Thursday, August 24, 2017

When The Interruptions Are Our Ministry

I’m often the last one to the party. I don’t know if it’s because my eyes are moving faster than my brain has the capacity to process. Or if I’m so overwhelmed with the pace of life that I’m hesitant to add new things to my plate. Or if I’m more of a follower than a leader with regard to all things “trending.”
Maybe it’s a little of all three.

But regardless, over the last few weeks, my eyes have seen a lot of hype about Monday’s eclipse on social media. But my head didn’t process it until Monday morning, when I woke up, and was all, “I think we’re having an eclipse today…”
Two of our three kids were super-excited about it. Their teachers were taking them outside to watch it with protective eye wear. Little Bit was downright mad because the school had decided first graders don’t have the needed self-control to not stare at the sun. Thus, no eclipse viewing for him.

I had taken some personal time resulting in a five-day weekend to catch up around the house from the fallout of summer, and Monday was my last day off.
I had big plans.

And I had exactly zero intention of taking time out of my schedule to watch the eclipse since I had no eclipse glasses and the idea of burning my retinas sounded flat-out awful.
But at the breakfast table, my oldest son turned to me and said:

“Mommy, are you going to come up to school and watch the eclipse with me? They invited all the parents…”
His words sucked the air out of the room, as all eyes turned to me, waiting for a response. My to-do list flooded through my mind. My heartbeat increased to a rapid pace. And I actually began to sweat. My husband stood in the kitchen, trying not to laugh. He knew all about my big plans for the day.

I had a split-second to construct my response.
Would I duck and cover? Or would I step out into the sun?

More times than I can count, I’ve heard my pastor husband remind himself and his staff that “the interruptions are the ministry.” It’s true in church work, and it’s certainly true in parenting. But truth doesn’t mean easy, and this isn’t an easy motto to adopt.
At least not for me.

Head down, nose to the grindstone, I feel focused, successful, and in control. I often fool myself into thinking that finishing my task list will lead to some level of eternal joy or satisfaction. But at the end of this task list lies another. And another after that. If I’m not careful, I’ll work my task list to the exclusion of missed ministry opportunities arising all around me.
I knew this was a ministry moment. I also knew that the days of my oldest son inviting me to the school to spend time with him weren’t as countless as the hairs upon his head. So I put my plans on the shelf I’d intended to de-clutter and headed to the school.

There’s no question that the structure and routine of the school year is good for all of us. We should embrace it.
But schedules and routine can become domineering if we’re not mindful of the needed ebb and flow between work and play.

So as your family settles into the rhythm of a new school year, my prayer is that my husband’s words might ring as true for you as they did for me. May we all remember that the interruptions are our ministry, and sometimes, we just need to step out into the sun!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Five Tips To Help Families Ease Into School

School has been back in session for 36 hours. Although I was resistant to the return of structure and routine, I can already see how it will serve our family well.
We let it all go during the summer.

But with the return of school, I dust off some disciplines we’ve implemented to help us manage the stress of school and love each other well in the process.
Since I’m fairly certain we started school before everyone under the sun, I thought I’d share these disciplines here for you to consider as you plan for your family’s first day. You are in my prayers as you embark upon a new journey this school year!

1.      Start Each Morning With Family Devotion
We started doing family devotions after breakfast when our kids were little. That worked for years, but when all our kids began school, our devotions became less hit and more miss. For an entire year, I beat my head against the wall, wondering why we couldn’t get this right.

And then I heard a speaker talk about putting God first. Not a unique idea, but I had considered “after getting ready and after eating breakfast” to be close enough. The problem was that these activities always took more time than we budgeted, and devotion time was snuffed out.
A simple shift of the schedule changed everything.

Now, we do our devotional before we do anything else. We rarely miss! Not only does our time with the Lord bless us in the moment, but also our mornings are more peaceful, our days run more smoothly! And guess what? Everything else miraculously gets done.
2.         Do Everything Possible The Night Before

Learning the beauty and wisdom of margin has been a theme for our family the last four years. If we don’t have margin, we don’t have room to be flexible, and seemingly small things can become not so small.
If this is true for life in general, then it’s also true for families on school mornings! If we wait until the morning to pack lunches and gather belongings, then we leave no space for the unexpected, like:

“I forgot that I’m supposed to bring cookies for the band party today!”
If we’ve prepped the night before, however, there’s space for us to tackle these issues with grace and composure. Our kids know they earn the freedom to play after school by taking care of their responsibilities ahead of time.

