Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Defining of Our Motherhood

Something that's been on my heart lately is the subject of how we as moms define our mothering. We're "breastfeeding moms," or "Babywise moms," or "working moms," or "stay-at-homers." We are "homebirthers." We do the extended rear-facing thing, or we do "non-GMO" food. We were safe and did hospital birth. We kept our sons "intact." We practice non-violent parenting. Or we practice "Biblical parenting." So many labels. So many philosophies.

I could totally fit in some of the above categories, and I'm even passionate about some of those philosophies. Very passionate. I do my "homework" on a lot of issues, and I try to pick what's best for my family. Some of my choices are ones that I believe are non-negotiables and are also best for all families, or at the very least, MOST families. But some are ones that I consider to be equivalent to choosing my favorite color as purple. OPTIONAL. Different for each family!

Sometimes my choices are misguided. Sometimes I change my choices and do different things for different children or at different stages. Sometimes I eat crow. Or sometimes I become more firm in my beliefs on Issue X, the more I study and "live" that issue in my mothering.

But you know what? For each of these "defining" issues, the commonality is that I'm trying to do what I believe is best for my family. And the hope and assumption is that each mother I know is doing the same thing. That doesn't mean we reach the same decisions, even if the goal is the same. We might both consider birth options and choose very different paths. We might regret those decisions and choose a different path the next time, but we each do what we believe is best based on the information we've been given.

Can we please, please, please stop defining ourselves primarily by narrow categories? I don't call myself a "natural birther" or a homebirther, though I've been given that label by others. I don't call myself a cloth diaperer, though I do use cloth diapers. I don't consider myself "anti-vaccine," though I have unpopular views on the subject. I could definitely fall into the crunchy mom category, though we circumcise *gasp* and our views on discipline (and the depravity of babies/children) are definitely different than the "peaceful parenting" philosophy that usually follows along with it.

I talk to moms who are embarrassed that they use disposable diapers, since they know I cloth diaper. I tell them they don't have to make my choice. I've honestly never understood the fear of cloth diapers that most women I have, but that doesn't mean they have to cloth diaper. Good grief.

Most moms I know are aware that I've done the whole natural birth thing (as if it's an event unto itself). They look semi-ashamed and drop their gaze as they mention that they ended up with an epidural (or c-section) after x number of hours of hard labor and miscellaneous complications. I've looked some of my friends in the eye and said, "You do realize that you worked harder in your labor than I did? You labored for 12 hours (or 16, or 30) without medications before you chose to use intervention. My longest active labor was 5 hours. Birth is hard, and you worked hard, even if you didn't have a "natural birth.""

Please, do your homework. Research birth options. Choose a provider that respects you. By all means. But do not be ashamed if you didn't have a perfect water birth with delayed cord clamping at some beach-side resort. Maybe you can look back and realize that there were factors that contributed to complications in your birth (or maybe nothing you could have done could have changed the outcome!), and maybe you will choose a different way "next time," but you did the best with what you knew, during a high-stress time, and probably with a lot of pressure from your care providers ;-).

Other moms could judge me for the non-organic cotton my children wear, the fact that we used disposable plates yesterday, or the fact that my children haven't done preschool and one of my children was "behind socially" as a toddler and preschooler.

As moms, WE CAN'T WIN. Not in the category competition. There are moms who will judge you for lame reasons. But we also judge ourselves. And sometimes our friends who make "weird, crunchy decisions" or "schedule mom" decisions are NOT judging their friends in the "other camp." Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We have to choose to make our decisions based on our instincts, not based on the fear-mongering and not based on popularity.

As a new mom of one, I could collect advice (mostly unsolicited) the way you collect water at a pool: very easily and rapidly. (Seriously, folks, sidenote: new moms, it gets better! The judging and the unsolicited advice does slow with additional children.) I was frowned on when I left my baby fussing for more than 2 seconds in a *gasp* infant carrier seat. I was also judged when my baby was crying and I chose to hold him instead of "train him to wait." I talked with a woman who thought I was unwise to use a birth center instead of a hospital; I talked with others who thought I should birth at home. I was given scheduling advice, and I was also given co-sleeping advice. I was asked at 2 weeks old if my baby was sleeping through the night yet (answer: NO). I was given advice to fully vaccinate, and also given advice to not vaccinate at all.

I honestly think most of these comments and the advice were well-intentioned. Women are passionate about mothering and they want to share their passions with others. Great! I love talking with other women about their mothering decisions. But I don't like the pressure or the judging. I've been in environments that are more supportive and ones that are more judgmental, and it makes all the difference.

As mothers, could we try to do a couple of things?

(1) Please don't judge a mother about a parenting decision that is not black and white. Even if it is an area that YOU see as right v. wrong, can we realize that there is a difference between clearly-defined child abuse and something like whether or not to vaccinate? Can we please realize that a mother is not defined by one or a handful of decisions she makes? She is not a "bad" mom if her child has tasted McDonald's fries!

(2) As mothers, can we please not assume someone else is judging us just because they're making a different decision or offering advice? This is where I really fail. It's so easy for me to impart motive to a comment someone makes that could be totally innocent. Not everyone is pointing their avocado at me. (Seriously, a great blog post. READ.)

Now let's go back a few paragraphs. I said we have to choose to make our decisions based on instinct, not fear. Well, yes or no. Let me clarify. We actually should make our decisions based on both. BUT. . .

The fear should be the fear of the Lord, not the fear of man. We should not make parenting decisions based on the fear of man. Do not schedule because your best friend insists you should. Do not avoid McDonald's because you don't want to be judged by your crunchy friends. Do not cloth diaper because you're afraid to seem "non-green."

We have the freedom to use our instincts (and even our preferences) to make our parenting decisions for  non-moral issues or issues that are only semi- (but not exclusively) moral. We can choose certain paths based on economics, health, practicality. That's okay! Just doesn't choose these paths based on fear of what other moms are going to think.

God gives mothers instincts. You are the mother of your child. No one else is. You know your child better than anyone else. God gives us instincts to know what they need and how they need it. Use that instinct. If your gut tells you "no," don't ignore it. Now, the human heart is deceitful and wicked, so don't exclusively trust your gut, but do listen to your gut. Don't let someone (even a doctor or other professional) bully or guilt you into doing something. You can always say "let me think about it longer and get back with you." You can always think and pray about a decision more. You can change your philosophy! You can cloth diaper one child, and then choose disposables for the next. You can formula-feed your first, and for your next you can line up support and education to make breastfeeding happen the next time, if you are able.

But our decisions should always be chosen under the umbrella of God's Word. That's where the fear of God comes into play. And this is what truly should define our motherhood. How often do we define our success for a day of mothering by how we measure up to the fruits of the Spirit? We rejoice that we did x number of loads of laundry, that our children didn't eat anything non-organic. We took our kids to play group to give them their social time. We made sure they only watched 30 minutes of television. We got through all our subjects in school.

