Saturday, May 25, 2019

Parenting by the Book (Part III)

This is the last of three posts on John Rosemond's book, Parenting by the Book. In this section he talks about proper discipline. By discipline, Rosemond does not mean talking, reasoning, and explaining but rather making disciples of your children to follow the right way, God's way.

Chapter Nine: The Bible Tells Me So

I appreciate how John Rosemond redeems the use of the word "punishment" in this chapter. I recall reading How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and both authors frowned upon the word "punishment." They seemed to believe it meant a lashing out in anger rather than a consequence given for misbehavior. Faber and Mazlish seemed to think punishment meant an adult temper tantrum, which I don't think is accurate. The bible certainly doesn't use the word like that.

This chapter tells what the bible says about discipline. This is a list of section titles of this chapter.
  1. Discipline and love are two sides of the same coin. (Proverbs 3:12)
  2. Punishment is never pleasant but produces great benefit for the person punished. (Hebrews 12:11)
  3. Punishment is essential to proper discipline. (Hebrews 12:6)
  4. Proper discipline validates a child. (Hebrews 12:8)
  5. Obedient children are pleasing to their parents. (Proverbs 29:17)
  6. Children are to obey their parents. (Colossians 3:20)
  7. Obedience will bring blessings to children. (Proverbs 1:8-9)
  8. The most obedient children are also the happiest, most self-respecting children. (Proverbs 15:32)
  9. A lack of discipline contributes to death—in the everlasting sense. (Proverbs 19:18)
  10. Discipline is the way to life eternal. (Proverbs 6:23)
Chapter Ten: Leadership Discipline

In this rather long chapter, Rosemond reiterates the differences between postmodern parenting and the biblical way. Postmodern parents believe that manipulating rewards and consequences turns out good behavior in children. The biblical way is one of leadership, "the art of commanding" (Rosemond, 210). He states that leaders are distinguished by the following:
  • "They may disapprove of what you do, but they always approve of you (unconditional positive regard).
  • "They lead through example. They do not expect others to do what they have not themselves done or are unwilling to do.
  • "They are enthusiastic concerning their vision, and their enthusiasm is communicable.
  • "They motivate others to follow their lead through positive coaching and encouragement, by helping people reach down inside themselves and bring out the best in themselves. And because they help people become the very best they can be, those people look up to them.
  • "They are decisitve and willing to make unpopular decisions.
  • "They 'stay the course' when the going gets rough." (Rosemond, 207-8)
He spends a good portion of this chapter on spankings, which I don't intend to summarize here not because I disagree but because I wasn't particularly interested in it. 

Chapter Eleven: Command, Compel, Confirm

I appreciated this chapter the most. In fact, I think this chapter could stand on its own apart from the rest of the book as a great guide to parenting. Rosemond encourages parents:
  1. To communicate through commands
  2. To give compelling consequences
  3. To consistently confirm my best interest in my children
"Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you are going to do" (Rosemond, 226). Basically, don't argue with your child. I, Abigail, think it would help if I asked myself, "Is my child asking 'Why not?' because they're confused or do they just not want to do what I've asked?"
  1. "When your child asks for something, and you say he can't have it or do it, and your child demands an explanation, as in, "Why not?!" give one of the only six reasons there are: (1) You're not old enough, (2) you might get hurt, (3) we don't have the money (or will not use it that way), (4) we don't have the time (or won't take the time) for that, (5) we don't believe in that (our values don't allow that), (6) we don't like those kids.
  2. "When you have given your chosen reason in five words or less, and your child stomps his foot and yells out that he doesn't agree with your reason, thinks it's dumb, or wants to tell you why you should change your mind, simply look at him with great compassion and say, 'If I was your age, I wouldn't like that decision either.'
  3. "Then turn around and walk away, leaving your child to—I'm going to steal one of Grandma's favorite lines—'stew in his own juices.'" (Rosemond, 231-2)
I recall Heidi Dehart suggesting that I say, "I need you to . . ." to my children when I command them. This has served me quite well for several years now. It's much more effective than what Rosemond calls "Milquetoast speeches," which are a combination of entreatments, enticements, explanations, and bribes. 

If a child doesn't heed a command, a consequence comes next. The difference between a compelling and non-compelling consequence is whom it affects. A child should be the one suffering the consequences for his behavior, not the parent. And the consequence should be something the child remembers next time they're tempted to disobey again.

Lastly, being a consistent parent doesn't mean to have a consistent set of consequences, those can change, but rather to have a consistent set of values in the house. Parents who value what the Bibles values will always have consistent values. Their aim is the same if they are raising strong-willed or compliant children, boys or girls, handicapped or autistic kids.

Rosemond, John. Parenting by the Book. New York: Howard Books, 2007. Print.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Parenting by the Book (Part II)

This is the second post on Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond. The first post was merely a collection of poignant quotes from the first part of his book. I'm still processing those quotes and deciding what to take and what to leave. He seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater in regards to psychology's influence on parenting. He also seems to believe that Grandma's way of parenting was The Way. In speaking with different people on this topic, I've come to learn that there are many unhealthy and bad examples of Grandma's right way. However, I think he also has many good points about what modern parenting has lost by buying into many psychological theories.

This is now a summary of part two of his book.

Chapter 5: Parenting as One Flesh

Be a husband or wife first and a father or mother second. "For a family to work according to God's design, the husband-wife relationship must be far more active than either parent's relationship with any child" (Rosemond, 121).

This is not the first time I've heard this, but a reminder is always welcome. For me, this means that I need to spend more mental energy figuring out how to best operate with my husband. It's far to easy to allow parenting to be the subject of all my conversations, my free-time reading, and my night-time worrying. 

