5 Benefits of an Electronics Fast

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For 30 days our home is electronic/screen free.

We are just a little over a week into this.  And we feel free.

It was a spur of the moment idea Steve had one weekend. “We are shutting down for 30 days.  For one month we will have no tv, no Wii, no electronics (with the exception of the computer for me to pay bills and blog and him for work).  Steve even went so far as to cancel Dish Network.

I don’t watch tv or play video games, so this isn’t as painful for me as it is the rest of the members of my household.  Honestly, I felt this would be a breeze for us anyway.  Our kids rarely watch tv during the week.  There simply is no time.  Wii is only allowed on the weekends.  A couple of 30 minute time blocks.

We started noticing some attitudes in our boys.  More bickering than we cared for.  And a constant asking to watch something or play some game.  A break was needed.

 

Top 5 positive changes from week 1:

  1. We don’t rush away from the moments.  We stay.  We linger.  We soak.  We relish.  There is nothing to rush away to.  No tv show to catch.  No video game to conquer.  Nothing but time and each other.  Dinner is slower, more relaxed.  There is no need to rush to eat so we can fit a show in before bedtime on a Saturday night.  We took a family bike ride Sunday afternoon to a favorite tree swing.  After a long time swinging, we asked if they were ready to head home.  Zachary’s immediate response, “No!!!”  One week ago he would have been begging to go home so that he could play the Wii one last time before the new week began.  
  2. We are having moments we’ve never had.  I’ve come to realize the distractions of our devices cause great anxiety and a sense of urgency.  When they are taken away, we are left with the simplicity of life.  We are left with the beauty of the ones we love waiting to be enjoyed.  When our affection and attention is taken away from our devices, it must go somewhere.  So we turn it to the ones we love.  Andrew wanted to take a bath Saturday night.  While he was playing in the tub, I heard Jacob in there talking to him.  He was just sitting on the side of the tub chatting away with his 4-year-old brother he rarely has time to simply enjoy.  Jacob began making up stories and songs.  He had Andrew captivated.  After that Andrew began to want to be with Jacob again.
  3. We are finding new activities to enjoy. I’ve found the boys putting together puzzles, setting up imaginary play scenes, making up new games, using tools to create projects.  I’ve even found them simply resting.  Yes, just lounging on the screen porch, enjoying nature, enjoying life.
  4. We are thinking.  Want to increase creativity and productivity?  Take away your devices. Your mind will slow down and focus.  We have noticed this in ourselves as well as the boys.  We all feel much more able to think clearly.
  5. We are reconnecting.  I found I had gotten in a pattern of putting a movie on while I cooked dinner.  Now, everyone is taking part in the dinner prep.  We are all together in the kitchen.  We all help clean up.  We are simply together more.  Jacob and I have had extensive conversations, which have really been lacking lately.  One of our long talks occurred while he was helping me prepare dinner and Steve was outside with the other boys.  I said, “See Jacob if you had been watching a movie, we would have missed this opportunity to have this time together.”  He just smiled and said, “I’m actually kind of liking this electronics fast now.”

When the option of electronics is completely removed, kids will become kids again.  When all the distractions are removed, we can fully enjoy our moments again.

Bad Breath And A Plank In The Eye

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We entered the doors of church a little later than usual.  We made our way to a pew that could barely  fit four of us.  The boys sandwiched themselves between us and quickly got to work on their sermon notes activity sheet.  Every few minutes Zachary would whisper something to Jacob.  After a few times, I noticed Jacob becoming very snappish with his brother who adores him.  His head turned sharply towards me as he hissed, “Mom, his breath is treacherous.  It’s driving me crazy.”  The look on his face told me he was not kidding.

Initially I chuckled, thinking how funny his statement sounded.  Then I noticed how visibly upset Jacob was over the smell of his brother’s breath.

“Stop talking to me.  Your breath stinks!”  Jacob snarled to Zachary, who just looked at me with raised eyebrows and a sheepish little grin that seemed to say, “What?  I’m…..sorry…”

Jacob turned away from Zachary and faced directly towards me as he made his final comment about the state of Zachary’s breath, to which I replied to Jacob, “Your breath smells equally as bad.  Leave him alone.”

“So what, Zachary’s is worse.”

Jacob was seething, overly agitated, and lacked all forms of mercy, grace, and compassion.  I’ve been there.  Have you?

Oh what a picture.  What a picture of our humanness.  A picture of myself.  A picture of each of us if we are truly honest with ourselves.  How often are we so focused on the sins and wrongs of others that we fail to see our own sins, our own shortcomings?  How often are we so focused on how bad someone else’s “issue” is that we unknowingly cultivate a garden of anger, resentment, pride, and self-righteousness in our own hearts?

Matthew 7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We are all sinners.  Jesus didn’t die because we are naturally good.  No!  We are sinners.  In need of saving.  None of us has minty fresh breath all the time.

Thank God for grace.

Imagine the richness of our experiences in life if we removed our own planks before focusing on the specks of others?  Imagine how we could see God in a completely new way.  Imagine how our relationships with each other and our walks with God would grow if we could do this.

