Productive not Perfect

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I remember years ago as a new wife and mom the frustration I would feel as I would enter a room to find another mess I did not make waiting to be cleaned up. It was hard to get used to the idea of my whole life being spent on taking care of others rather than just looking after myself. One day I remember having a sudden epiphany that each time I saw a mess I should be thankful for the people in my life that made those messes instead of allowing myself to focus on the frustration of things not being perfectly orderly. This worked well for about 8 years as I learned to joyfully serve my family by cleaning up messes or training them to do so. I can’t say I never got irritated by things like this over those years, but overall I was able to manage things well and keep a positive perspective on the daily messes of life.

Then almost two years ago I became a dorm parent. Suddenly I was responsible for so many more people! Currently there are 14 other people in my house who each make messes and need to be trained to clean up after themselves, with another on the way. And the physical messes are often the least of my concern as I consider the well-being of 14 other souls in my home.

I have to confess that some days I find myself feeling very downcast and dejected at the state of things around me– physically or otherwise. I pour myself into tasks and relationships, but the messes never go away. Sometimes it feels like I have not made any progress at all because after cleaning up one mess, I walk back into a room and find another in its place.

I was having such a day when I came across a blog post called A Clean House and a Wasted Life The author of this post calls to mind Proverbs 14:4:

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

What comfort this passage brought me!

Because the truth is, I struggle mightily with perfectionism. If everything in my life is not perfect according to my standards, I can’t seem to be joyful. I can’t sit and look at all the beautiful, wonderful things God has done and is doing, because I still see all the things left undone. Oh, I have had points in my life where I thought I was past this, like the eight years I mentioned earlier. But I can truly see now that while I had some growth then, I still have a lot of growing left to do. At that time I was able to find joy because I was able to do a little work and meet my standard, but can I find joy when my standards are left unmet?

I have really thought a lot about what God’s standards really are, and pursued His standards above my own. I know sometimes His priority for me is not the paper towel someone left on the counter or the coffee mug left on the table or the crumbs on the floor.

And yet, I struggle because even if I am pursuing His ways, I still find myself discontent that I am not meeting my own standards. And I also have this nagging suspicion that God really does want me to somehow meet my standard, and that even though I can’t see that standard in the Bible, it must really be there because so many of the wonderful Christian authors I have read have stressed cleanliness and orderliness.

So, when I read this verse in Proverbs, relief flooded my soul. Yes, God wants me to clean the stalls. Yes, God wants me to work hard. But He is not focused on always having a clean stall, rather he is focused on the abundant crops he wants me to tend to.

How foolish it would be to get rid of the oxen so the stalls would be clean.

Farming is hard, messy work. There are seasons when there is nothing to show for your labor. But God’s desire is not for me to sit back and focus on the stalls of the oxen, but to tend to His crop. He is not angry at me if I am about His business. He knows the stalls will get messy, and He knows I will clean them. He wants me to make more of what He has given me, not sit idly where I am.

I am so thankful I serve a loving, gracious God who knows my limitations. He does not expect me to do everything, why do I?

Father, help me to be joyful in my work, content to do what you ask and rejoice in the crops when you cause them to grow. Free me from standards you do not set. Thank you for the shoots coming out of the ground, and help me always to find joy in what You are doing, even when I haven’t made it back to the oxen stalls yet.

Stefani

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Fishes, Loaves, and Cookie Dough

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This is what our family looked like when the adventure started. We were at the “can’t get everyone to look at the camera at the same time” stage. I had a constant tired look and just nodded when older parents told me to “treasure this time when they are little.”

It was intense and chaotic and I loved it most of the time.

In the quiet moments I prayed that the Lord would work through my children in amazing ways. I was praying in future tense. I didn’t expect the Lord to begin working through them before I got everyone out of diapers. I never pictured us impacting lives on the other side of the world in the midst of our finger paints and coloring books. I didn’t expect the Lord to teach me more about Himself through my four-year-old.

But He did.

