Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Beatitudes for Parents

Photo credit puritani35 on Flickr
The Sermon on the Mount has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  Recently I have been drawn to reading it over and over.  While I believe that it applies to all of our relationships, I feel there is a special richness to discover if we look at it as parents.

Matthew 5:3-13
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is Kingdom of Heaven." ~ NIV, NASB
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." ~ The Message
"Happy, spiritually, are the financially poor, because theirs is Heaven's Realm." ~ The Source

There is blessing and happiness in humility.  Our culture encourages parents to act from pride.  It views children as parental property, "less-than" adults in nearly every way.  That is not the way of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  In Jesus' Reign, the greater serves the lesser. 
What parent hasn't had moments (or days, or years...) when we have felt at the end of our rope?  As we acknowledge our dependence on God, we find peace, strength and wisdom to fulfill our calling as parents.  And, certainly, having children can be a factor in being financially poor! :p

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." ~ NIV, NASB
Happy is not the only acceptable emotion.  We can be authentic with our children.  We can mourn in the secure knowledge that God cares.  He comforts us without shaming or minimizing.  How are we teaching our children to deal with sadness and pain?  Do we comfort them?  Or do we ignore their cries, especially when inconvenient (sleep training, tantrums)?  Do we try to stop them from crying so that we won't be made uncomfortable ("Don't be a baby.  Big boys/girls don't cry.  You're OK.  Stop or I'll give you something to cry about! Here, I'm going to give you a cookie/toy/fun activity.")?  Will they really believe that God will comfort them if we tell them, either verbally or through our actions, that their sadness is not important enough to us for us to comfort them?

"Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth." ~ NASB
"Happy are those who are not angry or prone to temper, for they will inherit the earth." ~ The Source
How are we modeling gentleness with our children?  Meekness?  Jesus described Himself as gentle and humble in heart--would our children describe us that way?  Or do we justify pride and bullying behavior (hurting or shaming them when we don't get our own way) because "we are the parents"?  Do they see us as angry and prone to temper?

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied." ~ NASB
Are we consistently seeking right relationships with God and others?  That is the source of satisfaction for us.  Do our kids see us reading God's Word, praying and living out our faith in our attitudes and relationships?  Or do they see us indifferent to spiritual growth?

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." ~ NASB
Do our children wince at every mistake, waiting for our judgement and condemnation?  Do they fear to tell us the truth because they expect punishment?  Or do they see us showing mercy and compassion, coming alongside to help and encourage as we guide them?

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." ~ NIV
"Happy are those with purified minds, because they will see God." ~ The Source
Do we demonstrate pure hearts?  The character of Christ?  A passion for holiness and the fruit of the Spirit?  Or are there areas where we are still slaves to sin? Are our priorities in order? When we have hearts full of love, we see God's fingerprints all over the lives of our children.  When our perceptions become tainted by fear, selfishness and lack of wisdom, we become adversarial, seeing evil intent behind every action.  The more we seek Jesus' forgiveness ourselves (purifying our hearts), the more freely we will offer it to our little ones. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." ~ NIV
How do we teach our children to resolve conflicts?  Do they see us as peacemakers, reaching out to bring peace and heal breaks in a relationship?  Are we quick to apologize and make amends for our mistakes?  Do we try to see things from their point of view?  How does our relationship as children of our Heavenly Father teach us to parent?

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." ~ NIV
Do our children see us willing to do the right thing, even when it isn't convenient, even when it hurts our reputation?  How do we respond to insults?  What if our children say hurtful things?  Do we respond with hurt pride and anger, or do we check our conscience and respond with peace and confidence?  Are we willing to follow our convictions, despite insulting comments when our babies are "still" nursing, "still" waking at night, or when we respond with kindness instead of a smack on the rear, or do we find ourselves parenting more harshly in front of others to make ourselves look good?

Jesus never put on age limit on His teachings.  He never said, "Treat others the way you would want them to treat you, unless they are children."  There are no caveats that peace and gentleness, patience and kindness are only meant for adults in our lives.  Instead, He blessed the children.  As we follow His example, may we be a blessing to our children.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I am so, so excited.  Sarah from Under the Olive Branch has written a guest post!  If you haven't yet visited her blog, please head over there.  Although The Restoration of All Things finished, there are many more stories to be told!

Photo credit rante i on Flickr
One thing that stays on my heart is the way that people feel about themselves, and how much that has to do with what they are constantly told. Directly or indirectly.

People are not told enough, in no uncertain terms, that they are beautiful. Of course we all know that advertising, bad habits of comparing ourselves to others, and comments we hear from people about other people can pile up into a scary under-the-bed monster that comes out every so often just to remind us that beauty is still far from our grasp. Like a tiny purple flower growing on the peak of the world's highest mountain. We are required to pursue it while knowing full well that by the time we reach it's former home, frost bite will have long since destroyed it beyond all recognition.

And what are we armed with? Cliche phrases like, "True beauty comes from within.", and "But you are fearfully and wonderfully made!" Both of these are so true, that the actual realization of it in a glorious moment of understanding almost hurts. But how do you transfer that understanding to a dear friend as she lingers before the mirror a few moments longer, scrutinizing her every curve? Or to your sweet little cousin who simply won't be convinced that her freckles are lovely? Or even to yourself when you have a slight lapse into vanity and forget?

I don't mean to imply that this is solely a girl's conundrum. Plenty of guys struggle with what they look like as well.

Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too lanky. Wrong nose, wrong complexion, wrong eyebrows.

Don't even get me started on hair. I was "blessed" with curly hair that not one hair dresser on the planet knows what to do with. They just want to brush it. Then I have to turn sideways to get out the door.

The truth is that there aren't enough words to say that can convince a wounded spirit that she is beautiful. She (or he) has to be shown. We have grown up in a world where ugly is among the most fearful things we feel we could possibly be.