Were we loving to them? Joyful? Was there peace in our home, as much as we were able? Did our children see Christ in us, or did they only see the Law without the Gospel? They need to see both! Did our children see niceness without true kindness? Kindness wants what is best for the other person, even if it's not what the other person would define as "nice." Kind is sometimes telling a child no, even if it's not "nice" to the child. (Bonus homework: do some word research on the difference between the two words!) But treating a child harshly and like your personal slave is not kindness.

Wow. That's much harder than being a cloth diapering mom. It's much harder than natural birth. It's much harder than putting your child on a schedule. We can't do it, moms. I don't do it; you don't do it. Yes, we may try, and God grants us successes and victories in the mess (praise God!), but we can't do it perfectly. We're commanded to run this race with perseverance, but we also know that we can't do it alone. We need Jesus.

Jesus came to die for the sins of His people.

But He also came to live the perfect life we should have lived.

He obeyed where we failed.
He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin.
He was tired and did not yell.
He was angry and only acted in a Biblical way.
He was weary and knew when to rest and when to persevere in tasks.
He was loving, and joyful.
He is our peace.
He was patient, and He IS patient with His children.

He's patient with moms: moms who fail at loving their children, moms who put earthly goals above heavenly ones. He is patient with us. But He calls us to something higher. He calls us to a holy life. He calls us to a holy life of laying down our lives for our children.

But He also says "come to me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We have a Savior who loves us and does not define us by our categories. We have a Savior who does not let us excuse our failures, but leads us and guides us.

We have a Savior that we want our children to know. Can we look at our mothering and ask if our mothering shows our children where our hearts lie? When our children think of our passions, is Jesus one of them? Is Jesus our main passion? Or is Jesus lost in all the categories and all the other issues? This is something that I've been very convicted over the past several months and something I'm still sorting through. I see so much failure in my own mothering, and I wonder if my children see Jesus in me. Do they see the fruits of the Spirit, or do they see my psycho diet restrictions? Do they see my love of books but not my love of the Word?

But as much as I see my failures, I also see God's grace. I see how He's led me, how He's led my children, and how He continues to lead with grace and mercy and law. I see small victories, I hear my children's exposition of Biblical truths, I see their growing knowledge of the Bible and of God. And I see their growing knowledge of forgiveness as they forgive (many times a day!) when their mother chooses the things of the world over the things of God. We serve a great God who loves imperfect mothers. And He calls us to something higher. Pretty frightening and amazing, at the same time :-). 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hoo, boy. . . going deep here

A friend asked for "anti-vaxxers" to explain in their own words why they don't vaccinate. He promised to listen and not argue. And also to only allow anti-vaxxers to post. I don't like that term, btw :-). I don't consider myself an anti-vaxxer. . . read on.

(Facebook didn't like the length of my comment, so I post here instead. Comment section definitely will be closed.)

I will try to be brief, which is impossible, so scrap that. . . just assume I will be "long" instead :-D. Really long. In the past I've ignored all the mockery about vaccines you've posted, simply because I "don't got time for dat," nor do I think it's worth it to answer a mocker. But since you're actually asking for real reasons now, and have said you won't mock or argue. . . . here goes :-). I'd love it if you read it :-D.

History: I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 1. The 6yo has been partially vaccinated. He did NOT receive the MMR, the flu shot, chicken pox, rotavirus, or Hep B. He has not been vaccinated since he was 15 months old. My youngest 2 children have not been vaccinated at all.

Why did we do this? The same reason every parent chooses either to vaccinate or not vaccinate their child: because they think it is best for their children. Not because of unbased fear, not because we read Mercola (we do NOT), not because "it's more natural," not because I like being weird and mocked and ostracized :-D. But because we felt it was the best choice. I have a bachelor's degree in mathematics education and my husband has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics. We're not exactly stupid. But after reading the literature, we felt this was the right choice for us. We also understand why another parent would make a different choice and we do not ever mock a parent for choosing to vaccinate. We expect respect, so we give respect.

I actually have spent a lot of time browsing the CDC's website section on immunizations and I've read much of their "pink book," which is available for anyone to read for free online. It's long and has a lot of data. There are some vaccines that have very high efficacy rates, but others simply don't. The flu shot is literally a shot in the dark. This year's efficacy rate is 23%. Whee! I got this from a CDC release, not from Most years are higher.

The pertussis vaccine is another interesting one. I'm actually impressed at how much the CDC admits here. Direct quote from them:
"Pertussis incidence has been gradually increasing since the early 1980s. A total of 25,827 cases was reported in 2004, the largest number since 1959. The reasons for the increase are not clear. A total of 27,550 pertussis cases and 27 pertussis-related deaths were reported in 2010." Now, what impresses me about this is that they don't follow immediately with "this is likely due to the steadily gaining anti-vaccine movement," which is the stunt they usually pull :-). The fact is that the pertussis efficacy has never been one of the most impressive, and in the past few months the CDC has admitted that the pertussis vaccine has been shown in animal studies to only suppress symptoms, not cure the disease. I wish I could find this article! But Google is failing me. I can assure you it was a CDC or FDA article, NOT Mercola. It was not ABOUT the CDC, but BY them. They admitted that this would mean that someone who appeared to be immune from whooping cough could in fact just not be showing symptoms, and THEREFORE SPREADING THE VIRUS while appearing unsick. In other words, more dangerous in a contagious way than my unvaxed children ;-).

The Hep B vaccine is just. . . weird. At least, the newborn shot. Newborns do not have an immune system (except their skin, hehe), yet we give a shot to a newborn and expect it to stimulate an immune system that isn't working :-/. Newborns do not need protection against Hep B if their mothers do not carry it, a sexually transmitted disease, as they don't do drugs and aren't sexually active. . . we hope. There is absolutely no reason to begin the vaccine at birth instead of 2 months (or beyond). Why don't we test the mothers? We test the mothers for HIV when they birth? How hard would it be to also test for Hep B?

Chicken pox. I mean really. We survived it as children. It was miserable, but now we don't have to worry about getting it again. Just shingles ;-). (Back to that thought in a moment.) The chicken pox vaccine is very convenient from an American economy perspective. How many families have a parent who can and is willing to isolate themselves for weeks while the virus makes its rounds in the family? Many families have two working parents (or a single parent, who works). We're talking a lot of family-medical leave or unpaid time off work. Chicken pox is inconvenient but rarely a problem for young children. With very rare exceptions, "natural immunity" is permanent, whereas vaccine immunity for varicella (chicken pox) and some other viruses is very unknown, as admitted by the CDC. I'd rather get chicken pox as an 8yo than get it as a 28yo, thankyouverymuch.

And shingles. Because I promised we'd get back to that. Shingles happens to immuno-compromised people. . . cancer, lukemia, the elderly. Stressed people. Historically, old people. It is caused (as I'm sure you know) by the latent varicella virus, which remains in a person's body for life, once introduced. Shingles flares occur very rarely in younger healthier people. But the average age for a shingles flare has been getting younger in recent years and has become more common. This suggests that either the American immune system is getting weaker (but surely not, since we are "strengthening it with all these great vaccines") or perhaps that a person's natural immunity is no longer periodically being boosted to varicella by exposure to the active virus in a young child. I'm not stating definites, but the latter is a distinct possibility.

