lines from how many movies they’re able to quote by heart. They recite scenes back and forth. They can say three words and I immediately know: that’s Curious George the movie, or that’s Despicable Me 2.

It’s not that they’re swearing or even being rude (most of the time) — but it really makes me sad because it demonstrates the potential their minds have to absorb incredible wealths of information very quickly.

What kind of water am I pouring for my little sponges to soak up?

Jen Hatmaker recently shared at a conference I attended that, in Jesus’ day, kids the same age as my oldest two… Were memorizing the Torah. Guys. That is the first five books of the Old Testament.

Memorized.

Our kids have so many advantages — the assistance of technology to help them learn, access to a world of knowledge at their fingertips, and nutrition leagues beyond what kids those days would’ve had to help feed their growing brains.

But, as a society, what are we doing? Well, we’re often feeding their bodies junk, and feeding their minds junk, too.

Not saying Curious George the movie is awful. Just asking — is it really profitable enough to let them watch it over and over? And over?

Why have I allowed them to see it so many times they’ve memorized it? More important, what could they be memorizing instead?

At the end of the media-free time, I seriously felt like our family had changed for the better. Like something that had a hold on us had broken. Our kids were different. Our schedules felt different. Our health felt different. Our marriage even felt better.

Now that we’ve made it through those 40 days without media, and we’ve continued to limit our media intake, I think I have at least a half dozen observations to share about the journey, so I’m going to hit the pause button here, and resume with more observations tomorrow.

But, in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion, allow me to leave you with some questions to ponder, if you will:

1) How much time do you think you spend thinking about the shows you watch or the things you see on Facebook when you aren’t actually engaged with that media? If you set a stop watch and observed for a day, do you think you’d be surprised?

2) How likely are you to plan real-life engagement with actual people around the timing of media events? (i.e., “The game” or “my show” comes on Wednesday at 7 so I really would rather plan for Thursday.)

3) How often do you rob yourself of an honest-to-goodness good night’s sleep because you’ve fallen into the trap of watching something and you just have to know how it ends?

4) Does discussion about what media is going to be consumed create arguments in your household? Remote wars, anyone?

Here’s the thing, friends. Entertainment is a stronghold. It’s a well-worn path in our society. Do we need to ask ourselves if it should be? To what extent are we willing to give it a place in our lives?

While the diversions we enjoy might be useful as an occasional source of relaxation, you can be sure your destiny isn’t waiting for you on the other side of the third season of Parenthood. But your real life might be waiting for you to give it some serious thought, and decide what purpose you really want to live for.

Join me tomorrow as I share a little more about this journey?

I’d love for you to stay tuned… 😉

xCC

 

On Tooth Pirates, and Why You Have Permission to Write Your Own Story

Funny thing about life I’ve observed lately. At least about mine. A lot of the things that I love and cherish about my life’s story happened when I decided to go against the grain. The times when “normal” meant one thing, but my path looked different. Taking the route that sometimes felt more difficult often brought about results I’m really grateful for.

Like when normal was I just finished my Masters’ degree, it’s time to start applying for ‘real jobs’ that have something to do with what I spent five years at university for, my path was to work for a year at a Pawn Shop and then leave the country.

When normal was you’ve been awarded a scholarship for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, my path was I’m a new Mom and I think we’re about to leave the country (again) so, after a year of pushing at this thing, I think I’m supposed to set it down and move on.

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When normal was your almost-five-year-old is ready for public school, our story was get your boots on, Mama, you’ve got some homeschooling to prepare for.

Considering this, I look back and wonder how many times I sort of unquestioningly went with the flow instead of stopping to ask — is this the path for me?

About six weeks ago, a tiny little wiggle threw me into some deep parenting thoughts that relate to the topic at hand. Our six-year-old’s first wiggly tooth — a milestone he’d long awaited — signaled we were entering a bit of a new zone. I wasn’t planning on crying or keeping all his tiny teeth in some tin can to return to him at some suitably embarrassing moment. But I suddenly realized this meant we were about to enter the arena of The Tooth Fairy.

I wasn’t so pumped about that idea.

Here’s the thing.