No. We have to show each other that beautiful is not something to be achieved by suddenly morphing into [insert gorgeous celebrity here]. It comes from embracing the person God made you to be.

A bottle of hair dye can be so much fun, and a new diet can be healthy.

But they are not what make you beautiful.

You aren't beautiful because you're taller than that one girl, or shorter than that other one.

Not because your hair outshines all the other hair in the land with it's glossiness.

Or because you have the perfect hourglass figure.


You are beautiful because you listen.

Because you sing.

Because you play.

Because you love.

Because you are you. The only you ever.

I want to encourage everyone not to deprive the world of themselves just because they are not a carbon copy of [again with the gorgeous pop star]. You were never meant to be anyone besides you.

I feel inclined here to quote a favorite band of mine called The Danielsons, who simply stated, "Be just who you're made to be, Poppa is so mighty pleased with thee." We are the Creator's creation. And He is well pleased with us. Who cares what society says about our ears or our waistlines or our hair? Of course we should take care of ourselves, but it is not society that gets to tell us what we are.

Photo credit markwy on Flickr
Beauty is when a friend calls at 5am and you are right there to listen without a second thought.

It's when you are tucking a little one in at night and sing to him after a long day.

It's a cup of coffee in your hands on the porch in the morning, just soaking in the sunrise.

It's those times in life when you get it right.

And those times when you get it horribly wrong, but you learn... and you get a second chance to get up and have another go.

We are beautiful because our lives are beautiful.

We are beautiful because God loves us.

Sarah Whitlock is married to her first kiss, Joseph, and is a Wielder of the Quill of Endearing Humor.  More of her writings are available at Under the Olive Branch.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What to Do When You Hate to Breastfeed

I wrote in my previous post my experience with nursing aversion.  It hit me out of the blue, because I was so deeply committed to child-led weaning.  It was so, so hard, both physically and emotionally.  We got through it, though, and I found that there were some specific things that helped.

Water.  I don't think I ever guzzled that much water in my life.  If I wasn't fully hydrated, nursing was excruciating.  I learned to drink all the time, even if I didn't feel thirsty.  It is easy to get so caught up in taking care of everything and everyone that you neglect yourself.  Don't.  My kidlets actually got into the habit of bringing my a glass of water when they asked to nurse.  :)

Rest.  Yeah, I know. It is the impossible dream, and you don't even sleep long enough to have a dream.  But seriously, make this a priority.  Your hormones, milk production and emotional ability to regulate yourself are all tied into this, so do what you have to do to make it happen.

Eliminate the worst nursing session.  I was so afraid of weaning when my milk supply was already next-to-non-existent that I didn't want to set limits.  However, I could see a pattern.  During the morning, I didn't really mind nursing.  Even night-wakings weren't bad.  It was the evening times when I was already drained (in every sense of the word) that were hardest.  So I let my husband take over.  It kept my sanity and willingness to nurse at other times, and helped my children and husband become closer than ever.

Buy new bras.  If my bras were loose at all, it made it much worse.  I took to wearing exercise bras 24/7.  Not a fan of the uniboob look, but it was so much more comfortable.

Let go of the guilt.  I felt like a terrible mother.  There was so much shame.  I loved my baby so much and wanted so sincerely to continue breastfeeding, yet my feelings and thoughts were so horrible.  In subsequent pregnancies, I refused to take on that burden of guilt.  Instead, I congratulated myself for being a loving mom, and for doing what I thought was best.  I also looked objectively at weaning, without berating myself or accusing myself of being false to my ideals.  I never did wean, but it was on the table as an option.

Watch hormones.  I found that the culprit behind my nursing aversion was estrogen.  Any time my estrogen levels would spike, so would the aversion to nursing.  Understanding that was a huge key for me.  I also found that when I eat soy or absorb too much lavender, my estrogen levels go up.  Completely eliminating soy from my diet and giving up my favorite lavender oil bath soak helped a lot.  If you are on hormonal birth control or other things are going on in your menstrual cycle, that can definitely trigger aversion.  Even knowing when it was the result of hormonal shifts instead of something else made it easier to bear and to see an end point to the aversion.

Talk to another tandeming mom.  Hearing that I was not the only mom to experience this helped so much.  Reading how common this was in Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower was good, too.  You are not alone, and this does not make you a bad mom.

Set limits if needed.  It is OK to cut short a nursing session if you need to, even if they cry.  Shower love, understanding and empathy, but feel free to maintain your limits.  Think of it this way: do you want to teach your children to ignore uncomfortable feelings in their body to please someone else?  On the other hand, if you have decided freely that this is something you believe is worth doing, then go ahead.  Some days, I cut back; other times, I want ahead and let them nurse as much as they wanted.  Most days were a bit of both.

Self-talk.  Tell yourself all the things you like about breastfeeding.  Remind yourself of the benefits.  Remind yourself how precious your nursling is.  Distract yourself during nursing sessions with a good book or some surfing.  Tell yourself all the reasons why you have a choice and this is right for you.  And if you stop believing it, then consider cutting back more.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

This too, shall pass.  It lasted about a year for me the first time.  It seemed like a long time, and I was worried that it would color all of my memories of nursing.  That was probably part of the reason I persisted--I hoped to someday get back to our previous enjoyment of nursing.  We did.  And once I figured out my triggers, it was much, much milder in subsequent pregnancies, and only lasted a few weeks.

At this point, I have been breastfeeding for more than seven years, and I figure I probably have at least three more to go.  Who knows?  I am not a martyr mom.  I know that breastfeeding can be tough, but I also know that it is so very, very worth it.  I am really, really glad that I persevered through the rough times and that the joy came back.  But I also know that there are many ways to show love to our children, and that weaning does not mean the end of our special bond.  It is just a new season of trust and sharing and love and joy.  Wherever you are on your breastfeeding journey, know that you have already given your child a tremendous gift. 

