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How a Baby Changes Your Life

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The first time I was pregnant I made one big mistake.  Amid taking vitamins, swimming laps in the seminary pool, and reading pregnancy books, I learned absolutely NOTHING about what to do when the baby actually arrived.  It’s like I never realized that the pretty glow and stretchy clothes weren’t the final destination.  I was the happiest, (largest), most naïve pregnant lady alive.

And then she came.

Good-bye happy glowing pregnant lady.  Hello zombie-mommy—as terrified, exhausted, and clueless as the wiggling infant in my arms.  I was overwhelmed by a desperate, protective love for this little person, yet I’d never felt more incompetent in my whole life.   It’s like I had the most important job in the universe with the intelligence of a third grader.  I shoved my stash of pregnancy books into the closet, and became a voracious reader of baby-raising manuals.  Unfortunately, reading in the middle of the night while nursing and simultaneously sobbing into a handkerchief is not exactly the opportune time for learning how to raise a baby.  To make matters worse, I quickly discovered that no two baby-raising “experts” on the face of the planet have ever agreed about a single thing.

In His great compassion, God walked with me, taught me, and sustained me.  I have been passionate to encourage new moms ever since, which brings me to the purpose for this article.  I am writing especially for women expecting their first baby.  I want to share, as candidly as possible, a glimpse into the realities of life with a newborn, in hopes that you may be more prepared than I was.

Stage 1: The Twilight Zone
The initial weeks following baby’s birth can feel a little like entry into a parallel universe.  There were two changes in particular that threw me the most.  For starters, if your baby is biological, it’s possible to feel like a stranger in your own body.  Simultaneously, you experience physical recovery from the delivery, a surge of new hormones, lactation, and a post-partum figure you may find disappointing.  Secondly, baby is born with zero regard for your current schedule.  Her life is a continuous cycle of eating and sleeping, which means you enter an eerie new world where you don’t think in terms of night and day.  You think in terms of 2-3 hour cycles that include feeding, burping, crying and sleeping over and over again all through the day and night.  (Do you remember that scene in Men in Black when Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith that they work on Centaurian time and he’ll either get used to it or have a psychotic breakdown?  It’s a little like that.)

So how do you prepare for this?  Make a deal with yourself now that during the Twilight Zone Stage, you are excused from guilt—no need to fit into your skinny jeans, clean the whole house, or smile all the time.  Feeling sad or overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom—it means you’re human, and you’re adjusting.  Just giving yourself this sort of grace can free you immensely to enjoy baby without all the pressure.  Secondly, ENLIST HELP!  The Twilight Zone Stage is no time to be a hero.  Accept every casserole that comes your way, even if it means you have to answer the door in your pajamas.  It will be worth it.  Especially if they packed dessert.  Invite your mom, or mother-in-law to move in for a few weeks.  It doesn’t matter if she gets on your nerves a little—if she’s willing to clean a toilet, cook dinner, and hold the baby at 2am, she will be worth her weight in gold!  Finally, begin to pray now for patience, perspective, and gratitude.   For all its challenges, the Twilight Zone Stage can be one of the most precious seasons of your life–a season in which God sanctifies you, amazes you with His grace, and blesses you more richly than you could ever imagine.

Stage 2: The Philosophy Crisis
Once the initial blur of “newness” begins to wear off, you will find yourself contemplating numerous daily decisions—do you want to put baby on a schedule?  How soon will you implement the schedule?  Will you let baby cry?  What will you do if baby won’t sleep?  Do you want to co-sleep?   Do you want to train baby to sleep independently?