As a former statistics teacher, I am aware that looking at graphs charting epidemiological trends have benefit. . . and also a tendency to allow people to assume cause and effect where there might not be :-). In the last hundred years, we have made vast improvements in the sanitation and clean water in the U.S. and also the world in many areas. We have better diagnosis of diseases, we have better treatment (in many cases), and better results. So a trend showing death from Disease X dropping over the course of the 20th century can't be used as a "proof" that a vaccine worked miracles, yet most pro-vaxxers I know (especially in the older generation) will use the "well, we used to get polio and now we don't, so the vaccine must have worked) argument all. the. time. Interestingly with regard to polio, the "clinical features" section for polio in the pink book differentiates the different types of polio and admits that 95% of cases of polio are "inapparent or asymptomatic." Yet the CDC redefined the active incidences of polio to include only those carrying symptoms at. . . the time the polio rate dropped. How. . . strange, convenient, unethical?

Vaccine creators are human beings who make mistakes just like the rest of us. They've done some things in the past, and contributed to problems. The reason the LIVE polio vaccine is no longer given is because it can actually spread the polio virus. yet if someone had insisted that at the time, they would have been mocked. Do I think they are evil beings who want to render our society sterile and autistic? No. But I also don't think they can't be motivated by money. I just don't have strong opinions on that line of reasoning and would prefer to stick with facts.

Another reason I object to the use of *some* of the vaccines (not all, by any stretch), is that some of them are created (both in the far past, but some in recent years) using aborted fetal cells and I absolutely do not use aborted fetal cell products in good conscience.

The statistics "supporting" the efficacy of vaccines only show how many cases are reported, comparatively, or how many serious cases. They do not show possible side effects that may or may not arise from vaccines. They don't show the startling increase in autism in the last couple of decades, which happened as we started packing the child vaccine schedule tighter and tighter. (We also started doing a lot of other things during that time period, so I think it is hard to pinpoint. I am not making an argument, merely pointing out the incompleteness of the "vaccines limit disease" data.) It doesn't show the possible effects from heavy metals from some vaccines. It doesn't show many other things that are happening at the same time: just how much less "disease" we have. . . But of course, they are only reporting the "vaccine-preventable diseases" in such reports, not new pandemic problems like skyrocketing autism rates, digestive disorders, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer. I think some of these modern pandemics can definitely be NOT linked to vaccines (I did this on purpose, to offer some ambiguity), but the jury is still out on many others.

I don't believe vaccines cause autism. But I'm willing to leave open the possibility that vaccines MAY contribute to autism. That's really an entire other 20 paragraphs that I'd like not to get into (as my writing time is quickly drawing to a close as naptime for kiddos ends soon), but suffice to say that, there are reasons besides Wakefield and Mercola to believe that vaccines and autism should at least be given pause. Also, for full disclosure, although my oldest child is high-functioning autistic, we made the decision to stop vaxxing him long before we suspected he was on the spectrum. I don't blame vaccines for his problems, nor do I exonerate them.

More on adverse reactions, because the CDC admits many more minor reactions that don't nearly approach something like autism. High fevers. Encephalitis. Convulsions. Rashes (that often are mysteriously like the disease that was "prevented."). Some more pleasant things, some less pleasant. But how many actually get reported? I have a certain older brother (*cough*) who got a dangerously high fever and convulsions within the time period after his MMR vaccine (the doctor originally miscalculated the interval and claimed it was one day outside, as realized later) and his reaction was never filed. Nor were all the strange fevers he spiked throughout the next year without known cause. His doctor still wanted him to get his booster at age 4. His mommy was (quite frankly) smarter. She also knows how to read a vaccine insert. . . under the cautions section.

I've read story after story from nurses who worked in a doctor's office that regularly did not report adverse reactions. A parent would call concerned because of X after a vaccine, and the doctor's office would reassure them and open no file, file no report. So I'd hardly call the reported vaccine reactions as super-accurate. I realize mis-reporting can also happen, but I find it more troubling when the medical community isn't reporting what they've been told :-P.

Finally, measles. Because everyone thinks my children are going to make them die from measles, given the current "epidemic." Look at the actual death and serious sickness rates for measles in a developed country with nourished children. It's very low. Measles didn't used to be a feared disease, except in areas with poor nutrition. My mom got it and no biggie. The Brady Bunch got it and nobody panicked ;-). And now we're like, WE'RE GOING TO DIE. Yes, measles can cause complications, and flu can, and chicken pox can. But for the average healthy person, it is extremely rare. Most serious cases of the measles happen in countries with serious vitamin A deficiency. Or happen to the elderly (who would be much more likely to get the disease as a child if we didn't have vaccines, *ahem*, or sick children with cancer or something. (Rotavirus is similar; our doctor's office actually didn't even carry/administer the roavirus when our oldest was being vaccinated, because they didn't find the statistics to support its usefulness for the average well child.)

Some of the news articles are following some little girl who has some symptoms that might be measles, but no one knows, etc. I hope she doesn't get sick. But the hilarious thing about the articles are that they mention that her doctor is remaining measured in his diagnosis (yay, him!) because the little girl recently had her MMR vaccine, which can "produce similar symptoms."

In fact, she shouldn't have been in public to begin with, per FDA vaccine insert recommendations, as there is "some evidence" per their guidelines that rubella can cause "shedding" and actually give the disease (a la the live polio vaccine) to people during the incubation period. So maybe we should ostracize the poor girl and call her Bloody Mary for narrowly avoiding spreading rubella to the Disney masses. NOT. (This is supposed to be read with good-natured humor. I 'm merely pointing out that I wish people would actually read ALL that is written about vaccines, even from the vaccines makers and regulators.)

Okay, not really finally. Now really finally: there are other ways to support the immune system besides vaccines. I'm not saying there isn't some research to support the fact that vaccines limit disease in some scope and in some way, but it's not cut and dry and it's not the only way. Nourish yourself! Drink water! Wash hands! Take your vitamin pills or eat healthy food, or both. Take vitamin A for measles. And vitamin D for flu. They both have good evidence behind them.

But vitamin A and D are not patented (let's just be honest) and it's also a lot easier to get someone to take a shot a few times in their lifetime rather than take a supplement indefinitely. And a vaccine appears to be a lot more cost-effective. And how widespread do you think a "eat healthy food" campaign against disease would be, compared to "come get your cheap shots and be done with it all"? Vaccines are partially (not totally!) about convenience. It's inconvenient when your child (and you) are home from school (and work) for weeks on end because of something like measles and chicken pox. And it's incovenient when you like Mickey D's and don't want to have to feel guilty for eating there and exposing your immune system to some serious damage.

