The note says: I love you Casee, From Grace.

Writing is powerful stuff. Grace learned to write and read in kindergarten. (Which is crazy by the way, I learned how to color and not cry all day in kindergarten. When did they figure out that kids were ready for this stuff at five?!? I digress.)

Grace learned to write in Kindergarten and all summer we have found little sticky notes in her room, stuck to her windows and walls. Sometimes we have even been the recipients of these little notes. I’m always struck a little dumb when I find them. It seems like all the wisdom in the world has been boiled down onto a little bitty sticky note. The ability to take what you feel and show the whole world. What an amazing power she has. At five.

When we find these notes, I imgaine how they came to be. I see her gathering up her supplies, and then hunched over the paper trying to decide what to write. Paper and pencil in hand, she sits poised to make her inside thoughts known to the outside world, the only question is what to say. I see her furrowed brow and pursed mouth. It’s hard to decide sometimes. She gazes around her room until finally her eyes rest on Casey. Her heart swells up and she knows exactly what she wants to say.

Gracie & Casey, 2013

I imagine her smile as she decides what to write to her sweet and faithful friend. I see her thinking through how to spell each word. Confidently sounding out each one and making it fit on the oh so small paper. I’m sure when she is finished she has a huge grin. Then she lets Casey read it and they decide together where to keep it. I can just see them looking up at it smiling, and Gracie patiently reading it to her buddy.

When she sees that Greg or I have spotted her note, she has this look of pride that makes me melt. Her smile yells – I did that! And I know that feeling. I remember that feeling. I want to both preserve and protect that in her, and simultaneously revive and breath life back into my own feelings of accomplishment and pride.

Her simple expression of her feelings, her pride in writing it out all on her own, and her excitement at us having discovered this note of love – all these things make me thank God that I get to parent her and her brother. I’m so grateful for this amazing circle of life that reminds us of joy and laughter. They remind me to marvel not only at the world, but at my part in it.

It is so very easy to get bogged down in the mess of each day. Am I good enough? Do they like me? Should I have tried that? Why did I say that? I should be doing x instead of y. I’m wasting my time. I’m wasting my life.

None of that is true. It’s all just liar’s in our head holding us back and using our own fears against us. We are capable of anything. We can re-invent. We can improve. We can relax. We can enjoy. We can create.

Here’s the recipe:

Gather your supplies – in this case, your pencil and your sticky note.

Sit down and think. Listen to your heart.

Create what is in your heart.

What will you create this week? Because the possibilities are without limit.

 

 

I’ve waited to write about this until we made it through the process and now I’m so excited to share with you the amazing experience our family has had over the last few months!

Sometime last year I was sharing with another mom the frustrations of raise 3 year-olds. 3 year-olds are amazing beams of light shedding amazing light on your life that can instantly, and rapidly, transform into lasers boring into the depths of your brain, and then back to beams of light illuminating the beauty of the simplest things, then back to death rays, then back to light….you get it.

I don’t think that Elijah was any more challenging than many other 3 year olds. And after describing our situation to a professional she agreed that he fell well within the ‘normal’ range for 3 year old behavior. The rub there is that ‘normal’ includes the whole beam of radiance, death ray, beam of radiance cycle – that is NORMAL behavior. Not comforting.

In any case, we happen to have a few professional child specialists in our circle of close friends and family and one of them mentioned that there was a great program available at Burrell Health Center here in Springfield – a parenting class of sorts for your family. I admit my first gut reaction was, “I don’t need no parenting class.” (My grammar takes a back seat when I feel threatened.) But over the next few weeks/months our spiral of joy and agony continued, and one day having exhausted every good and bad parenting tool I had at my disposal I thought, “You know what? I REALLY need a parenting class!”

Actually – it was the weekend after Christmas and we were on our way to see my family when a tantrum ensued that ended in me threathening to cancel…yes, I did, I threatened to cancel Christmas. Once the entire car got quiet, I got my phone out and dialed Burrell and made our first appointment. It was a relief.

It was a relief because it’s hard to parent and admitting that and asking for help, rather than making me feel like a failure, made me feel like a parent. Like a grown parent who realizes that there are streams of research and case studies available on how to parent and it is not a failure to say, “Yes, please. I’ll take a listen to that.” And so we did.

