Butterfingers: Interruptions & Learning How to Be a Servant

Back and forth I went.

Kitchen to bedroom, bedroom to living room. Every time I sat down to write, it seemed I heard yet another cry.

“Mom! I need you!”

nate and jace

“Mom! The dog just peed on the floor!”

“Hey, honey, have you seen my socks?”

“Momma! I want candy!”

Through the chaos of barking dogs, calling children, buzzing dryers and ringing phones, I couldn’t suppress the inner voice bearing down on me.

You have to get this book finished by the end of summer. You’re at the most critical part in the story too. The spiritual crux of the matter. Don’t lose focus!

“Focus, Tara. Focus.” I found myself muttering the phrase as I carried the Spot Shot and washrag into the laundry room. I discarded the mess, washed my hands and sighed my relief when the voices clambering for attention finally ceased. All was quiet. Now I could finally get back to the business of what I was called to do…write.

I strolled into the living room and froze. A four year old greeted me with a sheepish grin and sticky fingers.

“Hi, Mom.” He shrugged. “You says I can has candy.” He grinned. “It’s yummy.”

Butterfinger crumbs were scattered all over the floor. Everywhere. butterfingersButterfingers.

Another delay. My irritation flared.

“Nathan!” I stomped over the pantry and grabbed a broom and dust pan before stooping to sweep up the mess. “Son, I do not have time for this!”

With a start, I heard, really heard the words coming out of my mouth. I didn’t have time to clean up my family’s messes? Didn’t have time to be a mom? Didn’t have time to be a servant to the little guys hugging my knees because I was too busy being a servant to everyone else?

God forgive me.

Usually, we are only angered by interruptions when we value the thing we are doing more than the person interrupting us. Sad but true. Crushed cheerios, spilled apple juice and cleaning up Legos might be the most un-glamorous job on the planet but it’s the un-glamorous that reveals the hearts of true servants. The same servant-heart found in Christ.

gabriel-jimenez-241711

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” ~Philippians 2:3-8

Jesus showed us the path to doing anything with big impact is to lay aside our ‘want-tos’ and put others first. That is where unconditional love is displayed, where people witness hope and torn hearts are mended.

Any ministry we have will only be as strong as the ministry we have within the walls of our home. Being a servant, working in ministry or whatever you’d like to call it should never be something we do. It should be an outpouring of who we are…a loved, redeemed child of God who can’t wait to show that love to others.

I’ve erased, “I don’t have time for this” from my vocabulary. We make time for whatever is important to us, and my messy little family is far more important than any book project I’ll ever write.

Although I confess, I may have stopped buying Butterfingers.

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Raising a Wild Child Without Losing Your Mind

 

wild nate 3 (2)Wild child. Stubborn. Headstrong. Independent. Strong-willed. Although, having been one of those myself, I suppose I’ve always preferred the term “steadfastly-minded”. You know the type of kid I’m talking about. If you’re not sure, here’s a checklist.

You might have a wild child if…

-You’ve considered purchasing a taser as a disciplinary tool. Okay, not really. (But maybe.)

-The medical personnel at the ER know you and your kid by name. er

– Your kid can unlock any child-proof device invented in under 3.7 seconds. Sometimes less.

-Your eye twitches sporadically for no apparent reason, although you suspect it’s trauma-related.

-You have, not once, but twice caught your child coloring the family dog with a sharpie.

-Your child has a talent for stripping naked at the most inopportune times.

-Nothing strikes fear in your heart more than silence.

-You see his footprints on the hood and top of your car. (Kudos to Lori Miller for this one.)

-Things break so often in your house, you no longer cringe or jump at the sound of crashing or cracking glass.

I feel your pain. Not only was I a wild child, but I am now raising one. I mistakenly thought I had this whole Mommy gig figured out until I had Nate. Boy, was I in for a shock. nate and tp

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion. But getting them to that place? Well, that’s the hard part. So much patience. So much determination. So much….everything.

After my latest battle with my little fireball, I fell into my bed, too tired to think. Reaching for my Bible, I flipped through the pages, begging God to either give me some encouragement or come back right away and spare me from my current misery. Do you know what verse He led me to? 2 Peter 1:3.

” His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Did you catch that? Peter says God has already given us what we need. So why don’t we always feel like it? Especially on the hard days? I think it’s usually because we’re fixated on how we feel, or how the world tells us things should be, rather than on God’s promises and rest.

This subtle but profound shift in my thinking has made a big difference in how I interact with my little guy. Here are a few things I’m learning along the way.

  1. Set aside time to recharge. Stay close to God. Start each morning with Bible study and prayer. Will everything go perfectly in your day? No. Will kids still scream and Cheerios still spill? Yes, but the way you handle things will change. Life goes on, but your perspective will shift. Staying close to God will transform you.

this day is yours prayer 

  1. Refuse to join them in their chaos. Little people have big emotions. When Nate was only a few months old, I remember one instance where he screamed so hard he passed out. When kids of any age are overcome with out-of-control emotions, the worst thing we can do is yell back. Such behavior only causes the situation to escalate to volatile levels. It’s our job to help them learn to identify their feelings, manage them and not be dictated by them…a hard task if we can’t do the same.
  1. Give them choices within defined boundaries.