Chapter 6: Character First

Rosemond argues that parents need to discipline not only a child's actions but their thinking about others and themselves, they way they express themselves emotionally, and their responses to instruction. He encourages parents to be the number one influencer in their child's lives.

"The lower our expectations concerning children, the more we tolerate behavior that should not be tolerated, and the more undisciplined children will become" (Rosemond, 137).

This means to not give a child's self-expression free reign; a child's words and actions all must come under the laws of respect for others.

Chapter 7: Farsighted Parenting

"Parents should aim their child rearing at a target that lies some distance off in the future" (Rosemond, 146). Parents need to think about what kind of adult they'd like their child to be and not necessarily about how to alleviate their children's temporary discomforts. 

In this chapter, Rosemond stresses that teaching children respect is more important than playing soccer or earning A's. That is, values are more important than skills. 

Chapter 8: To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn . . .

Taken from Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond pg. 175
Everything has a season, and a parents' role to their child is no exception. 

I found this chapter very helpful. Everything hitherto I didn't think applied to parents of very young children, and this chapter confirmed this. 

Parents, and most usually the mother, is to be a servant to their child from birth to about age 2 when a child is unable to do things for his or herself. During this time, a woman's relationship with her husband is somewhat on hold because baby's needs trump just about everything. 

However, it is very important for this season to come to an end in the next year of a toddler's life, from about ages 2-3. In this year of transition the child comes to understand that mom is not his servant, and that he, in fact, must center his life around mom and dad's agenda and not the other way around. This means learning to do for himself what mom previously did for him, waiting for mom's attention, and seeing that mom and dad's relationship comes before a child's wants.

The next transition is between leadership and mentoring, when mom and dad become more like advisors to the child in helping him or her navigate life and prepare to fly the nest. Lastly comes friendship, the most rewarding of the relationships because now the parent and child are like friends with a common respect for one another. Here guidance is usually only given when requested by the adult-child.

Rosemond, John. Parenting by the Book. New York: Howard Books, 2007. Print.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Camping Sycamore Campground


Hurrah! A successful camping trip to Sycamore Campground, Point Mugu: the first of many I hope. We saw dolphins in the green-gray ocean and a mother and father bird feeding insects to their brood in a tree hole just above our eating area. We bushwhacked our way through a jungle of mustard to find an overgrown trail that took us to an ocean vista. We wet our feet, or in the case of the children their entire bodies, in the frigid pacific, and built sand castles. We ate the simplest of meals and had great fellowship with all the families that went. We're definitely doing this again.

Five families from church all decided back in November to reserve spots for camping this May, and none of us had ever attempted tent camping with our children. Between the five of us, there were thirteen kids, so the little ones all ran around like wild squirrels. The Villas set up a "play tent" where much giggling and rough-housing occurred. Sometimes the children rode each other's bikes. Sometimes they climbed in the trees or tromped through the understory. Sometimes they played hide and seek. And sometimes they mooched food off others.

Sycamore Canyon is aptly named because of the massive sycamore trees surrounding the campground. These served as a playground. Several boys, including Lee & Dietrich, climbed high enough to make their mamas nervous.

Kanon, Rose, Zion, Lee, Addie, and Levi on our natural jungle gym.
So many kids!
We were very appreciative of Richard Villa's bike-fixing-air-mattress-filling-skills as we set up camp. Most of the first day was spent figuring out our tents and deciding how to cook our dinners. Powerful gusts of wind made this particularly tricky. In the later evening the wind died down, and around 9 pm the campground quieted for the night. The adults chatted for a bit around the fire before we retiring to sound of the waves crashing on the beach. Phil and I had the best night's sleep we've ever had camping because of the air mattress he borrowed from a co-worker. I think we'll have to invest in one of these. And Benny only woke once for his usual feeding.

Rose and Lee climbing
The next morning was our hike: an almost two mile loop on a small footpath to a beautiful view. The hills were green and fresh and blooming with lupin and California daisies and mustard and monkey flowers and wild roses. Phil carried Benny who slept in the carrier and I carried the map to lead the way. 


Rose, Lee, Richard, Addie, Phil, Benny, Tai, Eric, Max, and myself at our lookout location.
Rose said her highlight was running in the waves with her friend, NaYoung. They chased and were chased by the waves while Phil and Lee made sand castles. I sat on the sand with Benny and chatted with Josie Oldenburg about psychology. Benny squeezed the sand in his little fists and practiced cruising on our beach chairs.

Phil and Lee build a city of sand. Rose chases the waves in the background.
We ate well and brought plenty of yummy, easy food including sugary cereals, hot dogs,  avocado tacos, cliff bars, cans of soup put right on the grill, and smores made with dark chocolate. We enjoyed the soft strum of the guitar from the Villa's camp in the quiet of our afternoon. And almost everyone doted on Benny. 
Rose, NaYoung, Addie & Lucy gathering around Benny because he was so cute.
Benny was so content during the trip and loved all the people doting on him.
The weather report for Sunday said rain was imminent, so we packed under a light sprinkle. Phil proudly showed me the artful knots he'd made to secure our tarp bundle to the car's roof rack. We ate our dinners together around the fire and after smores, we headed out about 6:30 pm. We tucked the little sleepers into their beds by 8:30 before hopping into the shower ourselves. I enjoyed scrubbing all three children in their baths the next day.

Other highlights included: coming through the tunnel where the 10 freeway meets the 1 and seeing the ocean for the first time, LA's sparkling lights on the drive home, Dietrich enjoying holding Benny, Jewish Nation hot dogs, heating our kettle on Phil's Biolite stove, the Oldenburg's sharing their fire logs with us, Benny learned to whistle, Benny eating his applesauce while entertaining a small crowd of onlookers with his funny baby noises, tall towers of Yucca blooms, little rabbits that look like Bigwig, kids eating their entire candy supplies on the car ride there, perfect weather on Saturday, cups of hot tea, feeling sun-baked and wind-blown and gritty but happy.