When we first met our sweet counselor she gave us the standard professional introduction explaining that if she bumps into us at WalMart she won’t really acknowledge that she knows us, you know, so we aren’t embarrassed. To which I replied that she could hug me and yell, “How’s the parenting going? Are the exercises we talked about helping?” Because, in all likelihood, if this works out, I’d be blogging about it. No shame. That’s my mantra. I need help and I’m not afraid to admit it.

And then the work began. It was really easy at first, and it made no difference at all – but that’s how it’s designed. We started out by just intentionally building our relationship with our little ones. We intentionally made time to play, and we stopped giving orders all the time, and it all just felt crazy. At first I thought I had fell down the rabbit hole and was in some toddler wonderland. I felt this way because we started out making sure that Elijah had a lot of control. But a humbling thing happened in this process. We realized that we had lost a bit of our joy over the last year or so. We had gotten so pre-occupied with Parenting that we had lost some of the joys of parenting. It’s kind of hard to explain. We always loved our kids. We have always had lots of snuggles and laughter, but we had also gotten into a habit of expecting misbehavior. That makes me so sad to write, but it’s true. And the first part of the parenting classes was a sweet gentle revealing of that skew in our thinking. Through play and praise, the exercises we were given just broke us all open. It reminded Greg and I what amazing kids we have, and it showed the kids how fun we can be.

And in the midst of this beautiful brokenness and illuminating reminders, we still had the death ray, beam of light, death ray, beam of light thing at play. So it was bad. We had been broken open and fell even more madly in love… with a tyrant. Please, we begged, please tell us there is hope. And there was. There was phase two.

The second phase is where you start teaching the tyrant precious child that life is even better if you do the things you’re asked to do. Now during play time we started giving directions to follow, and then having a praise party with hugs and high fives with each compliant response. You would have been terribly confused to see how much praise was heaped onto our children when they handed us the block we had asked for. We were terribly confused, but we were trusting the process.

After a while of practicing giving direction, we started giving directions that had to be followed in real life, and the praise parties felt more genuine – because it really IS like Christmas when your toddler is asked to put on his shoes and he then PUTS ON HIS SHOES. Christmas, 4th of July, and all the birthdays – so good.

Another beautiful awakening happened to us during this phase of the process. We realized that we were also a bit tyrannical. We learned to taper our demands and to give more choices. We were able to better appreciate how frustrating it is to be three and have so many things dictated to you. So humbling.

Soon after we started the second phase, we introduced the only discipline tool we use now. Time out and the time out room. 3 minutes in time out no matter what. If you can’t stay in time out, you go to the time out room for one minute (a bathroom at our house), then back to time out chair and around that goes round and round until 3 mintues in the chair occurs. And we are ‘always’ zen during this process. No reaction, no emotion. (I’m still working on the zen portion of this.)

It was bad. It was so bad. For like 3 weeks it was horribly bad… and then it was good. Once he realized this was it, he stopped going to the time out room, just did his three minutes and then did whatever he’d been asked to do. Not always – but most of the time. And then after another 3-4 weeks or so – he stopped going to time out. He still goes sometimes and we have a few bad days in a row on occasion, but mostly he does what we ask him to do. And we remember to praise him and then he wants to do more of it. It’s like an anti-vicious cycle of good feelings around here. It’s miraculous.

And tomorrow, we expect we are going to graduate. We will be done, and we will walk out of that office with a load of new tools and techniques. Elijah is so much happier now and has a level of self confidence that he didn’t have before. Greg and I are so much happier and we have a level of self confidence in our parenting that we didn’t have before, and Grace is happier because of all of the above.

I’m so glad we took the time to do this. I’m so thankful. Greg and I have different parenting styles – most people do – and this really helped us get on the same page, use the same language, and have the same expectations. That synchronicity has helped Elijah and Grace know what to expect regardless of which one of us is doing the disciplining and direction giving.

If you find yourself reading this and thinking that you are so glad you never needed anything like this…well, I would have felt that way too if I’d only had Miss Grace. Some kids are just more compliant natured than others – congratulations on the lottery if you have more than one of those :). On the other hand, some kids are a bit more strong willed – still incredibly awesome, but they need a different type of parenting. So if you are reading this and thinking that it sounds interesting and maybe your house could use some of that, I totally recommend you go talk with someone. The methodology we were instructed in is called PCIT – and there is so much more to it than I am qualified to explain, but this is at least a layman’s review of the process.

One final note….if you see me out and about and one or more of my children are having a total meltdown in public – it’s not a commentary on the effectiveness of our help. They’re kids and this isn’t a magic fix – but we are pretty certain it’ll happen less often, and we have some ideas about what to do when it does, and that’s pretty much priceless.