My son loves his Donkey Kong shirt. He wants to wear it every single day. The problem with wearing the same shirt every day is eventually it begins to smell.

Three days ago we were choosing clothes to wear for the day. When I asked what he’d like to wear, he immediately shouted, “Donkey Kong!” I told him, “Sorry, bud, but Donkey Kong had to take a bath.” His brows lowered into a scowl, and I could see the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm front. He grit his teeth. “Donkey Kong.”

I could have pulled another shirt from the closet and said, “This is what you’re wearing today. Deal with it.” Instead, I pulled two other shirts out and let him choose. “Here are your choices today, buddy. Captain America or Star Wars?”

i've got the power

Suddenly, Donkey Kong was forgotten. Why? Because I’d given him a measure of power. He got to decide. He had control. It was minimal and within boundaries but still, control is what my little man craved.

Pick your battles carefully. Does it matter if your kiddo wants to wear mismatching socks or their shirt inside out? Think about the goals you have for your child. The long-term goal determines how you handle the day to day stuff. Focus on the big picture and let the quirky things go.

  1. Don’t be too proud to apologize when you’re wrong.

Every parents messes up at some point. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yelled when I’ve meant to keep calm. I’ve eaten Nutella from the jar when I’d determined to have an egg-white omelet. I’ve shown my kids what not to do…emotionally, physically and spiritually. So when I scrape bottom, the best way to teach them how to handle failure is to model the next step…humility and seeking forgiveness.

They are going to make the mistakes I do. They’re human. What better way for them to learn to seek forgiveness from others than to see it sought and lovingly offered within our own home? And kids are so quick to forgive. They are marvelously, beautifully filled with sticky grace.

  1. Remember God put you and your child together. mom and nateEvery time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory.

It seems the key to raising a wild child is this: relationship trumps everything else. Children who know they are loved, even when they mess up, seem to handle life, setbacks, their imperfections, and everything else, much better than those who don’t. Rules without relationship fail.

Love as you want to be loved. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. And keep your sense of humor handy. You’re going to need it.

What have you learned raising a wild child? What tips would you give to a struggling parent? What would you add to the list “You Know You Have a Wild Child If…”? I would love to hear!

5 Tips for Handling Criticism While Raising Your Strong-Willed Child

by Tara Johnson

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked slowly, trying to understand what the older woman who had approached me had said, a task made difficult by my son’s screams of temper and my own strangled nerves. I felt frayed. Exhausted. The excursion into Walmart was not going well. strong-willed-child

I’d had high hopes for the grocery store run. After all, my son’s terrible two fits were getting better. I had been diligent with him at home. He seemed to comprehend life wasn’t just about him. We were making progress. Less screams of temper. A slight bending of that iron-strong will of his. Was he stubborn? Most definitely so, but learning. He was learning and improving.

Until we arrived at Walmart.

My little man always wants to be held, a difficult task since his little two-year old body weighs in at a sturdy thirty-eight pounds. I had carried him far too much at church camp the week before and was still healing from a burst blood vessel in my arm as a result.

Instead, I planned. Nate can’t be trusted in a regular shopping cart. He stands up and nearly falls out when the momentum carries him past the frequent stops. His legs are too long for the front kiddie seat so that left one option: the hoss cart.

You know what I’m talking about? Those big blue carts that are the shopping cart equivalent to a monster truck? This hernia-inducing cart has a row of bench seats,  complete with seat belts and a regular cart attached to the end. My nine year old scooted into the bench next to Nate and my twelve year old walked beside me as I grunted that tank up and down aisles. For the first fifteen minutes things went well…until he discovered that when Mom is perusing products, the down time is a perfect opportunity to escape.

Maybe I can hold him. If we hurry, we can get through in fifteen more minutes, right?

Wrong. Nate began wiggling and squirming in my arms. Another ten minutes and my back was shot. With no other alternative, I plopped him back in his seat. “Sorry, little man, but Mommy’s back is hurting too badly. I need you to sit like a big boy until we’re done.”

In a flash, the demon of fury that resides in my toddler rose up with shocking force. He screamed. He slapped. He wailed. He hit himself. He tried to hit me. Wheeling the hoss cart into the shoe section with surprising speed, I grabbed his flailing body and gave him several swift swats to his rear, followed by a stern admonition to straighten up and fly right.

He was having none of it. I needed his crib, a place for time-out where he could escape until he calmed down. For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a time-out fort from shoe boxes but decided against it. Stores don’t seem to like it when you do that.

Seeing no other options, I seat-belted him into the cart as his screams reached ear shattering levels. I shouted to the girls, “Okay, here’s the game plan: get only the necessities like milk and bread and we’ll hightail it out of here.”

