Thursday, June 23, 2016

How to Stay Awake Reading Your Bible First Thing in the Morning

I'll never forget the advice that an old pastor gave to me and my husband before we got married- "Let the first words that your eyes see every morning be the words of God."

Scripture is replete with the early morning practice of seeking God first; from David in the Psalms to Jesus in the first chapter of Mark.

We know it's a good thing to get in the Word first thing... but it can be rough. Especially for moms of little people who aren't getting much sleep. Trust me when I tell you that I know it can feel impossible to keep your eyes open when you are trying to read your Bible right after you get up in the morning. I'm right there with you! I've gone months at a time of not getting up all that early, and reading after breakfast while the kids play {sleep is essential for our proper functioning!}.

I also know checking phones first thing in the morning is a trap that I, and many others, often fall into. When you are sleepy it is so much easier to take a quick {or you know, not so quick} check of email, facebook, and instagram.

I can't tell you how many mornings I've done this... and how much it throws off my days. Instead of renewing my mind, getting my eyes fixed on God, and petitioning Him with the needs and concerns of life; I'm puffed up with pride that so and so liked this thing that I did, or fuming or worrying or otherwise negatively internalizing any unpleasant information I took in. It is so much better to get our eyes fixed on the Lord first thing!

Let's get practical here: you want to read your Bible first thing each morning. How can you physically stay awake to do so? These are the tricks that I apply to keep my eyelids wide open:

Splash cold water on my face. Like, super cold. Especially right under my eyes where I tend to feel sleepiest. It's a shock to my system that really perks me up!

Hydrate. Step 2 upon waking is to get a huge mason jar full of cool water and start chugging. If I've been reading for a few minutes and feel my eyelids getting heavy, I get right back to drinking my water. If plain old water doesn't do it for you, you can always opt for caffeine.

Don't get too comfy. As soon as I get out from under my nice warm covers, all I want is a soft fuzzy sweater, slippers, and blanket. But if I get that warm and snuggle up on the couch, chances are I will be out cold before long. Not what I'm going for! I wear just enough clothing to be comfortable and moderately cool. I sit on a hard backed chair, or...

Keep moving. Many mornings I will read sitting on my exercise ball, bouncing or rocking. The movement keeps me mentally engaged and focused. I've also been known to read on the treadmill, or just pace the room {think Belle in Beauty and the Beast ;)}. It's very hard to fall asleep while you are being physically active.

Get outside. Weather permitting, sitting outdoors {or even on a screened in porch} can be a refreshing way to get and stay alert. Birds singing and the sun rising provide a delightful environment for communing with God.

If all else fails, try listening. The Bible app on my phone has an audio option. Listen while working out, prepping breakfast, emptying the dishwasher, etc. The main thing is to get your mind fixed on the truths of God. How you get there is secondary, so long as you are getting there!

Not every season of motherhood is compatible for early rising and reading, and I go through looooong spells of reading the Bible on my phone in the afternoon while nursing a baby, or reading while my kids play wildly and loudly around me. But when I'm able, getting up early to seek the Lord is a sweet thing. I hope these tips will be helpful to you!

When do you make time for Bible reading? How do you shut out distractions and stay focused?

You might also enjoy Be Faithful with the Little Moments, Apostolic Truth for Weary Mamas, and Bible Reading for Busy Moms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why I'm Not a Big Kids and T.V. Fan

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I might have mentioned once or twice {heh} that I really don't like my kids to watch much t.v. It's an area I'm constantly trying to find balance in. I often fail to meet my own standards, and my kids have watched much more t.v. in their lives than I'd prefer.

A lot of people wonder why I feel this intensely about television. I've been told I need to relax, to give myself grace, and that it's not as huge of an issue as I think it is.

Frankly, everyone who has told me these things is probably right!

Television is not the end of the world, and plenty of kids grow up simultaneously with television & good character, intelligence, and creativity. So I'm trying not to sweat it when I find myself in a season of relying more heavily on television for my kid's entertainment.