 

 

Earlier this year I wrote about a transformational change in my prayer life. You can read about that by clicking here. Then I had a second profound experience in the garden which you can read about here.

In the weeks that have followed my worship time has continued to transform as a direct result of the garden. While the prayer transformation was welcomed and nothing but positive, the worship transformation has sometimes left me feeling a bit vulnerable and awkward. So, I thought I would share with you what's going on in greater detail so that you can either: a. Join me or b. Not commit me if you happen to see me at church.

The time at church where we sing has not always been a time of fulfillment for me. Growing up with the old hymns in a small sanctuary I never really felt moved by the spirit or extremely 'woshipful' during the worship service. Yes, some of the songs were beautiful, and many of them spoke to my heart. I still cannot hear Amazing Grace or The Old Rugged Cross without feeling something deep within me respond, but the fact of the matter is, I am not a great singer. Primarily I spent my time trying to insure that my volume was low enough so as not to offend God or my fellow pew mates. Pepper that with a bit of envy, and trying to track down the voices that were singing out quite beautifully, and I rarely had time to really connect with God during worship.

When I returned to church as an adult, it was to a very large church in Atlanta. Suddenly there was a sound system and dark lighting – both of which freed me to crank up the volume without fearing offense. I could close my eyes, move with the music, and often times I would picture Jesus in front of me and really try to sing at him…to him…with him. This opened up a whole new world where the worship time at church really became about worship. I really was singing the songs to Him – and the songs were different. They were actually reflective of the praise I would give to him about how he had freed me and released me from the bonds that had held me down for so long. I was really feeling it. I thought.

And then I started praying in the garden.

And then I went to church. I closed my eyes to enjoy my worship -and suddenly found myself in my prayer garden with Jesus.

And then Jesus smiled at me.

You want to feel joy? Go sing to Jesus in the garden with a heart full of love and see him see you. You'll look like a blooming idiot to passers by, but you might not ever smile so big in your life.

And then He asked me to dance.

Now listen I grew up in a Baptist church and the movie, Footloose, was one of the run away hits of my youth. Despite that I have danced a lot in life, but I had never even thought about dancing with Jesus. Yet now, if you find me swaying this Sunday with a big goofy grin, be assured me and Jesus are dancing as I pour out my love for him.

It's not always dancing though, sometimes he just listens. I pour out the fear and pain and he just listens with great love. I weep from the tenderness with which he listens.

Greg plays in our church band and occasionally he sings or has a guitar solo and when that happens I get to stand by Jesus and enjoy this incredibly talented man. I lean over and say, “Thank you.” He leans into me and smiles knowingly.

It's a beautiful, fulfilling, amazing thing. And, at times, a little uncomfortable. It has become pretty much involuntary at this point….if I close my eyes and free my mind, I am going to be in the garden. I love it, but at the same time there is a part of me that is very much sitting at church with a bunch of other people and it can get a little awkward.

So God decided to talk to me one day about those who are sitting around me….and anyone who may ever sit around me.

I was in the garden and I was truly worshipping Jesus. I was really there. Then, other people started showing up. Soon I found myself on a very crowded praise floor and to be honest with you I was a bit taken aback. I liked being alone with Jesus and my very pure feelings. Other people intruded on my feeling of safety. Suddenly I was too self aware, too taken out of the moment, and too concerned with how these other people may feel about how I was conducting myself. And it was in that vulnerability that I learned something I now believe to be very, very true.

Jesus said to me –

“You know how purely your praise is of me, and your love is for me?”

“You know how purely I love you, and how unencumbered that love is?”

“One day that is how you all will love each other.”

And I could feel it. I could feel what it would be like to live in that kind of love – for just a moment. And it is my mission, to live in that love as much as I possibly can from now on.

So if ever you find yourself near me at church and it seems as if I'm somewhere else….I probably am.

This is very much a picture of my 'garden'
Actually more an enchanted forest where my heart lives…and where I dance.

 

It's my birthday eve. Tomorrow begins a sabbath year for me and I cannot wait to learn what God has in store.

In the Old Testament God tells His people to let the ground rest every seventh year. At first when I read that, and did the math, I was excited to think that maybe I too was entering a time of rest. I might not be a field, but we all know that humans also need periods of rest and it didn't seem a stretch to think that perhaps our productivity could cycle similar to the land. The more I pondered this idea though the more I realized that while a year of rest sounds wonderful, the land isn't really resting during the sabbath year. It is rebuilding and preparing for a time of growth. While it may look as if nothing is happening in the fields during the sabbath year, the fields, most likely, would beg to differ.