My sweet girls nodded and did their level best to help me do my Indy 500 shopping. Nate never calmed down though. He slapped, he kicked, he wailed, he shrieked. With every spine-jerking scream, my nerves stretched tighter and tighter.screaming

Absently grabbing a loaf of bread, I thought, Am I a terrible mother? Why do all of our trips to town end like this? I spank. I do time-outs. I talk. I reason. I reward. I punish. I’m consistent. I don’t give in. I don’t back down. I cuddle him. I love on him. I do everything I know to do and still, this is what happens. I thought I had this whole mothering thing figured out. The girls are sweet as pie. Where did I go wrong?

Then the nosy, albeit well-intentioned lady approached me as I grabbed for some eggs.

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked, trying to formulate a reply. “Yes, ma’am. Actually I did wear him out. This is the aftermath.”

She shook her head, giving me a sweet yet somehow condescending smile. “No, honey, I mean you should take him to the bathroom and spank his bottom and don’t let him out until he’s stopped.”

I nearly laughed in disbelief. Keep Nate in the Walmart bathroom until he stopped screaming? I really didn’t have the time to keep him in lock down for seven hours. Trust me, that’s how long it would take before little man gave up. Plus I had two other kids to consider.

As a Christian mom, I never thought I would say this, especially since I’ve always been taught and read the admonition to “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but spankings make my son worse. Significantly so. He gets hysterical, beside himself and completely shuts down.

A strong-willed child would just as soon take the punishment and keep doing what they want to do.  I could spank my son all day long but what he wanted was to be held. I couldn’t cave in, hence the seat belt in the hoss cart until I could get him home.

I tried to explain all this but the stranger would have none of it.

Taking a step closer, she shook her head. “Listen, honey, I used to run a day care so I know. If you let him pitch this fit, he’ll never learn and will walk all over you.”

Let him pitch a fit? It took all of my self-control not to lash out in hurt and all my willpower to keep him in that seat. Every ounce of energy I expelled trying to stay firm with him was exhausting.

Then, she lowered the boom,  rubbing salt into the open wound. Lowering her voice, she looked over her shoulder. “Listen, hon, people are talking about what a bad mom you are. I just heard a lady over in jewelry say ‘What kind of a mom lets a kid who’s upset scream like that?'”

crying

I was speechless, too hurt and wounded to formulate a reply. Oh, I wanted to. I wanted to lash out in anger, to give vent to the volcano of emotions rolling inside of me. To tell this woman that she didn’t know my son at all. That she didn’t know me and that she had disrespected me in front of my own kids.

But my girls were watching. Observing. She was my elder and deserved respect, no matter how deeply she cut my Mommy-heart open.

Instead, I nodded and slowly wheeled my little ducks to the card section where I cried in front of the Hallmarks.

This is a day in the life of a mom raising a strong-willed child. I actually thought about titling this blog post “Apocalypse, Thy Name is Strong-Willed”. Sound a tad melodramatic? I would have thought so too…before I actually had a strong-willed child.

All this happened over a year ago. Since then, we have learned Nater Tater has been diagnosed with several issues that mean how he learns and the way he learns it is not the norm. And yes, that includes in the realm of discipline.

My adorable little boy’s stubborn, fiery will took me by surprise since we’d already had two sweet girls. My husband and I mistakenly thought we had this kid-raising thing somewhat down. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I’m strong willed and my husband is as well. (Although I prefer the term ‘steadfastly minded’.) And although some days it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a good thing we are the ones raising a bull-headed little boy. He won’t be able to run roughshod over us. I’ve told him many times and will likely say it a million more, “You’re not gonna win this one, kiddo. I’m more stubborn than you. So settle in and bring it on.” stubbornness

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion.

On the days I’m ready to throw in the towel, I remind myself of this truth. When I feel my Mommy toolbox is depleted, I remind myself God has a plan for this little guy. Honestly, rather than the day to day challenges of parenting, I tend to hurt more from the hastily flung barbs of my critics.

So how does an exhausted mom handle those who are happy to dole out unsolicited advice?

  1. Be respectful. As tempting as it might be, don’t respond in anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20) How you react to criticism teaches your children how to react to criticism. Don’t let your emotions choose for you. Knee-jerk reactions have eternal consequences. Breathe in, breathe out.
  1. Be teachable. prideful-peopleOften times people give advice because they have a trick or technique that worked for them or their child. It’s okay to listen. You aren’t obligated to put it into practice. As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, your stubborn kiddo might be trying to play by a different rule book. Trying something new could be extremely helpful. Or it could backfire big time. Scrap the diva mentality either way. It’s hard to have your pride nicked if it’s not inflated.
  1. Remind yourself that this phase won’t always last. Every time I’m tempted to think that my life will be a never-ending stream of crushed Cheerios, sleepless nights and temper tantrums, I remind myself that this phase of life will pass. Change. Yes, other phases will come and go. Some delightful. Some infuriating. That’s okay. This too shall pass…sometimes like a kidney stone but it will pass.
  1. Don’t try to cram your child into a mold that other people declare to be acceptable. moldTrying to force your child to be something he or she is not is crippling, both for you and them. God has a unique plan for their little lives and His plan does not include having them pretend to be someone else. Think about your goals in raising your little one. Is it to please people, to win their approval as being a great parent, or do you want your child to grow up to be a person who follows God with their whole heart and can live a happy, independent and productive life? The goal determines how you handle the little stuff…and consequently, how deeply you let that irritating know-it-all get under your skin.
  1. Remember God put you and your child together. Every time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory. And really, if I’m trying to do things in my own strength, I’m going to fall flat on my face anyways. But when I surrender each moment to Him, each decision and each of my unique little ones to Him, His strength will be made perfect in my weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s okay, exhausted parent of a stubbornly stubborn kiddo. Breathe in, breathe out. Love your child. Correct them. Stand strong. Don’t cave under pressure. And remember, when this life is over, you won’t stand before a jury of your peers. Just God. Living to please Him is all that matters.