I Hated Breastfeeding

Yes, really.  I have been breastfeeding for more than seven years now, but for a year, I hated it.  Surprised?  Yeah, in all my posts about breastfeeding, I have never devoted one to nursing aversion.  Even when I blogged about nursing through pregnancy, tandem nursing and triandem nursing, it was just a passing mention.  It isn't a secret, really.  I think that like some of my fellow breastfeeding mamas, I just get caught up in the benefits or the nursing in public controversy, or even the early obstacles to breastfeeding, and had never bothered to address what happens when, after more than a year of happy breastfeeding, it becomes something you hate.

The first few weeks of breastfeeding are notorious for being difficult.  You and your baby are both learning how it works, how to latch, etc.  You are sleep deprived and hormonal.  It can be rough.  Then, it all falls into place, you and baby work out a rhythm and it becomes a wonderful, snuggle-filled, oxytocin-boosting way to meet your baby's needs.  If, like me, you become pregnant before your baby is ready to wean, you may decide to continue to breastfeed through the pregnancy and beyond.

I was aware of all the recommendations to breastfeed for a minimum of two years, so I had committed to myself to nurse that long.  I also knew that the American Academy of Pediatrics had deliberately chosen not to set an upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding, and that all the other organizations recommended continuing as long as the mother and baby wanted.  I believed that it was important to respect my child's readiness and not wean before she was finished.  I also knew that breastfeeding through pregnancy was safe, and might even help my toddler to avoid jealousy of the new baby.  Sounded good.

I also knew that many women experienced a drop in supply towards the end of the first trimester, and that some babies decide to wean because of changes in the milk, or the decrease in amount of milk.  I was really, really worried that my daughter would be one of those.  Like most moms that bring a sibling into the life of their baby, I was concerned about the transition, and wanted to do everything possible to reassure her and meet her needs.  Nursing was such a special, love-filled time for us.  She would laugh delightedly just before latching on, and I was so happy to be able to give her something she wanted and needed.  But it changed.

The changes were both physical and emotional.  My nipples were sore, regardless of her latch.  Then as the milk started to dry up, so did my emotional well. The creepy-crawlies hit.  I don't know how to describe it if you have never experienced it.  Maybe like a million ants on you.  I don't know.  I wanted to scream and shriek, "Get off me!"  It was awful.  I would grit my teeth, and try to concentrate on anything except the horrible sensations.  I was afraid that if I limited her too much, she would wean completely, so I endured it as much as I could.

People expect pregnant women to complain of backaches, tiredness, swollen ankles and things like that.  But I didn't feel like I could complain about this.  Most people thought I was crazy for doing it to begin with.  If I opened my mouth and let on how much it was bothering me, they would reasonably suggest I wean.  And I still didn't want to do that.  So I kept it to myself, and even with my husband I was reluctant to express just how loathsome it seemed.

And the guilt!  Oh, the guilt!  How could I feel this way about something that was so important to my daughter?  What if she sensed my feelings?  Would she feel rejected?  Would it actually be better to wean her than to continue doing something that felt so negative?

Those are important questions, and I would never presume to answer them for another nursing mom.  I agonized over them.  I prayed.  I thought.  I went back and forth.  Ultimately, I kept reaffirming that this was a choice that I was making, and that I was doing what I wanted to do because I believed it was worth it.

It got easier when the colostrum came in.  It got easier still once my son was born and there was an abundance of milk.  Seeing the joy on her face as she gulped leche is still one of my favorite memories.  But, the feelings persisted, although much less intensely than during the pregnancy.  There were times when I would turn my face as she latched on because I didn't want her to see the tension in my expression.  Then there were other times when I enjoyed it as much as before the pregnancy, where we smiled tenderly into each other's eyes.

Gradually, those times became more frequent and the icky feelings disappeared.  For the last year and a half that she nursed, I was able to welcome her nursing wholeheartedly without any reservations.  She eventually weaned in the last trimester of my third pregnancy, a few months after turning four.  I went on to nurse through two more pregnancies (nursing two kidlets while pregnant) and for the last nine months I have had three nurslings.

I was really worried that those feelings would come back in subsequent pregnancies, but although dry nursing was always uncomfortable, it was never as bad as the first time around.  In my last pregnancy it wasn't an issue at all, at least in part because of my coping strategies.  I share all the things that I learned to make it easier in this post.  :)

If you are nursing through a pregnancy, hugs to you.  If you are going through nursing aversion, please let go of any guilt so that you can objectively evaluate what is best for your family.  I can say in all honesty that I am very, very glad that I stuck it out.  Those feelings went away and breastfeeding was even better after having worked through that.  The benefits were totally worth it for us.  But if it is different for you, that is OK.  I know how hard it can be, and would never judge another mom for choosing differently.  Your experience is your own, not mine.

I know that it is hard to talk about, because it is hard to tell your fellow breastfeeding advocates that you hate to breastfeed, and you are probably already feeling judged by others for nursing while pregnant to begin with.  I want to give you an ear and a hug and no criticism.   If you decide to wean, that it OK.  I also want to give you hope and encouragement.  It does get better and it can eventually result in tremendous joy.

Note:  I decided to include this post in the Tandem Nursing Blog Hop, because I wish someone had shared it with me my first time through.  Here is the linky to more tandem posts:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Frankly, Darling, I Don't Give a ...

Photo credit stockicide on Flickr
My parents were pastors.  My grandparents were pastors.  My parents in law were pastors.  It is safe to say that profanity is not a regular occurrence around our house.  Even euphemisms were strongly condemned when I was growing up, so not only do I not typically use profane words, most of the time I don't even use the G-rated version (although it amuses me at times to use Biblical euphemisms). 

Recently, though, I have seen a number of comments from moms talking about how they are working to eliminate profanity, or how they feel bad about cussing in the heat of the moment.  I want to be respectful of their convictions and if they believe that they are genuinely doing something wrong, I certainly don't want to cause them to stumble.  But the truth is, I don't get why much of it is considered morally wrong. 

