What No One Told Me About Having Four Kids: You Will Learn to Serve Like Jesus

Today I  want to share one more lesson that has deeply impacted me because I have been privileged to be the mom of four young children.  And that is that as a mom I have been given just a very small glimpse of what it means to sacrifice your life for others in the way Jesus did.

It seems that the message of American culture tells me a few things:

1. You should look out for yourself.

2. Your life should be easy and free from struggle or hardship.

3. People that make your life difficult should be kicked to the curb.

4. At the end of the day, if you have made yourself happy, then that is all that matters.

The longer I have been a Christian, a wife and a mother, the more I see through the smoke filter of these lies.  We were not created to simply look out for ourselves and create a life that would bring us comfort and ease.  And we see this most clearly in the example of Jesus and what His coming, life, death and resurrection meant for people. Jesus showed us that:

1. True joy is found in laying down your life for others.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
(1 John 3:16 ESV)

2. Life will be hard and bring suffering if you are living a life in accordance with God’s will.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
(Philippians 1:29 ESV)

3. The people who are most difficult are often those who need your love and grace the most.
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Mark 2:17 ESV)

4. At the end of your life, if you have shared the message of Jesus and loved others well than you have fulfilled your ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God’s name.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV)

These truths have become more real through being a mother than in any other part of my life. And especially in being a mother beyond what I thought “comfortable”. I am so thankful (although I don’t always act thankful) that I have been pushed beyond my limits with having four young children. And I understand that I have not even been pushed nearly as far as many. But I know what it is like to:

- have requests made of me almost every waking minute of the kids’ days
- be the last to sit down and eat the meal I prepared
- hear very little “thank you’s” in relation to the work that I do throughout the day
- have no “day off”, but be on call 24 hours a day
- try to squeeze in my own time for things like quiet reading and prayer, exercise, and even blog posts

All of this has shown me that Jesus coming to earth was a bigger sacrifice than I can ever imagine. He suffered and served and loved and shed his own blood for His people who wanted nothing to do with Him. He chose the road of suffering, hardship, pain and abandonment. He washed a man’s feet that he knew would deny he even knew him a few hours later and prayed for those who killed him. Jesus did not succumb to the instant fix or temporary pleasure that this world has to offer.

May we reflect this Christmas weekend on what it truly meant for Jesus to leave the right hand of the Father and come to earth to suffer alongside us. To bear our sins fully on Himself so that we might never bear them again. May this weekend not be just about giving gifts to loved ones, but about blessing those who have no hope and are unlovable. Praise God that Jesus did that for us and has left us the power to do that for others as well. May your Christmas be merry and bright as you shine a light for Jesus.

What No One Told Me About Having Four Kids: 1+1 Does Not Equal 2

One of the biggest shocks to me when Elijah was born was that adding a second child into the mix didn’t mean double the work. I am not sure of what the exact equation is when you have more children, but it isn’t a simple addition equation. What you were doing before doesn’t just double, there is some sort of exponential increasing that goes on when another child enters the house.

This is apparent in many areas:

- the physical energy you need to output
- the amount of laundry
- the effort it takes to monitor sibling interactions
- the food that needs to be supplied
- the bumps and bruises to tend to
- the personal hygiene requirements (diaper changes, bottom wipes, teeth brushings, nail clippings)

A couple of areas I have really noticed it more than others though.

1. The audio input I receive.
I have told Joe many times that one of the most tiring things for me has to be the constant barrage of noise coming in my direction. Whether it is a request for something, a question about how something works, a complaint about a sibling, or just random talking, I feel like there is barely a moment of silence. I once heard a joke about a mom who when it was her turn to pick the music for the car, which everyone else must be quiet and listen to, selected a blank tape. Moms of young children certainly know the value of silence.