And that's when I became convinced that I was indeed entering a sabbath year.

These past six years has been a time of great planting in my life. Most importantly, I became a mother – twice! I also started my blog, took on significant new responsiblities in my career, and I've expanded my learning in photography. In the past six years, I have grown closer to my husband, matured in my relationships with my family, and I've lost my father. I've made peace with my past, fell in love with the bible, and answered God's call on my life (at least privately, so far -He's still revealing things). I've re-established old friendships, and created new ones that have changed who I am through their love and care. I've found a faith community that feeds me, stretches me, and makes me grow. This is, without doubt, the most productive season of my life thus far.

I feel slightly depleted, but also ready for the rebuilding. I am slightly de-constructed, if you will, and primed for God to replenish me with exactly the right combination of nutrients and building blocks to launch my next season of productivity. It's exciting. It's also not without its fears.

I've learned in these last few years that to actively follow Christ is going to be a lot like motherhood. I do not always feel prepared, the sheer magnitude of the job is overwhelming on a daily basis, and nothing has ever been so fulfilling, beautiful and rewarding. But I've learned that I can do both things. I am not always liked here at home, it's part of being a mom. No doubt I will not always be liked as a follower of Christ, that too is part of the deal. But I am convinced that with a sincere heart and a mind set on Christ, the path will be set before me and I cannot wait to see what the next season of planting will bring.

 

At the suggestion of one of my favorite blogs, Momastery.com, we decided to start a habit during Lent rather than giving something up. We began a family gratitude journal and while it's only been about two weeks now, it's really been a great exercise. Watching a four year old and (almost) six year old take hold of the concept of gratitude has been very revealing. One of the very first things Grace was thankful for was the fact that her cousin's were getting to go on a trip over Spring Break, I thought that was so sweet. Elijah took a bit more coaching. In the beginning he tended to be thankful for whatever his eye's landed on or whatever his big sister happened to be grateful for that day, but over the last week he has come into his own and was thankful for play time with Emily at church, and hearing the frogs outside, to name a few.

I've read many studies that explain the variety of health benefits and the general improved well-being of having an attitude of gratitude, so I'm excited to have found a way to help the kids 'learn' this important life skill. An unexpected benefit though is what a window into their sweet minds this is proving to be. Almost always, at least one thing listed each night is about time that someone spent with them. Whether it is reading time with an aunt, or play time with mommy and daddy, one-on-one time always makes the list. Often they also list something that happened that I would not have known about without the journal. Things that happened at school, like learning new math, or things that they appreciate but wouldn't necessarily have mentioned, like cracking an egg without being scared. (I guess Grace has been too scared to crack eggs up until this last weekend, who knew?)

And just as the studies on gratitude suggest would happen, I can sense a change in my attitude as well. I'm paying more attention to life, noticing when things go right, and thinking, 'This will go in the journal tonight!' I am appreciating when I reach my three before I even make it in the office in the mornings, and I'm more apt to find the silver lining in a difficult situation. It's also a great way to highlight special moments for the kids throughout the day by letting them know, 'I think this moment might be in my top three tonight.' They are learning to be mindful of the good so they can record it at the end of the day – and being mindful of the awesome things that happen each day is such a life changing skill!

And some days it is just a chance to remember the things that we may take for granted, like Elijah's a few days ago, 'I am thankful for my bones.' Me too, although I hadn't ever said those words…

I highly recommend this practice. We have been delighted and suprised every night with what they come up with, not to mention seeing their choices mature and grow in just two short weeks. This will be a habit that we continue even after this season of Lent. Oh, and also – because we started this during Lent – we use our journal time to talk about Lent and Easter and what they mean to our family. This has given us a great opportunity to remind them that it's about more than the Easter Bunny bringing eggs (although that's still something to anticipate!)

What are some other ways your families practice finding gratitude in life? Do you have any other traditions that you do as a family during this season?

Here is one of the things that made my list today when I opened Grace's backpack from school:

Dear Mommy, I love you You like owls.
Mommy (today) you like purple. From
You like purple
Grace

 

And so, from now on, I like purple. The picture is Grace, me, and a silly squirrel looking up at me :).

Hope you have a fantastic week!

 

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