But I don't suggest we condemn unhealthy eaters for ruining "herd immunity" for colds and flus anymore than I think the same should be done to anti-vaxers for measles, etc. I take serious responsibility for my health and my children's health. We are careful what we eat and drink and breathe and use, to boost our immune system and be less likely to infect others. But we also recognize laughter and not over-worrying as important immune boosters :-). Perhaps rather than throwing the "dangerous anti-vaxxers and herd immunity" argument in mockery every time someone gets the measles, people would be better served researching the issue for themselves, making an informed decision (either way), and also investigating other research-supported methods of not getting diseases (avoiding Mickey D's would be a good start) as well.

Okay, I think that's enough. I could seriously go on and on and on. But that's a smattering.

Thank you for finally listening to me and not mocking me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

If You Give a Mom a Moment

Because sometimes you have to laugh grin emoticon.
If you give a mom a moment, she'll lie down on her guest room couch.
She'll notice a raised dark spot on the ceiling, so she'll call a mold assessor.
While at the house, the mold assessor might notice evidence of mold under the kitchen sink and also mold in the bathrooms.
The mom will want to call a mold remediator.
After the mold remediator rips out the bathroom walls and sinks, the mom will want to repaint the bathroom.
She might decide to paint the hallway as well.
When the trim is removed in the hallway, she might find new mold.
She will call the remediator again.
He will rip out more walls and the master bedroom carpet.
He might point out evidence of termite damage in the closet and notes a lot of ants under the carpet. He will leave.
The mom will decide she needs to rip out the master bedroom closet walls and she will finds ant hills, wood rot, and defunct termite tunnels.
She will probably realize that closet is NOT going to be a good storage area in the short term. Meanwhile she might call the remediator again to remediate the kitchen sink for mold.
She will have to find somewhere to store the dishes in the kitchen cabinets, so she starts rearranging the storage boxes in her guest room closet.
When she does this, she might find a dark spot under one of the boxes.
So she'll ask for a moment to lie down on the guest room couch. . .

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Hope - This Year and Always

(An unofficial Keister Christmas letter for 2014)

For me, Christmas is always a time of year to recalibrate my perspective and remember the important things in life. Life struggles can smother and sometimes it's hard to see past the present. I love the chance to stop and soak in the tale of a Heavenly Prince leaving everything to gain His bride. A bride who doesn't even deserve Him and who flees Him! That's hope; that's good theater.

This has been a rough year for me. Not as rough as "the college years," but still. . . rough. I look at the pain and the circumstances that so many in the world (friends or not) are going through, and honestly, I know I have a beautiful life and I've been spared so much. But pain and struggles aren't always born in the "big" tragedies like death or divorce or Ebola; sometimes they're the day-to-day.

This has been a year of many minor trials. It started with a bang as we moved into our new (to us) house here in Houston. Adrian injured his shoulder in the move and was incapacitated for several weeks as a result, making our transition to our new abode a bit rockier. I also spent much of the year being monitored for a "suspicious lump" that seems to have resolved, but still cost some worry and concern. We love our house, but it has turned into a downward spiral of one new repair job after another. We also dealt with our 2nd, 3rd, and are now preparing for our 4th bout of mold since we moved to Houston. Houston fosters and breeds mold like no other place I've lived. My already-sensitive health does not respond well to mold, and Hans responds even less well.

We have learned so much about parenting this year. Mainly that we are totally at the mercy of God in this area and have no. idea. what we're doing. Probably our largest trial for this year has been trying to help our 6 year old son Hans process the extreme behavioral issues that seem to flare with each bout of mold we experience (and are still there in more muted form at other times). We love our extremely bright and enthusiastic boy, and knowing how to best help him while still holding him accountable for his own behavior has been. . . challenging. We've worked with a number of professionals this year and seen ebbs and flows in improvement. Our latest round of testing with a family doctor who specializes with autistic children has us optimistic, revealing both problems and possible solutions.

It's so easy to count problems instead of blessings in our hearts. But on the reverse, in Christmas letters it's so easy to give the "safe and air-brushed" version of the past year. "We're all well and loving life. Our children are great. Aren't our children adorable?" Nobody wants the negative at Christmas time. . . and really, during the year, how many people who ask "How are you?" really are expecting an answer that extends beyond "I'm fine"?

I'm not exactly sure where to strike that balance - honesty and rawness, with hope and not despair. But chronicling blessings along with some of the "struggle highlights" is a good start.

We are so thankful to finally be out of apartments. Not just the moldy apartment we were in last year, but apartments in general. We don't mind cramped quarters, but we really wanted a yard for our kids. We are blessed with 2/3 of an acre in our new place, a great quiet neighborhood for walks, and grandparent-ly neighbors who look out for us.

God has shown us a lot of grace in our "house woes." I could bore you with the (truly) long list of minor catastrophes and large house expenses we've dealt with this year, but instead, I'll just admit that God has met us each time. He's still meeting us, as we're preparing for our third professional remediation in the last 6 months and wondering where that sort of money is going to come from :-). He met us in our previous ones with good insurance coverage, and I'm sure he'll meet us in His own way this time.

We were also extremely blessed this year by our brother-in-law and Adrian's parents, who at different times visited us and poured days of their skills and time into helping us with house repairs. We are so grateful. He met us with a generous inheritance we received that helped with many of our unexpected expenses. He met us with an extra job for Adrian this summer.

Adrian loves his teaching job, teaching math and physics at a local classical Christian school. We are grateful for the awesome teaching position he has here and how it fits him so well. Northeast Christian Academy has been a phenomenal fit for him in so many ways. And getting to teach a class at the local community college this summer was not only great additional income, but also a fun experience for him. We're grateful that he's already been invited to return and teach the same class next summer.

We're grateful for God's grace in our parenting, for listening ears that offer us advice and sometimes just offer sympathy and love, and we're grateful for the opportunity to preach the Gospel to our kids. I can honestly say that trying to work with Hans through his own struggles has given me more opportunities to preach Christ to Him than I ever would have done had he been an "average" child. When my child is moved by God's grace, it's amazing to see him be convicted not by my own rebuke, not by a typical punishment, but by the Word of God. It is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. I still feel so lost in this whole sea of parenting, but I feel humbled and blessed by so many of the things God has shown me this year.

We're thankful for homeschooling. For our family, at this time, this has been a gift. This has been a rocky year in the homeschool department, with a few great weeks or months followed by rough ones, followed by great ones again. I'm so thankful for the flexibility homeschooling allows us, to "step back" when we need - such as when we were actively dealing with mold and just trying to keep a semblance of "normal" in our family life and peace - and also allowing us to plow ahead at "irregular times" - such as during the dog days of summer in Houston, when no one wanted to be outside and we had a fabulous several weeks of clear thinking and behavior for Hans. We got over 2 months ahead in schooling this way, which allowed us to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather to get our of our questionably-safe home air and play outside. I love that about homeschooling! And I love watching the kids learn and grow in knowledge and wonder at God's creation.