In short, there are two major approaches when it comes to raising an infant.  There is the “parent-directed” philosophy (popularized by Gary Ezzo of Baby Wise) which relies heavily on establishing a schedule, and the “attachment” philosophy (coined by Dr. William Sears) which advocates following baby’s cues and natural instincts for closeness.  Here’s the tricky thing: these two approaches are not isolated options—they are opposite ends of a spectrum of options.  Most people don’t fall entirely into one camp, but land somewhere between the two, which is why it feels like experts never agree with each other.  For instance, I couldn’t peg James Dobson as a “scheduling” advocate or an “attachment” advocate because he accepts and rejects different components of both approaches.  And it’s likely you will, too, the more you grow with your baby.

So how do you prepare?  Think of two or three moms who meet the following criteria: you admire them as a woman and mother, they have young children, and their personality is similar to yours.  This is your best bet for an “advice-giver.”  Ask these moms for their very best “new baby” advice, and don’t just put them on the spot.  Let them think about it and get back to you later—this way you’ll really get their best thoughts.  Ask them which books were the most helpful, and read them.  (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth was the most helpful book I read, although I think it’s wise to read more than one book so you get multiple perspectives).  Talk to your husband about what you’re learning and get his feedback.  Finally, resolve to hold your newfound opinions tentatively.  Becoming dogmatic (especially before baby even arrives) can make you highly critical of yourself and of others.

Stage 3: The Grace-Filled Rhythm
With both my daughters, between 4-6 months, it felt as though normalcy returned.  Of course every day still held a degree of unpredictability, but by and large life fell back into a steady rhythm.  I knew what to expect and how to respond.  It may happen sooner for you, or take a little longer, but know this—as surely as The Twilight Zone is coming, normalcy will make a return.

Final Thoughts
You’ve seen me reading my baby books and sobbing in my rocking chair.  Now fast forward three years.  Do you see the toddler dancing in her underwear?  The baby learning how to walk?  The Daddy monster bursting through the door every afternoon to tickle all the bellybuttons in sight?  I do.  I live in a world where a can of glitter can make you a hero for the day, and two little braids dancing in the wind is enough to make you wish time would stand still forever.  My point is, when they tell you “this too shall pass,” no matter how much you want to slap them, it really is true.  Virtually every challenge you face with a baby will eventually pass.  This is not true for older children.  There’s no guarantee that every child will submit to Christ, marry a godly spouse, or live out her full potential.  But every child will eventually sleep through the night.  As my doctor likes to remind me, nobody breastfeeds in elementary school or takes a pacifier to college.  The trials are momentary.  The rewards are eternal.

The beautiful woman in the photograph is Katey (Cannington) Mishler, a wise and godly mom of 4 married to a talented musician.  Thanks for letting me use the photo, Katey!  Check out some of her husband’s music here.

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Romancing a Guy

imageI have a theory that men desire romance just as much as women.  I think they just define it differently.  At least that’s what I’m beginning to think as Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches and I find myself quietly studying my husband.  What would he find romantic?  I already know the answer is not endless conversation or a sparkling toilet.  Those things speak to his heart about as much as a power drill on my birthday would speak to mine.  But that doesn’t mean he has no need for romance.

After all, you don’t have to be female to long for someone to know you, or to be delighted that someone has discovered you.  To romance someone is to capture their affection by speaking in a language that touches them.  It is to “see” inside of them and openly demonstrate that what you’ve seen is lovely.  I don’t think there’s a manly man in the world who doesn’t desire that to some degree.  So…how do you romance a man?  Obviously, all men are different, but at the risk of being written off, I am going to make three sweeping generalizations that I think will hold true for most men.

Listen to him.  Even when it’s boring.  This is critical.  Women always complain that men don’t talk, but I think what we really mean is they don’t talk about what we want them to talk about.  Ask him about something that’s interesting to him and I guarantee he’ll say something…you’ll just probably have tuned out about two minutes in.