First, I almost never have cash in my wallet. If teeth start dropping, that’s a real inconvenience. Second, I will soon have four children in my care. Do I really like the idea of putting money under a pillow for every. single. tooth. from. every. single. kid? And closely related to that thought — are we going to end up being the cheap parents? Is he going to chat with his buds on the playground and discover they’re all getting a fiver and he’s getting fifty cents?

And one more problem. He is on a top bunk with a little brother below him who is a light sleeper. Does this mean I will have to sneak into their room 28 times? In the dark? To try to find a tooth under a pillow?

What if I want him to get matchbox car or a chocolate treat instead of this being a financial transaction?

Plus, we once visited this village in southern England and there were fairies all over the place, in every store window throughout the town, and it was clear that it was like, a thing. Like, a religious thing. Something about that made me very itchy, so forgive me if I offend you, but I’m not a big fan of fairies.

I realized I needed a different story.

So I did what I usually do with ideas. I pondered it in my mind for about six weeks, thinking I better get to working on some kind of tooth fairy alternative. I procrastinated it until the tooth that wiggled and wobbled and jiggled and joggled for ages actually fell out — wowzers, I really had time to write a novel. And then the tooth was out and I said, “Heck! I need to do something!”

So I scooted off to sign some paperwork in town and cruised through the Piggly Wiggly on the way home. (Yes, that is also a thing, right here in Eastern North Carolina.) I picked up a bag of gummy worms and buried my face in my laptop as soon as I got home.

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The results were a ballad of about 16 stanzas, introducing The Tale of the Wee Tooth Pirates. I won’t beladen you with its entirety, but here are a few stanzas to give you a good feel of it:

“In some landlubber neighborhoods
not too far from lake or from sea,
there travel a band of captains–
just as ruthless as they are wee.

These sea dogs shove off for one reason.
Lean closer, I’ll tell ya the truth.
Their Jolly Roger flies for this mission:
Collecting a freshly lost tooth.

The Pirates will come while yer sleeping,
to make peace with yer Mum or yer Dad,
and they’ll discuss the terms for surrender,
a good trade for the tooth that you had.

Negotiations can go on for hours;
it depends on the worth of the tooth.
They might offer coins or chocolate,
stickers, or a wee pile of loot.

I introduced a few ideas, like a Piratey Tooth Report Card, putting the tooth in a shoe by the fireplace instead of under the pillow (since the Pirates are too small to reach the bed) and remembering to brush since A tooth with a bucket of cavities sure won’t earn a bucket of loot!

Before bed on the night of the Lost Tooth, we read the story (which I printed out and glued into a folded slice of a cereal box to make it a “book”) and I was immediately overjoyed to hear the Bear hoping for a box of crayons or something other than dollar bills.

He was overjoyed the next morning when the Pirates traded ten points on his bike chart (he’s earning a new bike this summer) and a bag of gummy worms for his tiny tooth.

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And I was overjoyed because Hero Hubs and I decided to write our own story, instead of falling into one that we didn’t really like, just because it was what everybody does. HH totally got into it and instead of the little Pirate report card I designed and planned to print out and fill in, he pulled a little piece of wood out of his stash in the shed, and I scribbled on it and he burned the edges.

We won’t do that every time, in case you’re wondering. Some Pirate report cards may be scribbled on the inside of a cereal box, kind of like their story. Different Pirates, different methods of delivery, right?

So. This is really the Sermon in a Nutshell, Moms, Dads, and children of all ages: You have permission to write your own story. Don’t forget that. Even though it can sometimes seem like you’re a salmon in a pond full of trout, heading in the wrong direction, you have the brains and the wherewithal to decide that this is the direction you need to go.

For your life. For your marriage. For your children. It is not always going to look how it looks for everyone else — and if it does always look how it does for everybody else, maybe that’s a cause for a alarm. (?!)

Whether it’s as big as a transcontinental adventure or as small as a decision about a Tooth Fairy, remember just letting life happen to you often means you’re not actually making the things that you want to happen happen. Yes, I made happen happen three times in that sentence. Forgive me.

Give yourself permission to mark out your own path, friends. And know that sometimes, that really means dropping anchor and listening closely to the Captain of your soul.

xCC

 

 

On Motherhood, Big Collie Family News, and Flowers in the Carport

I’m so glad I didn’t miss the moment. He ran in with big eyes and a happy face — Mom, I made something for you! Come see! Sometimes I’m tempted make excuses because I have other things to do, but this time, somehow, thankfully I knew better.