I'm putting my packing list here for future reference.


Sleeping
-2 Tents
-4 sleeping bags 
-4 insulate pads
- pillows

Baby
-diapers, cream, powder, changing pad
-baby carrier
-Pack and Play with sheet and safety pins
-High Chair w/ bib
-Sun hat
-nursing cover
-bottle & formula
-toys
-Umbrella Stroller

Eating: put items in a box
-kitchen towels
-prep table 
-Big water Jug
-Water Bottles
-Paper plates
-Hot items mugs
-Utensils and sharp knives
-Hot water kettle
-table cloth
-cutting mat
-napkins
-dish soap
-Skewers
-sponge
-Aluminum foil
-Trash bags
-Ice Chest w/ Dry Ice 

Fire
-firewood
-Fire Tongs
-Hatchet
-Matches
-Camp Chairs
-Bio-lite stove
-Lantern 
-Lantern Fuel & Mantels
-Flashlights
-AAA batteries

Personal items
-Sunscreen 
-bug repellent 
-baby powder to get sand off
-Cash for showers
-Phones and chargers

Misc
-Kids bikes
-Cones
-Helmets
-Tire pump
-Beach towels
-Hammocks
-Rope
-Beach toys
-First Aid Kit
-Beach Blanket
-Playing cards

Kids
-Rain boots
-Robes
-Bathroom Bags
-Stick Sunscreen 
-kid’s markers & Chalk

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Parenting by The Book (Part 1)

I am in the process of reading Parenting By the Book by John Rosemond, and the book makes some serious claims. I needed a place to gather the books' thought-provoking quotes, so I've dumped them all here. Everything has been taken from John Rosemond's Parenting by the Book with the page number in parenthesis at the end of each quote. FYI: I'm still trying to decide what I think about all this. I certainly don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but many of his claims definitely address some of my parenting problems.

Introduction

"Psychology holds that the individual is fundamentally good . . . Psychology's central doctrine is one of nonresponsibility—fundamentally, the individual is the product of his upbringing; therefore, his vices are reflections of psychic conflicts engendered by his parents' inadequacies." (4)

"Christianity holds that we are solely and fully responsible for our sinful behavior and that only by accepting that responsibility can we receive forgiveness." (5)

"Psychology holds that a person can be "saved" through the process of therapy as mediated by another human being, that coming to grips with the corruption suffered at the hands of one's parents will set one free. Christianity holds that salvation is attained only through faith in Jesus Christ, that he is the Truth, and that only his truth can set one free." (5)

Part One: The Great Deception

Chapter One: The Walls Come Crumblin' Down

"Understanding what Grandma was talking about did not require a college degree. She did not say things like, 'In talking with you, I get the distinct impression that you are still trying to resolve childhood issues of your own, and I think we should give some time to exploring those issues and discovering how they relate to the problems you are currently having with your child.'" (19)

"Grandma talked like this: 'You know, it occurs to me that your uncle Charlie, when he was about Billy's age, did something similar to what Billy has done. Here's how I handled it . . . You've no doubt noticed that Charlie is working for the bank today, not robbing banks. Maybe you'd like to consider going home and doing with Billy what I did with Charlie.'" (19)

"The term most often used today is 'bad choices'—mistakes, in effect, as if a child's rebellious misbehavior is no more egregious than choosing the wrong answer on a television quiz show. Because malevolent motive is absent, punishment is not warranted. Besides, punishment damages self-esteem, or so the new parenting elite warns." (24)

Chapter Two: Postmodern Psychological Parenting

"Grandma knew that the most powerful shaping force in a person's life was the force of the person's own free will. She understood that the choices people, including children, made were influenced by early childhood experiences, socioeconomic factors, cultural expectations, peer pressure, and so on. But Grandma also understood that when all was said and done, people were fully responsible for the choices they made." (35)

" . . . the power of their choosing was more powerful than the power of her parenting." (35)

"Proverbs 22:15 tells us that 'Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.' The Hebrew word that is here translated 'folly' is used in other contexts to mean moral depravity. This means that in any given situation, a child is inclined to do the wrong thing, the self-serving WORD, to consider his own interests before anyone else's." (38)

"Authority, legitimately exercised, slowly liberates the human spirit, which is creative and loving, from the prison of human nature, which is anything but." (45)

"Humanistic psychology's second contribution to Postmodern Psychological Parenting is the idea that high self-esteem is desirable—essential in fact, to personal happiness—and parents should do everything in their power to help their children acquire it." (49)

". . . it's not the person with high self-confidence who is most likely to succeed in life; it's the person who possesses a realistic appraisal of his or her strengths and weaknesses." (59)

"Grandma understood that respect for others, not high self-esteem, defines the emotionally healthy, prosocial individual . . . As respect is given away, self-respect grows within." (73)

"America's kids were a whole lot happier before parents began listening to psychologists (and remember, I am one!) and other mental health professionals. Am I saying that my profession is the problem? Yes, I most certainly am." (67)

Chapter Three: The Serpent's Currency

"In Grandma's Day, home and family were a character-education classroom in which parents were the teachers and children, students. Within this classroom, parents developed and delivered a curriculum designed to teach children a set of values essential to good citizenship. The core of this curriculum was composed of the following 'Three R's:

  • "Respect for the fundamental dignity of every human being, which children develop by first learning respect for people in positions of legitimate authority, beginning with their parents.
  • "Responsibility in two equally important senses of the term: first, accountability for one's own actions, second, a willingness to carry out tasks assigned by authority figures (as well as those that are simply due the family/community by virtue of one's membership within it).
  • "Resourcefulness—a hang in there, tough it out, try-and-try-again attitude brought to the challenges of life." (71)