And if you don't feel strongly about t.v, we can still be good friends! Every family has got to decide what works for their household and how screen time best lines up with their personal preferences, convictions, and values.

But in case you were wondering why I feel so strongly about the issue, here is the reasoning behind my position.

1. It's the way I was raised. My mom was pretty strict about the amount of t.v. we watched as kids. Usually we could watch one or two shows on a weekday afternoon, and cartoons Saturday morning. We might enjoy a family movie on the weekend. Otherwise we were kicked outside to play! We rode bikes, roller skated, climbed trees, read books, and built stuff.

Looking back, I can't say I remember many cartoons that I watched. They hold little significance to me as an adult. The many creative games I enjoyed with my sisters, on the other hand, are still a source of fond enjoyment in my memory storehouse. We had a ball as kids!

2. Bad attitudes. I've noticed a direct correlation between t.v. watching and increased whining, rebellion, and general crankiness in my kids. If less screen time means more joyful and peaceful family life, I am definitely willing to sacrifice it.

3. I don't want my kids to miss out. I remember reading in the intro of this book that the author wasn't concerned with television viewing in and of itself, so much as what little ones aren't doing while watching; exploring, coloring, being read to, baking, getting fresh air, etc.

Last year I read Catherine Steiner-Adair's book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, and I remember being especially concerned about the negative impact developmentally on babies and toddlers {from both their watching time, and watching their caregivers stare at screens}. I highly recommend this book as you consider the place of screens in your family's life!

The early years are both short and formative. Our kids need plenty of empty time and space to learn about the world around them.

4. Educational advantages. According to The Read Aloud Handbook, studies have shown that kids' academic performances begin to suffer if they watch more than 11 hours a week. Kids who watched 11 hours or less demonstrated no significant difference from kids who watched no t.v. at all. Moderation seems to be the key as far as education is concerned.

What about all of the educational programs? Also from The Read Aloud Handbook, the educational benefit kids enjoy from these programs noticeably drops off after age 10. Yes, kids might grow their vocabulary, learn facts, and memorize numbers and letters in their early years {personally, our family loves Little Einsteins and Magic School Bus!}. But as they grow it shifts to mere entertainment. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

5. Screens are addictive. On a spiritual level, I'm concerned that my children will have such an appetite for screens that they have no love for weightier, eternal things. In my own life I see how compelling screens can be- oh how I crave that down time with Netflix or Facebook- and I want both myself and my children to love God, His Word, and people more.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss's words strike my conscience often: "Children will cultivate an appetite for whatever they are fed in their earliest, formative years. I have known young people from 'committed' Christian homes who know more about movie stars and rock groups than they do about the patriarchs or the disciples. They can sing along with all the top hit songs but do not know the great hymns of the faith. I can only assume they have an appetite for what they have been exposed to" {Lies Women Believe, page 175}.

6. I want us to be book people! I read for fun, and I want my kids to read for fun too. We live in an increasingly alliterate society- I want to fight the tide and raise my little humans to love and live on the written word! If my kids are getting their appetite for story and entertainment filled by me reading aloud to them, I believe its a win-win for us all.

7. Treats are best enjoyed in moderation. Because my kids watch less than the average amount of t.v, when it is on they really focus on it. This could be a good or a bad thing ;). Friday family movie night feels like a big treat when they've only watched a few short programs {or none at all} throughout the rest of the week.

Just like I don't want my kids gorging themselves on sweets everyday, I want them to consume limited and controlled amounts of media as they grow. My hope is that they will learn to regulate their appetites for entertainment {and sugar! ha} so that as adults they are self-controlled and disciplined in these areas.