I worship God.  I believe His name is holy.  And, because I love Him, it does bother me when people use His name in a disrespectful way.  I would feel the same way if people used the names of my husband or children as expletives.  But most four letter words don't bother me a bit.  If it stinks like poop and you want to express that, I am not going to be offended because you chose the strongest word for poop that you can find.  More likely, I would be nodding along with you in appreciation of your verbal accuracy.

I have a friend whose almost-mother-in-law was aghast that my friend used the exclamation, "Heavens!" once.  Not Hell.  Heaven.  From a 25 year old.  She was very upset and insisted that my friend never use that word where her teenage daughter might possibly hear it.  (Yeah, um, that relationship didn't work out.)  I have other friends who swear like sailors should the occasion require, and often when it doesn't.

There is also a bit of a cultural component at play.  Even in English, the potency of certain words varies from one group to another.  "Butt" was not allowed in my house growing up, only "bottom".  Yet for many people, "butt" doesn't raise an eyebrow at all.  (I generally use "bum" with my kidlets, but won't be offended by other terms).  In Spanish, conservative Christians regularly use God's name as an exclamation, which would be considered "taking it in vain" here.  And I won't even get into the way some words that are perfectly polite in one country are flat-out obscene in another.

The Bible does have several passages that seem to condemn obscenities, and dirty jokes.  I am not sure exactly what it means, to be honest.  I've read commentaries that suggest that any kind of joking is wrong for a believer, because the issues of eternity are far too serious for Christians to express levity of any kind.  Are you kidding me?   That just begs for all kinds of puns, and I have never actually met a person who believed that. 

I think God created us with a sense of humor, and that laughter is healthy.  So I tend to interpret those passages back to the intent and effect.  Is the joke hurting someone?  I have found some supposedly innocent little jokes about a man's wife to be far more offensive than dropping the f-bomb, when they are really meant as subtle humiliation.

That is hard for me, because I really, really enjoy and appreciate satire and witty word play.  I like seeing someone whom I disagree with chopped down with a few well-chosen words.  I find it funny.  And while I am confessing, I may as well add that sexual innuendo doesn't bother me, either, unless it is done in a degrading way.  I don't think that all sharp or pointed humor is wrong, but when it serves only to tear others down, it is.   It is something that I have been convicted of, and an area of my heart that needs to change. 

I believe as a follower of Jesus that what He cares about is the intent of our words and their effect on others.  I think words that are hurtful, shaming, and meant to tear down others are far worse than many that would be spelled with asterisks.

I am not suggesting that we should pepper our conversations with profanity.  What I am suggesting is that the attitude behind it and the result upon the hearers is far more important than the number of letters it has.

Instead of focusing on a surprised exclamation as taking the Lord's name in vain, let's search our hearts as believers.  Have we taken the name of Christ in vain by calling ourselves Christians when we don't demonstrate His love?  Do we use our words to wound and tear others down, either through jokes or through blatant shaming?  That is far more obscene than a profane word over a smashed thumb.  It all comes back to speaking truth in love, doesn't it?  And that is much, much more difficult, and much, much more important than censoring a single word here and there. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

At this point in our society, the issue of spanking is largely a theological one.  Most people who approach it from a secular viewpoint are convinced by the overwhelming evidence that spanking is not the best way to discipline children.  That leaves Christians who believe that the Bible teaches spanking. They have deep convictions regarding the Bible and are willing to stand against popular opinion in order to obey God's Word. I have come to realize, though, that it goes far beyond the rod passages, but is instead more about our view of the very nature of God.

The spanking debate within Christian circles has generally been focused on a few verses from Proverbs.  Pro-spankers argue from the English translation which seems to condone beating a child with a literal rod.  Those who are against it argue from the Hebrew of those verses, which does not.  Although the Hebrew can be interpreted in different ways, none of them teach using a rod to hit a child.  Instead, they teach the constant presence of parental guidance or authority in shaping the life of teenage sons. Interestingly, corporal punishment is illegal in Israel.  If you are interested in this, I would encourage you to get a good Hebrew lexicon and study the verses, or read Samuel Martin's book Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controvery, and also recommend the following links:,, and Dare to Disciple.

Beyond those verses, a very important question to ask is if the idea of Jesus hitting children in order to make them do what He wants is consistent with the rest of Scripture.  Does that idea conform to the overall picture of Jesus as we read the Bible?  What is His character like?  Did He hit children?  Did He punish the disciples?  How did He treat the ones He disciplined?

Most of us have a hard time imagining Jesus, who consistently blessed the little children, in the act of hitting them.  Although He was no wimp, and yes, even got angry on occasion, to the extent of throwing furniture (!), He didn't hurt people.  He healed them.  He explained things over and over in different ways to help them understand.  He acted like a servant, not like a bully.  He paid the price for all of our mistakes Himself.  He showed us grace and mercy.
Yet when I talk with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, they don't see Him that way.  They see Him more like the Greek gods--petty, vengeful, cold and capricious.  One who is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can justly smite us.  Hitting little children fits within their view, because they believe that He is really like that.  They would call it holiness or righteousness, of course. But it comes across quite clearly.

They believe that God "spanks" them.  They look at any of the bad, painful things in their lives and attribute them to God's wrath, and call them a just punishment for their mistakes. Instead of suffering being an opportunity to grow, it is reduced to our payment to His wrath.  Many are ever-striving to pass muster, holding their breaths lest they not measure up, and desperate to point to others who might be making worse mistakes.  Instead of running and throwing themselves into His arms while calling, "Abba, Father!" they just hope to avoid His displeasure, and view Him with shame and fear.

They profess to believe in forgiveness, yet it often seems to be more of a feeling that the Cross bought them grudging tolerance and time to work on themselves.  They still see themselves as shameful and vile, and they see sin and evilness in their children. If they believe that God is out to punish them, despite the work of Jesus on the cross, then it makes perfect sense to punish the mistakes of our children.  To hurt them the way God hurts us.

