Dinner Delivered, Grace Received

About an hour ago, a precious woman from our church stopped by our house to drop off a home-cooked meal for us to enjoy for dinner.  Beef and corn casserole and all the fixings (think Frito pie…perfect for this dreary day we’re having).  Along with the casserole, she delivered a spinach salad.  Jello and brownies.  And an extra dinner salad for us to use later this week.  

Why?  

Just because.  

She messaged me on Facebook about two weeks ago asking if she could do this for my family.  

The “old me” (a/k/a me before we turned our lives upside down last summer) would have said, 

“Oh, that’s so sweet!  But I’m sure you’ve got other things to do.  I really appreciate the offer, but that’s so not necessary!”  

Yes, that’s what the “old me” would have said.  (She was ridiculous.)    

But I’ve come to understand something these last seven months about people who offer us their help.  They do so because (get this) THEY WANT TO HELP.  

And guess what?  We don’t have to be knee deep in a crisis to accept their offer!

So instead of thanking her for the gesture and then turning her down (which is a byproduct of the fact that, by nature, I’m a “doer” and a control freak), I eagerly said,

“Yes!  We would love that!  When can you come?”

And we scheduled it for this evening.  

But what neither of us knew when we made this date was that today, I would have a child home sick from school and would not be feeling well myself.  And we didn’t know that my niece and nephew would be spending the evening with us because my sister and her husband are moving into a new house today.  Yes, what I thought would be a typical Tuesday has, instead, been a day full of unexpected twists and turns.  

The meal would have been a blessing either way.  But it’s extra sweet today because I’m exhausted, one of my children doesn’t feel well, and I have extra mouths to feed this evening!

And so I ask you…

Do you struggle to accept help from others?  If so, why?  consider saying “yes” the next time an offer of help comes your way.  Whether you’re in desperate need of it or not.  Whether you think you deserve it or not.  Why not see it as an opportunity to experience a tangible expression of God’s grace in your life?  

On the other hand, how might you bless someone else with a kind gesture in the coming days?  Don’t underestimate the power of small acts of kindness.  To you they may seem small and insignificant, but to someone else, they may be HUGE!

The Priority Our Marriage Needs

Kory has said it in a recent sermon.  I mentioned it in response to a question while serving on the women’s panel during worship.  We’ve talked about it in the Bible study we led together the past seven weeks.  We’ve referenced it over the years countless times as we’ve mentored other young families through parenting curriculum.  And we spent time with a More Than Moms group just this week talking about it again.  

Because we’re wrapping up a seven week sermon series on marriage at church, it’s been on my heart incessantly.  And I’m passionate about it.  So I’m going to share it again here for my own benefit and the hope that it might bless you too.  

Are you ready?  

If we want to be the very best parent we can be, we must first be the very best spouse we can be.  

Said differently

We will never be a better parent to our children than we are a spouse to our husband or wife.  

As a result, our marriage must be the priority relationship within our family.  After our personal relationship with Christ, our marriage must take precedence over all other relationships, including the relationship between parent and child.

I believe this with all my heart, and my heart breaks when I see entire households struggling because the marriage component of the family unit is breaking down.  

I won’t pretend that Kory and I have this down perfectly.  We don’t.  And we are constantly working on improving the quality of our marriage by trying to get better in areas where we are weak.  

I also won’t pretend to understand the hurts that men and women in broken marriages are experiencing, nor can I begin to grasp the unique challenges that single parents face while raising their children.  But I believe this principle applies to all of us with children, whether we’re married or single.  It’s just that the application is different.

Make no mistake about it.  Our kids need to see us engaged in healthy adult relationships.  Period.  

Whether we’re single or married, this begins with our relationship with God.  

If we’re single, this continues by modeling healthy relationships with other adults, whether it’s a person we’re dating, or our family and friends.

If we’re married, it can and should involve these other adult relationships, but our marriage should be the priority relationship in our family.

This isn’t easy.  And it requires work.  Everyday.  And no doubt that we’ll all go through seasons where the quality of our relationship with our spouse ebbs and flows.  

But so often, the couples we’ve counseled who are struggling, admittedly struggle because they’ve let their children become the center of the family.  

This usually happens over time, not overnight.  And it most always occurs in the name of good parenting.  No doubt it’s well-intentioned.  But it’s also subtle.  It sneaks up on us.  And before we know it, we realize we’re in a marriage with little to no spiritual, emotional, or physical intimacy.

The unfortunate reality is that while we may spend tons of effort catering to the needs of our children, what they really need is to know with assurance that mom and dad love each other and that we’re committed to one another.  

Indeed, we are the head and the heart of our families, and we need to act like it.  We need to function in such a way that, through our relationship, our children see tangible expressions of the fruits of the spirit.

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. And self-control.

Every day.    