On those days when it doesn’t feel like I can even hear myself think though, I am reminded that I need to be thankful for children who can speak. I am thankful they know they can com to me with their needs and desires. And I pray that the audio input doesn’t decrease in the years to come, but maybe just becomes a little more organized ;)

2. The joy in the house.
As much as it can be crazy having four young children, the fun times have also increased exponentially. I may at times think back to how quiet things were with 1 or 2 children, but I am so very thankful for all the extra laughter now. And I am thankful for the playmates the kids are to each other. Some of my favorite moments are seeing Abby read a book to Isaiah, or Elijah teaching Naomi how to play cards, or all four of them in a room playing “restaurant”. I could have never imagined how much love there would be for everyone. It is such a blessing to see not only my own love for each of the kids, but to see how they are growing in their relationships with one another as well. Abby, for example, is a better person for having 3 siblings, even though it may have been easier for her with just Elijah.

So although four children is not simply what I had with just one child multiplied by four, in so many ways I am thankful for that.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
(Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

May you enjoy the overflow of blessing in your life today,

What No One Told Me About Having 4 Kids: Getting Time Alone with Each

Yesterday morning I got some alone time out with Abby.  One challenge of having four children is finding time to spend with them each individually.  Although I stay home with the kids and have a lot of time with them, I find it can be difficult to get quality alone time with each one.  Don’t get me wrong, I have time with each one during the day: Elijah and I will play checkers, Naomi and I will color, Abby and I will make a book together, and Isaiah and I will read books and cuddle.  But to get uninterrupted time with each can be hard to come by, but is something both Joe and I have seen to be really beneficial.

Joe gets out with the kids individually more than I do, but it is something I include in my New Year goals each year: to have individual date times with each of the kids 2-3 times a year (with 4 kids, that means getting out on a date with 1 each month).  In those times I enjoy just listening to them talk; when they have your full attention it is fun to hear what comes out of their mouths.

I also try to use the time to ask specific questions about their hearts and our relationship in particular (once they are old enough to engage, of course).  So for example, yesterday here were the questions I asked Abby:

1. What are you enjoying in life most right now? Or what are you most thankful for right now?

2. What is the most difficult thing in your life right now?  How can I be praying for you with that?

3. What do you think is the best thing about our relationship right now? Or what do you think Mommy does well that you want me to keep doing?

4. What do you think needs the most work in our relationship?  Or what can Mommy do better to be a better parent to you?

5. What is something in Mommy’s life that we can pray for improvement on?

It is humbling to hear the answers to these questions from your child, but a great way to connect and let them know that we as parents are sinners too.  I want them to know that even though I struggle many times throughout the day, I know I have struggles and I want to change by the grace of God.  And not only are these good questions to ask with your kids, but also beneficial for those date times with your spouse as well.

In the next few days, I am going to share a little more about what has been a surprise to me in being a mom of four children.  I could write down a huge list probably, but I thought I would just highlight a few things that have taken me by surprise.

Until tomorrow, Lord-willing,

Kids and Learning a Lesson

The other day I was upstairs getting Isaiah ready for a nap after lunch. Elijah had been finishing up eating downstairs. Elijah is probably one of my best helpers when it comes to cleaning up after a meal. He will put things away without me having to ask him, which is always a nice blessing. I heard him downstairs moving things around when all of the sudden I heard a big crash. The shattering glass told me he had dropped one of the jelly jars. A minute later, he slowly peeked into the room where I was rocking Isaiah with a sad face. I said, “You dropped the jelly jar, huh?” And he nodded. I said, “It’s ok bud. It was just an accident. Were you trying to carry more than one jar at a time?” (Side note: there were three jelly jars and 1 peanut butter jar out…don’t ask why!) He said, “No, I wasn’t carrying more than 1, I was carrying four.” I just laughed and told him I would clean it up in a minute so to just stay away from the spill.

When I came downstairs, it was the brand new jar of jelly that had fallen and broken on the floor (I was hoping it was the jar with just a little jelly left in it!) As I got down and started cleaning up, Elijah was watching me and said, “Mom, it’s good I learned a lesson right? I know I can’t carry that many now and need to take them one at a time.” I told him that it was very good he learned from this and that is one of the great things about mistakes. Of course, he has heard this all before as I often have to talk myself through my mistakes.