We're thankful for our bundles of energy: Hans with his colorful imagination and amazing memory, Gretchen with her sweet and easy disposition, and Martin with his inquisitive nature that keeps me constantly on my toes. We've already been to the ER twice for head injuries for that boy and I've had to call poison control twice, and he's only 18 months! He is a dare-devil! But he's also a sweet cuddle-bug who loves to make smacking sounds while Adrian and I kiss, and brightens up with excitement every time he knows we're heading outside.

Gretchen, at age 4, is all girl. Well, sort of. Sometimes she is Sam Gamgee when she and Hans are on a "Lord of the Rings" verge. But she is Miss Pink (although she now accepts other colors into her wardrobe), is often in elaborate dress-up clothes, and loves having her hair done and playing princess. But she can also hold her own in imaginary battles that she and Hans conduct against their imaginary enemies. And she loves to ride her birthday bike on our driveway and go for walks with us all. She is a sweet cuddler who loves special Mommy time and getting to read books before bed.

Hans is 6 and in first grade, our bookworm who can become lost in a book for hours (favorites currently include Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, Doctor Dolittle, as well as various American history books he reads and recounts to me "for fun."), or he can become Mr. Crazy Superhero, fighting imaginary "bad guys" with his various pretend weapons and his super powers. His thirst and ability to soak up knowledge and retain it is truly amazing. We are constantly amused by his perspective on things and the sorts of things he thinks to say.

We've had a GOOD year, despite many difficult circumstances, and despite many uncertainties and continued trials. We've had a GOOD year, because we serve a GOOD God. Or more importantly, because we are loved by a good God. We love because He first loved us. That is one verse the kids and I have discussed a lot recently. We don't love God because we can conjure up that love. We love Him because He reached out to us first. Isn't that amazing, strange, and hard to grasp, all at the same time?

Why did the God of the universe care to come to earth, be born of a woman, live for over 3 decades in this sin-riddled world, and then die a horrific death. . . just to recover a bride who wanted to spit in His face? Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my Lord, shouldst die for me? This is our hope at Christmas, and throughout the year. We pray it is your hope too.

Merry Christmas from Susan and all the Keisters

Monday, December 01, 2014

Jesse Tree

Isaiah 11

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

We've done a Jesse Tree the last three years during the Advent season. The kids love it and look forward to it. We all do, actually!

If you've never heard of a Jesse Tree, it is a visual story of Christ, tracing the need for redemption from creation, through the fall, judgment in the flood, seeing glimpses of Him in the prophets, in Jonah, Samuel, His lineage through the kings, etc. Generally, each day in Advent, a family has a passage to read from the Bible, and then an ornament to hang on their "Jesse Tree" that symbolizes the passage. For the prophets, we hang a scroll, for the psalmist David, we hang a harp, etc. As the days progress, the passages narrow into the time of His birth. The term "Jesse Tree" comes from Isaiah 11, the prophecy that a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse.

I grew up hearing of the concept, as my elementary Sunday school curriculum had a special Advent series that uses a Jesse Tree. It wasn't a regular part of growing up, but I was exposed to it, and liked the idea. Adrian had never heard of a Jesse tree before, and when I first approached him with the idea he was skeptical, wondering if it would be shallow (like a lot of popular "family devotion ideas"), etc., but he agreed to give it a try a few years ago. He was definitely impressed after we did it ourselves and doesn't need any more convincing :-).

(On a side note, two other non-Jesse-tree resources that have similar themes of the entire Biblical story building up to the birth of Christ: I recommend Andrew Peterson's album "The Lamb of God," and also this short film by the Skit Guys. I gotta admit the Skit Guys butchered a much-beloved hymn - "Come, Though Long-expected Jesus" - but I like the film for the amazing progressive painting showing the story from creation to the birth of Christ.)

So basically, there is no exact "one way" to do a Jesse tree. If you search online, you will find different lists of passages and corresponding events/people/objects. Some lists stick strictly with the lineage of Christ, but most will delve into the prophets as well and other events that point to Christ. The main thing is to tell God's preparations for bringing His Son into the world.

I basically combined the best of several lists, if I remember correctly. I also chose to keep ours to 25 days, which allows us to start December 1st and end on Christmas. Some suggestions have more or fewer days. Here is what I ended up doing (much of this came from blog posts I cut/pasted from, but that was a few years ago, so I don't have the original links to share and can't remember how much I altered and what was original):

1. Tree (Jesse's lineage) I Samuel 16: 1-13 Jesse was King David's father
Isaiah 11:1,10 Prophecy about Christ coming from the “stump of Jesse”; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2. Globe (creation) Genesis 1 Creation
John 1: 1-5 Jesus was from the beginning with God; Jesus is light
3. Apple (Adam and Eve, fall) Genesis 3 Sin entered the world, but God promised to send Someone to crush Satan
Romans 5:12-19 Sin came into the world through Adam, but God gives us life through Christ
4. Ark and rainbow (Noah) Genesis 7:1-9:17 God's promises and covenant
5. Stars (Abraham) Genesis 12:1-7, 15:1-6 God's promise to bless the earth through Abraham
6. Bundle of sticks (Isaac) Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son points to God sending His only Son to be the perfect sacrifice for us
7. Ladder (Jacob) Genesis 27:41-28:22 Jesus is our ladder to God
8. Coat of many colors (Joseph) Genesis 37:1-36, 50:15-21 God used Joseph to save His people
9. Lamb (Moses, passover) Exodus 12:1-30 The blood of a lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites' houses was the sign for God to spare His people
John 1:29 Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world
Mark 14:12-16 Celebration of Passover becomes the celebration of the Lord's Supper
10. Bread (Moses, manna) Exodus 16 God gave His people manna to eat in the wilderness, to save them from hunger
John 6:46-51 Jesus is the bread of life
11. Law tablets (Moses, 10 commandments) Exodus 20:1-21 God gave His people His law
Romans 10:4 Christ is the fulfillment of the law
12. Wheat (Ruth) Ruth 4:9-22 Ruth was not born into God's people, but she loved God and was humble and obedient. She became David's grandmother, part of the lineage of Christ
13. Ear (Samuel) I Samuel 3 As a little boy, Samuel heard God and believed Him
14. Shepherd's staff (Jesse) I Samuel 16:1-13 Samuel annointed Jesse's youngest son, David, because God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance
Isaiah 53:2 A prophecy that Christ would not attract us by His appearance
15. Slingshot (David – warrior) I Samuel 17:17-51 David remembered God's provision in the past, trusted God, and would not stand for Goliath insulting God
16. Harp (David – psalmist) Psalm 23 God teaches us how to praise Him in the Psalms; the Psalms point to the Savior
17. Crown (Solomon) I Kings 3:1-14 God gave Solomon wisdom
18. Altar (Elijah) I Kings 18:16-46 Israel was worshipping false gods; God showed His people that He was the true God
19. Scroll (prophecy) Isaiah 9:1-7 God sent prophets to tell Israel of the promised Redeemer
20. Lion (Daniel) Daniel 6 Daniel trusted in the Lord; God protects His people
21. Fish (Jonah) Jonah 1-3 Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights; God's desire was for the people of Ninevah to repent
22. Hammer (Joseph) Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph was a carpenter who listened to the angel of the Lord and was obedient in faith
23. Angel (virgin birth foretold to Mary) Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 Mary had faith and obedience; she praised God for His plan
24. Donkey (Bethlehem) Luke 2:1-5 Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem
25. Manger (birth of Jesus) Luke 2:1-20 Jesus is born.