I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle criticism? Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What is the best or worst advice you’ve ever received? 

When Your Kid is…Different

Sometimes, Moms just know.

They know when all isn’t as it should be. When the other three year olds are able to count to ten but their child can’t articulate “one”, “two” or “three”. Moms know when it’s strange that their three old son can’t ask for a specific food when he’s hungry, but instead opens his mouth and yells, “Eat!”

She knows that something is wrong when her adorable little boy is three and she’s still not heard him say his own name. She knows.

I knew. nate-for-blog

Well meaning people told me not to worry about it. After all, my fun-loving bundle of energy had two big sisters who could speak for him. Why did he need to talk? He just hadn’t found the need to that often. Others told me to chill. He’s a boy. They don’t mature as quickly as girls. Girls are counting early, learning the alphabet, solving world peace and knitting blankets for their future husbands, while boys play in dirt and pick their noses. Nothing to worry about. Right?

I knew, but I didn’t say much. He’s healthy and extremely happy. A handsome boy with mischievous brown eyes, heart-melting dimples and chestnut curls. He makes friends easily and is always smiling. But still, there was something…

The speech delay could no longer be ignored and we had him tested just before Christmas of last year. The results came back for our little guy…severe cognitive delay paired with a severe speech delay. what-if

As I sat at the tiny elementary school table, my legs tucked up under the too-small chair, I listened to the therapists lay out all the options for my little guy. I was calm. I knew God had gone before us and I knew none of this had taken Him by surprise. The therapists told me from what they’d observed, they believed Nate could catch up over time. I listened and nodded and drove away from the school with a heart that was too jumbled for examination. Heavy, sad, overwhelmed, relieved in an odd way that my concern was validated, a thousand ‘what-ifs’ tumbling through my mind, another wash of sadness, and then—

“Hi!”

I looked in the rear view mirror and Nate was grinning that big toothy grin at me, his brown eyes sparkling, one chubby hand waving. “Hi, Monny.” He blew a big, wet sloppy kiss my direction and it happened. That tight bubble of gloom burst in my chest and was instantly replaced with laughter. Joy. Love.

Because in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing has changed. Nate is exactly the same awesome bundle of energy and joy he’s always been, both before the diagnosis and after. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective.

Going through this journey with Nate has been incredibly rewarding. He works so hard to master new skills and concepts each week but here’s the thing…he’s not worried about trying to make anybody happy or do things the ‘right’ way. He just loves life, learning and people. nate-and-susan

And Nate has taught me how to celebrate the small things. After his very first speech session, his amazing speech therapist, Susan Jumper (pictured right), or “Miss Su-Su” as he calls her, led him out of the room with a big smile on her face.

“Nate, do you want to show Mommy what we learned today?”

He nodded and smiled.

Susan asked, “What’s your name?”

He moved his fingers down his arm and tapped his wrist as he said, “Nate!” Perfect enunciation. Perfect smile. Perfect joy.

Perfect tears on this Mommy’s part. Those small victories have turned into big victories for our little guy.

I’m incredibly thankful for his incredible therapists and teachers…people like Miss Diana (pictured below), his cognitive therapist, Miss Su-Su, and Miss Roxie, Miss Stephanie and others who pour endless love and patience into these little guys who have so much to give. And I’m so thankful for a Savior Who sees every need…even before we know we have one. He has provided help every step of the journey.

nate-and-diana

Any more, when people ask me how Nate is doing, I smile and say, “Just fine.” He’s thriving. God has seen to it. If you’re reading this and your child has just received an unexpected diagnosis, a test that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, or is struggling in some other way, take heart. Love fills the gaps where our strength crumbles. There will be days when you’ll have ugly cries in the shower so no one can see. Times when you’ll wonder, “Why?” But there will be victories too. Laughter, love, and joy that will be all the sweeter because of the journey you took to arrive at the place of celebration.

Your child is a great big bundle of love and potential. Tests can’t measure their worth. Focus on what matters. Focus on what will last.

“And the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

I would love to hear from you. Are you the parent of a child going through a similar situation? Are you battling some scary emotions? What have you learned along the journey? Would you like me to pray for you and your family? Drop me a few lines!