This was a great reminder to me about my own life. I am often so consumed with getting the right results that I often miss the lessons God is teaching me through the mistakes. The mistakes are a blessing as well. I get to learn, to pray, to ask for forgiveness, to see my need and so many other wonderful things when I make a mistake or sin. May we all embrace our lessons to be learned today,

Kids and Tell Your Brother His Fault

I mentioned yesterday that when the kids come to me with a complaint about one another, my first comment is to usually ask them to please name their sin in the situation. After they have done this, my next reminder comes from Matthew 18:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
Matthew 18:15

Unless someone is in danger, I tell the kids that they first need to try and work their disagreement out between each other. It is amazing how quickly something usually dies down when they have to deal with it with one another. They know that if they come back to me again, they need to tell me the steps they took to try and resolve the conflict. And even then, they will probably be asked if this is something they can overlook out of love for the other.

Every time I tell the kids to first go to the person who offended them, I am convicted. We as adults are not very good at this. We gossip, we “ask for prayer for a situation” to another person or simply hold a grudge against someone who has no idea they have done anything wrong. And even more convicting is to think about how often we simply bear with one another in love for the sake of Jesus.

I want our children to be lovers of grace and in order for that to happen, I need to love extending grace to others. I need to speak about evidences of grace I see in people’s lives and in situations I find myself in. May your day be full of the grace of God today,

Kids and Taking the Plank Out of Your Own Eye

In the past I have done a few series of post on Kids and _____, which have highlighted different issues we have been thinking or working through with our kids.  But as of late, I have found that often what I am continually repeating to my kids is what God is trying to teach me in this season of life.  So over the next couple days I thought I would give you a glimpse into the current things that being a parent is teaching me.

The number one thing I find myself saying almost consistently throughout the day is in relation to Luke 6:42 (also found in Matthew 7:4-5):

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

A lot of my day is spent hearing “Mooooooooom, Abby/Elijah/Naomi did __________.” And as any parent, or simply human being knows, when there is a problem, it is very rarely just one person’s fault. There is usually multiple sins that are contributing to any situation. So throughout the day, I am often reminding the kids to be more concerned about their own sin, rather than someone else’s.

But every time I remind the kids of this, I automatically have to turn my own words right back on myself. How often am I annoyed by someone else’s pride, only to be convicted that it is my own pride that has caused that annoyance. How often do I want to point out the sin in someone else’s life when I have much of the same in my own life? Or (one of my most amusing ones) how often do I complain about others complaining?

I know that our own household would be a much more peaceful place if the same amount of effort that was put into pointing out others shortcomings were put into killing our own sin. So I can only imagine how much peace we could each bring to our own little corner of the world if we would each employ the same mindset.

Need to Take My Own Advice

Before Joe left to go over to Italy, a friend asked me about how I did a month on my own with 4 kids.  For me, being on my own with the kids means keeping a proper perspective about my limits.  I think this is key to understanding the many seasons of your life.  For example, when you have a newborn, the expectations for certain things need to be lowered.  Other parents find they can increase activities during this time of the year because some/all of their children are headed to school.  So when I am on my own with the kids, I know that I need to make a few adjustments:

1. I need as much sleep as possible.  This usually means I go to sleep shortly after the kids do.

2. This is the time to keep things simple.  I don’t need to try and do extra things in this time.  I do try to get the kids out to do special things (story time, swimming, park trips, etc.) but I can’t expect for this to be a really productive time.

Although I know these two things and even spoke them out loud, I didn’t follow my advice very well to start off my time on my own.  I decided to do two things after Joe left:

1. Start Elijah’s bed time training to keep him dry at night so we could be done with pull-ups.

2. Do a 21 day detox of sugar, which I have wanting to do because I know I am way too attached to my treats.

So even though I knew what I needed to do to be successful with Joe gone, I decided that I could trump my own advice and engage in two new projects, one of which involved me losing sleep.  You probably don’t have to have me tell you that it took all of 3 days before I abandoned both of those ideas.

When I look back at the times I have tried to do too much in different seasons of my life it is usually due to an issue of pride.  I know the limits God has shown me I have and yet I think I can push just one more thing onto my plate.  Now there are times to extend beyond what you think you can normally do, but I know that for me, my motivation for doing more is usually to serve my own ends and not to serve others and glorify God.  I have my own agenda that I want to meet and so I push and push to get more done.  And usually it is to the detriment of the others I am supposed to be loving and caring for.