Chapter Four: The Tower of Parent-Babble

"Postmodern Psychological Parenting postulated that when a child misbehaves, the feelings that supposedly lie behind and drive the behavior are more significant than was the behavior itself. One of the mantras my graduate school professors drummed into me was that misbehavior on the part of a child was nothing more than a sign of underlying emotional distress, an indication that the child was struggling with an 'issue' or 'conflict' that was preventing him from behaving properly. (Note that this presumes that the child does not possess free will; he is a leaf being blown through life by psychological winds over which he as no control.)" (100-101)

"Unfortunately, all too many of today's parents are doing what I learned to do in graduate school. They engage in what I call "psychological thinking" concerning their children's misbehavior. Instead of viewing a given misbehavior as simply an error that needs to be corrected through the application of proper discipline, today's parents interpret it. 'What does it mean?' they ask, and go on to ascribe some psychological significance to it." (103)

"She (a mother) needed to act, not understand. The only thing this mother needed to understand was that by trying to understand the psychology behind her son's hitting, she was transferring responsibility from her son to herself." (104)

"Every single time—not some of the time, but every single time—parents assign some theoretical psychological cause to a child's misbehavior, several consequences become inevitable:

  1. "The child is no longer responsible for what he is going. A parent, both parents, or some other agency—teacher, peer group, or some circumstance in the child's life (the parents' divorce, the death of a favorite grandparent) is responsible. More often than not, the responsible party is the parent—in the parent's own mind, at least. More often than not, the child's mother ends up feeling most, if not solely, responsible as in guilty.
  2. "The child is transformed from someone who is misbehaving into a victim of circumstances that are beyond his or her control. Instead of disciple, he warrants compassion.
  3. "The child's behavior is justified by the circumstance in question. Suddenly, he is innocent of wrongdoing. He doesn't really mean to do what he is doing. His behavior is being driven by psychological forces that are beyond his ability to comprehend or cope with.
  4. "The parent's ability to disciple is paralyzed. How can a parent punish a child for doing what he can't help doing?" (105)


"They (mothers) began to believe that whether their children turned out well was completely up to them—that a positive parenting outcome was a matter of their efforts, their energy, their dedication, their devotion. There was furthermore, a new aspect to the job: to wit, doing everything possible to ensure that their children's feelings were not disturbed, and when they were, to do everything possible to set things right again." (107)

"For the first time in history, women began to feel that the terrain of child rearing was filled with psychological landmines that one untoward move on their part could set off, causing potentially irreparable damage." (108)

"Obsessive, worrisome moms began micromanaging their children, doing what micromanagers, wherever they are found, do: hovering over and racing around, checking on this and checking on that, fixing this and fixing that, making sure of this and making sure of that, helping with this and helping with that, arranging this and arranging that. Moms also began looking over the shoulder of anyone and everyone who had anything to do with their children, including their husbands making sure these people were doing the 'right' things." (108)

"When Grandma disciplines, she was trying to hurt her child's feelings; she was trying to make her child feel guilty. Grandma understood that unless emotional pain was associated with misbehavior, misbehavior would continue unchecked. But then, in Grandma's day, misbehavior was not a psychological phenomenon. It was a sin, and one could not afford to fool around where sin was concerned." (111)

Rosemond, John. Parenting by the Book. New York: Howard Books, 2007. Print.

Monday, May 13, 2019

It's Not My Fault

If every little flaw in me sends me back
to spankings
for sliding down the carpeted stairs in footed pajamas,
And to teachers' scoldings
for giggling in the back of Spanish . . .

If my every misgiving
compels me to ask why,
what does it mean,
and who has done this to me . . .

Then I lose myself 
in conjecture,
constructed from vivid memories and sentiment and anger.

And when I find a source
for my scruples
then you must understand
that it's not my fault.
I am innocent.
I am doing the best I can
with what's been given me.
No one can demand any more.

And I need not ask myself
if what I do is right and good
or good enough.
I need not discover 
that it is not,
or that my faith is misplaced.

I've found proof
that I'm blameless.
And that proof
is not the blood of the lamb.

The devil wins.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Trees of Heaven, Hell and Earth


In the eternal garden where fear and blame are masters no more, a man came upon an old overgrown pepper tree. Now on earth this man had been a sculptor, and so when he saw the weeping canopy and the bulbous trunk, he thought it looked like a woolly mammoth. This musing pleased him so much that he took his pruning sheers and began snipping the pepper tree to shape it like he had once done to wood and clay on earth.

Before he was finished, another man came along. Now this man had once been an arborist. And when he saw the trimmed pepper tree, he stopped dead in his tracks. There was no mistaking its form. It was a woolly mammoth in size and texture.

The arborist burst into laughter. All his thirty-odd years of trimming trees, of selecting a tree’s central leader, of judging the strength of each off-shoot’s angle, and waiting for growth to fill in the gaps, had not taught him to trim trees into woolly mammoths. It had never even entered his imagination. And here now this sculptor, with his skills of proportion and scale, was doing just this.

The sculptor too fell into fits of laughter because he saw the humor of it. He saw the thing from the arborist’s eyes, and it delighted him too. Then when they wiped their eyes dry, they sat in the soft grass and discussed pruning and sculpting until lunch.

Such are the joys of heaven where all the trees are had and enjoyed, and nothing is lost.

Hell is not so.