I agree that God is holy, just and righteous, and that He calls us to righteousness, as well.   Grace is not a greasy, feel-good, fatuous excuse to do wrong and get away with it.  Romans 6 makes it clear that we are not to be slaves to sin.  True freedom is being able to do what is right instead of futilely struggling against sinful bonds.  But I believe that comes through Jesus, not through paying for our sins ourselves. 

Why did Eve hide in the garden?  I believe it was because she was afraid and ashamed.  But I am learning to identify with another woman in another garden, the one who went looking for Him instead of hiding.  The one who recognized Him when He called her by name.  The one who when she repented of wrongdoing didn't hide, but washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  Instead of trying to avoid punishment, she reveled in restoration.  I want the kind of relationship that Mary had.  As a believer, as a daughter of the King, and as a mother to my own children.  I don't want obedience that is motivated by fear; I want trust, closeness, love and restoration.  Perfect love casts out fear.

Therefore, to me the question of spanking as a Christian parent is, as much as anything, about the Cross. Did Jesus really pay for our sins or do we pay for them through punishment? Do our works grow out of faith and relationship, or is our faith and relationship dependent on our works? I believe that our motivation must be love, and that the works then demonstrate that, not that we attain relationship through our works. Why do we as believers obey our Father? Because of love or because of fear? And how does our parenting reflect that?

I cannot think of any time when God has punished me.  In discipling me, He has poured out incredible grace and mercy.  And BECAUSE of that, I trust Him.  I want to obey Him and become more like Him.  Instead of trying to avoid His attention from fear, I cling to Him and delight in His love.

The more deeply the truth of grace sinks into our hearts, the more we are compelled to share it with others.  God loves us extravagantly!  He really, really does.  He dances for joy over you.  You are His child.  So as you experience His amazing grace, consider what it means to your children.  How do you show them the mercy, patience, kindness and gentleness that our heavenly Father lavishes on us?

Read I John.  Read the Gospels.  Read the entire Bible, even the Old Testament.  Ultimately, it is all about reconciliation, about relationship, about grace.  We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God, who must therefore consider our children to be sinners in the hands of angry parents.  We are in the nail-pierced hands of the One who loves us even when don't love Him.  The One who IS love.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Follow the Script (rerun)

Image credit Jordan A on Flickr
One of my favorite discoveries is how good my children are at problem solving. I am amazed at how often they come up with great solutions. However, they are still little kids and often need guidance (hey, as an adult, I often need guidance!). We had a very beneficial learning experience today.

At the playground, a boy around five or six started chasing the kids around, making scary faces, growling and pretending to scratch. I am not sure if he was truly upset and didn't know how to handle his big emotions or was just playing. I edged closer as he began to chase my kids. Ariana looked a little uncomfortable but didn't seem to be bothered. Joel was running too fast for me to gauge if he saw this as a game or was getting scared. Elena was curious at first, but when he cornered her and raked his fingers across her (not really scratching, but still touching, if that makes sense), she became upset. I picked her up and opened my mouth to say something to the little boy, but he took off.

A few minutes later, he tried the same thing with some other kids, and one of them was either scared or hurt (I think just scared) and screamed hysterically, at which point the nearby adults intervened. I was slightly bemused as I listened to the boy's mom, who had been sitting only a few feet away, lecture him intensely on how bad his behavior had been. She told him that she had been watching the whole time and proceeded to shame him repeatedly. I understand how tough it is when your child does something in public--I think we all have to fight against reacting out of embarrassment. Still, I wondered why she hadn't stepped in before and redirected him, and was hoping that she would give him some good alternatives for the future instead of merely telling him that he was bad.

Afterwards, we discussed the incident in the car, and I asked my kids how they had felt when he was chasing them and pretending to scratch. Ariana said that she wasn't scared, but she didn't like it very much, and she could tell that Elena didn't like it. Joel said that he was a little scared. From there we began to talk about what they thought were good ways to handle situations like that in the future.

I admit, even now, I hate confrontation. My heart starts pounding, and my natural instinct is to weasel out with some type of passive (or passive aggressive) response. Unless, of course, I am really mad, when I just want to bully back. That isn't the way that I want my children to handle conflict, and I've had to become very conscious of what I model to them. I want them to be both assertive and respectful, to have good boundaries and the skills to enforce them correctly, but it is hard.

So today, we talked about different scripts they could follow when they felt uncomfortable with the way someone was trying to play. First individually, then in unison, they practiced saying, "Stop. I don't like playing that way. Let's play something different." It is clear and unambiguous, doesn't invite further bullying by seeming fearful, yet assumes the best motive (wanting to play) and offers a cooperative alternative (let's play something different).

We also talked through several other scenarios, and talked about when to get a grown up involved (anytime they need support--if they are afraid to say it, I'll go with them or if they don't think the other person will listen).

An ongoing script-rehearsal we've practiced in the past is what to say if anyone ever violates boundaries with their body. This can be anything from rough-housing to tickling to sexual assault--anything that makes them uncomfortable. They have practiced many times saying. "Stop. This is my body and I don't like that. Stop or I'll tell." Ariana said it with very good effect when she was being tickled once, something she hates.

I think that the practice is very important. So often children are taught not to upset others, to allow other people (especially adults) to do things to them that our children dislike without making a fuss. While the goal is to be polite, it can also create victims. We can teach our children to be assertive without being rude, and it is immensely important.