I also took pictures to show you the ornaments I made/obtained to go along with the passages. Once again, there is a lot of flexibility. For example, for your Jesse tree you can draw a tree on a poster board (which we've done before) and hang the ornaments on with thumb tacks. Or you can purchase an artificial mini tree to use each year for your Jesse tree. You could even just add the ornaments to your regular Christmas tree, though I think there is something special about having a separate tree. What we're doing this year is using a branch from our yard, stuck in a vase with rocks to weight it down and hold it erect. We'll hang the ornaments off the different twigs branching off of the main branch. We'll see how it goes :-). 

For the ornaments, there are plenty of options online for printing off pre-made images and pasting them onto discs to make your ornaments. You can make or purchase objects/ornaments, collecting from various stores or using craft supplies you have. It's up to you. You'll see in the pictures that we kind of did a little of everything. I worked on collecting and making the ornaments over several weeks. I don't think I actually had to buy anything, but used a lot of what we already had. The lamb was a toy that I turned into an ornament. The harp was already an ornament, but I plucked off the bear that was attached. I made Joseph's coat from felt, Jonah's fish was an embellished washcloth that I converted, etc. I'm particularly proud of my Lego ark, I have to admit :-).

Don't feel like you have to have the "perfect ornaments" for it to be a meaningful experience. You can go easy with pre-printed options, and then you can always branch out and replace with more intricate ones as the years progress. There are a few we have that I'd still like to replace with "better" options if I find them, but I'm using what I have until then. For example, the three stars to represent the Abrahamic covenant. . . not exactly awe-inspiring :-P. I want to make/get something that has LOTS of stars, but I just haven't yet.

Also, you can use artistic license and decide that instead of a crown to represent Solomon, you want to use a mini replica of the temple. Or instead of a fruit to represent the fall in the garden, you could use a serpent or a little tiny tree ornament. Whatever. Use your imagination and work with what you have or can find/make easily :-).

Here is our current collection:

The tree (1) and globe (2).

Apple (3), ark/rainbow (4), stars (5).

Bundle of sticks (6), ladder (7), coat of many colors (8).

Lamb (9), bread (10), law tablets (11).

Wheat (12), ear (13), shepherd's staff (14).

Slingshot (15), harp (16), crown (17).

Altar (18), scroll (19), lion (20).

Fish (21), hammer (22), angel (23).

Donkey (24) and manger (25).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Our Thanksgiving Meal

Okay, honesty: I'm mainly posting this so that next year when I can't remember for sure which recipes I used, I can always revert back to this post :-). Also, I took very few pictures. This is not an "eye candy" post. Just the facts, ma'am. We have an assortment of food restrictions. Some of the ingredients we were avoiding were: wheat/gluten, dairy (except butter), soy. Those are main ones, anyway :-).

Recipes and preparation notes, for my own reference next year:

Turkey: Okay, yeah, that turned out kind of dry. I really need to watch the temp better next year :-P The 15 minute estimate per pound for a free-range turkey was about spot-on. Remember for next time. Still turned out edible, especially with gravy. And yeah, yeah, brine. I KNOW it's a good solution, but confession: I hate raw meat. Brining means extended time with raw meat in contact with something I later have to disinfect. *squirms*

Gravy: We tried something different this year. The last few years Adrian (our gravy master) has made gravy with the turkey drippings and a combination of arrowroot and almond meal (1:2 ratio) and had good results. It's more "earthy" and coarse than a standard smooth gravy, but we have really liked it. 100% arrowroot for thickener closely resembles snot. We tried that one year. Do NOT ever repeat. This year I had bought a bag of Namaste gluten-free flour blend as a splurge to try to make some "real" pie crusts. Since we had it, we used it for the thickener for the gravy. I actually really liked the result. Adrian prefers the arrowroot/almond combo, as the Namaste is a bit more snotty of a consistency. But a very edible consistency, not the same level of snot-ness as 100% arrowroot. Plus the Namaste gave a smoother and more "normal" result.

Cranberry sauce: Seriously, this is the EASIEST thing to make and tastes so much more amazing than that awful canned stuff. We have made this for a few years and it is a nice "pizazz" of color and flavor. This is the recipe we use.

Mashed potatoes: Since Gretchen can't have milk, we just omitted it. Just potatoes, butter (lots), and salt and butter. It really worked well. I think certain kinds of potatoes would need a liquid, but the kind we had worked well. We used Russet. Another dairy-free option that I've tasted before is using a small amount of poultry broth. This gives a bit more creaminess and wetness, and actually is not a "distracting" flavor, but blends in nicely. We don't do soy or rice milk or coconut milk, so those weren't options. Almond milk is. . . over-rated.

Sweet potato casserole: Pretty much always a universal favorite. The recipe we have used for a few years now is one I found I-don't-where. All I tweaked for the base was simply omit the milk (and even though it was a full cup omitted, it has never been dry!) The topping, I made up.


Sweet Potato Casserole

4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 5 large), peeled and cubed
1/4 cup Sucanat (you could use brown sugar)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Bake or boil sweet potatoes, then peel and mash with other ingredients. Transfer to a buttered 9x13 glass baking dish. Then prepare topping.

Topping: Combine equal parts almond flour and semi-soft butter by mashing with a fork, then add a small amount of honey to sweeten - not to much or you get a gloppy mess. Add chopped pecans (as many as desired) and "plop" the topping onto the casserole in penny-sized pieces, scattering evenly.

Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees or until heated through and topping is browned lightly. (This casserole preps ahead nicely. Just pull straight from fridge to bake.)

Stuffing: This was a new idea for me. Stuffing wasn't super-important for holidays growing up, from my memory, and of course being gluten-free does limit options now. But I saw an interesting recipe for a Wild Rice Stuffing and wanted to try it! Results: deliciously tasty but the cooking was not as predicted. After an hour, practically no liquid had absorbed and the grains were still pretty hard. It took about 2 hours of simmering (maybe a tad less) for the wild rice to cook properly, but even then, there was lots of leftover liquid. It actually made for a nice thick soup that was really flavorful, and with leftover turkey added, made a nice stand-alone leftover dish. Because the wild rice took so long to cook, we gave up on eating it with our main meal :-D. Another recipe note: instead of the 2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning, I added: 2 t sage, 1 1/2 t thyme, 3/4 t rosemary, 1/2 t nutmeg, 1/2 t black pepper. I would have added 1 t marjoram, but was out of it.

Green beans: No exciting prep notes here. Frozen green beans. Cooked. Yum.