Upon the shores of the fiery lake where no trees will ever grow, there stood the charred remains of an old oak eternally burnt and dead. And against it leaned a lost soul, the bent and shriveled remains of a man. He stood guarding the dead trunk so that no one would touch it. But the black sulfuric clouds often stung his eyes, so he didn’t see another damned soul approach until the theft was complete.

“Hey, there!” the victim shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing with that?”

“What? Oh, you mean this,” the interloper replied holding up his stolen goods. “It’s nothing. Just some useless charcoal.”

“That useless charcoal is mine, and you can’t have it!”

“Why not? You aren’t doing anything with it,”

“That’s because thieves like you keep stealing it from me.”

“What are you going to do with it? Whiten your rotting teeth?”

“I have much grander plans than anything you could dream up.”

“Try me.”

“You’re obviously not the kind of person who’d understand.”

“Ooo! Watch out! Mr. Ingenious here is going to use charcoal to revolutionize hell! If you’re so smart, you can find some charcoal elsewhere.” Then the interloper seized more of the burnt tree.

“I’ll pound your face into the ground for that!”

“I’d like to see you try.”

And with that the two men fell upon each other in that dog-eat-dog wasteland where the trees are all defended but never won, and everything is lost.

But there is a third place where trees grow.

On earth where the property lines divide hers from his, two neighbors, a dietician and an Edison employee, were considering the overgrowth of a massive loquat tree that spanned both their backyards.

The Edison employee saw how the branches were touching the power lines and although he was no lineman or arborist, he decided to trim back the overgrowth. His neighbor the dietician, who also happened to be deathly allergic to gluten, peanuts, and dairy, was shocked to see the results. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Keeping the branches away from the wires,” replied the Edison man.

“But the tree! It’s so lopsided now.”

“I can come and trim up your side too if you’d like,” he replied.

“Oh no, please don’t. I like how my side shades the lawn. And what have you done with all the fruit?”

“It’s here. You can have it if you want. It’s not spoiled or anything.”

“Thank you, but I prefer my tree not hacked to pieces.”

“You know, Edison will have to come sooner or later and cut it back anyways.”

“Perhaps, but you had no right to touch my tree!”

The Edison employee felt his blood pressure rising and his arguments clouding his vision like a swarm of gnats. He wanted to say, “If you care so much about your tree, why didn’t you trim it yourself?” And, “If you didn’t want it trimmed why did you let the branches overhang my yard? Every year you let the fruit rot on the branches and fall onto my grass and attract rats and flies.”

But his boiling anger prevented him from saying a word, and in the silence he saw that he wasn’t merely trying to convince his neighbor that he was right, but that he was good. He’d taken her accusations not as an attack on his choices, but as an attack on his character. If he conceded to her point, didn’t that mean that he was not just wrong but bad?

Suddenly, he saw his arguments fall uselessly to the ground. It wasn’t that they were false. They were simply not needed anymore. He'd remembered the truth about his virtue.

“I am so sorry, my dear lady. I did not think about how the tree would look from your side.”

“Why would you?” the lady replied tartly.

“You are absolutely right,” he replied. “I have been a selfish ass. How can we make this right?” 

His admittance was said truthfully and without false humility because he was under no delusions about himself. However, he also didn't measure his goodness in light of his daily mistakes. Rather he understood himself in light of God’s view of him. And God saw a heart that was clean and right and good and loved. God saw His son's reputation upholding the human's virtue. Filled with that sort of goodness and love, the Edison employee could relinquish the argument and love in return.

Such is the way on earth, where trees are given up, and eternity is gained. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Overactive Conscience

What will you say when it accuses
every day
every time you slip
and even when you didn't mean
any harm?

What will your answer be
when your ability to cope breaks
when you fear your goodness wasn't good enough
when your actions anger others
or when a shred of your beastliness shows?

Imperfect! It says.
And it is right.

How will you cure this disquietude?
How will you answer the law pressing upon your heart?

The only reason I got like that was because I was hungry. If I'd known we were going to have to wait that long, I would've brought a snack. I should've listened to my intuition about the people running that show. I'll never go to an unplanned outing like that again.

Or:

At least I'm not as bad as those mothers who scream at their kids all day. I try to use a calm voice with my children so as not to transfer my anger.

Or:

But my parents think the world of me. And so does so-and-so. And remember that friend who wrote me that kind email about how big of a help I was to her. I'll read it again. I can't be that bad if they think so highly of me.

Or:

How very interesting! That must also be what's wrong with so-and-so. He can't take a joke because of his vanity. If only he knew about his flaws. Maybe I should tell him.

Or:

You can't hold it against me. I did the best I could. That's all I can do! Do you honestly expect me to be perfect?

Or:

It's all because no one taught me how to do this correctly! If I'd had more-instructive parents, I wouldn't be so ill-equipped for life.

Or:

Sure, I goofed. But I'm not rotten to the core. How can I be when I've made such sacrifices? And whenever I'm with someone, I'm always trying to help them. Sure, I've got a few faults but I'm not selfish.

Thus, the machine runs again
temporary lubricated with excuses
onward a few days
perhaps a week,
until the so-called overactive conscience
starts up again.

Not Enough! It says.
And it is right.

How will you cure this disquietude?
How will you answer God's law
making demands upon your every effort?

Hear now the Answer spoken for always.

Your wrongs have been righted.
And your "rights"s have been too.
No need to decipher
if you're blameless or not.
Never before God will you be
punished, scolded, or humiliated.

So answer your conscience
with, I'm not enough.
And that's alright
because He did it right.
And he is in me
doing right everyday.