3.      Follow An Afternoon Checklist
To help us execute Tip No. 2, we follow an afternoon checklist, which hangs on our refrigerator. It’s not Pinterest worthy (I broke up with Pinterest long ago…OK, let’s be honest…I never dated Pinterest in the first place), but it’s functional. And it saves me at least 50 million words a day. A request to go outside and play is met with a gesture towards the checklist, and everyone knows exactly what I mean:

When it’s done.
This has helped set expectations, reduce conflict, and allow the kids to take responsibility for their tasks.

4.      Create A Meal Plan
I love to cook! But last Spring, I fell into a rut. To dig me out, I discovered Prep Dish.

Prep Dish provides a menu of gluten-free and paleo meals to save time and money. Along with the menu, Prep Dish sends a printable grocery list and instructions for prep day. Two hours in the kitchen yields meals for a week that get from oven to table in minutes, with little mess!
With the help of Prep Dish, I put healthy, home-cooked meals on the table again and simplified our evening routine. In addition, we were stretching our taste buds, using ingredients outside my home-cook comfort zone.

Who knew my kids liked lamb and bok choy?
Whether it’s Prep Dish, Hello Fresh, or your own slow cooker rotation, developing a meal plan will save your family money and time, improve your health, and make evenings more enjoyable.

5.      Create Space For Downtime
We’ve implemented each tip referenced in this post with one goal in mind:

To create a life-giving home environment that includes sufficient measures of work, play,
and family time.
This is easier in the summer, much harder during the school year. Because there are days when I pick the kids up from school, drive straight to activities, and pull into our driveway near bedtime.

We do the best we can on those days.
But on slower days, these tips help us manage our home more intentionally. The result is that we have some measure of downtime to enjoy each other’s company and take deep breaths. We don’t always nail it, but we’re trying!

My prayer is that these tips might bless your family as you embark upon a new school year too!


Friday, August 11, 2017

A Prayer For Moms These Last Summer Days

I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach. Not the kind I used to get before performing on stage. For some strange reason, I enjoyed those.
These were of a different kind. The kind that result from the smorgasbord of emotions I’m feeling as we march ever-closer to the beginning of a new school year. We go back in five days.

I’m not ready.
And yet I am ready.

Because as much as I love having our kids at home in the nest, I know the return of structure and routine will serve us well.
On Monday, I took the kids to Hawaiian Falls, for what I was certain would be our last visit together. Watching my children play in the waves, the familiar waves of sadness began to roll over me. It happens to me every summer. Exactly one week before school starts.

I begin to regret all the things we didn’t do instead of celebrating all the things that we did. And I begin to wish for just a few more days.
And yet at the same time, the fit of my swimsuit is proof that I’ve indulged just a little too much in popsicles, kid-friendly affair, and pool-side sodas, and that I’ve been a less-than-stellar companion to my yoga mat these last few months. I don’t feel well, I’m not sleeping, and it shows.

The same can be said for the condition of our house. I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go of perfection when it comes to chores, but there’s a fine line between letting go and giving up, and I’m teetering towards the wrong side of that line.
Paperwork is stacking.

Dust is collecting.
Laundry is piling.

And my kitchen is beckoning me to prepare just one home-cooked meal.
I think the anxiety comes from standing in the middle of transition. Summer isn’t yet over. And yet school is coming. I haven’t quite figured out where to put my focus, right here in the middle of it all.

I’m sure you can relate.
And yet we know better. Regarding worry, Jesus said:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34.

A few years ago, I was particularly overwhelmed with my to-do list. This is usually not an issue for me, but my list was long, and my brain space was limited. A wise friend suggested that I use my task list to make a list of everything that had to be done that day, plus one thing I would like to get done, but wasn’t necessary.
When I engaged in this exercise, I felt the pressure release, the clouds part, and the peace come. Because I chose to focus on the day at hand, rather than worry about every nook and cranny of my entire universe, my task list became much less daunting, and my focus returned. I allowed myself to live fully in the present, and I actually had a great day!