In the summer of 2008, friends of ours, Matthew and Sheila Nasekos, began the process of adopting Karina. Karina was 13 and had lived in an orphanage in Ukraine since she was five years old. We began praying for Karina’s adoption each morning at breakfast. After a few days of praying, my four-year-old, Anderson, was ready to help. “We need to give them a lot of money!”

“Well,” I replied, “We don’t have a lot of money. But we can pray that God would show us a way to help.”

When I prayed that day, I said Lord I don’t know what we could do to help. They need so much money.

And He said, You can make cookies.

So we made cookies. We called them Karina Cookies and packed them with chocolate chips, M&Ms, oatmeal and peanut butter.

We lived on the campus of French Camp Academy, a Christian boarding school in Mississippi.  Over the course of a few weeks, Anderson and I took our cookies to a few of the student dorms.

When we got to each dorm, Anderson took over. Holding her picture, he would tell the students, “Karina is a 13-year-old girl. Karina lives in Ukraine. She does not have a mommy or daddy. Mr. Matt and Mrs. Sheila want to be her mommy and daddy. We are selling Karina cookies to help earn money so they can adopt her. Would you like to buy a cookie?”

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It made sense that a four-year-old could sell cookies. But it was more than the cookies. What motivated Anderson was the simple truth that every child should have a family. Anderson heard that Karina did not have a family, but that the Nasekos family wanted to be her family. So it made perfect sense to him that this had to happen.

He didn’t waste time thinking of the impossibilities. He never thought it was impossible. It didn’t occur to him that it would take many, many cookies to really make a difference. He was, after all, a beginner in math. Instead, he responded to the need. He prayed. He told everyone who crossed our path about Karina. He watched money accumulate in the cookie jar. To his four-year-old point of view, that is all he was doing. But the Lord was at work.

He was at work providing the money for Karina’s adoption. He was at work, showing His might and power through a little boy and cookies. Our pastor, Rev. Alex Coblentz, compared it to the feeding of the five thousand. “A child innocently gives what they have and the Lord takes it and multiplies it.  In this case, God did not multiply the cookies, He multiplied the money. The cookies were the catalyst that opened people’s hearts. I’m sure there were people who gave and never saw a cookie, but they caught the vision to support the Nasekos family getting this child out of the orphanage and into a godly home.”

Anderson’s prayers at breakfast were the enthusiastic sentence prayers of a preschooler.

Their simplicity brought tears to my eyes. He would say, “Please let Karina have a GREAT day! Please let the airplane with the paperwork on it go super fast!

Please let the people say “Yes, you can adopt Karina!” Please give Mr. Matt and Mrs. Sheila a safe trip to Ukraine.

And those answered requests taught my children that God really does hear and answer prayers.. Our family saw God provide everything Matt and Sheila needed. The right amount of money came in before each deadline.  God even provided a coat heavy enough for Ukraine’s winter weather through a thrift store in south Mississippi. God provided exactly what they needed from the most unlikely places. And when God does that, He gets the glory.

Two weeks before Matthew and Sheila were to leave for Ukraine, they still needed $10,000. I stressed out and lost sleep over it. I kept talking to God about the amount they needed.  And He kept pointing me to Jeremiah 32:27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”  They flew out on December 3 with everything they needed. God provided and I learned that nothing is too hard for God, no matter how many zeroes are involved.

Anderson summed up our Karina Cookie experience in these few words, “God is very powerful.” And He is. We saw Him work through the simple faith of a child and cookie dough.

What an amazing adventure!

Erin 

One of the couples I met through this adventure is Slavik and Alonya Puzanov. They have an amazing ministry to orphan and troubled children in Ukraine. They have also expanded their outreach to help care for the orphans and families who have been displaced due to the current war in Eastern Ukraine. To find out more about their ministry, check out the description under Causes on the Investing in a Child blog.

Parenting when Life is Hard

Some days as a parent can be hard. Some weeks can be hard. Sometimes, it can feel like hard just gets harder and there is no let up.

It’s picking up sick kids from school again and again. It’s wondering what the diagnosis will be. It’s emergency dental surgery. It’s teenagers getting into major trouble. It’s financial problems. Its marital problems. It’s problems with your parents or your in-laws. It’s problems with your brothers and sisters. It’s a loved one in the hospital. Its problems at work. It’s fatigue so powerful you wonder if you can make it out of bed in morning, and when you do you feel it is a huge accomplishment.