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

I’m a beautiful mess this time of year. And I’ve learned that’s okay.stressed-mom-at-christmas

For years I lost precious sleep, valuable hair and added circles under my eyes to achieve the perfect Christmas. For my kids. For my husband. For my church. For my own ridiculous ideals. Christmas is the mother ship for us perfectionist types. Correction, recovering perfectionists, because that’s what I am.

I wanted to give my family the Norman Rockwell paintings of Christmas memories. You know, something they could look back on and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” I nearly made myself a nut job in the process.

Ironically, the best memories our little family have made have been from the things that went horrible wrong…the goof-ups, silly disasters, and laugh-out-loud mistakes. Those are the things my kids will remember. Perfection had no part of those special moments.

Living without grace can and will kill you. It’s a miserably hopeless existence. Not much joy. No freedom. It’s impossible to pull off anyway. Forget about the perfectly decorated tree, the swept floors, the homemade everything, the house that smells like cinnamon or the brightly wrapped packages that look like they were designed by Martha Stewart. During the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to the let that extra ‘stuff’ go. You know what I’ve discovered? Christmas is a much more joyful time of year for the loss of it. God has birthed the simply joy and beauty anew in my heart. And He reminded me once again why He sent His Son. I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a Being to impress with how well I’ve got it together. No, I needed a Savior. I’m a broken mess in need of the beautiful Hope only He can give.

I’m tired of bulldozing through Christmas like a Type A beast. All it ever did was make me a grinch. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism and find the beauty that made the King of the universe lay down His crown to come to a broken world of desperate people. No greater act of love has ever been given.

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

Every kid down in Coolville liked Christmas a lot, But Miss Perfection, who lived south of Coolville did NOT! Christmas drove her crazy. The whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be because she wanted everything to go just right. It could be, perhaps, because she needed anxiety meds at night. But I think that the most likely reason of all, was if she messed up, she’d feel unloved by one and all.

grinchShe’d fight the crowds with a sour, Grinchy frown, and zoom in her minivan all over town. Shopping and baking and parties and planning, wrapping and photos while dreaming of tanning. The mess! The stress! Made her long to punch an elf in the midst of his chest! “If I could just disappear. But Christmas is coming. It’s practically here!” The children were fighting in their sleep-deprived state. She wasn’t faring much better staying up nights so late. “It’s just part of the season,” she told herself time and again. But His still, small Voice began to whisper within.  

As the whirlwind of tinsel and glitter increased, her joy faded away. How could this be? “I remembered the ribbons. I remembered the tags. I remembered the packages, boxes and bags.” She puzzled for hours, till her puzzler was sore and continued to think as she entered the church doors. As the pastor read from Luke chapter two, she remembered how God came down as a Babe…and she knew. me-at-christmas

“I’m not perfect, I’ll never be. That’s why God sent a Savior for me. Jesus died to give me freedom from this kind of living. Instead of “perfection”, I need to be giving!” And what happened then? Well, in Coolville they say, Miss Perfection’s joy grew three sizes that day! She put down her ‘to-do’ list and played with her kids, laughed, made memories and closed her weary eyelids. 

The last thing she did that made her heart dance with light? Miss Perfection threw out her copy of Christmas Done Right.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Seuss for the inspiration.

tinsel-in-a-tangle

Books are Not My Babies…and Other “Idol” Chatter

Y’all, this writing gig is hard.

I recently saw a pic that summed up the process perfectly. “You read a scene and think, ‘That was nice.’ Time it took you to read the scene? Five minutes. Time it took the author to write the scene? Five bazillion hours.”

reading

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. It’s hard work. More than I ever dreamed possible. And just when I think the sleepless nights, the outpouring of creativity, the frazzled nerves will pay off, I get word that more revisions are needed. So it’s back to work. Again.

Years ago, I sat in my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, as a dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears writer listening to Tamera Alexander speak. Tamera said something I will never forget. “The stories you write, the books you sell, they are not your babies. They are products.” baby

Wise words. And, boy, was she correct. That single piece of advice has saved me much heartache. Why? What did she mean? I took her wisdom, at least in part, to mean this: don’t let your heart grow attached to something that will devastate you if it is taken away.

Creativity, imagination and the mysterious muse are beautiful gifts lavished on us by a loving Creator, but when we elevate those gifts into ‘baby’ status in our hearts, we have unwittingly set up an idol. So when our ‘babies’ are rejected, criticized, or anything in between, we grow defensive, we lash out, or live in the land of angry, miserable resentment. Are we consumed with our stories or consumed with our Savior? Worse yet, do we use creativity as a smoke screen? A way to be consumed with ourselves, our Amazon reviews, or our latest rankings as some sort of attempt to prove our own worth or to puff up our battered pride?

Heart _Idols are sneaky things. They come disguised as good things. Great things, and they are. The problem is not the idol. The issue is the shift of devotion that occurs in our own hearts. 

Take our children, for example. Are there more beautiful treasures? We sacrifice for them. We plan for them. We give and dream and hope and pray. We lose sleep and hair and sometimes our sanity, all because our love for them is so great, we can do nothing less than give them our all. I get it.

