One Of “Those” Days: Guest Post by Stephanie Elkins

It’s been one of “those” days. Some days, raising, training, caring for, and shepherding three little ones ages four and under doesn’t seem that hard. Routines run smoothly, little ones entertain themselves and each other with fervor, the laundry basket gets emptied, and the new dinner recipe turns out amazingly. Life is a bowl full of cherries. Some days, I think, “My children are responding so well to the training they are receiving!” Of course, the more my children excel, the more my own heart has to deal with the pathetic sin of pride.  And of course, shortly thereafter, I can be sure that one of “THOSE” days is coming. The “other” kind. The kind that humbles me. Exhausts me. Frazzles me…and leaves me wondering how I EVER thought I had this whole thing down!

I know the day is going downhill when my middle child, who is only two, doesn’t take a nap. It’s somewhat normal for there to be a day sprinkled in there every so often when the firstborn doesn’t actually fall asleep, but when both of them manage to make it to dinner without having slept, things spiral out of control pretty quickly. Nap time is when Mommy rejuvenates in this house. Not by napping, but by focusing, restoring order, and often by exercising. Mostly by walking on the treadmill with a book and pen in hand. This afternoon, Sally Clarkson’s “The Ministry of Motherhood” was interrupted about half a dozen times with pleas for attention from the supposed-to-be-napping girls. Ironic, of course. While they know that getting out of their beds once they have been put in is strictly against the rules, it doesn’t stop them from trying it one more time. Every day. In my mind, it’s like having a death wish. Why would you intentionally do something today that you JUST GOT DISCIPLINED FOR yesterday? Or five minutes ago. Tension starts building and my nerves start unravelling the longer this whole routine goes on.

One of our primary objectives in parenting is to shepherd the hearts of our children. Pastoring the members of a local church may define the overall calling and direction of my husband’s and my lives, but pastoring the tiny hearts of those who live within the walls of our own home defines our MOMENTS. They are our congregation. And they NEVER GO AWAY.  It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and so soul-inspiring.

One of our goals, then, is to be sure that every opportunity that calls for correction or discipline is viewed as a teaching moment. Because our purpose is to teach our children to know their own hearts, and to turn those hearts ever toward their Savior. What this looks like is a whole bunch of conversations, usually when we really don’t want to be having a conversation at all! While spanking and sending them to bed in tears, or simply isolating them for a time, often would be easier, we aim to make every moment of correction/discipline an encounter with Jesus.

Sometimes these conversations go beautifully, and we all leave refocused and restored. Then there are days like today. In one such moment of discussion after administering discipline, I pleaded with my daughter to choose the path of obedience and submission. After mentioning to her that learning these lessons now, when she is young, will be much easier than learning submission to authority as an adult, she, of course, wanted to know if the other authorities she would “have some day” would give her “pops.” “No,” I replied, “they won’t give you spankings. But there WILL be discipline for you when you fail to submit and obey.” She wasn’t satisfied. “Mommy, like what? Give me an example.” “Ok,” I said, “lots of people have jobs. And they have authorities over them called bosses. If they decide not to obey, but rather to do things their own way, they can lose their job! And then they have no way of making money and no way of buying food for their families.” She wasn’t impressed. “But Moooommy, I don’t have a job. And the only money I have is in my piggy bank. And it’s not even real.” Yeah, that one went right over her head. I wanted to say, “You ASKED me for an illustration of authority/discipline for a grown up! Fine. See if you can come up with something better!”

So, as our day progressed, as mentioned earlier, the un-napped children got more wound up, their abilities to control themselves worsened, and the tears (did I mention we have GIRLS?) flowed much more readily. We announced an early bedtime, bathed them, and then Daddy left for an evening work meeting. Let the fun begin. I should have known that a quick tuck in, a song, a prayer, and a goodnight would NOT see the end of this day. Three children all in bed by 7 o’clock? Why do I ever get my hopes up? Some things just aren’t meant to be. Thus began the next hour and a half of children BEGGING for more of Mommy. In fact, I’m pretty sure they lay in bed contemplating how they can misbehave enough to get Mommy to come back into the room, because apparently a mad Mommy is more desirable than no Mommy at all. There were tears, confessions, spankings, conversations,…and then repeat.

Sometimes, having a four-year-old who understand deep truths and how to apply them creates more challenges. As evidenced by this second conversation tonight. Julia, 4, has been encouraging Ellie, 2, to get out of her bed and come find me and declare her desperate need for something like a Kleenex (she does NOT have a runny nose) or to go potty (she wears diapers). Ellie gets corrected, and then Julia gets corrected for her part in the ruse. Tonight, in one such moment, Luke 17:2 came to mind, and I shared with Julia that according to the Scripture, God takes this kind of thing pretty seriously. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” “Now, what would happen,” I asked her, “if someone had a heavy rock around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea?” No hesitation there. “They would die,” she replied (looking very serious). “Right. So, what this verse is saying, is that things will NOT go well for the person who intentionally leads another person, especially a “little one” (like your sister), to sin. Basically, it would be better for that person to die! So, God takes it very seriously when we lead another person to sin.” At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about this conversation. “But Mommy!” she exclaimed, “I don’t HAVE to die, because Jesus died for me, and he paid for my sin.” [Insert sigh] Yes, baby, yes, he did. And somehow, my point, once again, went right past her.