That open heart in my infancy
works now
in my maturity
to complete perfection inside imperfection,
so that now these malfunctions,
these paralyzing break downs,
insist I remember and say,
I can't, but you can.
Lord, help
everyday
every time I slip
and even when I don't mean any harm.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Comstock Chronicles: The Beach and the Hills



The children were in good spirits on the walk to school today because they rummaged through a big cardboard box marked "FREE" on the side of the road. They each picked out an armful of items and dumped them into the stroller's storage basket, items that I'm sure someone was equally thrilled to get rid of as I was unenthusiastic about getting it: a stuffed ghost, a felt Frankenstein, cheap red salad tongs, a plastic Dodgers cap, pink mittens too large for any child, and a cookbook that looked like it'd been left outside during the rain.

Lee and Rose danced little jigs on the walk to school and talked about how much they liked rummaging through boxes marked "FREE" on the side of the road. They had thoroughly exhausted the subject when they asked me if I shared in their joy, and I replied truthfully in the affirmative because their joy had infected me. There's nothing quite like seeing my children full of glee even if I must secretly make their stuff disappear in the future.


Tighter discipline, more hours of sleep, and some newly found freedom has released me from my resentment at the trouble my children cause, and I feel more free these days to delight in their antics. Just yesterday we were sitting down to dinner. When Lee didn't appear, I went looking for him and found him writhing on his bedroom carpet with his soft blanket wrapped snuggly around his head and arms.


"I'm trapped!" he said in a voice that did not at all sound panicked. I chuckled and "saved" him from being consumed head to toe by the blanket, remembering similar episodes from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.


It is practically impossible to feel dampened this time of year with a sudden burst of warm weather following on the heels of so much rain. The Whittier Hills are as green as Hobbiton. The smooth rolls in the hills are tinged with yellow mustard, and the crevices are accentuated by the darker and more permanent scrub bushes. Neighbors' neglected front yards look like wild country fields dotted with yellow and purple flowers. The rains have washed Whittier's majestic old trees clean, and everything feels fresh and shiny.


The beauty of our city struck me yesterday as Phil and I hiked Turnbull Canyon trail and then down Hellman's Park. The older kids were spending the night at grandma and grandpa's, and baby Benny we put in the carrier for the hike. The grasses on the hills were so thick and juicy. And the wild mustard has grown above our heads. We could see where the new growth from this year has completely covered the widened portions of the trail that were bare with over-use just a few months ago.


The Santa Ana winds were blowing from the east, and we could see Catalina and the Hollywood Sign and the snow-caped San Bernardino Mountains. The sky was as blue as could be and fellow hikers cooed at sleeping Benny.


It was a day for the beach, so after the hike and church we headed down with In-N-Out burgers and little Max Oldenburg. Again the children's excitement was infectious. They chatted excitedly all the way down, holding their breath beneath bridges and pointing out blimps and two Osprey tiltrotor aircrafts.


Phil and I both sent up prayers for good parking, and when we accidentally parked in a one-hour-only location, a sun-burnt lady with unnaturally red hair came out of her tiny house and offered us her parking pass.


We gathered our troupe, hamburgers, chairs, and baby and stepped into the fine sand of Seal Beach. There is nothing quite like the beach. That fresh salty breeze blows away all the cobwebs and household worries. The children run free and cover themselves in sand. 


We plopped down beside a fit and freckled Christian lady with her four boys and plethora of sand toys. Max and Lee quickly made friends and played tractor-road-paving-catastrophe with the other little boys, while Phil put his feet in the water and sanded a new wooden spoon. Rose made piles of sand near me and I attempted and failed to convince Benny that sand between his toes is glorious. I chatted with the woman who unfolded her peculiar situation to me. Seems that she and her four boys live in Iowa and her husband works as a firefighter here in California. He stays in SoCal for several weeks working, and then flies home to Iowa to see family and home. She told me about how strange life is and difficult to figure out. 


When the wind picked up, we gathered our things to go. The boys were so covered in sand, which they had unavoidably dumped into each other's hair, that I feared we'd have to strip them down to their underwear for the ride home. Not one to be left out, Rose asked if she'd have to stripe to her underwear too, and upon hearing that she wouldn't, she proceeded to sandy herself up a bit more.


As we headed out, I apologized to the older couple lying downwind from us. They smiled and laughed, assuring us how pleasant it was for them to listen to our boys playing like little boys ought.


Idyllic really. The whole weekend was idyllic. But I suppose the trick of having a wonderful weekend is not to be ensnared by the lovely times, but give thanks for them and open the palms again for a new thing. 


Today must be for new things.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How to Have Perfect Motives

I’ve known for awhile now that my love for my children isn’t up to snuff. I know because when they ask me to spend time with them, I don’t want to . . . unless of course it’s doing something that I like to do like puzzles or organizing or working in the garden. But reading yet another Fancy Nancy book: no, thank you! Pretending we’re squirrels on the walk to school, please don’t make me. 

I know my love isn’t what it should be because when they behave well, I like them, but when they act like hooligans, I don’t. My attitude towards them is solely based on their good behavior and their volume in the house and whether or not I got enough sleep and if my husband gets home late and if I’m in good health and . . .

I know my love isn’t good enough because I’m constantly annoyed with their messes and constantly resentful at how they prevent me from doing what I want.

I tried to tell this to a Catholic friend of mine who then replied, “But you’re a great mom! You do all sorts of good things for your kids. And you’d do anything for them, right? Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one’s perfect. Why do you think you have to be? Did your parents demand that you were perfect growing up or something?”

She was trying to help me feel better. But let me explain how such talk is like a bandaid on my decapitated body or wallpaper over my crumbling lath and plaster or putting clothing on a gorilla.

First, my conscience will always demand perfection regardless of my upbringing because that is what God demands, and he’s pressing that down upon my heart. God says I gotta be perfect for him to take me. That means I gotta love my kids perfectly.