Lest you develop an inaccurate view of our habits, my kids do watch t.v. Many afternoons you can find them parked on the couch for a half an hour or two. What I aim for is serious limitation- I don't mind if they watch one program a day, although I'm always happy when we skip it for a few days altogether. I also aim to hit all the important activities each day- if they are getting outside, coloring or crafting, playing creatively, helping in the kitchen, doing chores, and listening to me reading... probably a little t.v. won't do much harm.

When we are sick or I'm feeling run down and overwhelmed, I will allow more extended screen time. I'm always fluctuating, never quite feeling like I've reached the ideal. These are the guiding principles that cause me to persevere in limiting screen time and finding that ever elusive appropriate balance.

I'll leave you to judge if I'm extreme or not. Please do tell what you agree and disagree with, how you decide how much and what your kids can watch, and anything else of interest in the comments! I love hearing how different families weigh in on these issues.

I feel the need to say it again- truly, all is grace my friends! My desire isn't to cast judgment or paint a black and white set of rules here, just to share why I land where I do and hear your thoughts on the issue. Thank you for making this a nice place to converse on the internet!

P.S: You might also like Gentle Ways to Cut Back on Your Child's Screen Time.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Salvage the End of a Rough Day

Every once in awhile we experience what I would consider to be  really rough day around these parts. Cranky tired mama, cranky tired kiddos. Too much t.v, too much junk food and coffee. Very little accomplished, very large messes abounding.

We get to the last hour or two before bedtime and I feel like a big fat failure horrible mother who wasted a perfectly good day and has nothing to show for the time spent.


It's tempting to put on another movie for the kids, get out my iPhone, and wallow in the failure/shame/misery. I can ignore the disaster around me and think, "Hey! At least I was consistent today."

But there are a few strategies I can apply to salvage it. I may only have an hour or two left, but much can be done and my heart can be refreshed with a little mindset shift.

Here's what that looks like at our house:

Repent. First, confession to the Lord for laziness and/or sinful attitudes is key. Then I ask my babies' forgiveness for hurtful words, impatience, and any other unkindness. I let them know I am sorry, and that we are having a fresh start all together. Often my oldest {even though she is only 4!} will {unprompted} apologize for her own disobedience and crankiness once I've set the example. Which is a really and truly sweet blessing to my mama heart.

Have some Word time. Even if it's just a verse, crack open the Bible and meditate on some solid truth for a moment. You can read it aloud to your kids too- just be sure not too mind their fidgeting or noise making {remember, we are trying to improve attitudes and make a turn around here}.

Looking for a way to read the Bible to your small children? Check out my free Bible reading plans!

Do the next right thing. Maybe it's having a clean up dance party. Or  wiping that counter or washing a few dishes. Whatever mess is most pressing, tackle it cheerfully, and encourage those littles to pitch in. Every little tiny effort makes a difference, both in your mood and work load.

Be extra fun and sweet. Fake it to make it mama! Give lots of kisses and hugs, read a story, make clean-up time into a game. Give whatever feeble energies you can muster to ending you and your children's day with happy impressions. This will help everyone to go to bed happier, and hopefully wake up happier too. It will build joyful, sweet memories into their childhoods as well.

Eat something green. Maybe in your tiredness you leaned a little too heavily on the chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate {for both you and them!}. Oh sister, I have so been there. I am so often there! Just serve something healthy and wholesome alongside dinner, or as a before bed snack. A green smoothie, cucumber slices, or even just a quick frozen veggie can make you feel a little more healthy and wholesome. Get your balance back!

Have a big glass of water. Dehydration makes you even more tired and cranky. A big cool glass of water is refreshing and energizing. It can give you a healthful boost to keep moving forward in a better direction.

Find something to rejoice in and give thanks for. All around you there are beautiful, kind, gracious providences of God. Noticing them and thanking the Lord for them can completely change your attitude. Delight in baby toes, toddler giggles, reading a story, snuggling together before bed.

