Monday, September 25, 2017

Teaching Contentment At The American Girl Store

As a little girl, our daughter was never really into dolls. She was more of the tree climbing, dirt wearing, always up for an adventure type. Different from most of her friends, she spent the bulk of her free time outside, climbing to heights unknown and rolling in whatever dirt she could find.
So when she was invited to the American Girl Doll store for a birthday party, I was curious to see how she would respond. All the little girls had their American Girl Dolls in tow, sidling them up to the table in high-chairs, combing their hair, and introducing them to one another. And our daughter brought “Diamond,” her one and only doll that she dug out from the depths of her toy box. Hair amuck and half-dressed, it was obvious how long it had been since Diamond had seen the light of day.

The party rooms at American Girl Doll are in the back of the store.

Making it past all of the merchandise and to the party room was a non-event. But after sitting with 15 little girls who were doting on their American Girl Dolls for 90 minutes, getting back out to the car was an entirely different story.
Suddenly, our daughter wanted what she did not have. Sage, the American Girl Doll who was the star of her favorite movie at the time.

When she asked me if we could buy it, my first instinct was to say yes. She rarely asked for anything, we never bought her toys, and she was a good kid. But then, my common sense returned.
I knew our daughter.

And she didn’t play with dolls.
“Yes, you can have Sage,” I said. “If you pay for it with your own money.”

“How much money do I have?” she asked.
It just so happened that a few months prior, we had opened a bank account for her. She had accumulated some birthday and allowance money, and we wanted to begin teaching her some very basic things about personal finance.

So I pulled up her balance on my bank app and used my calculator to subtract the amount of money it would take for her to purchase Sage. And then I explained:
“You have ________ money now. If you buy Sage, you’ll spend ________. And that will leave you with ___________.”

I could see her wheels spinning as she thought about it for a few minutes. And then she decided she didn’t need Sage after all.
No fit, no fight.

We left the American Girl Doll store without Sage, and Diamond went right back to the depths of the toy box!
I don’t think it’s wrong to buy things for our children, nor do I think it would have been wrong for me to have purchased a doll for our daughter under these circumstances. But I do think I would have missed an opportunity to teach her a valuable lesson regarding contentment.

She wouldn’t have given contentment a moment’s thought if Sage had been purchased on mommy’s dime. But by allowing her the freedom to make the purchase with her own money, she began to ask herself an important question:
Do I need or want this doll badly enough to use my own money to get it?

By allowing her the freedom to answer this question for herself, I gave her the opportunity to choose contentment. Contentment is a choice, after all, and it's a life skill we must all learn.
And if she had decided to purchase the doll with her own money? I'm guessing there would have been lessons of a different kind in that too!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

An Alternative To The "Life Isn't Fair" Lecture

I often describe our children as characters from Winnie The Pooh. We have two Tiggers and one Eyore. Each of them uniquely made in the image of God with their own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. They’re as different as the colors of hair upon their heads!
With our Tiggers, there’s boundless amounts of energy, which means they’re always up for an adventure, but they also have trouble sitting still. They’re everywhere, all the time.

With our Eyore, there’s a need for lots of downtime, which means I always have a snuggle buddy, but the motivation to stay active is harder to capture. We have to drag this kid outside if it’s the least bit warm.
The differences exist in the emotional realm too. Our Tiggers tend to be optimists, and our Eyore tends to be a pessimist. And though our culture would likely place more value on being an optimist, rest assured both tendencies bring opportunities and challenges to the table.

I recall a season not too long ago when our Eyore was in a constant state of discontent. It was score keeping at its finest, and the number of times I heard the phrase, “that’s not fair,” I don’t even know. We’re talking about injustices like the size of a dessert serving, the number of pages read from a bedtime story, the amount of free time given between homework and dinner.
You get the picture.

My frustration was at an all-time high one evening, when this kid bounded down the stairs to report yet another injustice in the story of life.
I took a deep breath as I prepared to launch into a speech about life and fairness, when I had a Holy Spirit moment.