Secondly, yes, no one is perfect, but this doesn’t lift the burden of God’s demands off me. If anything it just tempts me to find people who are more un-perfect than me so that I don’t feel so rotten about myself.

Thirdly, it’s not true that I’d do anything for my kids. Quite frequently I steal their candy and mouth off at them. Yes, I would throw myself in front of a bus for them, and I do like my children more than I like other people’s children, but that’s not love, at least not the kind of love God demands. That’s just selfish natural affection, the same sort of affection I have towards my siblings, parents, and grandparents. I love them because they’re mine. I love them regardless of what happens to everyone else. I want what’s best for them even if that means everyone else has to eat dog food. I don’t get any credit for that sort of preference.

Fourthly, yes I do all sorts of things for my kids, but I do them for all the wrong reasons. Mostly out of selfishness or fear. I correct my kid’s behavior so that other people can't blame me for being a bad parent. I help my son fix his preferred snack so I don’t feel selfish. I model putting everything back where it goes so that they will keep my house organized. I limit their sugar so they don't get cavities like me. I keep my children out of harms way because their hurt hurts me too much. I make sacrifices for them hoping one day they’ll return such love with friendship. I do because I want and not because I am. All that doesn’t count either.

Then, how am I supposed to love my children? As God loves them, right? And how does God love them? With their best in mind. 

Here’s the problem though, I don’t know what’s best for my children. Yes, yes, I know that’s the mom mantra for getting what we want for our children: we know what’s best for them. But that’s simply not true. I probably know my children better than any other mom, teacher, or grandmother, but I don’t know God’s best. I think it's best to hold my son back a year before starting kindergarten, I think it's best to step in when I think my husband is being harsh with the kids, I think it's best that my kids not participate in after school sports right now, but do I really know how these choices will affect God's glory? Do I really know how these choices will effect everyone else's glory to God? Only God knows that because only God knows how my children’s best coincides with what’s best for all the other 7.5 billion people on earth. 

I’m not just talking about the greatest good for the greatest number of people. I’m talking about the option that makes the biggest crescendo, that is the most beautiful, the most true, and the most good. As Christians, we say the option that glorifies God the most. That’s what’s best for my children. To want that is to love them.

But here’s another snag that I’ve found. I frequently ask God to help me do whatever I need to in order to glorify him, but what is really in my heart is a fear of displeasing him. I ask out of fear and not love for God. I’ve been haunted by that verse in Romans 8 that tells me that a mind set on the flesh can’t please God. This doesn’t just mean sin displeases God, but good works done for the wrong reasons don't please God either. So loving my children imperfectly doesn't please God. Why? Because it falls short of God’s demands. God wants perfection. He demands it.

But what about trying? Isn’t God happy with our efforts? What if I try really hard to have the right motives? How can God be pleased if even our trying is done for the wrong reasons. I try because I want to please him—as if my not trying would displease him. Again, trying with wrong motives gets me nothing. And since all my efforts and actions are done with mixed motives, it seems that I can’t be good enough to avoid blame and quiet my conscience.

But all is not lost because I do have someone else's motives in me.


God is pleased with me not because I succeed at having innocent intentions or because I try hard to glorify him, but because of the perfect motives someone else had for me. I can do nothing to increase God’s delight in me because God’s delight isn’t dependent on what I do. It’s dependent on the life Christ lived. Christ did EVERYTHING with pure motives, with the good of everyone in mind, with the guidance and reliance on God's omniscient understanding. After all, Christ acted out of his pure love for God. And that perfect Christ is in me. When God looks into my heart to see perfection, he sees Christ's perfect life.

I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to remind myself. Probably for the rest of my days. 
God doesn’t want my efforts. He wants a daily surrender. A broken and contrite heart. A moment-by-moment asking Him to do in me what I cannot do myself. 

"God, my children want me to pretend I’m a squirrel again, but I really don’t want to. I want to just have my thoughts to myself. Give me what I need in this moment. Give me the desire to do what’s right for all to your glory.”

“God, my children are fighting again, and it just makes my blood boil. I want to go in there and knock their heads together. Help me to care about doing what’s best for them and for me right now. Help me to be pleased with them even as you are pleased with me always.”

“God, my son has to make an animal out of recycled materials, and I already feel the pressure to make it look just as good as the other projects that the parents will do for their children. Please, help me to do what’s best for my child in light of building him up and not competing with the other mothers.”

And when I forget to bring all my attempts at goodness to God, when I forget that my own efforts get me nowhere, when I backslide into thinking it’s up to me, I don’t need to be ashamed of that either. Because all my works now serve as a reminder that I don’t need to work at all.

"Yet we know that a person doesn't make God happy by trying, but through remembering that God is made happy because of what Christ did, so we daily rely on Christ in our hearts to make us good enough for God and not by obeying all our oughts and shoulds, because no one will succeed at trying to love on his or her own." (Galatians 2:16 Abby version)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Gorillas at a Cocktail Party


We are like gorillas fresh from the jungle, attending a conference on how to be human. And we’ve dressed ourselves in tuxedoes and gowns, bejeweled necklaces and polished shoes. We’ve powdered our noses, and pulled top hats down over our bulging foreheads. We think we’ve fooled each other despite our black fingernails and the tufts of black hair matted beneath our nylons. 

Here we are standing on our hind legs and acting like this is a cocktail party. We’ve stemware gripped with our opposable thumbs, and we drift slowly across the room to hide our bow-legged gait. While we wait for the conference to begin, we are discussing what it means to be human and we are discussing it intensely because we feverishly wish to be human. And more than that, we want others to think we are human.

Then in through the double doors bursts one of our kind with the jungle rain on his brow, but he’s not dressed, and he’s bawling and hooting. We stare as he beats his chest and cries, “I’m a gorilla! God help me! I’m a gorilla!” And he beats the floor in anguish.