A professor’s wife first opened my eyes to the importance of listening to a man by making a terrifying statement.  She said, “When we don’t actively listen to our husbands we teach them not to talk to us.”  Yikes!  I cannot tell you how many times my husband has started to jabber about something as interesting as snail slime, and suddenly, just as I’m starting to tune out, I hear my professor’s words in my mind.  I snap to attention and engage.  “So why does the carburetor do that?  What’s so great about that commentary?  Who’s the best player on the team?”  Sometimes it gets interesting, and sometimes it stays as boring as snail slime.  But you know what?  I’ll learn everything there is to know about football if it means he’ll talk to me when he’s hurting.

Listening is a segue to the heart.  In those moments when I’m silencing Downton Abbey to listen to all the features of the new Honda Odyssey, he and I are forging a trust.  We’re building intimacy that says, “I care about you.  I care to know what you’re thinking about.  I care to have a relationship with you.”  Listening is also the first step toward romancing him because it causes you to think the way he thinks.  Maybe he talks a lot about a particular band, so this Valentine’s Day (because you’re listening), instead of surprising him with a special meal, you surprise him with tickets to a concert.  Or maybe he mentions that he’s always ready to crash around 2pm at the office, so you show up at 2pm with Starbucks and a note.  Now you’re speaking his language—and that’s romance.  (P.S. In order for him to talk, occasionally you will need to stop talking.  This was a revolutionary insight for me.)

Meet his needs generously.  There’s really not a whole lot a guy needs.  Honestly.  This is one of those surprising things I’m learning from my husband.  Female relationships are so complex because the majority of our needs are internal.  We don’t just want flowers, we want him to connect with us emotionally.  However, I think most men see outward action as inward connection.  Listen to the way they brag—it’s almost always action-based.  Take my brother-in-law, for instance.  He’s a woefully sleep-deprived pediatric neurosurgery resident.  You know what he brags about?  The way the whole house could be a wreck, but his wife will always have a clean bed with fresh sheets just for him after he’s worked 36 hours straight.  I once heard a famous pastor brag about the way his wife fixes him his favorite breakfast every Sunday morning before he preaches.  Basic needs, lavishly met.  I think it ministers to men more than we realize.  At least, I’d wager it’s more romantic than keeping him up all night so we can talk about our feelings.

We’ve talked about two basic needs—sleep and food.  Perhaps you’re thinking of one other need I’ve failed to mention.  Let me just say, yes, I believe it matters too.  Honestly, it probably matters more than any of the others!  Don’t just meet his needs, meet them generously.  Freely.  Joyfully.  Do I need another adverb?   Eagerly.  Whole-heartedly.  Meet his needs, knowing that you are actually pursuing his heart.

Respect him.  Because of Ephesians 5 and numerous Christian books, I knew one thing loud and clear before marrying Clint: he craves my respect.  What’s more, respecting my husband is a biblical mandate.  Okay, but what on earth am I suppose to do?  That’s what I always wanted to ask.  As a young bride, I didn’t really get how to “accomplish” this mandate.  Do I just say nice things to him?  Tell him I think he’s manly?  I often wished there was a secret manual of “ten easy steps to make your husband feel respected,” so I could check them off.

I look back at that young bride and sort of laugh at her naivety.  Because now I get it.  The funny thing about respect is it’s more easily identified in its absence than its presence.  In other words, disrespecting my husband is what finally taught me the nature of respect.  It’s not an action; it’s a heart attitude.  That young bride, lying awake at night, wondering how she could demonstrate respect for Clint, already respected him in her heart.  But the longer we were married, the more I saw his flaws, and the more my heart waned in respect.  Which brings me to the greatest lesson I have ever learned regarding respect: Like faith, respect is proven truest through fire.

I once asked Clint what I could get for his birthday that would really show him I loved him.  He told me, “Honestly, what would really make me feel loved, is if you showed me grace when I fail.”  I think I bought him a paintball gun.  But his words have haunted me ever since.  They will often come rushing to mind in the midst of a fight, when I’m so angry I’m ready to go for the jugular—to say something devastingly disrespectful.  In that moment I think: this is when it counts, Jeanne!  All the birthday presents in the world can’t speak as powerfully as that moment when I’m most angry and I choose to respect him anyway.  Remember—that moment, when you least want to give it, is your greatest opportunity to demonstrate respect.