It’s a combination of some of these, or all of them, or problems I have not even mentioned. In the middle of all of this, do you ever feel like you are failing as a parent? How do we keep eyes to see when life seems to be caving in on us?

I think sometimes we get stuck beneath the mire as parents. We feel trapped by a load of cares and unable to move forward.

Whenever I struggle through my own mire, I often have to remind myself of some very important truth. Satan likes to deceive me into believing that life should not be this hard. He can do it through various ways. He can show me the positive pictures and statuses on Facebook (which I love to see, and are good). But he can twist those hard-fought good times of my friends and loved ones into a false belief that life is simple and easy and that my trials and difficulties are unique.

Or maybe the people in my life don’t seem to be going through any major struggles at the moment. Maybe their lives don’t just seem easier than mine, maybe they are easier than mine.

Whether through social media or real life, the impression that others lives are easy (or easier) and carefree can be a snare to me. Because suddenly it might make me feel that life should be easy and carefree.

If we buy into this lie, then when extremely hard days come, we are not prepared to face them. We feel like something backfired on us. That our pressures are unbearable. But the truth is, ever since sin entered the world, we are in a major battle. Life is not all roses as our American culture might lure us into believing. In Ephesians Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God because we are in a battle.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

If we look at the reality described above, the truth of what we are fighting against, we will not be as surprised when the multitude of troubles listed earlier crash into us. Of course, understanding this alone may cause us to quake in our shoes and want to go hide in a hole in the ground.

That is why we also desperately need to remember the truths of Romans chapter 8, that if God is for us no one can stand against us—that tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword cannot defeat us. The God of the universe is here to fight our battles for us, if we have but the faith to follow Him, just as he fought for the Israelites in the time of Joshua, and Gideon, and countless others.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

What wonderful news! Yes, the battle is hard, but we do not have to be defeated. We may think that when the pressure mounts and life is overwhelming we can’t help but get irritable or lose our temper with our children— but God does not desire that, so we must trust that a God with the power described above is strong enough to help us with that temptation. We may think we cannot do all the things necessary for our children each day, but God is certainly able to equip is to care for the children he has entrusted to us. I can’t promise that the care we give will always look like what you or I think it should, (and it probably won’t look like a board on Pinterest) but if we are listening to our commanding officer, He will enable us to care for them in the ways He says we need to. He will enable us to love them, care for them, discipline them, and keep from provoking them to anger if our hearts our trusting in His power and set on following His commands– not ours.

This week, although it was not in my regular Bible study, Hebrews 11 and 12 kept coming to my mind, strengthening me as I struggled with my own weight of difficulty. After going through many examples of those who trusted God through great difficulties we find this beautiful, encouraging finale:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy– wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11:32-38

This is a picture of the life of faith. One thing it is not is easy. There are many miraculous and mighty moments described where God did amazing things through his people for his kingdom. There are also many sacrifices of the faithful. One thing these examples make clear is the type of expectations we really ought to have in this life. It will not be easy!

So if your part in this battle is changing diapers, wiping noses, and training up young warriors, don’t expect it to be easy. Expect it to be battle. All the men of faith listed above knew that the immense hardship and difficulties they faced were worth the fight, even if it were a fight to the death. Do we know that?

Jesus did. This passage in Hebrews does not end so gloomily. It continues:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. Are we willing to follow him into our daily battle for the joy set before us?

He has already bought us. He has already prepared a place for us. We look forward to a life of eternal bliss, together with Jesus, with no pain, or suffering, or tears ever again. Is that joy worth the battle he is calling you to fight today, no matter how hard?

Stefani

Weeks 28-29: Third Trimester!!!

I can’t believe how quickly the third trimester came! If time keeps going this quickly, baby Joy will be here before I know it!

I don’t have many words to describe how I feel at this point in my pregnancy. Actually, I just have 1– TIRED!!!