This is another reason I have to be on top of consistently doing a personal retreat (even if it is just for an hour) at every change of season in my life.  Whether it is a new pregnancy or baby, the start to the basketball season or school year or a change of address, I need to take the time to sit quietly before the Lord and see what He would have me do in this “season”.

And I am thankful that even when I stray from the path He has graciously laid out for me, He gently leads me back to keep my priorities and efforts in line with what He would have for me in that time of life.

Happy Monday (and for many Happy New School Year),

Vacation Reminder #3: Love Is a Sacrifice

Any parent knows that when you go on vacation, the trip away may be a break from the normal routine, but nothing about it is relaxing.  As the mom, I pack up for 5 people (trying to anticipate any situations we may encounter) and then spend the time away trying to keep all the children from hitting meltdown due to less sleep because of a new environment, exciting activities and overstimulation.  So although the week is enjoyable, it is still very much a sacrifice and I often come back more worn out than I was before I left for “vacation”.

The sacrifice of going on vacation and giving your children the opportunity for an enjoyable time is just a small microcosm of what it means to truly love another.  All people are broken, needy human beings, so in order to truly love them, you must give of yourself.  So many of the problems we see in families and marriages today seem to stem from the fact that we have forgotten that love is a sacrifice and hard work.  We read books and watch movies and ingest the cultural air that tells us love is something that is going to fulfill us, rejuvenate us and make us whole.  Not that love can’t do that, but if it is doing that for you, it is only possible because someone else is giving of themselves (or in other words making a sacrifice for you).

Tim Keller puts it well in “Kings Cross”:

All love, all real life-changing love, is a substitutionary sacrifice.  You have never loved a broken person, you have never loved a guilty person, you have never loved a hurting person except through substitutionary sacrifice.

In marriage, this is a give and take process.  You are both giving of yourselves and receiving in a healthy relationship.  But in a parenting relationship, you will always be giving more than you receive back.  You will give and give as a parent and be spent for your children.  And if you are looking for people in your life to fill back up that space that has been poured out for your children, you are going to become a pretty miserable person.

The amount of sacrifice it takes to be a parent, to give of yourself for the joy of your children, can only been done joyfully when you are looking to Jesus to fill you back up.  It is the only reason the Apostle Paul was able to serve a variety of churches with numerous needs:

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. -Philippians 2:17

How was Paul able to be joyful in pouring himself out for others in the way he did?  The answers are numerous, but one answer lies a few chapters later in Philippians 4 when he says:

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul asked God for all that he needed.  He didn’t look to people to fill his needs.  He knew that in asking God for everything, he would be filled with a peace that people would never understand.  And when that asking was done with thanksgiving, his joy would increase even more.  A supernatural work occurs in our lives when we look to serve others without getting anything in return because we are so overflowing in the amazing love that God provides in Jesus.

May your weekend be filled with a sacrificing service of love towards others as you pour out the love of God that Jesus has poured into your own heart.  Come back on Monday to meet our next featured Basket Wife.

Vacation Reminder #2: Each Child is Unique, but Shouldn’t Be Labeled

When you spend time away and have lots of activities to choose from and things to do, it doesn’t take long for you to be reminded how very different your children are. Everyone wants to do something different, at a different time and in a different way. Their personalities are all unique and lead to various needs, wants and desires.

But although they are all totally unique, I need to be careful about labeling them as a certain “type” of person. It is hard because our girls are naturally more intense, while our boys are laid back. I know it is good to note the strengths and weaknesses of each, but I was reminded on vacation that in doing that I have to be careful about limiting them.

Isaiah is my most timid child. He is very shy of new people, extremely sensitive to any sort of correction (just a simple, “No, Isaiah” and he folds himself into a yoga type position as he lays there and fights off the tears). He likes to be near me if I am around. Isaiah is also not a fan of things like grass (must be the texture), baths (especially if it is not the perfect temperature) and anything that is unpredictable. Because of these things it is hard for me not to simply write him of enjoying certain activities that our other children have found pleasure in.