Wassail: This is a carry-over from the Keister side of the family. Kind of like a mulled spiced cider, with some cranberry attitude. If you like sweet drinks, it's good. It's too much for me :-), but generally popular when we serve it to others. Combine in a 6 qt crockpot: 1 liter cranberry juice cocktail, 1 liter apple juice, 3/4 cup orange juice. In a tea infuser or a cheese cloth bag, place 1 stick of cinnamon and 4 whole cloves and let steep in juices. Add 1/4 cup sugar. Heat all ingredients in crockpot (a few hours on low). When ready to serve, remove spices and taste, adding more sugar if desired.

Pecan pie: This was yummy. Not as gooey as a traditional one, but very moist and flavorful. We used the crust from here (but used the Namaste flour instead of all-purpose) and the filling from here.

Pumpkin pie: This was kind of a combination of a lot of recipes. And alas, I cannot find my scribbled notes for it anywhere. Best I can remember, I combined the following and poured in a pie crust: 4 eggs, 2 cups cooked pumpkin, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and maybe 1/2+ cup of honey? I wish I could remember for sure. I might have also thrown some nutmeg in there. This is why I'm noting all this in a blog post now, because my memory will be far hazier next time I want to make it :-P. I used the same pie crust recipe/ingredients as I did for the pecan pie.

Chocolate "pudding": Okay, really not pudding, but close enough, and yummy. I just took this chocolate gelatin squares recipe and poured it into a bowl to gel instead of molding into squares. I always use butter instead of coconut oil.

Fried pears: I just sliced some pears up semi-thin (removing seeds, but leaving skin) and sauteed in butter in a frying pan. Then added some honey (to taste) and sprinkled on some arrowroot for thickener. Then stirred and heated until it was yummy and a good consistency.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Children's Books We Love

By request, and as a follow-up to my last post:

(Side note: books simply cannot be rated absolutely on a pass/fail or good/bad scale. These are just books *I* love and that my family loves. If you see inconsistencies in my recommendations of some of the below books, but in my rejection of Dr. Seuss, that's because I'm human. I have inconsistencies. The below books are *my* idea of worthwhile kids' books. They are not an absolute list, nor are they a complete list even from my own perspective. Nor do we limit our home library only to these books.)

Before I list my own recommendations, here are some recommendations of recommendations ;-) for you. You know, people older/wiser/more-experienced than me who have done this sort of recommendation thing. Books Children Love is a great starting place. I've heard from many people that Honey for a Child's Heart is another great source.

And also, for a free online list, try Ambleside Online's recommendations. Although I'm not technically a Charlotte Mason-ite, I'm a serious stalker, and AO is an AMAZING free curriculum resource for ideas, both for books, but also homeschool ideas in general. (Charlotte Mason is heavily into reading, so the books ARE the curriculum, not a supplement.) They have week-be-week options for study, for those who want to follow AO exactly, but I just use their site for book ideas as supplements, because like I said, I'm not a Charlotte Mason-ite, just a stalker :-).

Onward to book suggestions! I'm sure we've read many more great ones, but I gotta admit my memory is shot, so these are basically the ones we own or I happen to remember :-). Also, I'm focusing on picture books for two reasons: (1) I'm giving alternatives to Seuss, and (2) although my children - especially my 6yo - love and enjoy "chapter books," I've definitely spent more years as a mom reading picture books :-). You'll notice a variety of reading level in the books I list, from short books like "1 is One" and "Sheep in a Shop," to much more involved books like "Paddle-to-the-Sea."

If you notice that these are in a weird order and random groupings/pairings, you are right. I decided to go the lazy way. My OCD-ness may get the better of me later and I may go into convulsions, but my desire to finish this post and go read my Agatha Christie book is currently winning the inner battle :-D.

Picture Books

We also love original fairy tales by Grimm, Anderson, et al. Lots of goodies there. But our versions are actually very picture-sparse. I'm sure there are great retellings out there with more pictures :-).

Now please share YOUR favorite children's books! (Even if they are Seuss, we can still be friends ;-).)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why Dr. Seuss is not my idea of a great children's literary experience. . . (A post to inspire, not to judge!)

This is not a moral issue. This post is meant to inspire, NOT to judge. And I truly mean that. Please read and ponder, and know that you can read Dr. Seuss to my kids AND let me visit your house without hiding Dr. Seuss books from your shelves :-D. But here's why you won't find much Dr. Seuss around our house. . .


I grew up reading a number of Dr. Seuss books and loved them. And I can remember many fond memories of reading Dr. Seuss to young kids who I babysat. They're light years better than "Captain Underwear" and other similar wastes of paper that appear on library shelves and book stores everywhere :-P. Quite frankly, most of the kids' literature out there today is just trash. If it isn't obscene, it's just gross, or trite, or P.C., or dumb. So Dr. Seuss is better than a lot of options :-). And I speak of both early children's books and general elementary literature.

But leaping to the conclusion that Dr. Seuss is great literature (because it's better than Captain Underwear) is like saying that Subway is great food because it's better than McDonald's. (I could make similar potshots at modern art, but I won't.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with exposing kids to Dr. Seuss. We own a select few, and I have absolutely no problem with my kids getting read Dr. Seuss by others, just like (allergies notwithstanding) I don't mind if they have the occasional fast food french fries or chicken fingers (gag!) as a treat, but that would not be a regular standby in their diet. And just like there are zillions of movies I would let my kids see at someone else's house (and many, of course, that I wouldn't), but not many of them would I want us to own. Ken Myers, who wrote All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, has some fabulous things to say about the difference between "main diet," and occasional exposure/consumption. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the book on hand (a friend is borrowing it), so I can't give any exact quotes. But definitely read the book! It's fabulous.

But back to Dr. Seuss. He is not great literature. Seriously, folks. Stop trying to pretend he is the end-all, be-all of fine literary experience for kids! Agh. The drawings are medicore at best, most of the text is nonsensical (and not even in a witty nonsensical way, for the most part), and the plots are limited in scope. There is a reason, though. Dr. Seuss was written for early readers.

Let me say that again:
Dr. Seuss books were written as early readers. 

^That is what they should be used for. They are fabulously great and fun early readers, and when my son first finished phonics and we were looking for early readers, I reached for Dr. Seuss as a primary source. Dr. Seuss is fabulous for early readers! And so much better than 2/3 of the early readers in my local library. We read, we laughed, we enjoyed (for the first few readings, and then I was like "moving on," PLEASE, to a better plot), and then thankfully we returned them so I didn't have to have all my brain cells die slowly from Dr. Seuss overdose ;-).

My son would have been quite happy to remain reading Dr. Seuss books ad nauseum forever and ever, but he was also quite happy to move on to bigger and better things. I'm not talking Dickens and Tolstoy. I'm just talking about children's literature that is great stuff. And I do think his reading ability, his attention span, his reading comprehension skills, and his mother's sanity are the better for the short duration of our tryst with Seuss :-D.

Read The Cat in the Hat or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Laugh, enjoy. But there is nothing to keep thinking about.