I have been so exhausted since the third trimester started. I have never felt this way during pregnancy before. I was starting to think I was anemic. I do think my iron was low. I had stopped taking prenatal vitamins with iron because of my morning sickness, and never switched back. Finally, I remembered this and now have iron in them again, and I can at least function.

Nonetheless, going through the third trimester of pregnancy already caring for 12 can be pretty exhausting!

Here is hoping for a little rest this week during Spring Break!

Stefani

Bad Dreams and Difficult Things : When Our Children Struggle

I have to admit, I’m a little frustrated at God right now.

In the middle of the night, her voice quivering with fear, my seven-year-old asks “Why do I have bad dreams when I pray for good dreams?”

If I teach her that God loves her and hears her prayers, and yet He allows her to have bad dreams, what does that mean?

Admittedly, in the scope of life it’s a small problem. But as I comfort her in the middle of the night, my heart echoes these questions.

Then there are the difficult things.

Maggie had a hard day with a substitute teacher who yelled at her and demanded answers without giving her time to respond. Maggie came home angry and confused.  Tears flowed as she described the helplessness she felt.

With great effort I pushed down the Mama Bear welling up inside me. I listened and comforted my child. I collected the facts, and I seethed with anger.

I don’t want my children to have bad dreams. I want to protect them from difficult things.  I want to hold them and shelter them from the world like I did when they were babies.

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I feel like God is not helping me out here.

Perhaps my frustration reveals more than I want it to.

The greatest desire of my heart is that my children would love God. Is my definition of love based on performance? My frustration at God reveals that it is. I am trying to teach my children to love God and He is not behaving right. If you get right down to it, I am angry because God is not acting like I think He should. 

Sometimes anger is a mask we wear to hide the real emotion that is at work.  I feel fear rising behind my mask. I am fearful that my children won’t love God, that they will think He is untrustworthy and refuse to put their trust in Him.

Perhaps it also reveals my view of God. I say He’s not a vending machine, but do I live like He is? Do I plug in the Bible verses like numbers in an equation and wait for everything to add up nicely?

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I’m not the first person to question what God is doing. The whole time Jesus was on earth the Pharisees couldn’t figure Him out. He didn’t act right, and He certainly didn’t fit their definition of what the Messiah should look like.

Do I really want to be compared to a Pharisee? Ouch.

As I said before, the greatest desire of my heart is that my children would love God. That is not a bad thing, but that is exactly where the problem lies. If I only teach my children to love God, then I am only giving them part of the picture of who God is.

If my children learn to love God based on His actions towards them, then when His actions seem unloving, they will come to the conclusion that He does not love them.

That conclusion would break my heart, and His.

But if I teach them who God is as He tells us in His Word, my perspective completely changes.  I am no longer wringing my hands in fear.  Instead, I have moments of wonder with my children as we learn about His power and His unchanging nature.

Though bad dreams are very important at seven years old, there will be bigger things down the road. To walk securely through these things, my children need to know God. In knowing Him, they will know who He is, and how precious they are to Him. They will learn to follow His voice on the path of life. As they grow in knowing Him, they will see that He already knows and loves them, and a sweet relationship will grow.  Then they will love Him because they  know Him. 

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As more difficult things come into their lives they will know how to interpret the circumstances of life based on who God says He is. And that is pretty important. We tend to interpret who God is through our life events. But since God is constant and unchanging, I would suggest we interpret life events through who He is.

The difference between these two is the difference between hope and despair. I’ve experienced it in my own life.

When I was in 8th grade my grandfather died of a heart attack. Neither my parents nor I were Christians at that time and our grief was dark and hopeless. That same year a friend at school committed suicide. Again, I swam in dark and hopeless grief.

Years later my grandmother passed away after a horrendous struggle with cancer. As an adult and a Christian I struggled with her suffering and wrestled with God, but it was not dark and hopeless. I viewed her illness though the framework of who God is. She was his precious child. He loved her even more than I did, and I knew He would do only what was necessary to bring her from this world into an eternity with Him.

If I had interpreted who God is through this difficult circumstance, the logical conclusion would have been that God was either helpless or too cruel to alleviate her pain.  However, the truth is that God’s greatest desire for my grandmother was for her to know Him and He loved her enough to do whatever was necessary to accomplish that purpose.