It’s a tall order.  But there are some things we can do as “preventive medicine,” to increase the quality of our physical, spiritual, and emotional oneness as married people.  These practices will allow us to enjoy the fulness of God’s design for our marriages and bless our children all at the same time, even in the throws of the most challenging parenting years.  And they will help us keep our marriage the priority in our families.

There are countless ideas we could include on this list, but Kory and I put our heads together, and this is our Top Eleven:

1.  Pray together and for one another.

2.  Schedule standing date nights every week if possible.

3.  Practice “couch time.”  (This is a concept we learned during a parenting class years ago.  It involves 15 minutes of conversation between husband and wife at the beginning or end of the day in front of, but not including, the children.  This serves as a tangible reminder that mom and dad’s relationship is the priority relationship in the home.)

4.  Get out of town together, even if just for one or two nights, and even if just for an inexpensive road trip.

5.  Worship together.

6.  Join a couples Sunday School class or Bible study.

7.  Go to a marriage enrichment seminar or retreat once every 3 to 5 years.

8.  See a counselor 1 to 2 times a year whether you “need” to or not.

9.  Read marriage books together.

10. Find a hobby to share.

11. Spend time with other couples who share similar values.

There is no doubt that if we truly love our children, we will commit to make our marriage relationship a priority.  

Our children need to see us enjoy each other’s company, show affection to each other, laugh together, and do things together.  And when we do have disagreements, our children should observe us resolve those conflicts in a healthy way that demonstrates the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  

If we do this, our children will be richly blessed. 

Do you want to be the parent of your kids’ dreams?  Then love your spouse well.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” 

Genesis 1:27-31 (emphasis added).

 

 

Twenty Minutes of Teamwork

Yesterday, we made it to school on time.  Just barely.  When the clock turned to 7:45, and it was time to get in the car to head that direction, I had two kids standing in my kitchen.  

Both barefoot.

Neither with their hair combed.

One missing his belt.

And the other frantically looking for her lost library book.  

Kory and I sprung into action to move them along, and we made it.  Just barely. But we made it.

All of that to say, it’s a challenge to manage two careers, three children, a home, and all of the things that go along with it.  And school day mornings are a daily reminder of this harsh reality.

Kory and I admit that both of us would struggle to do it alone (and we applaud all of the single parents out there who are doing a mighty job).  We certainly couldn’t do it without God.  And you know what?  We couldn’t do it without the help of our kids either.

Being a family requires teamwork.  Period.

Yes, we require work from our kids around the house.  And they don’t get paid for it.  Instead, we treat it as the “sweat equity” they must invest for the privilege of being a member of our family.  A member of our “team.”  

Of course, they have daily responsibilities relative to their own personal space.  They are expected to make their beds, take care of their personal hygiene, and clean their rooms daily.  Our two oldest children are now doing their own laundry (the youngest with supervision).  And if we notice our kids enjoying free time after school or on the weekends before these tasks have been completed, we will simply ask them,

“Have you earned the freedom to play?”

But that’s not the kind of work I’m talking about here.

In addition to these personal chores, we believe contributions to the family at large are really important.  Practically, it helps Kory and I manage the home, particularly now that we have two kids over the age of five who are quite capable of pitching in.  But emotionally and spiritually, it also helps our kids invest in our family.  It strengthens our family identity.  And it conjures a sense of gratitude for all the work that goes into making our world turn.  

But we don’t have a chore list. We’ll admit we couldn’t keep up with one. It’s just one more thing to manage, and we would fail.  We would lack consistency in its enforcement.  And everyone would get frustrated.

So instead of keeping a chore list, when we’re working around the house, we simply survey what needs to be done, and we ask our kids to help.  The work gets done faster, and because we’re often doing it together, it’s more fun.

We refer to one of the ways in which we’ve implemented this strategy as “Twenty Minutes of Teamwork.”  And we adjust the time to whatever suits the task at hand.  Sometimes we do Ten Minutes of Teamwork.  Other times we do Thirty Minutes of Teamwork.  But regardless of the time allotted, the idea is to get as much work done as possible before the oven timer goes off.  

Last Sunday, I used this strategy before we hopped in the car to go to church.  We were ahead of schedule for a change, and we had precisely 13 minutes to spare.  I knew that we had a busy afternoon ahead of us, and the house was a wreck.  So I called the kids to the sofa and told them we were going to work to tidy things up for 13 minutes before getting in the car.  I set the kitchen timer, and the kids headed off to start working on the tasks I had assigned.  As my daughter headed upstairs with a handful of items that needed to be put away, she said to all of us,

“Let’s work at Pancake Speed!”  

And because she said the magic words, my boys sprung into action.  We managed to get the entire kitchen clean, all the laundry put away, the items at the bottom of the stairs stored, and the living areas tidied up in 13 minutes!  And when we got home from church, not much remained to be done.  