He led me out the door, and into the carport, where he’d created a flower arrangement for me in the wagon. One flower from a beautiful blooming dogwood tree, one azalea, two different camellias, and a wild flower from the yard, thrown in for good measure.

I grab my phone to make sure I capture the moment.

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We bring the flowers inside and they float in a bowl and make me smile for a couple of days.

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My eldest, these days, I smile and shake my head when I think of him. I’m so proud of the sweet little young man he is becoming. He cares about making good choices and is genuinely remorseful when he makes mistakes. I marvel as he adds four digit numbers to four digit numbers faster than he can tie his shoes.

I grin from ear to ear reading the creative writing stories he scribbles into his green composition journal. His illustrations are so creative, I just can’t help but smile, breathe a deep sigh and soak it in. We play card games and laugh at how many times one of us has won, and the other hasn’t.

When I stop to think about it, this has been six years of amazing.

The precious little fellow in the middle. A wild card — I never know what to expect. At times he is so tender, so incredibly gentle. We snuggle up in his bed to read two books before his nap every day. Then I tickle his back and sing two songs. Last week he offered to tickle my back and sing me two songs instead. I often make up the songs as I go, so he followed suit, and the results were hilarious.

Sometimes when he wakes up in the morning, his big eyes stare straight through his Dad and me, it’s as if he visited another planet over night and he’s returned, completely speechless. He cracks unexpected jokes and we all laugh.

Four years of my heart just melting over and over, with this little guy.

And the baby girl. We find ourselves saying “This is the best” almost every day. The moment when she’s just woken up, and she hugs one of us with both arms, both legs, her head tucked up under our chins. Or the moment when I’m laying her down for her nap and her voice just coos like a dove, “I wuv hyu, Mama.” I’ve left her room in tears before. Overwhelmed. It’s just so precious.

She is also feisty and cheeky and still so often needs to be reigned in. So full of big emotions in such a tiny frame. It’s impossible to tickle her and watch her giggle and not feel like your own heart is about to burst. She was the gift that arrived four months before I knew I needed her, and has been giving joy by the bucketload to HH and to me ever since.

Two years of delight. Two years of joy with this one.

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The thing about parenthood that has surprised me the most has been the gifts I’ve received in the process. A card that the eldest wrote me, full of kindness, love and thoughtful words, holds a place in my Bible. The hilarious moments the middle one has created with a funny comment or joke, I try to write them down, so that I can go back and enjoy them again. I knew parenthood was going to be about giving. I knew I’d be making sacrifices. I just never realized how incredible the return on investment would be.

Two years ago, we put a hand-me-down “big sister” t-shirt on our four-month-old baby girl as an April Fool’s Day joke. Some folks were congratulatory, some folks joked, and some folks were pretty honest about saying they thought we were crazy.

But parenthood has a way of being a bit like a flower arrangement in the wagon in the carport. You have to get up, go looking for the moments.

Moses was out with the sheep — and he had to turn aside from what he was doing to go see that burning bush. And he didn’t immediately recognize it as holy ground — the voice of God spoke to him, Take off your shoes.

The eldest is reading stories he wrote to his two younger siblings. This is holy ground. 

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I’m so thankful to look back at the example of my Mother, who has never stopped laboring, right from the day I was born. Labors of love, one after another, her gifts to me and my siblings. Selfless. Tireless. Continuously generous. Thank you, Mama. This is what it looks like to pour yourself out in love — we are privileged recipients.

Lord, help me love these children like my Mama loved me.

Although we don’t live in the biggest house or drive the nicest cars in town, we feel like we’re about the richest family in our little town, because these three children are ours, and they’re like those flowers in the carport. It takes effort — at times, it’s doggedly hard. But be still, take off your shoes, look carefully and see — there are so many gifts in this journey called parenthood. I could start counting and I’d run out of paper before I ran out of gifts on the list.

Sometimes you have to turn aside to see your gifts, friends. Take off your shoes and see the holy in your every day. There are flowers in your carport too — you might just need to make a little effort to see them.

And around late October? We’re looking forward to an exponential increase in joy. We’ll be unwrapping the gift of one more little person joining our family.

We’re excited, we’re thrilled and we’re not April Foolin’ this time.

Here’s to bucketloads more flowers in our carport.

xCC