She gets it. But she still fights it. One moment her heart is so tender, and the next I’m wondering how in heaven’s name she can choose sin so defiantly. (Did I just describe all of us?)

One moment I pour my heart out in conversation with my child, pleading with her to choose obedience out of love for her Savior. And the next, I am desperately pleading grace for my own heart as I battle for control and patience. As I fight to direct my heart. To be zealous for God’s glory and pleasure rather than my own peace and solitude. I was tired, frustrated, and had more on my “to do” list than hours to do it.

This particular evening “ended” with the dishes littering the counter, the leftovers getting cold on the table, the bath water still filling the tub, the neatly folded clothes scattered across the floor of the bedroom, and my 4-year-old “waiting on the couch for Daddy to return from his meeting.” Frustrated and exhausted, I jumped back on my treadmill and grabbed my book. (You know, the one about “The Ministry of Motherhood”). Before I read a complete sentence, I put the book down and started to pray. “God, what can You refresh me with tonight?! I need some peace and quiet! I need to not “be needed” for a while! I…I….” And then I remembered this: I needed to turn my heart toward HIM. I needed to refocus my heart on Him. I thought about listing off His character qualities, but the one that immediately came to mind was SOVEREIGN. And with that thought, came peace. If He is SOVEREIGN, then He picked this day for me. He chose these moments for me. He placed these children, these personalities, this tiny congregation, in my care. He directed this day, these moments, for a purpose. I just needed to receive it. As. Coming. From. His. Hand. 

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Monday Media Fast

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For the past month and a half or so I’ve been breaking in a new habit and discipline that I am working on developing within our Students: Monday Media Fast.  Yesterday was the first day the students were supposed to join in and I am hopeful that they endeavored to accomplish the task with zeal and honesty befitting a Christian.  

I thought I would explain the media fast and then just jot down a few thoughts that have moved in me this week

The rules and process to the media fast are simple. 

First, we want to make this a life habit so we are going to start small and build.  The first two weeks we will just fast from all forms of social media.  The third week we will add texting and TV.  The fifth week we will cut out all entertainment.  This includes music, web-surfing, videos of any kind, and any form of media that invades our intellectual space. 

Second: media is anything that vies for our attention in the form of electronic input.

Third: whenever tempted to pick up an electronic gadget, replace it with prayer or scripture reading.

Fourth: when we reach the step of no texting, there are exceptions to the fast.  For instance: if your parents text you, you need to text them back.  But if a friend texts you, you don’t.

Fifth: the goal of this fast is to replace our dependence on media and our engagement of media with an engagement and dependence on the LORD. 

Things I’ve been privileged to see or hear because of and about this fast.

  1.  Yesterday I sat on a bench and noticed the sounds all around me.  A dry leaf blown along the concrete, a cat’s meow, the slow soft sound of the breeze through trees, the sound of tires on the pavement as the cars drove slowly by.  But this is not the only thing I can hear better.  I can genuinely say I hear my Lord with more clarity.  I can sit and rest in conversation with Him with no interruption.  I have gleaned insight from His Word that I once would have missed because I was too busy listening to music, or worried about what Instagram pics someone has.
  2. I no longer care about what is posted on twitter or facebook.  I used to waste moments of time on the twitter-verse or face-world.  It wasn’t as though I would sit on facebook all day or twitter all day.  I would just occasionally pick my i-pad and check it.  Fasting from this helped me to see that I was wasting valuable intellectual breathing time.  Your brain needs time to process what it has been reading or studying.  When you cloud your brain with the passive aggressive tendencies of social media, you are failing to allow yourself to think deeply.
  3. Screens can be detrimental to the soul.  Screens allow us to turn off our emotive receptors.  We deaden our ability to process emotive and intellectual stimulants by engaging screens rather than the world around us.  I love to drink hot drinks and watch the birds come to the bird feeders.  There is something majestic about a Cardinal or a Chickadee sliding through the air to the feeder and taking the seeds.  Something amazing about the fact that a bird can simply defy a law of nature (gravity) simply by the design of its body.  Further, there is great beauty in understanding that they don’t need me to feed them and yet are provided for by the LORD.  Screens had taken this away from me, fasting restored it.  When we disconnect from the media assault of this world, we are free to connect with the Almighty’s creation.
  4. Did you know God speaks more than any form of media.  He is constantly talking!  The trouble is that we aren’t listening.  I have heard him teach me multiple times today alone!  He speaks with such clarity and I was plugging my ears to it.  Well, no more!
  5. I also learned that the media of this world wants me to think a certain way.   The way it wants to shape me is contrary to the way God wants to shape me.  Both want my undivided attention and affection.  Only one is actually valuable.