However, I cringe when I hear parents say they couldn’t live if something happened to their child. Our hope should never, ever be based on our children. No parent should outlive their child, but it happens all the time. I’ve outlived two of mine.

I grieve and cry but I have hope. In the words of King David when his own infant son died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” Because of Jesus, I have a bright, secure future and a peace that remains steadfast, despite the chaos swirling around me. I am not defeated. I am not destroyed. corrie ten boom hold everything lightly

I like the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Whether it’s career ambition, money, material possessions, relationships, awards, children, attention, approval, busyness, entertainment or even yourself, beware of idols. Keep your heart on the One who created it. Don’t give your devotion to something or someone that cannot save. The temporary satisfaction they provide will soon become a consuming pit that will only leave emptiness and regret behind.

Stories are not your babies. They are products.

And babies are cute, but remember, they are also exhausting. Choose wisely.

The Heart Beat

The scream jerked me out of a dead sleep.

I groaned as my feet slapped against the cold floor. Not again.

I padded to Nathan’s room, grunting as my shin collided against the sharp edge of an unknown object in the dark house. More nightmares. The interruption of sleep was wearing thin.

I opened the door to my son’s room with a soft creak. My weariness melted away when he reached out his pudgy arms for me, sniffing and crying out in relief, “Mama.” nightmares

“Oh, baby. Did you have a bad dream?”

I scooped him up in my arms as he wiped his tears away with chubby fists. Kissing his forehead, I snuggled down with him in his bed and hummed a lullaby, alternating between wordless melodies and prayer. “Dear Jesus, please help Nate sleep without fear…”

He patted my face as we kept our vigil for a few minutes longer. His breath grew even and calm. I lifted up my head, thinking he was asleep. I was wrong. Nate sat up and frowned.

“No, Mama.”

I chuckled and laid back down beside him. But this time, instead of patting my face like he usually wants to do, Nate pressed my head to his chest. I heard every thrum of his little heart.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Each time that beat grew slow and easy, I gently raised my head up only to find a chubby fist push my head back down again.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. heart beat

As I lay there listening to his heart beat, I thanked God for my stubborn, wild little boy. He’s exhausting, but a joy nonetheless. Then my thoughts drifted to another little boy and a mother who might have had nights similar to this one. Oh, I know there are few similarities between Jesus and Nate. Jesus is the Savior and well, my son needs the Savior. But relationships bond people together the world over in experiences so we can feel another’s pain, sense another’s sorrow, see life through another’s eyes. jesus as little boy

What was Jesus like at the age of three? Was he ever awakened with nightmares? It’s an odd thought, I know. The King of creation, afraid? Still, Jesus was just as much little boy as much as he was God. Did He call out for His mother to soothe His fears? Did she run and gather Him in her arms? I wonder if He ever pressed her head to His chest in an effort to draw her close.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

I am no hero. I can’t breathe life out of nothing or fight dragons or calm storms. Yet, I have a Father who can do all of those things. Indeed, He has done them already and will to do them again.

“I will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

When the enemy hisses his lies in my ear, when giants loom over me causing my knees to buckle in fear, when I can’t breathe for the pain squeezing around my chest, I have a Father I can cry out to. Before I even finish His name, He is cradling me in His arms and pressing my head to His chest. god's heart beat

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Always strong. Always steady. Always the same.

Maybe the little boy Jesus was never scared. If He called out for his mother in the night, perhaps it was so he could calm her fears. And isn’t that a mind bender?

The heart beat of God is a powerful thing. It reminds us of His presence. Of His protection. Of His love. The same heart beat that thrums with a steady cadence calling the weary to find rest is the same pulse He poured out and emptied at the cross.

I pray Nate’s nightmares cease for his sake, but I don’t mind being awakened by them so much anymore. Every time I hear his heart thumping, it reminds of my heavenly Father’s. A Father Who never slumbers or sleeps.

And that makes for some very sweet dreams.

 

 

 

 

Taking the Anger Out of Interruptions

“Mom, I need help.”

Hearing that plea several times a day is sweet. Endearing. After all, I’m Mom and that’s what I’m here for. I hesitantly confess when it becomes a continual, whiny plea of frustrated, disgruntled children, I begin to lose my cool.

I sit down to eat and my son spills his drink. I’m steadily typing away on a book project and my girls decide they cannot even fathom how to work their math problem without having me stand over their shoulder. A knock on the door during nap time. The jarring ring of the cell phone when the entire house is a tornado of barking dogs, screaming kids and burning dinner. Spills, arguments, needy people. do not disturb

I admit, some days the interruptions drive me crazy.

After a particularly trying day, I plopped down on the couch and contemplated running away, or, at least, hiding in the bathroom. I couldn’t focus on the work before me because of the continual stream of disturbances. I like having a plan. I’m a scheduled-oriented chick. I like spontaneity but only if I can scratch it into my calendar first. Despite my growing irritation, I felt a niggle of guilt at my escalating anger when I couldn’t accomplish what I’d set out to do. After all, it’s not my kids’ fault when they need help. That’s their job—learning through a process of failures.