I think that’s what God desires for us. That we live each day fully. Not that we should never look towards the future, but that we should acknowledge each day is a gift we’ve been given that should not be wasted on worry over tomorrow. That we should enjoy His presence in the present.  
So as the summer draws itself to a close and you begin planning for the return of school, my prayer is that you won’t let your mind get there too fast. Enjoy the fleeting moments of the summer glow, draw near to your Father, and savor today for today.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Do We Need Fresh Perspective Regarding Disobedience?

By: Jennifer Knott, SkyMoms Ministry Director
Yesterday was Family Mission Day at our church. My husband and I took the day off so we could serve alongside our children at Bonton Farms, an urban farm south of Dallas that's striving to transform a community from the inside out.

I'll confess that in the dark, rainy wee hour of the morning when the alarm shook me awake, I didn't want to get up. In fact, I thought about turning it off and going back to sleep.

More than once.

But the Holy Spirit kept my mind awake as I tried desperately to send myself back into RIM sleep. Begrudgingly, I finally put my feet on the floor and began to make the rounds to wake my family.

You can imagine their reaction when I did.

Within the hour, though, we were on the road in the pouring rain, like it or not.

Fun times.

When we arrived, we met a woman named Kim who has a gift for keeping little kids busy with real work. Within five minutes, we were armed with gardening scissors and gloves and off to harvest red okra.

When we arrived at the long row of plants, Kim told us to walk up one side of the row and down the other because the okra likes to "hide" among the leaves. She assured us we'd miss some if we didn't work both sides of the row.

The boys loved harvesting! I think they felt manly handling such sharp scissors -- a far cry from anything they've ever used at home!

We made it up the row fairly quickly, but when we turned the corner and began to head back, our success rate slowed way down. Within a few minutes, the boys began to complain, telling me we'd found all the okra the first time and that this job was done!

But remembering Kim's words, I suggested that maybe we ought to change our perspective. Instead of coming down the row leaning over the bushes like we'd been doing, maybe we should squat down beneath them and look up.

Within seconds, we began to find red okra hiding among the leaves, just as she'd promised. The boys squealed with delight because their adventures in cutting with manly scissors would continue!

Perspective is everything, isn't it?

It's true in life and it's no less true in parenting.

During these last days of summer, I'd be lying if I didn't admit my children are engaged in some behaviors that are about to break my spirit.

Our boys have taken "play" in the car to a whole new level. Like a level that impedes my ability to drive responsibly and puts others on the road at risk. It's so loud, and their movement is so big, I can feel them jostling the car while doing 70 down the highway!

I've asked them to stop more times than I can count. I've separated them into their own rows and put them in seats on opposite ends to deter any physical contact. I've used my best "Ursula the Sea Witch" voice. (Ugh. I have one of those.) And yet they still manage to pull off WWF-like maneuvers strapped into their seat belts while we're driving down the road.

It hurts my head. And it makes me grouchy. It's too much chaos in too little space. But it also frustrates me because I've been living with the assumption that their inappropriate play in the car is driven by nothing but disobedience.

I read an article this morning, however, that offers a new perspective. The author explained that children have a need for "tons of movement" and "fierce play". When they're -- let's say -- putting their brother in a Figure Four in the backseat -- they're channeling these developmental needs.

Does it mean their behavior is excused?
Absolutely not.

But does it help explain their behavior in such a way that my gut reaction need not be frustration?

You bet!

The real benefit, however, is that once I've identified the catalyst for the behavior, I'm positioned to find a clear path towards a solution. Because if I'm responding to a legitimate developmental need without sourcing a more appropriate channel for the need to be met, then the problem will go unsolved.
We can't cure the symptoms if we don't identify their root cause.

So the next time you're faced with a behavior you've corrected more times than you can count, stop. Take a deep breath. Go to the Lord in prayer. And ask Him to give you new perspective. Maybe you'll see something you didn't see before. And maybe that something will lead you down a path towards a real solution.

"But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Matthew 13:16-17