Was this important for me to figure out? You bet. My children were on the front row with me on this journey, and they needed to know how to make sense of all of this.

So, what is my response to bad dreams and difficult things?

Trust. 

I still want to protect my children from bad dreams and difficult things. No doubt. But I trust that God will use the bad dreams and difficult things to bring my children into a closer relationship with Him.

He does have the ability to take away all their bad dreams. But He also has the ability to use these same bad dreams to bring them to know Him. I don’t understand it, but He does it.

Maggie’s difficult day with the teacher taught me exactly that. As I prayed with my girls that night I heard Maggie’s sweet voice ring out in the darkness.

God, I know that you are always with us and you are here for us when we need You, like You were there for me today when I needed You.”

Her prayer drove straight into my heart.

God doesn’t always connect the dots the way I would. He’s not going to do things my way. While I point my children to who God is as He tells us in His Word, I trust that He will use the uncertain, swirling circumstances of life to bring my children, and you and me, into a relationship with Him where we know Him as fully as we are known by Him.

What an amazing journey!

Erin

A Third-Time mom: Weeks 25-27

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The past few weeks life has been incredibly busy and I have had little time to focus on the sweet life growing inside of me. I guess that is what happens sometimes when you already have a house full of people to care for.

Then I finally had the weekend off, and the entire weekend was focused on getting ready for her. We drove to our house to gather baby items that we still have from our other children.

I have to confess that until this weekend I often thought about the excitement that all the first time moms on my pregnancy board are having as they register for the first time. I know their lives are consumed with this huge life change coming their way. I am sure those first-time moms have no problems focusing on the big changes coming their way.

But I can’t think of a weekend I enjoyed being a third-time mom so much. What just seemed a trip of necessity was so sweet. Unlike a first-time mom, as I pulled out baby items I was able to recall memories of my boys as babies. How long ago that seems now!

I pulled out baby frames and saw my firstborn son as an adorable infant. This is so sweet since he denies in every way now that he ever had an adorable bone in his body. I got the cradle that my Dad made when I was expecting him.

And of course I grabbed a load of board books that I thought I might never use again, remembering how I held each of my boys on my lap and read them to them. How they learned their alphabet and first words. And just as I was lamenting that I may not get to teach a sweet child to read again, now I get to relive that experience one more time.

But I also had some sweet moments unique to baby Joy this weekend. For some reason my husband was looking for something in my childhood bedroom, and I went to find him there. Inside, I saw the doll collection I had as a girl. I don’t think my husband understood that it was a huge heart-swelling monumental moment for me when I picked up three of my favorite porcelain dolls and told him I was taking them for the nursery. He started to question my decision, having no clue what it meant that I was now having a sweet baby girl that I could pass along such childhood treasures to.

With this sweet child I still get the pleasures of enjoying “first times.” Things bought especially for her, and memories that will be unique to her alone. But I also get to enjoy the benefits of being a third-time mom. Knowing which of the endless baby contraptions I will use and which will waste space. I have sweet memories and experience from my boys that will help me enjoy this baby more, and not be so caught up reading books and wondering if I am messing up. And I can pass down sweet treasures from siblings, cousins, and my own childhood. From birth she can be surrounded by all the best memories we have of times past.

Lego Organization System in Four Easy Steps

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Legos are amazing. These little bricks have unlocked the imagination of children  and adults all over the world for decades. LEGO’s founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, created the name “LEGO” from the first two letters of the Danish words LEG GODT, meaning “play well”.   I think he named it perfectly.

My husband has been building with LEGOs since he was five years old.  He still has many of his pieces from his childhood. Since Lego hasn’t changed their style of bricks since 1958, all Lego pieces are compatible.  As our children have discovered LEGOs, we’ve added to Stephen’s childhood collection.

In 2014 the LEGO Movie brilliantly built a plot around real issues that happen in LEGO filled homes. For example, the writers of this movie completely captured a father-son discussion that has happened at our house. In this scene the dad discovers that his son, Finn, has been playing with his Lego city.