Final Thoughts
I like to blog about things I’m weak in—eating well, shepherding my children, waiting on God, romancing my husband…  These are all things I find vastly important, and part of the reason I write about them is because I want to grow in these areas.  But the danger in blogging is that I may give off the appearance that these are the things I’m strong in.  I don’t want to do that, mainly because I don’t want to go to bed at night feeling like a phony.  And I don’t ever want a reader to have that discouraging thought—she has it all together, and I don’t.  What a load of hogwash!  Let me say it again—these are the things I’m weak in.  If I wanted to write about the things I’m good at, I’d write about ping pong.  So, as you think about romancing your husband, please remember—God is infinitely good and gracious.  From one wretch, saved by grace, to another—I can promise He will never give up on you.  No marriage is beyond His ability to save, restore, and bless.  That, I know from experience.

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Helping Little Hearts Overcome Sin

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*Note: This article is based on the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.  To learn more about these doctrines, click here.  
A few years ago, while my husband was in seminary, I took a biblical parenting class.  I was pregnant at the time and blissfully ignorant of all the challenges to come.  But under the tutelage of one remarkable woman, Dana Stinson, I crammed life lessons into my heart like money under a mattress—tucked away for a rainy day.  In the years to come, I have pulled the lessons out repeatedly.  One, in particular, is worn with use.  Ironically, it is the very first lesson she taught us.

On the first day of class Mrs. Stinson warned us that there is a great temptation in parenting to excuse away a child’s sin.  Often this is done through labeling a child (she’s just shy, he’s just active).   It can also be done euphemistically by calling defiant behavior “stubborn” or manipulative behavior “emotional.”  And who hasn’t used circumstances to excuse a kid’s sin now and then?  (She’s exhausted; he’s hungry; it’s way past nap time.)  All of it may be true—maybe she is shy, emotional, hungry, and tired.  But she is also sinful.  And ultimately, she is refusing to share her toys not only because she is tired, but because her sinful heart loves self more than others.

Mrs. Stinson taught us that sugar-coating a child’s sin is no favor to the child.  If you really want to help little Johnny overcome sin and mature in godliness, you have to be willing to call a spade a spade.  So for our first assignment, we had to observe a child (if possible, our own) and identify the chief sins this child was drawn to.  Then, we had to create a plan of action to help the child overcome his or her greatest sin struggle.  The assignment was so helpful that I thought I’d share it, in hopes that it might benefit your household as it has ours.  Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Identify your child’s chief sins.

Everyone is prone to some sins more than others.  For instance, one person may struggle with aggression while another battles passivity.  Children are no different.  Each has a unique make-up and will be particularly drawn to various sins in various seasons.  To pin-point your child’s chief struggles, start by pin-pointing the chief behaviors you see.  The easiest way to explain this process is to give you a case study.  Suppose you notice that your toddler’s primary negative behavior is tantrum-throwing.  The question is what sin is behind tantrum-throwing?  Or to re-phrase it, why is tantrum-throwing sinful?  First, it defies authority.  (Think about it—a tantrum is a reaction to the mandate of an authority figure: it’s time to go, you have to eat your broccoli, you may not wear your batman mask to school…).  Secondly, a child throwing a tantrum is seeking to control not only the situation, but the authority figure making the unpleasant mandate.  Ironically, while seeking to control everyone else, the child is evidencing a lack of self-control over his own emotions.  Overall, we can characterize one chief sin—pride.  A child throwing tantrums is saying (or screaming), “I want everyone and everything to revolve around me right now.  I want to be the authority, I want to be in control, and I want to do whatever pleases me.”  This is a serious sin!  Which means it’s also a serious opportunity for gospel truth and training.