But read a kid the original Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne (not the trivialized Disney adaptations). They are so accessible to young kids (once again, I'm not trying to force my kids to read Dickens novels at the age of 3 or 6). They are hilariously witty and complex, but simple for kids, all rolled up into one. I can read them again and again and they do not get old. There are layers of complexity and brilliance in there. The illustrations are fantastic but not over-the-top and distracting.

Next read Beatrix Potter. (Did you know she wrote many more stories than just Peter Rabbit??) Charming illustrations that are unmatched in children's literature. Beautiful tales for children and adults to enjoy. Try A Child's Garden of Verses next. And anything by Robert McCloskey. Move on to The Adventures of Reddy Fox, and then anything else by Burgess. My kids have spent hours and hours acting out their own imaginations from these books. There is so much "scope for the imagination" in them. I could go on and on with more recommendations, but those are some starters :-). Read Island Boy. Owl MoonPaddle-to-the-Sea.

Okay, fine. I really will stop with the recommendations :-). It's just so easy to go on and on!

But to sum up, try reading the books I mention above. Soak yourself and your kids in them for a few months. (To make this really work, spirit away Dr. Seuss so they're out of sight and out of mind. In the same way that to make a change in diet, you don't try to convince your kids to eat vegetables and fruit while a box of cookies is on the counter.)

After soaking in good books for a few months, go back to Dr. Seuss. Yes, really. Go back! And see if Dr. Seuss resonates with you in the same way. Is he still just as witty? Just as hilarious? Just as great? If so, please enjoy Dr. Seuss with my compliments. (And feel free to read him to my kids.) But if he seems hollow, trite, and "eh, okay," then that's okay too.

And I would be happy to smother you with more book recommendations if you need Dr. Seuss alternatives ;-).

Monday, August 04, 2014

When You Make a Rotten Shepherd. . . (and the absolutely wrong response to that reality)

(Please read through to the end, or you will totally miss the main thrust of what I'm trying to say.)

I love Shepherding a Child's Heart. Really, truly. I recommend it to any new parent, old parent, middle-aged parent. Non-parent. Wanna-be-parent. Wanna-not-be-parent. . . You get the idea. It's a great starting point.

STARTING POINT. You see, I don't know about other parents reading this, but I make a really second-rate shepherd. For reals. Now, clarification: I used to be a perfect parent. But then I had kids, and it's been a humbling experience ever since.

And also? My sheep don't get into arguments in a "shepherding a child's heart" sort of way. And one of my dear sheep does not respond to discipline in any way that resembles a "shepherding the child's heart" sort of scenario. At. all. Reading Tripp's book and parenting my dear child is like trying to consult a sewing machine manual for help on replacing the fuel valve in a car.

But back to me. You see, as much as I want to be the most perfect, patient, giving, loving example and shepherd to my kids, always turning each discipline session into a cherished discipleship moment, I don't. Sometimes, yes. I have many sweet memories (past and present) of sweet talks with my kids about their sin, my sin, and God's grace. God is gracious to give those moments (and memories) to imperfect parents. Thank you, Lord.

But sometimes life prevents a discipline session from being deeply meaningful. Multiple children certainly make it more challenging, as a parent might be dealing with a wailing baby and an unrepentant child at the same time, as just one example. But more to the point than life circumstances, sin prevents many of the discipline sessions in our house from being deeply meaningful. My sin. My desire for quickly rebuking and getting back to the previous task. A quick punishment and a "just tell your sister you're sorry already!" My short temper. Sometimes my shouting. Sometimes my anger. Mine. Mine. Mine.

I've learned in my 6 years of parenting to ask my children's forgiveness. A LOT. We talk about my sin, just as we talk about theirs. Many times we sit down and pray prayers of repentance together. We pray for God to forgive my sin, and we pray for God to forgive their sin.

I read a really great article today that drives home some great encouragement and hope for insufficient shepherds like myself. Go and read it! I love, love, love the author's conclusion:
"My point in all this? I’m going to parent my kids as best as I can, according to all the wise principles I’ve learned from the Bible itself and authors. But when it comes down to it, God absolutely must be the one who saves my kids." 
That's it. That's what parents (myself included) must cling to. We can't cling to our methods, our children's outward behavior, their seemingly moral outward appearance, or their social or psychological stability.

God saves sinners.
He save some sinners who are parents.
Despite their rotten parenting.
He saves many of those parents' children.
Despite their rotten parenting.
Because GOD saves!
We do not. Oh, I'm so glad we do not. Or we'd fail.

Take heart that God used rotten parents like Adam and Eve, David, Aaron, Eli - the list could go on. Sometimes God had to bring condemnation on their children, but sometimes He raised up a godly generation after these parents, despite their shortcomings. God works with broken people and broken families.

But. . .

Please, my encouragement today to other parents: don't "give up on perfection." For yourself or your children.  That is where our culture totally misses the point of reality. So often, I see my generation disenchanted with the legalism and outward conformity that has been so popular in fundamentalist Christianity in the last decades. We see the Phariseeism, and we want nothing to do with it.

But our response?

"I've given up on perfection."
"Jesus loves me, flaws and all."
"I'm never going to be Super Mom, so I'm embracing who I am."
"I'd rather have scruffy children who love God, than little Pharisees."
"All the moms I know yell at their kids. It's just something everyone does. We don't have to repent of that."

Well, wow. None of that comes from scripture. And surely there is a middle road between banshee-children-who-are-never-disciplined and little Pharisees!

God meets us where we are, but He never encourages us to stay there. He never says, "There, there. I love you just like you are, so why search higher?" God does love us where we're at. But He commands (not just suggests) that we grow, that we painfully learn, that we stretch ourselves and our hopes and desires. (Actually, that we burn those and grasp Him.)

He commands, Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
He commands that daily, we die to self.
We are to run the race set before us. (not jog the race lazily, or sit down and nap, or give up).
We are to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices.
We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And one of the things that comes with that growth and knowledge? A knowledge of our sin. But a desire to love the Lord our God by bending our will to His. Not to earn salvation, but because we are saved.

Any great musician will admit that perfect performances are either extremely rare or non-existent. But does a great musician aim for mediocrity or "pretty good"? No! A great musician AIMS for perfection. He practices and critiques his own work and learns from mistakes and continues to mold his talents and search out his flaws. He aims for perfection. And that is the only way he will ever give a great performance. By aiming for perfection.

No matter how hard we try, we will never be perfect parents in this life. I certainly won't be. We can despair and give up, or we can run to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We can cry "Abba, Father," to the only perfect Father that ever was. We can repent of our daily failures as parents, but look to our Heavenly Father for wisdom, as we continually run the race that is set before us.

We can strive for what is ahead.

We can delight in the sweet tastes of tuneful melodies we are graciously able to witness in our lives and the lives of our children. And we can pray and look forward to the lush, majestic and PERFECT symphonies that we will have in the world to come.

God makes all things beautiful, in His time. Even my parenting. Isn't grace amazing?