The Man Upstairs: You know the rules, this isn’t a toy!

Finn: Um… it kind of is.

The Man Upstairs: No, actually it’s a highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system.

Finn: But we bought it at the toy store.

The Man Upstairs: We did, but the way I’m using it makes it an adult thing.

Finn: The box for this one said “Ages 8 to 14”!

The Man Upstairs: That’s a suggestion. They have to put that on there.

So when is a toy not a toy? When Daddy is playing with it, of course.

The plot of the LEGO movie boils down to the struggle between Lord Business and the Master Builders. Lord Business wants everyone to build LEGO creations only by using instructions. He intends to superglue the LEGO world to make sure everything stays in place.

The Master Builders want to build things they create in their own imaginations.

This struggle is real, people. Within my home, there are people on both sides.

Stephen, admittedly, is the Lord Business of our home. He lives by the principle that once something is built strictly by the instructions, it stays together. (Though he hasn’t mentioned using it, I’ve hidden the superglue just to be safe.)

The girls use instructions. But occasionally, they flex their Master Builder muscles. Ellen created cute little ducks in a pond.

Anderson follows the instructions the first time he builds something. After that, he uses the parts to build something else, usually a spaceship. And yes, it drives Stephen nuts.

As these different types of builders began using the same LEGOs, chaos ensued in our home. No one could find the pieces they were looking for. As they searched through one container after another, and the Lego pieces scraped across one another, the horrible, maddening raking sound was unbearable.(At least to this non-Lego person.) Something had to be done.

Stephen wanted to be able to find the pieces he needed. The kids wanted to be able to play freely with the “highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system”. I just wanted a central place to keep the Legos so I could stop stepping on (ouch!) and vacuuming up (oops!) stray pieces.

Then Stephen came up with a system that restored order in our home (at least where Legos are concerned.)

1. Goal

First, Stephen figured out his goal. He wanted to organize the LEGOs in a way that would enable him to minimize the time spent searching for pieces, and maximize his chance of finding the pieces he was looking for, as well as maximize his building time.

2. Supplies

To reach his goal, he ordered four sets of Sterilite small 5 drawer units. The bottom of each set is removable so that you can actually stack the drawers.

3. Divide

He divided the Lego pieces into three main types: bricks, plates and specialty pieces. These types were sub-divided into groups according to size and shape. For example, he divided the specialty pieces into mini figures, wheels, axles, and hinged pieces.

4. Label

He labeled each drawer according to its contents. He had enough 2×4 bricks to fill an entire drawer. But he had fewer 2×2 and 2×3 blocks, so he combined those in one drawer.

It soon became apparent that 20 drawers were not enough. Right now we have 60 drawers. And everyone can find the LEGOs they are looking for, whether they are using instructions or not. I consider that a complete success!

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If this system doesn’t quite meet your needs, design your own. You can begin by answering one question: What is your goal?  You have to know where you want to end up before you know which way to go!

5. Bonus

During this process, Stephen discovered the Lego Digital Designer at Lego.com.  This free program allows builders to design their own Lego creations digitally. Once the design is completed, the program creates instructions and a materials list. You can then order the pieces from Lego.com or purchase them at a Lego store.

This is a fire truck Stephen designed using the Lego Digital Designer:

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This incorporates the best of both sides of the struggle: build your own creations with instructions. The power is endless!  The program even has that hideous raking sound as you look through the Lego pieces, but there’s a mute button for that!

Have fun LEGOing with the little builders in your life!

Erin 

Amazing facts about LEGOs from National Geographic for Kids: 

Seven LEGO sets are sold by retailers every second around the world.  During the Christmas season almost 28 LEGO sets are sold each second. 

Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in a year would reach more than five times round the world.  On average there are 80 LEGO bricks for every person on earth.

According to the Huffington Post,  LEGO Duplo bricks (the large ones for little kids) can connect with regular LEGO bricks. Even though they are eight times the size of regular bricks, the DUPLO LEGOs connect perfectly with the regular ones. 

Are You a Controlling Parent?