Stretched out on that sagging couch and rubbing my aching temples, God revealed the reason for my guilt, piercing my heart in the process. Interruptions cause anger when I value the task more than the person doing the interrupting.

Yikes.

When I’m consumed with my plan, my work, my schedule and my check list, I leave no room or flexibility for God to shift me into His plans for the day.

detour

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” ~Proverbs 16:9

Every great hero of faith in God’s Word was faced with life-changing, fear-producing, bone-jarring interruptions. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Elisha, Job, Esther, Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul, the disciples and Mary—only to name a few. What if they had refused to change their schedule? What if they had stubbornly dug in their heels and rejected God’s call away from their well-ordered lives? I wince to think of the outcome.

Whenever I snap in anger to an interruption, every time I complain about the things I’m not getting done, I need to remember God has ordered my steps for that day. I might be under the illusion that I’m calling the shots, but really, He’s the one in control. I’m slowly learning to let go of my to-do lists and trade them in for a to-be list. Be like Jesus. Pour all my love and energy into those precious lives He’s entrusted to me for a season. Life is really about relationships anyway. Everything else is a bonus. interruptions

As I sit here in the airport, typing my thoughts, a crackling voice announces a message over the intercom.

“The American Airlines flight to Little Rock is now delayed.”

Irony.

Are you a planner? How do you handle interruptions? What is your reaction when life, or God, throws you an unexpected curve ball?

How To Handle Critics While Raising Your Strong-Willed Child

by Tara Johnson

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked slowly, trying to understand what the older woman who had approached me had said, a task made difficult by my son’s screams of temper and my own strangled nerves. I felt frayed. Exhausted. At the end of my rope. The excursion into Walmart was not going well. strong-willed-child

I’d had high hopes for the grocery store run. After all, my son’s terrible two fits were getting better. I had been diligent with him at home. He seemed to be comprehending that life wasn’t just about him. We were making progress. Less screams of temper. A slight bending of that iron-strong will of his. Was he stubborn? Most definitely so, but learning. He was learning and improving.

Until we arrived at Walmart.

My little man always wants to be held, a difficult task since his little two-year old body weighs in at a sturdy thirty-eight pounds. I had carried him far too much at church camp the week before and was still healing from a burst blood vessel in my arm as a result.

Instead, I planned. Nate can’t be trusted in a regular shopping cart. He stands up and nearly falls out when the momentum carries him past the frequent stops. His legs are too long for the front kiddie seat so that left one option: the hoss cart.

You know what I’m talking about? Those big blue carts that are the shopping cart equivalent to a monster truck? This hernia-inducing cart has a row of bench seats,  complete with seat belts and a regular cart attached to the end. My nine year old scooted into the bench next to Nate and my twelve year old walked beside me as I grunted that tank up and down aisles. For the first fifteen minutes things went well…until he discovered that when Mom is perusing products, the down time is a perfect opportunity to escape.

Maybe I can hold him. If we hurry, we can get through in fifteen more minutes, right?

Wrong. Nate began wiggling and squirming in my arms. Another ten minutes and my back was shot. With no other alternative, I plopped him back in his seat. “Sorry, little man, but Mommy’s back is hurting too badly. I need you to sit like a big boy until we’re done.”

In a flash, the demon of fury that resides in my toddler rose up with shocking force. He screamed. He slapped. He wailed. He hit himself. He tried to hit me. Wheeling the hoss cart into the shoe section with surprising speed, I grabbed his flailing body and gave him several swift swats to his rear, followed by a stern admonition to straighten up and fly right.

He was having none of it. I needed his crib, a place for time-out where he could escape until he calmed down. For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a time-out fort from shoe boxes but decided against it. Stores don’t seem to like it when you do that.

Seeing no other options, I seat-belted him into the cart as his screams reached ear shattering levels. I shouted to the girls, “Okay, here’s the game plan: get only the necessities like milk and bread and we’ll hightail it out of here.”

My sweet girls nodded and did their level best to help me do my Indy 500 shopping. Nate never calmed down though. He slapped, he kicked, he wailed, he shrieked. With every spine-jerking scream, my nerves stretched tighter and tighter.screaming

Absently grabbing a loaf of bread, I thought, Am I a terrible mother? Why do all of our trips to town end like this? I spank. I do time-outs. I talk. I reason. I reward. I punish. I’m consistent. I don’t give in. I don’t back down. I cuddle him. I love on him. I do everything I know to do and still, this is what happens. I thought I had this whole mothering thing figured out. The girls are sweet as pie. Where did I go wrong?

Then the nosy, albeit well-intentioned lady approached me as I grabbed for some eggs.

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked, trying to formulate a reply. “Yes, ma’am. Actually I did wear him out. This is the aftermath of his temper tantrum.”

She shook her head, giving me a sweet yet somehow condescending smile. “No, honey, I mean you should take him to the bathroom and spank his bottom and don’t let him out until he’s stopped.”