We assign work in other ways too.  Sometimes, we give them a task and a deadline such as before they go to bed or by the end of the weekend.  Other times, out of necessity, we give them a task and request that it be done immediately.  And when they want to earn some money, we will come up with tasks that we’re willing to pay them for.  But we’ve found that Twenty Minutes of Teamwork is working beautifully for those times when there’s a lot to be done and a tendency for us all to get a little overwhelmed.  Coupled with Pancake Speed, it’s amazing what we can accomplish as a family!

How do you involve your children in work around the house?

 

Right Away. All The Way. And In A Happy Way!

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from one of our church staff members who works in the day school that our youngest son attends three days each week.  She was writing to ask me about the “three-point behavioral system” we use with our kids and that Kory referenced in one of his recent sermons.  She couldn’t recall the phrase, and she wanted to share it with the teachers at the school.  (Or maybe, she needed to use it on our son, and she didn’t have the heart to tell me! Ignorance is bless, I tell ya!)

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten this question from someone who’s either heard Kory share this phrase in a sermon or who has witnessed us use it with one of our kids, so I thought I would share it here.  We learned it in the second parenting class we took as young parents, Preparation for the Toddler Years, written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, and it’s proven to be one of the very best tools we’ve been given as parents.  My hope is that, through this post, it might bless another family with young children in the same way that it’s blessed us.

The principle is called “First Time Obedience.”  That is, when training our children, we can expect them to obey our instructions the first time they are given.  

And to help us train our children to First Time Obedience as little ones, we were taught to use this phrase:

“Right Away.  All the Way.  And in a Happy Way.”

But let me be more specific.

First, we expect our children to obey our instructions Right Away.  That means immediately.  Not when we count to three.  Not when it’s convenient for them.  And not in five minutes when they feel like it or after they’ve been threatened with a consequence.  (We also expect them to come to us when we call their names, and we expect an oral response such as “coming mom.”  Right now, our littlest one is taking me to task on this component of First Time Obedience by saying, “I’m not here!” when I call his name.  Ugh.  There’s always a new challenge presented in parenting!)

Second, we expect our kids to obey us All the Way.  That means exactly as we instructed.  Without modification based on their own preferences.  And with good effort (but not perfection).

And third, we expect our kids to obey us in a Happy Way.  That means without huffing.  Without puffing.  Without negotiation.  And without complaint.

We found that using this phrase when they were young was really helpful because it’s catchy and it rhymes.  This made it easy for our kids to memorize and recite it at a very early age.  And when we taught it to each of our children, we counted to three using our fingers as we recited the three points.  The symbol for the number “three” became a symbol for our expectations regarding obedience, and we could use it from across a room without saying a word.  And it worked…most of the time.  

No doubt we’re in the throws of training our littlest one regarding First Time Obedience.  And right now, at his ripe old age of three, we are struggling mostly with the “Right Away” component.  But we’re working on it.  Thankfully, we have two other children who, for the most part, have this aspect of First Time Obedience down, and they serve as great reminders that our hard work will eventually pay off!  Someday.

As our two oldest have grown, we’ve found using the phrase “Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way” is helpful in a different way than when they were pre-schoolers.  Because as they’ve grown, when they are disobedient, it has become more subtle.  Usually, it’s less about whether they do what we ask (because usually they do obey the first time) and more about how they carry out our instructions.  I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about!

Are they rolling their eyes?  (Sigh.)  Did they slam a door?  (Gasp!)  Are they negotiating with us like we’re engaged in a real estate transaction?  (Seriously?)  Or are they downright arguing with us?  (Who do they think they are? Lawyers?)  The three point phrase allows us to break down their responses to our instruction, and it helps us to identify the root of the problem we’re dealing with so that our consequences can be appropriately tailored to deal with that particular issue rather than something else.  (Some of the Bible stories we’ve used with our kids to break down the standard of Biblical obedience are 1 Samuel 3:1-10, which I referenced in a different context here, and the story of Jonah.)

But First Time Obedience is useful beyond child training too.  It’s an excellent standard to set for ourselves, isn’t it?  Because Biblical obedience is done Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way.  Whether we are 3, 33, or 103.  And that’s the context in which Kory has shared it in his sermons.  

So…

Do we struggle to obey God’s word Right Away?  Do we struggle to obey God’s word All the Way?  Or do we struggle to obey God’s word in a Happy Way?  

I’ll go first.  

I’m a rule follower by nature.  And, sad to say, I’m somewhat of a legalist too.  So I usually do what I’m supposed to do, and generally speaking, I do it fairly quickly after acknowledging that it’s the right thing to do.  But as I shared here a few weeks ago, I (a/k/a Ursula the Sea Witch) don’t always do it in a Happy Way.  That’s where I struggle the most.  And that’s where God continues to work on me…thank goodness.

How about you?

“Do everything without complaining and arguing.” 

Philippians 2:14