In a parenting class my husband and I took years ago, we spent some time discussing how to deal with the hard days. You know the kind. The kind when our children wake up, saying to themselves, “I think today is a good day to die!”
And they fight us at every turn.
He suggested that on these very hard days we take a time out to be still and to meditate on all the things we’re thankful for about the children we’re struggling with. He proposed that engaging in this exercise would lead to a deeper sense of gratitude, help us channel our frustration, and address the issues with our children in more positive ways.

I’ve done this exercise a thousand times, and it works like a charm.
As I stood face-to-face with our Eyore at the bottom of the stairs, it occurred to me that if this exercise can work for parents, why wouldn’t it work for kids?

So instead of launching into a speech about life and fairness, I went to our office and came back with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. I instructed our Eyore to find a quiet place to sit and to write ten statements of gratitude.

“I am thankful for …”
Our Eyore was gone for a long, long while. But by the completion of this task, this kid’s disposition had completely changed! Because we took the focus off of what we didn’t have and redirected it towards our blessings, we created an opportunity for this kid to discover that the purported "injustice" was really no big deal.
And that made all the difference.
A good exercise to do any day of the week, and certainly more productive than listening to a lecture from mommy!

So if you have an Eyore in your family, or if you find yourself in an Eyore kind of moment for that matter, consider taking a stab at this exercise. It’s never a waste of time to count our blessings, and I’ve found it to leads to a greater state of contentment every time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

To Moms Who Can't Wait For This Season To Pass

A mother's thoughts...
0 – 3 months:  I can’t wait until he sleeps through the night.

6 – 9 months:  I can’t wait until she starts crawling.

9 – 12 months:  I can wait until he starts climbing up the stairs.

2 – 3 years old:  I can’t wait until she starts preschool. 

3 years old:  I can’t wait until he is potty trained.

5 years old:  I can wait until he starts kindergarten.

8 years old:  I can’t wait until she can do her own math homework.

12 years old:  I can wait until she’s a teenager.

15 years old:  I can’t wait until she can drive herself.

16 years old:  I can wait until he graduates high school.

19 years old:  I can’t wait until she comes home for the summer.

25 years old:  I can’t wait until I’m a grandmother.

It seems we’re always in the I Can/I Can’t Wait time of life. I can’t imagine this is what God had in mind when He gave us life.

What we don’t see while we’re wishing away each stage is the days releasing from our grip at lightning speed. 
Tick tock. 
Tick tock. 

We have today.  We don’t know what tomorrow holds. 
So rest easy sweet mama.  Today is your day to love and be loved.  Today is your day to kiss a boo boo and read a bedtime story.  Today is your day to hug a middle school-er who didn’t get invited to the party.  Today is your day to remind a 6 year old that Jesus loves her.  Today is your day to take a Big Gulp to a high school-er who didn’t make the A Team.  Today is your day to help finish a project that should have been started weeks ago.  Today is your day to skip a GNO because your hubby got looked over for a promotion.  Today is your day to celebrate a 100 on a spelling test. 
Today is your day.

Live today.  Love today.  Choose contentment.  Tomorrow will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Is The Secret To Contentment?

Two years ago, our family took a sabbatical from extra-curricular activities. Yes. You heard that right. From August 15, 2015 to January 4, 2016, our children participated in zero activities outside of school. No baseball. No music lessons. No activities at the church we serve.
My husband was going back to school to get his doctorate, and we were in the middle of a busy time in ministry. Staring that in the face, and wanting to protect our family time, we decided it would serve our family best to eliminate all non-mandatory commitments.

When I look back on that bit of decision-making, I remember being scared to take the plunge. It sounds silly, but “Fear Of Missing Out” is a real thing, and I suffer from it. It wasn’t that I was concerned our kids would fall behind but that we would miss out on the fun. I’m hard-wired for connection, and connection happens when get out into the world and spend time with other people.
And yet deep within my soul, I knew we were entering a hard season, and I knew it was going to take everything we had to get through it.

Baseball could wait.
Our sanity could not.

Recently, I listened to a podcast about the secret to happiness. In one segment, the host interviewed a man who was conducting a science experiment on happiness, using an app to gather data.

It works like this:
App subscribers receive several texts each day, asking them to rate their happiness at that very moment.

Next, they are asked what they were doing immediately prior to receiving the text.
Then they are asked if they were thinking about something else while doing that activity.