I would love to hear from my wise readers (all 12 of you! ;)) what scripts you give your children to handle difficult situations. I know that I could learn a lot from you. Please share!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Contact Me

I would love to be in contact with you!  If you would like to send me a message, please feel free to email me at  Muchas gracias!  :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And a Good Time Was Had by All

We are about half way through our Spring Break, easily one of our most favorite times of the year.   Carlos is off work, too, so we take advantage of the time to soak up tons of family fun.  Today we picnicked at the zoo.  We weren't the only ones, by a long shot.  In fact, I have never seen our zoo so crowded!  They had row after row of people parking on the grass, and the lines were astounding.  It reminded me of Disneyworld, except our zoo's attractions are considerably more limited.  Another feature that reminded me of Disney was the abundance of shrieking, worn out kidlets being marched firmly on by tight-lipped parents grimly insisting, "You will have a good time!"

Yikes.  I think every parent has had times where they are sacrificing time, energy and money to do something special, and then feel as though the kids don't even appreciate it.  I understand the frustration.  I know that their intentions are good, but I have learned that successful outings with four small kidlets depend on more than good intentions.  Timing is everything.

That refers to the time of day, of course.  For us, mornings are good.  Early afternoons are not bad.  Late afternoons and, not usually.  If I am doing something only marginally fun, like grocery shopping, it is crucial that I hit that sweet spot of after-breakfast-before lunch.  Ignoring nap time is just asking for trouble.  Goodness, I get cranky when I am tired.  Pushing my children beyond their limits is not fair to anyone.  Even with fun stuff, they expend an incredible amount of energy, and if they are depleted, it becomes more manic than magical.

Fuel is a must.  I confess, I like junk food, and indulge myself and my kids.  However, I also know that too much sugar, too many artificial colors, not enough protein, not enough water results in misery.  Many of us grew up where special occasions meant candy or ice cream and other sweets.  Those memories are sweet in several ways, but balance is important.  For our picnic today, I brought homemade sandwiches and fresh blueberries.  We also added some not-healthy chips.  Oh, well.  Even so, I knew that they had real food before we went exploring, and that they weren't going to have a sugar meltdown.

Timing is also everything when it comes to the pace and scope of activity.  The biggest key is adjusting your expectations.  Fun may not look like you imagined it would.  There is no prize for rushing through and saying that you saw every animal at the zoo, or rode the most rides at the amusement park.  Let the kidlets set the pace.  That may mean an interminably long time watching the ducks, and missing the lions altogether.  It may mean chasing leaves for several minutes, or skipping the other side of the park, or watching a caterpillar make it all the way across the sidewalk.  It is easier to remember with toddlers, but still important for older kids, too.

If your goal is really to have fun together, you must be present.  Pay attention.  Put your phone away.  Look into their eyes and listen.  Join in silliness.  Let go of any burdens that are trying to weigh down your thoughts and emotions.  Wherever you are, be all there.  Kids take their emotional cues from us, which is still more reason to breathe in peace and let go of tension.

Can't you just see the joy?
Have an exit strategy.  I never know how much of the zoo we will actually see.  We may spend a couple of hours at the caves, petting zoo and climbing rock and miss the rest of the zoo altogether.  I do know what we will do on the way out, though.  My kidlets adore the carrousel, and are more than happy to head toward the exit when it is time to go, knowing that we will get a ride on the way out.  It is much easier to leave when we know that we are headed to more fun.

If we are paying attention and not trying to impose an agenda, we will recognize when the fun reaches the saturation point and when to leave.  Allowing time to transition from big energy to a relaxing bath or quiet time is important, too.

I am so glad we still have a few more days of Spring Break, and I hope you are having as much fun as we are.  <3

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Image credit: Mel B. on Flickr
I came across a blog post that saddened me today. It was written in response to a post by a friend of mine. Instead of thoughtfully disagreeing with the points she made, it was just a bunch of mocking, cruel lies about her, her children and my God. Worst of all, the author was writing as a Christian. Several others who are also religious jumped right in with her, boasting in themselves and making nasty speculations. It hurt my heart.

One difficulty is that these are people I don't really know.  When I have a conflict within a relationship, I have a pretty good idea about how to resolve it.  But when I see something that I consider sin in someone I haven't even met, it is much harder.  There is no cushion of connection and context to help my stumbling attempts to express myself.  I don't know if I should seek them out and try to contact them directly or just speak to the general ideas of what they are saying. 

Another difficulty is my own anger.  When my brothers and sisters in Christ do things like this, it is hard for me to respond in love. It feels personal, somehow, when we claim to worship the same God.  My first response was to want to write a scathing defense. I wanted to return sarcasm for sarcasm, to shred their lies and to ask how on earth they can claim to follow Christ when their posts were full of derision, pride and untruths, and were designed purely to hurt others. I was angry that they were dragging Jesus' name in the mud, and that they were being so hateful to someone I cared about, who had never provoked them in any way.

This was a fresh, personal example.  But it isn't an isolated thing, of course. When I hear in the news of cases like Lydia Schatz, who was beaten to death in the name of Jesus by parents who were convinced that spanking with a rod is Biblical, I am outraged.  When I hear people flaunt their religion, and then use it to hurt anyone who is not a wealthy, white heterosexual male, I am angry that they despise the people my Lord loves so dearly.

I know that there is a time to speak out strongly. Jesus didn't sugar coat His words about the religious people of His day who heaped condemnation on others. "White-washed sepulchers." Mummy cases. Full of rotten bones on the inside. They try to look good, but beneath the surface, there is death.  Hypocrites.  The Apostles weren't exactly full of nicey-nice rainbow-flowery-kitties-and-sparkly-ponies comments, either.  And of course, if you read the Psalms, you can see that David didn't hold back, at all! 

That sounds pretty good to me right now.  I can say a heartfelt "Amen!" to verses like that.  Yet, even then, I think our motivation must be love.  And that is hard.  It is hard for me to handle these things with grace.  Even after so many years, I still don't always get that whole speaking the truth in love thing. I either want to blast them with truth or I clam up and don't say anything because I don't know how to express it lovingly. Or because I know I that I just don't have enough love to begin with.  I need wisdom.  I need grace.  I need love.  I need Jesus.