(A word of caution here: Sometimes you will notice a negative behavior and be unsure whether it’s sin-related or development-related.  For example, unlike her classmates Suzie may never sit still.  It’s possible she’s capable of sitting still but choosing to disobey her teacher, or it’s possible she’s struggling with this developmental milestone.  In my opinion, if you’re unsure, you should err on the side of grace and treat it as a developmental issue.  You can still create a plan of action to help her learn this important skill, but your plan will rely more heavily on practicing and coaching, not disciplining.)

Step 2: Create a plan of action.

Typically a plan that I create includes prayer, dialogue, practice, modeling, and discipline.  Using our case study regarding temper tantrums, here’s an example:

  1. PRAYWe will pray for and with our child, asking Jesus to help her value other people, obey willingly, and develop self-control. Specifically, we will pray Philippians 2:4 and Proverbs 29:11 over her:
    • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 
    • “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
      .
  2. DIALOGUE—In calm moments (while working on a craft or going for a walk) we will dialogue about the following issues related to tantrums:
    • Why Mommy and Daddy sometimes say “no”
    • How to respond when Mommy or Daddy says “no”
    • Everybody’s desire to throw tantrums (including parents)
    • Why throwing tantrums is sinful
    • Jesus as the only hope for helping us not throw tantrums
    • The consequences of throwing a tantrum in our household
      .
  3. PRACTICE—We will role-play right behavior, giving our child the opportunity to experience success.  Example: I will say, “Let’s practice doing the right thing.  Here, pretend you’re playing with Mommy’s cell phone.  I’m going to say, ‘No don’t play with this.  Please give it to me.’  Then you say, ‘Yes ma’am’ and give it to me, okay?”  (I discovered that my kids absolutely LOVE this game.  They smile widely, hand it over, and proudly say, “Yes ma’am!”  Then we dance around and applaud their great behavior.  We practice with a variety of situations—they may pretend they’re playing and I tell them it’s time to go…etc.)
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  4. MODEL—We will relate to our child in his struggle against sin by modeling repentance and speaking in biblical categories.  Every outburst will be called a “temper tantrum,” including Mommy and Daddy’s outbursts.  (I cannot count the number of times I’ve yelled in frustration, then later apologized to one of my kids and admitted that Mommy had a temper tantrum, that Mommy is a sinner, and that Mommy needs Jesus.  Apparently, it’s easier than I thought to model repentance because I so frequently blow it.  No need for role-play with this one—the real thing is happening all the time!)
    .
  5. DISCIPLINE—Every time we see a tantrum beginning we will respond the same way:
    • Bend down on her level, look her in the eye, and tell her to close her mouth.  “You can do it, close your mouth!  You don’t have to have a temper tantrum—you can obey Mommy!  Close your mouth!”  If she successfully controls her emotions and obeys then we CELEBRATE!  (“Yay!!  What a wise choice!  Let’s thank Jesus for helping you!”)
    • If she continues to cry, immediately enforce disciplinary action we discussed with her in “dialogue” phase.
    • Talk it out.  “Why did Mommy discipline you?”  (Because I threw a temper tantrum).  “Is it sinful to disobey Mommy and have a tantrum?”  (Yes)  “What would you like to say to Mommy?”  (I’m sorry.)  “I forgive you and I love you.” (*hugs and kisses)  “Let’s ask Jesus to help you not have temper tantrums.” 

Now that you’ve seen a sample plan, I have one final thought.  If I could, I’d flash it across the screen in neon lights, (but since I don’t know how to re-write HTML code, I’ll settle for capital letters): ONLY JESUS CAN CHANGE OUR CHILDREN.  Developing a plan is not about taking the salvation or sanctification of your child into your own hands.  It’s about trusting God to save and sanctify your child, while being intentional in your shepherding.  The Bible tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  This is just one way to do that.  It is a method of training, but Jesus is the hope of change.  There are two opposite temptations constantly alive within me—one is to ignore my children’s sin and hope it goes away.  The other is to play God and attempt to micro-manage their souls.  Neither is the answer!  And neither is a fun way to live—constantly in denial or constantly under pressure.  The answer always was, always is, and always will be CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY!  (Col. 1:27)  Hallelujah!  That is great news for this mom.