And finally, through a series of follow-up questions, the app compares the overall happiness of people who were present in the moment with people who were mind wandering.
The results were striking.
The people who engaged in mind wandering were significantly less happy than those who lived in the moment, even if the people living in the moment were doing something they didn’t enjoy.

The conclusion?
Being present leads to contentment and happiness.

If this is true moment-to-moment, then might it also be true season-to-season? Might we all be more content if we assess the season we’re in, accept it for what it is, and live fully into it until the season changes?
When our kids were all under the age of seven, we didn’t eat out much. I, for one, am not a big fan of paying money to eat a cold meal, and that’s precisely what happens when you take three little kids out for dinner.

Your meal is cold by the time you get to eat it.
On occasional Friday nights at home, my mind would wander, wishing for different circumstances that would allow us more freedom. Circumstances in which our kids were old enough to handle their own plates, behave at the table for extended periods of time, stay out late, and engage in stimulating dinner conversation. These mind-wandering thoughts cast a shadow over what should have been sweet nights at home with young children.

But over time, I learned to treasure Friday night pizza deliveries, movies on the playroom sofa, and game night, realizing that all too soon, memories of Friday nights at home would be fleeting.
I chose to be present in the season we were in. And my contentment increased dramatically.

The same was true for this exceptionally busy season in which my husband was returning to school and burning the candle at both ends in ministry. We could engage in “business as usual,” enrolling our kids in a slew of extra-curricular activities and die while trying, or we could acknowledge the season we were in and adapt accordingly.
After handing my FOMO over to the Lord, it was one of the sweetest fall seasons we’ve experienced as a family. Weeknights were easier, and Saturday mornings became a welcome respite after a grueling work week. Our family functioned well during a time we had anticipated to be more difficult than most.

We chose to be present in the season we were in and experienced a heightened sense of contentment and happiness.
So with school less than four weeks into session, and the sign-up opportunities coming in day after day, slow down. Take a deep breath. Pray about the season your family is in and consider how you can best adapt to thrive within your context. I’m not suggesting complacency, but rather flexibility.
Contentment is a choice. 
Resisting the waves of changing seasons can bowl us over. But riding the waves of change can lead to growth and contentment.

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, September 4, 2017

Is It Possible To Be Content In 2017?

a state of happiness and satisfaction.

It’s an interesting word in 2017.  Contentment.  Is it just me or do we not use this word much any more?  Being content today seems to paint a picture of an under-achiever or one who is lazy.  And yet by definition, contentment is a “state of happiness and satisfaction.” 

Isn’t that what we want in our lives and for our families?

Contentment certainly isn’t synonymous with September and the start of school.  We are all too eager to get back in the swing of things and bring on the activity!!! Games, practices, homework, lessons, meetings, luncheons, extracurricular, and the list goes on!

A collective sigh of relief that “we’re back to normal!”

But I learned a great lesson from my friend, Anne, one day as I was going from lesson to lesson and practice to practice with my eldest daughter and baby on board, along for the ride.  We dropped by Anne’s house to hang out for a few minutes while we had a break between guitar practice and gymnastics, and the strangest thing was happening. 

She and her kiddos were playing a game in the middle of the living room floor.

What? Why weren’t they out and about pursing their dreams? For heaven’s sake, her children were 8 and 5! It was go time!

“Anne, Is this your daily afternoon routine? Or is this just an off day?” I asked.

She replied in the softest voice ever, “You know, Lisa, I choose to cherish the days.  There will be plenty of time to do all those things when my children are older and can choose for themselves what they’d like to pursue.  I choose today to enjoy our little family and make memories together.  I just don’t think the rush is right for us.  We’re choosing contentment.” 

It’s a choice.  We have a choice.

Consider this:  Pray.  Pray over your schedule.  Pray over your family’s schedule.  Pray over all those activities.  Pray over the teams you join.  Pray over what you say YES to and what you say NO to.  It’s all a choice. 

Choosing to be content isn’t choosing for mediocrity.  It’s choosing joy.  It’s choosing happiness.  It might not look like your neighbor’s choice.  But it might be right for your family.

"Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content
 with whatever I have.” 

 Philippians 4:11