One of the best things about embracing grace is that I am realizing that it is not just for adults, or just for children, but for everyone.  It is a model for all our relationships.  Even with fellow bloggers. 

I don't have the answers yet.  I don't know how I should respond, if at all.   I wish I did.  Instead, each time I have recalled some of the barbs in their comments, I have prayed.  Prayed for grace for myself and for them.  Prayed for love to transform and fill us all.  I have also prayed for truth to set them free.  And I will continue to speak up for "the least of these", and hope that my life, words and actions demonstrate the amazing grace that has been lavished on me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Top 10 Parenting Scriptures

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Image credit: abcdz2000 on Flickr

One of my deepest desires is to integrate my faith into every aspect of my life.  To be authentic in my spirituality.  Being a mom has caused me to re-examine many beliefs I had taken for granted and to be much more purposeful about how I live out my faith with my children.  These are 10 Bible passages that always inspire me and help me to breathe in grace:

1.   “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"  ~  Matthew 25:40  (Note: In Spanish, it says "the smallest" of these.  What an incredibly powerful thought--how I treat my little ones is a reflection of how I would treat my God.)

2.  "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." ~ I John 4:18  (Letting go of fear, letting go of punishment, embracing love).

3.   "Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant."  ~ Luke 22:24-26 (The Message)  (My authority as a parent is not a justification for controlling my children; it is the power to care for them.)

4.  "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders." ~ Deuteronomy 33:12  (Biblical babywearing! I love it!)

5.  "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  ... Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. " ~ Colossians 3:12-15, 21  (Compassion, forgiveness, peace, gratitude.  Nothing that will provoke them or cause bitterness or discouragement.)

6.  "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." ~ I Thessalonians 2:7 (Gentleness and breastfeeding.  <3 <3 <3)

7.  "For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”  For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you." ~ Isaiah 66:11-13  (Beautiful imagery of breastfeeding, responsiveness and comfort!)

8. "Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too." ~ Galatians 6:1 CEB  (The goal is restoring relationship, and that requires gentleness and humility.)

 9.  "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." ~ II Corinthians 1:2-4  (Whether it is my baby crying in the night, or my toddler having a meltdown, or my older child distressed over a "little thing", my response should be to validate and comfort. )

10.  "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."  Matthew 7:12  (Would I want it done to me?  No?  Then I shouldn't do it to my children.  What do I want?  Respect?  Gratitude?  Thoughtfulness?  Am I demonstrating those qualities in the way I act toward them?)

There are so many other pictures of gentle parenting--the depiction of the peace of a weaned child (not baby!) in Psalm 131:2, the promise to embrace and gently lead nursing moms in Isaiah 40:11, and the list could go on and on.  Whether it is breastfeeding, babywearing, comforting my children, or gentle discipline, I find that the Bible has beautiful passages to strengthen and encourage me on my journey.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Whoohoo! Congratulations to our Winners!

And the winners of the first-ever Dulce de leche giveaway are...The Hippie Housewife and Maria!  ( was used to select two random numbers in our sequence, and the winners were numbers 9 and 36).  Felicidades!  :)  I am excited and so appreciative of everyone who participated.  <3  You are making me look forward to another giveaway soon!

Hippie Housewife's parenting quote: "When we fail to examine our objectives we're left by default with practices that are intended solely to get kids to do what they're told."  ~ Alie Kohn.  It reminds me to be intentional and purposeful in my parenting, rather than passive or reactive. 

Maria's parenting quote: "In any case, looking with respect to your child’s needs will help you steer clear of dangerous labels such as demanding, challenging, needy, or timid. Labels get in the way of seeing your child and accepting him for the unique person he is."   From Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids

Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks to everyone else who shared fun and wise quotes.  :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Peering Underneath the Umbrella: Musings on Gothardism

Image credit: Molly DG on Flickr
I've mentioned a little bit about Gothard in my post on Razing Ruth (which still surprises me with the number of hits it receives!) and my posts about courtship/dating.  I have been reading some articles shared by  Why Not Train a Child and the Hippie Housewife that talk about Gothard a bit, and it has brought back a lot of memories.  We never went hardcore into the ATI program, so we would still be considered on the outer fringes by the inner circle members.  We were actually very worldly from a Gothard point of view:  we wore pants and watched TV (although our family standards were much more conservative than most people I knew).  In later years, my sister and I listened to Christian rock, despite knowing about the demonic powers being summoned through the witchcraft-beat! GASP!  (Not only that, we also occasionally listened to worship songs written in a minor key!  Somehow, we escaped the curse of depression.)

On the plus side, though, we attended every seminar (both Basic and Advanced) every year from the time I was twelve (that was before the kid's seminars, which my brother attended).  We led their Follow-up course to the basic seminar, and the Financial Freedom seminars.  We were homeschooled (of course).   We played all their board games.  We memorized the 49 character qualities, and could quote The Pineapple Story and Character Sketches (all volumes).  We spoke the code.  We did Wisdom Searches in the mornings.  And, looking back, I realize how deeply entrenched my parents were, and understand things like why my mom continued to get pregnant, even after a staggering number of miscarriages and being told she needed a hysterectomy.

If you just casually attended the Basic seminar, you probably found it quite easy to take the good and spit out the bones.  It starts off Monday night with a pleasant introduction to the whole thing, and a teaching on self-acceptance.  He takes you through the 10 Unchangeables and explains that God is using all the things that we cannot change about ourselves to paint a beautiful masterpiece of our lives. Bill is a good speaker, and is brimming over with amazing examples of all the people who have been helped through his teaching of the "non-optional principles".   Even now, there are a lot of things that I would probably agree with, at least to an extent.  But knowing more about the core makes me nervous.