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Every time I stop by the message board on my app for expectant mothers, I feel a bit nostalgic. So many first time moms are posting questions about every little thing and hoping it won’t harm their babies. It really is sweet to see how even as their babies are in the womb they are so careful to protect them and do everything they can to keep them safe.

I remember being in that place 10 years ago. Of course, I am still concerned about protecting my baby and doing everything I can for her, but now a lot of that is second nature and I do not have so many questions.

Good mothers work hard to protect their children, no matter what their age. It is good that moms do their research and think about how things might affect their children, making the wisest choices possible.

Unfortunately, this wonderful desire can turn nasty later in life. Each sweet year our children grow they need more and more space to grow. Picture a plant that needs repotting. It’s growth is stunted if its roots don’t have room to grow. So it is with our children if we keep them too confined under the tight grip of our control.

I am not advocating letting our children run wild and do whatever they wish. Nonetheless, each year as they show increasing responsibility, they should be allowed increasing amounts of freedom.

So often it is the “good” parents who struggle to do this. We have made mistakes, and we don’t want our children to make the same mistakes. We have suffered pain, and we don’t want our children to suffer like we did. So we manage every area of our children’s lives to keep them from suffering.

But what we don’t realize is that this does not allow them to gradually grow their decision-making skills so that once outside of our control they will be able to navigate life wisely on their own. Instead it stunts them in this area and leaves them naive and gullible.

As parents each year we should be moving down the spectrum from control to influence. If we do this, we still have influence when our children leave home. But if we don’t loosen the reigns of control gradually along the way, we are risking our relationship with our children. When they leave they are likely to feel like a bird breaking out of a cage where it never wants to return. Unfortunately, this bird will also have the disadvantage of not knowing how to make it in the world, and will have a harder time surviving than birds who have been allowed to test their wings bit by bit.

I am not advocating removing all of our children’s boundaries. I am suggesting we consider which boundaries our children still need, and which can be broadened. If your child struggles mightily in one area, by all means protect them and keep them from harms way. But, find an area where they are showing increasing responsibility to give them some breathing room. And make sure that you truly are keeping those boundaries up because of your child’s particular struggle, not because of your fear.

Ultimately there will come a day when our children leave home and we have to entrust them to God. That day will be much easier and far better if we learn to entrust them to God again and again one day at a time throughout their childhood. If we think what happens to them depends completely on our ability to protect them, we will never get a decent nights sleep. Instead we must believe that God is watching over them, and that He loves them even more than we do.

Stefani

Baby Steps: Week 24

This week has been very busy, but Joy will not let me forget about her. She has started wiggling around, turning over, and kicking me in the ribs, bladder, and stomach almost constantly. I am convinced she will be a gymnast. I am sure she will pay me back for all the times I vaulted over the couch as a girl.

In the middle of a busy week, I appreciate all the little moments of preparing for her entry into the world. I haven’t been able to do much this week, but today I did start a baby registry on Amazon. I thought it would be simple to register from home, but it was actually quite daunting because of the amount of items listed. I think I ended up with only two things after quite some time searching. Of course, I already have some things for the baby, so I won’t need as much this time around. But, as people have started asking me what I do need, I thought I should probably start a registry.

I also found myself spending little moments thinking about the nursery. I decided I wanted Joy to have these figurines passed down to me from my great-grandmother. I can still see her laughing while giving me the little Dutch boy and girl when I was a child.

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I was given this vase with fresh flowers in it by a sweet lady while I was in the worst stages of morning sickness. So, today I added some flowers to it and added it to the collection, along with a lamp and Joy’s ultrasound picture. Now I just have to decide what color to paint the dresser underneath them.

I was so excited to receive this surprise gift from my Dad, who knew exactly what I like in a rocker since we have spent many hours in antique shops trying out different ones.

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This week I have found myself stopping in the nursery to rock every now and then. For some reason it makes my little one seem so much nearer.

My mom recently sent my baby’s first girl books.

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My oldest son does not approve. He said Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were okay, but believes that Cinderella is completely inappropriate. I have no clue why! He is so funny!