We gasp and cringe and wish he’d go away. How unsightly! How embarrassing! Can’t he control himself? Can’t he act like a person? Like us?

One female in a polka-dotted dress pats that poor beast on the shoulder and drapes a sports coat over his heaving shoulders. “Come now. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not so bad. You've got opposable thumbs after all. None of us is perfect.”

But his outburst causes another to yank off his wig and rip open his collared shirt. “I’m a gorilla too!” he says and weeps with his brother.

The rest look down their noses. They pinch their collars together finding comfort in the feel of fabric at their necks. The females pull out their compacts. The males check their cuff links.

And I sink into a chaise lounge and ensure the gloves on my hands are pulled down. The incident is a relief because so long as everyone is looking at those fools, they won't look at me. They won't discover what I am. Perhaps they’ll forget the time I went knuckle-running across the room or had to be told that my lipstick was askew. Maybe they’ll forget when I laughed so loudly that my canine’s protruded or when I slapped the ground in anger. I cringe to think of those times. Surely I am better now. Surely I look like a human now. Surely they are fooled. 

But I see the tears of these poor beasts here, and I feel the black hair beneath my clothes itch as it drips with sweat. I cannot do this any longer. 

I stand up and undress.

I don’t love my sisters as much as I love myself.
I don’t care if the other drivers are late so long as I arrive on time.
I'm not interested in my friends' children . . . unless my friends have shown interest in mine.
I think my life is harder than everyone else’s.
I blame my parents for my shortcomings.
And when I’m with other gorillas, I thank God that I’m not like them.

But I am. And nothing I do alone can change that.

What a world we would live in if in the aftermath of another’s humiliation, we stopped pretending we were already human, ripped off our wigs and declared, “I am a gorilla too!”

Monday, March 4, 2019

Fruit and Sheep

What if the fruit of his labor
wasn't cabbages or pears?
What if the fruit of his labor
was his striving and wishing
to be good enough
to appease the angry God—
for God to say, "With you I'm satisfied."

What if God's disregard for Cain's sacrifice

was God saying, "I cannot delight in anything you do"?

And Cain felt it

as I do everyday.
The pressing in of inadequacy.
The wondering if my sacrifices are good enough.
And the fear that they are not.

And what if the lamb of Abel's flock

wasn't the right choice of profession
or a symbol of obedience or godly living?
What if the lamb of his flock
was an admittance that no fruit of his labors
could appease the displeased God.
Nothing but a lamb's blood, the lamb's blood,
would lift God's face towards him.

And I with that blood spread across my doorposts

am then with Abel a delight.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Gory Details About Breastfeeding

A mother's milk doesn't come in until 3 to 4 days after the baby is born. In the meantime, the baby sucks very small amounts of colostrum from the breast. Some hospitals give baby formula. I hear in the olden days, Moms gave their babies water while waiting for their milk to come in. 

Being stressed out or tense can delay the milk from coming in.

When the milk does come in, it hurts. It feels like someone tried to stuff too many oranges under your skin. 

Letdowns—a reflex that releases milk from the breast, usually activated by the baby sucking—can hurt too. It feels like someone pressing on a bruise from the inside mixed with a tingling-like, appendage-just-fell-asleep sensation.

When nursing and experiencing a letdown, both breasts release milk, and if you're not wearing nursing pads, you may leak onto your clothes. 

Letdowns occur even when not nursing or even thinking about your baby. They happen when you aren't ready and aren't wearing nursing pads.

Even if your nipples stick out like the nose on a balloon animal, the baby will stretch them out further with a suck that is far more powerful than a Dyson with a crevice tool attachment. 

Not all women are built equally. Some are just not designed to nurse.

Breastmilk is sticky, and learning to breastfeed is messy. Changing outfits several times a day is normal, especially when you don't have several breastfeeding-compatible outfits to wear.

Bottles of freshly pumped breastmilk have the propensity to tip over and spill all across your laptop, your outfit, your car, or down the stairs, bouncing and splattering all the way.

Pumped breastmilk separates as the cream rises to the top. I hear it is a viable substitute to milk in any recipe. No, I haven't tried.

Just because the baby slept 6 hours doesn't mean Mama did, especially if you've been nursing every 2-3 hours around the clock for the last 6 weeks. Chances are you'll wake up in the middle of the night with full nursing pads, damp sheets, the sweats, and aching breasts that feel as hard as softballs. 

Babies bite while nursing, even before they have teeth. And that hurts like the dickens.

Babies slap, scratch, and kick while nursing.

Babies can suck your nipples off if the latch isn't right. And, by the way, your blood isn't harmful to the baby's digestion.

Babies sometimes favor one breast over the other, which unless counteracted can lead to one breast being significantly larger than the other.

One breast alone can produce enough milk for a baby. Two breasts can produce enough milk for twins. Don't ask me about triplets. I don't know. 

After nursing, breasts don't always shrink back to their normal size. They frequently shrivel to smaller than their original size.

Nursed-on breasts sag and lose their perkiness.

And since you asked, yes, I am a proponent to breastfeeding. I attempted to breastfeed my first baby back in 2012, but after 3 months of pumping and bottles, I decided it wasn't worth it. With my second, I made another attempt with far more research and support. After many tears and lots of gore, I succeeded with one breast. I was lopsided for the year that I nursed. Now with baby number 3, I finally succeeded to get both sides functioning semi-normally. 

I've learned that breastfeeding can be convenient, sorta-sweet, and the most inexpensive option available. But if it's not working out for you, for Heaven's sake, just give the baby a bottle! They'll live. And after you get over mother's-guilt, everyone will be much happier.