The next night's teaching on authority sneaks up on you.  He outlines a vertical chain of authority (God, father/husband directly under God, wife below, children lower still) and explains the consequences of getting out from under the umbrella of (patriarchal) authority (women have none, except what their husband delegates to them over the children).  He gives a long litany of stories of those who went against the wishes of their fathers and suffered terribly, contrasted with tales of those who submitted, against culture and common sense, and were rewarded beyond their dreams.  Those who rebel and eventually return are gravely compared to cracked diamonds--only worth a fraction of the value they could have had if they had been submissive all along.  

In a sense, all of his teachings come back to the idea that if you align yourself underneath the umbrella, perfectly submissive to all of Gothard's principles, then you will be safe.  If you dare to go out from under the umbrella by not conforming perfectly with a joyful countenance and light in your eyes, then any number of hailstorms will pound you to a bloody pulp.

It sounds a bit fanatical (and it is), but when you are there it is much more palatable.  His quiet humor, lovely chalk talks and assortment of hooks are appealing.  By the time you get through the teaching on how to conquer anger by yielding rights (Thursday), you are probably ready to overlook some of the more extreme parts of his teachings on moral purity (Friday) and any discomfort from the teachings on authority begins to blur and fade as he leads you through the examples of success through meditation on Scripture (Saturday). 

It is nicely packaged, and full of guarantees.  If you follow the principles, you will be blessed with success.  Suffering is the result of rebelling, even unknowingly, against any of the principles, but all can be made right (with a smaller diamond, of course) by simply following his steps.  I bought nearly all of it, until sliding out from under the umbrella in my relationship with Carlos.  Once I was married, I stopped attending the seminars.  Even so, it is only recently that I have been able to put together my disagreements with the underlying Gothard doctrines.

One of these is the extreme patriarchy.  Nearly everyone I knew growing up believed that the father was the head of the house.  What many people don't recognize is the difference in degrees when it comes to the application.  Many of the families that I know who believe that the wife should submit to her husband actually practice something much closer to mutual submission.   While I believe that they are very sincere, it winds up that through temperament or conscious design, the wife has the respect of her husband and freedom to participate in many decisions, and even the ability to come to some on her own.  Although there may be a theoretical agreement that the husband has the final say, in reality, decisions are reached together.

Gothard's view of authority is far more extreme.  The wife must submit entirely to her husband, regardless of the rightness of his choices.  She is allowed to appeal if he wishes her to sin.  Of course, the definition of 'sin' is incredibly and inexplicably narrow in this context, especially compared to the hyper-sinfulization* of those not in the position of authority!  If her appeal is denied, she may choose to suffer for doing right, but must continue to honor her husband, and look happy to the rest of the world, since any discontent in her countenance is a public shaming of her head.  In addition to this, he teaches very strongly that the one under authority is the one responsible for change: in other words, if the husband does something wrong, it is all your fault.  If you were only more submissive, more this, more that, you would please him and he wouldn't do that.  You can patch the leaks in your umbrella by just trying harder to submit.  It is the perfect recipe for abuse.

Whatever God is speaking, he will speak to your husband/father.  It doesn't really matter what the topic is:  a daughter's future spouse, your callings and responsibilities, how you should spend your time, how you should raise your children.  Any decision is between the father/husband and God, and the father/husband will let you know when he is ready.  Your responsibility is to cheerfully go along with it.  Even if your father is not a believer (which is also your fault, of course), you still have to rely on him to be the go-between between you and God.

There are all kinds of other, minor things that have become twisted and elevated into doctrine, some that I agree with aside from the theological status conveyed upon them, others very weird indeed, but to put it all into a nutshell, the fatal flaw of Gothard's teachings is that he denies the power of Christ.  It is all about Man (and here, the male gender is most definitely implied).  Even grace becomes redefined as MAN's desire and MAN's ability to do God's will.  "Grace" rests squarely on our efforts.  (Would you make a vow to do XYZ? And if you really mean it, would you raise your hand as an outward demostration...) The work of the Cross becomes an afterthought, and all that matters is our ability to conform to the checklist.  Instead of works flowing out of faith in God, the works flow out of faith in the works themselves to provide carrots or avoid the stick.  If you can keep your facade together, and especially if you can make your man look good, then you will reap all kinds of goodies.  If your life isn't perfect, well, that is your fault for not following the steps precisely. 

The concept of mercy is ignored.  The power of Christ's sacrifice is a mere footnote to our own efforts and accomplishments.  This is incredibly dangerous, especially because it is the kind of mindset that corrupts every thing it touches.  Every relationship, every accomplishment, every action becomes tested by whether or not it follows Bill's principles.  When you hear of someone going through a difficult situation, rather than responding in compassion, you wonder which principles they violated to reap that problem.  Or, if you know them at all, you have probably already figured out which principles were violated.  Because of the unrelenting emphasis on appearances, you condition yourself to pretend all the time, until you have spun it all in your mind to the point that you aren't really sure what the truth is anymore.   You yield your rights to others (Jesus, then Others, then You, what a wonderful way to spell JOY!) and may never even realize that you also yielded any healthy, necessary boundaries.

I felt a bit smarter back before my diamond was cracked, back when I was centered under my umbrella of protection.  I could give you all the answers to any situation so that you could apply the principles and understand where you went wrong (You were cursed because you let a Cabbage Patch doll into your home/because you went to college away from home/because you didn't joyfully submit, etc.).

Now, I find that grace isn't about me; it is about the amazing love that God lavishes on us.  It isn't all about my efforts or shortcomings.  It is about His mercy and patience in helping me grow.  Instead of seeing all relationships in a vertical line of top-to-bottom hierarchy, I am seeing them as a circle of love and service.  It makes all the difference.  Instead of shaming myself and others, I am learning to joyfully proclaim that His banner over me is love.  Instead of desperately trying to patch leaks in my umbrella, I am enjoying the glorious sunshine of freedom and grace.
Image credit: Pink Sherbert Photography on Flickr

* My own word.  I am quite pleased with it.  :)