I nearly laughed in disbelief. Keep Nate in the Walmart bathroom until he stopped screaming? I really didn’t have the time to keep him in lockdown for seven hours. Trust me, that’s how long it would take before little man gave up. Plus I had two other kids to consider.

As a Christian mom, I never thought I would say this, especially since I’ve always been taught and read the admonition to “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but spankings make my son worse. Significantly so. He gets hysterical, beside himself and completely shuts down.

A strong-willed child would just as soon take the punishment and keep doing what they want to do.  I could spank my son all day long but what he wanted was to be held. I couldn’t cave in, hence the seat belt in the hoss cart until I could get him home.

I tried to explain all this but the stranger would have none of it.

Taking a step closer, she shook her head. “Listen, honey, I used to run a day care so I know. If you let him pitch this fit, he’ll never learn and will walk all over you.”

Let him pitch a fit? It took all of my self-control not to lash out in hurt and all my willpower to keep him in that seat. Every ounce of energy I expelled trying to stay firm with him was exhausting.

Then, she lowered the boom,  rubbing salt into the open wound. Lowering her voice, she looked over her shoulder. “Listen, hon, people are talking about what a bad mom you are. I just heard a lady over in jewelry say ‘What kind of a mom lets a kid who’s upset scream like that?'”

crying

I was speechless, too hurt and wounded to formulate a reply. Oh, I wanted to. I wanted to lash out in anger, to give vent to the volcano of emotions rolling inside of me. To tell this woman that she didn’t know my son at all. That she didn’t know me and that she had disrespected me in front of my own kids. I wanted to rail that, for a recovering people pleaser, the thought of what others think of me had paralyzed my walk with God for years and I was desperately trying to stay free from that bondage mentality again. I wanted to tell her that her words had wounded me beyond my ability to cope.

But my girls were watching. Observing. She was my elder and deserved respect, no matter how deeply she cut my Mommy-heart open.

Instead, I nodded and slowly wheeled my little ducks to the card section where I cried in front of the Hallmarks.

This is a day in the life of a mom raising a strong-willed child. I actually thought about titling this blog post “Apocalypse, Thy Name is Strong-Willed”. Sound a tad melodramatic? I would have thought so too…before I actually had a strong-willed child.

My adorable little boy’s stubborn, fiery will took me by surprise since we’d already had two sweet girls. My husband and I mistakenly thought we had this kid-raising thing somewhat down. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I’m strong willed and my husband is as well. And although some days it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a good thing that we are the ones raising a bull-headed little boy. He won’t be able to run roughshod over us. I’ve told him many times and will likely say it a million more, “You’re not gonna win this one, kiddo. I’m more stubborn than you. So settle in and bring it on.”

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion.

On the days I’m ready to throw in the towel, I remind myself of this truth. When I feel my Mommy toolbox is depleted, I remind myself that God has a plan for this little guy. Honestly, rather than the day to day challenges of parenting, I tend to hurt more from the hastily flung barbs of my critics.

So how does an exhausted mom handle those who are happy to dole out unsolicited advice?

  1. Be respectful. As tempting as it might be, don’t respond in anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20) How you react to criticism teaches your children how to react to criticism. Don’t let your emotions choose for you. Knee-jerk reactions have eternal consequences. Breathe in, breathe out.
  1. Be teachable. prideful-peopleOften times people give advice because they have a trick or technique that worked for them or their child. It’s okay to listen. You aren’t obligated to put it into practice. As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, your stubborn kiddo might be trying to play by a different rule book. Trying something new could be extremely helpful. Or it could backfire big time. Scrap the diva mentality either way. It’s hard to have your pride nicked if it’s not inflated.
  1. Remind yourself that this phase won’t always last. Every time I’m tempted to think that my life will be a never-ending stream of crushed Cheerios, sleepless nights and temper tantrums, I remind myself that this phase of life will pass. Change. Yes, other phases will come and go. Some delightful. Some infuriating. That’s okay. This too shall pass…sometimes like a kidney stone but it will pass.
  1. Don’t try to cram your child into a mold that other people declare to be acceptable. moldTrying to force your child to be something he or she is not is crippling, both for you and them. God has a unique plan for their little lives and His plan does not include having them pretend to be someone else. Think about your goals in raising your little one. Is it to please people, to win their approval as being a great parent, or do you want your child to grow up to be a person who follows God with their whole heart and can live a happy, independent and productive life? The goal determines how you handle the little stuff…and consequently, how deeply you let that irritating know-it-all get under your skin.
  1. Remember God put you and your child together. Every time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory. And really, if I’m trying to do things in my own strength, I’m going to fall flat on my face anyways. But when I surrender each moment to Him, each decision and each of my unique little ones to Him, His strength will be made perfect in my weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s okay, exhausted parent of a stubbornly stubborn kiddo. Breathe in, breathe out. Love your child. Correct them. Stand strong. Don’t cave under pressure. And remember, when this life is over, you won’t stand before a jury of your peers. Just God. Living to please Him is all that matters.

I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle criticism? Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What is the best or worst advice you’ve ever received?