I thought about reading to her, but then I realize that I have already been reading aloud to her. Every single time I read to my six-year-old, she gets to hear it, too. But even more precious, she also gets to hear my six-year-old every time he reads to me.

So, even though I haven’t been able to do much to prepare for our little one this week, I love every little baby step in that direction. Every kick, every thought is a sweet reminder that she will soon be making her way into this world.

Catching A Glimpse of Their Heart

Parenting happens in the midst of the millions of details that shape our days. We make sure our children get their homework done, have eaten (somewhat) nutritious meals, have clean clothes to wear, get haircuts, nails cut and wax cleaned out of their ears. Somewhere in the midst of these things, our children also desperately want to be known by us.

This past December these millions of details in my life combined with sick children and Christmas activities. In the madness, many of my plans just did not happen. One of the things I planned to do with my children was an Advent devotional each night of December to count down the days until Christmas. I imagined us all sitting beside the Christmas tree, (perfectly still of course) soaking in the real meaning of Christmas.

Devotional picture

As of December 25, we had done a whopping three devotions together. Three! And those did not go at all as I had imagined (perfectly sitting still did not happen). But those 3 times are precious to me. In those few moments together, between the “Can I read? No! It’s my turn!” arguments, the “He’s looking at me with a weird face” complaints, and the random questions that were not related to Christmas at all, there were moments when I caught glimpses into my children’s hearts.

What a treasure! To peer into someone’s heart is a gift. And like it or not, being the parent doesn’t give us automatic access to the hearts of our children. We feed them, clothe them, worry about them, and love them. Yet providing material needs doesn’t give us a “Get in Free” pass.

We must be invited in.

And when our children invite us in, no matter what their age, we must step in respectfully.  This is not a time to fix or meddle. It is a time to just observe, to see what makes our children unique.

Keep your ears open for times when they reveal how they feel about something. If they are expressing how they feel, then it is important to them.  Consider yourself invited. This is a time for you to:

1. Listen. Listen to what they are saying, and listen for the emotion they are trying to express. If they are angry, listen as they vent. Sometimes the real emotion is hiding behind the anger.

Catherine Wallace Quote

2. Validate what they are feeling. This shows them that you understand and that you are for them. Tell them, “I can understand why you feel that way.” This sentence does not say I approve of your response, but it lets your child know that you are listening to them.

3. Respond to them. If a similar situation happened to you when you were a child, this is a great time to share. Ask them, “Can I tell you about a time when something similar happened to me?”  By asking this question, I have almost convinced my children that I actually was a child at one time. Sometimes our child just needs to know what to do, and giving them an example may help them react better the next time a similar situation comes up.

4. Name the emotion they are revealing to you.  They may know what they are feeling, and just not know what to call it. A response like “It’s okay to feel disappointed.”  helps them name the emotion.  Then the next time they have this feeling, they will know what it is. When Anderson was little I remember saying things like “It’s okay to feel disappointed. It’s not okay to throw your fire truck against the wall.”  Then I would go on to describe a correct response.

Thankfully, parenting gives us a lot of practice before the truly life changing decisions begin. We need this practice so that when that time comes we will already be familiar with their hearts, and a regularly invited guest, instead of knocking on the door for the first time.

But, what if your kids are older? What if you are now knocking on the door of their heart as a virtual stranger? Keep knocking. Keep trying.  Don’t stop. And pray for an opening.

Though it is fiction, I love this prayer in Rekindled by Tamera Alexander because it reminds me that seeing into someone’s heart really is a privilege. She is speaking about her husband, but it could also apply to our children.

“O Lord, that you would grant me a second chance. Instead of wishing her husband to be someone he wasn’t, she would love him for who he was. And she would gratefully accept the precious pieces of his heart he was willing to share, without passively demanding more.”

You don’t have direct access to your child’s heart, but God does. Trust that He is working and pray that He will give you wisdom in reaching out to your child.

Providing material needs for our children is far easier than connecting with their hearts. But they need both from us. They need us to teach them how to maneuver through life in this broken world.  And they need to know we care about them before they will really hear what we have to say.

Intense? Yes. Emotionally Exhausting? Yes. Impacting the life of your child? Worth every moment.

Erin