That's about all that this tired mom has to offer you ;). I'd love to know what strategies you use to turn a bad day around!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy 4 Ways to Make a Bad Morning Worse and 6 Guaranteed Strategies to Turn Around a Rough Morning

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Little Red Flags

In January I picked a word that I hoped would shape and inform my year: kindness.

The main reason I picked that word is because I have this sinful tendency to speak harshly and very unkindly towards the people I love most; my husband and children.

I could make a lot of excuses along the lines of sleep deprivation, hormones, or the just provocation I often encounter. Every mama knows that the 4 and under crowd can be R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S at times.

Ultimately though, the problem is my own sin. I want people to do things my way, on my terms, immediately. When I don't get what I want, I betray my own idolatry with sinful, angry responses.

I have two choices. I can make excuses, hurt my husband and children profoundly, and pay the dear price of havoc wrecked on relationships. Or {by the grace of God} I can call my sin what it is, repent of it, ask forgiveness of those I've hurt, and keep striving to speak kindly.

Recently I've observed little red flags my children wave when my tone is getting out of control. It's painful to realize they are aware of my unkindness, hurt by it, and responding negatively to it... but I'm thankful, because when I see these red flags they serve as checks and balances for my heart.

When I say something to her and notice my four year old scrunching up her face in a sour, rebellious look- I've noticed that it is always because I spoke to her unkindly. My initial nastiness evokes nastiness in her, and sets the tone entirely wrong for further interactions.

Certainly she needs to obey my instructions with a respectful, joyful attitude... but I provoke her unnecessarily when I speak unkindly. She is an individual that ought to be shown respect and consideration. When I speak harshly to her, I am being disrespectful.

My two year old son's tell is different, much as his personality differs from his sister's. If I catch him saying "I sorry Mommy!" when he hasn't done anything that warrants an apology, I can be sure that it is me, not him, who is out of line.

Yes, childish behavior can be frustrating. Messes made, new no-no's discovered, and general ruckus add to my work load and stress me out. But my son needs my kind and patient guidance, not a mommy temper tantrum.

These are my kids' red flags: sour expressions and unnecessary apologies. I'm thankful for a new awareness of them. Now to remedy the triggering offense!

How do your kids let you know when you are in the wrong? What has helped you to develop patience and kindness in parenting?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

How to Cut Back on Your Kid's Screen Time

Pretty much every day of motherhood involves choosing battles. Do I intervene in this sibling conflict, or let them work it out themselves? Let my child splash in mud puddles because it is so fun, or put my foot down because: laundry? Do I stick with my breakfast plan of oatmeal, or veer off course because my little man wants to make pancakes together? Sometimes serious, often trivial, being a mama means making lots of decisions.

One area of our life that I never seem to make peace with is the television. I'm a big believer in limiting it as much as possible, reading aloud tons, and letting kids play creatively and get outdoors. But I also live in a real world where I get exhausted, company is coming and the house is a wreck, kids get sick, and I woke up late and just need to shower in peace.

For better or worse, we have a television, and we go through seasons of heavy use and non-use. When I find myself in a season of over dependence on the t.v. I know it's time to cut back. The question is, how can I do it in the gentlest way possible? I want to avoid the tantrums and keep things positive as much as I'm able.

Over the last few years, I've gathered a useful arsenal of tools for cutting back on screen time. Today I'm sharing it all with you at My Joy Filled Life. I'm very excited to tell you that starting today, I will be posting there regularly {the first Thursday of each month}.

I first found My Joy Filled Life several years ago when I was working on my Great Books for Preschoolers series. She has an awesome collection of posts with supplemental activities for well loved children's books {check out: Blueberries for Sal, The Snowy Day, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar}. Speaking of cutting back on screen time, these would be great replacement activities ;).

Sarah regularly posts about homeschooling, homemaking, and motherhood, and I think you'll enjoy her blog if you haven't discovered it already. I'm excited to join in at the community over there.

Head on over to read my post, Gentle Ways to Cut Back Your Child's Screen Time.