The Rollercoaster

Photo courtesy of http://www.newyorknewyork.com/attractions/the-roller-coaster.aspx 

I got on a rollercoaster today.
It didn’t seem I had a lot of say,
For I never ran toward it in haste,
Yet suddenly I was strapping a seatbelt round my waist.

Then up, and up, and up it climbed–
My heart was soaring and so my mind!
At the very top a wedding march played,
Church doors swung open & the bride was displayed!

Just as I thought I’d burst with delight,
My jubilant heart erupted in fright.
Down and down and down we plunged,
Til we could’ve soaked up our tears with a 10-gallon sponge.

Whizzing past failure, swooping beneath bills,
I lost all sight of my original will.
My heart was consumed with anxiety and doubt,
What did we think marriage was all about?

Then just as suddenly we began our ascent,
Gathered extra money–even paid our rent!
Accepted into seminary, a new job for the wife–
Yes, yes!  Now this is living the life!

Laughing with friends, hosting parties all night,
Once more I could feel my heart racing with delight.
Security!  Stability!  Oh, to be young and free!
Wait…wait…wait…what’s happening to me?!

Stomach growing rounder, ankles swelling fast,
Plunging lower and lower–the freedom’s not gonna last!!
My tummy’s churning madly; I’m puking left and right,
Now suddenly I’m in a rocking chair, crying through the night.

Eyes so bleary, mind so crazy, body worn and stretchy,
The rollercoaster’s reached it’s low…and boy does it look messy.
Poopy diapers, spit-up rags, mommy always crying,
Whoever said it’d be sheer bliss surely must’ve been lying.

And then one day a little coo,
A giggle, a smile, a babble–who knew?
A night full of sleep and those first sweet words,
Motherhood, difficult?  Don’t be absurd!

She’s darling, she’s perfect, she’s utterly sweet!
Look!  Look!  She took a step on her two little feet!
Laughing all day, giving Mommy a kiss,
Life doesn’t get any better than this!

The coaster’s soaring high, the wind in my hair,
She is the greatest answer to prayer!
She’s mine forever and I’ll never leave her,
Wait just a minute…is that a FEVER??

Down, down we go flying in the blink of an eye;
What if it’s incurable…what if she dies??
What if she’s rebellious and my world falls apart?
What if some loser breaks her heart?

How much more can I take?  This coaster’s a bear!
I look left and right–are we getting anywhere?
And then I glance backwards and suddenly I know,
I’ve been on this ride forever and there’s forever left to go.

I stare at the track swerving up ahead:
Jobs, babies, trials…I’ll be riding ’til I’m dead!
“Stop the rollercoaster!”  I scream into the air.
It screeches to a halt and I scurry from my chair.

“What is this hellish ride?”  I demand to know out loud,
Glaring at the driver through eyes like darkened clouds.
“This ride is filled with turmoil; it’s insanity and strife!”
He calmly looks at me and says, “The ride is called ‘Life.’ ”

“I hate it!”  I yell.  “I can’t do it, I know!”
He pauses to consider, then answers kind of slow.
“Perhaps this isn’t the ride for you;
I’ll tell you what you ought to do.

Head to that line you see on the hill,
The passengers say that ride is still.
It’s calm and it’s steady; some even claim
They can sense joy on the parts filled with pain.”

“Yes, yes!”  I nod quickly.  “That’s the ride for me!
Oh, thank you and good-bye!”  I shout out with glee.
I pause and turn back, one thing left to say,
“Just tell me what it’s called, so I don’t lose my way!”

Already my heart is light; the peace I nearly taste
As he looks at me and says, “They call that ride ‘Faith.’ “