So when we headed down to the beach for our first time of sand playing and swimming last week, I was certain Isaiah would want nothing to do with the beach. I pictured myself having to hold him the whole time or him just sitting on a towel, unwilling to move. I had taken the older 2 kids down to the beach earlier and Joe brought Naomi and Isaiah after their naps. He had Isaiah in the backpack carrier, where I figured he would just sit for awhile. But Joe got him right out and set him in the sand. My immediate thought was, “Oh boy! Here we go.” But instead of crying he looked intrigued and actually started playing in the sand. Within a few minutes he was covered in it and dumping sand into a bucket with a shovel. I was stunned.

Now the sand was one thing, but surely he was not going to like the water. The ocean is like a bath on steroids and Isaiah is not a fan of the bath at all. But Joe went and took him down and after a few minutes, this is what we had on our hands:

Yes, I was proved wrong again as he was absolutely loving the water and kept crawling back to it.  He couldn’t get enough and even cried when we left!

It was a good reminder to me that although it is good to evaluate the different and unique qualities in each child, I have to be careful not to pigeon-hole them into a certain “type” and therefore not give them the opportunity to explore lots of different things. In general it is something that I need to remember more often: people will often surprise you if you just give them the chance.

Great Feedback from Friday

I was so excited to see the feedback I got in the comments and on Facebook from Friday’s post. It is always great to hear from other moms on their tips and to also hear that a post may have encouraged a few other moms out there. Today I thought I would answer and/or comment back on some of the feedback that was left.

My best friend from high school, Rachael, is one of the new moms who I have a care package ready to deliver to when I see her next week. She mentioned that as a new mom you are always second guessing yourself because of all the wealth of information. I thought Maria posted a good tip about really going with your gut on things. Sometimes too much information can be really overwhelming. One thing I would say before even “going with your gut” is that motherhood teaches you to quickly run to God. I was convicted of how little I do this when I had Abby as a newborn.  I found my tendency was to want to “fix” the solution quickly. I would run to the internet, a book or a trusted friend, which are all good sources of information, but I was convicted one day as Abby was a few weeks old that I hadn’t “run” to God first. James 1:5 quickly came to mind:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

I had not asked the One who knows the intricacies of parenthood and my child better than anyone else for advice. It was a great reminder to me that motherhood would be a humbling task that has caused me to start almost every day off acknowledging my weakness and asking God for wisdom for the day. That way when I go with my instinct, I am more confident my feelings are in line with what God would have for my children.

Of course, many who know me still know I am a big reader and an advocate for being as well-informed as possible. So since my friend Michele asked about books recommendations, I will point you to my favorite Marriage and Family books in my Amazon store. There are a lot there and a rule I made for myself when I was pregnant with Elijah was to only read 1-3 per year because otherwise I got overwhelmed. My favorite 3 for a parent would be:

1. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart
3. Grace-Based Parenting

My friend Angie also brought up a tip I have passed along to many moms from Joe’s Aunt Carol who was a nurse at Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia (CHOP) for many years. Carol told me before Abby was born to persevere through the first 6 weeks of breastfeeding. Even though I was pretty determined to continue breastfeeding through a year (and by God’s grace have breastfeed 4 children for 12+ months each), that goal of getting to 6 weeks was HUGE for me. She told me that there woudl be pain, learning with the baby and tough times in those first 6 weeks, but after that it would really be a very easy solution…and she was right! I suffered through clogged ducts, soreness and even mastitis in those first weeks with my babies, but it was a short season and a good goal to get me to the time when breastfeeding did THEN become natural and easy. No one ever tells you it doesn’t start off that way!

And lastly, Rachele, another friend from high school, asked about transitioning to 2 children as she is about to do. I have written that I think every transition with a new baby is hard (and adding the fourth was especially tough for me).  I wrote a post a few years ago when Naomi was a baby on some things that helped me as a mom of multiple children: More Thoughts on Having Three.

For those who would like some more reading about my journey as a mom, you can check out my series on Our Parenting Journey (it is a category link, so the post will come up from newest to oldest, so if you want to read the series the whole way through you have to go back to the very beginning).

Thanks again for all the great feedback.  See you tomorrow,