In our own power, it’s impossible.  We can’t do it.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I am weak.  I am in constant need of His power resting on me.

A Turn to Thanks Changes the Moment

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As I prepared for bed, I began to mentally start my checklist of what all needed to be done the following day.  It would get done, it always does, and I would just get through the day.  But I don’t like simply surviving.  I don’t like days that start out with “just get me through today”.  I want each day to be “Thank you Lord for this day you have made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Just as I felt my anxiety level rising over the upcoming day, Macy, our 6 pound Schnoodle, came flying through the air out of nowhere.  Overly excited for her nightly ritual of snuggling in the bed with me before retiring to her crate, she must have decided I was too lost in my own thoughts to remember she needed help onto the bed.  Taking matters into her own hands, she took a running leap and landed smack into the side of the bed, throwing her body back onto the floor crumpling her legs underneath her fluffy, white body.  She gave a yelp, then just laid down until I scooped her up in my arms, holding her and comforting her.  If she had just waited 10 more seconds, I would have placed her on my bed safe and sound.

How often am I Macy?  How often do I think God has forgotten so I decide I need to take control of the situation on my own.  How often do I think I can do it on my own and don’t need any help?  My husband has been known to call me Nemo at times saying, “Renee, you are like Nemo.  You think you can do these things, but you can’t.” How often is God saying to me, “Renee, I didn’t forget.  The timing wasn’t right yet.  I never left you, and if you had been patient and waited on me, it would have worked out perfectly.  But you took control and now you are lying on your back yelping.  And you still need me!  Either way you are going to need Me.  If you do it My way, it’s much less painful.  Just wait for Me!”

I tucked Macy into the comfort of her warm crate and prayed several times through the night that she would be ok.  That her leg wouldn’t be broken.  That we wouldn’t be given the news she needed surgery costing more than we would want to spend.  Then the anxiety crept back in.  How would I get the carpool to school, get Macy to the vet, get Andrew to preschool, and still make it to my dentist appointment all before 9:00?  Each of these were located 30 minutes from each other.

The sin of my anxiety carried over into our morning routine.  I rushed the children, snapped at them several times, hurrying them up, speaking unkindly, and simply not being the mom I desire to be.  I failed to take ownership.  Rather, I continued blaming my actions on my concern for Macy and our need to get out the door as soon as possible.

Too many interruptions.  I hadn’t planned on so many interruptions.  Not enough margin had been built into the morning.  But don’t all interruptions come from God?  This was from God.  He must interrupt me to shake me up.  If He can’t make me be still, He will shake me up for sure.  It wasn’t the amount of stuff we had going on, it was how I was handling it.  Why was I allowing my anxiety to control me this way?  All the while, God is whispering to me, but I’m not hearing.

Why was I ruining precious moments with my children?  It didn’t have to be this way.  It shouldn’t be this way.

We pulled up to the doors of the school and I touched my boys on the shoulders and said I’m sorry, to which they immediately offered their forgiveness with a smile.  And I pulled away simply disappointed with myself that yet again I found myself in need of apologizing to my kids.

When I start the day in my own strength, it always falls apart.  When I start the day in His strength, there is nothing that can’t be handled with grace.  I gripped tightly to my schedule and my responsibilities, never allowing God to direct my steps.  

Andrew and I arrived at the vet with Macy.  She was x-rayed and given a good report.  She would be sore for a few days but should begin to use her back leg in a few days.  No broken bones.  Exactly what we had prayed for.  I paid the bill, felt sickened over the money I was spending for the x-rays, then sent Steve a text that read, “Macy is fine, $180 later.”

That’s when God really got my attention.  It was as if I could hear Him saying to me, “Renee, how can you have so little thanks?  How can you be so ungrateful?  Did I not take care of everything for you?  Did I not get you safely to each of your destinations?  Did I not allow Macy’s leg to not be broken?  Did you ever consider it could have been so much worse and that it is because of Me that it is as good as it is?”

Lack of gratitude leads to lack of joy.  Being thankful changes everything.  Being thankful changes every single moment we will ever experience.

Often God uses what I see in others to really show me the magnitude of it in my own life.  I just recently had a conversation about noticing how negative people seem these days.  Then, I noticed I did it as well!  It’s more noticeable in social media because thoughts are shared so freely, especially the negative, frustrating moments.  Last summer we all complained about how dry it was, we needed the rain.  Now God is abundantly blessing us with rain and we are complaining about the provision.  We complain about it being too cold, yet there are people living in dire poverty who would give anything to feel the warmth of a bed.  We are cold when we have to walk out of the comfort of our heaters.  I want to take every thought captive.  I want to change my negative habits that ruin my moments.  I want to turn those negative tendencies into praises and offerings of thanks and change the moments in my life.

So here is my challenge to myself.  Every time I am about to complain about something, I will rephrase it into a positive.  When my child has just thrown an Oscar worthy tantrum, I want to think to myself “Thank you, God, that you blessed me with this child.  I know you have a wonderful plan for his life.”  When I am burned out on winter and about to say, “I’m so sick of winter and ready for spring,”  I hope instead to say, “Spring is just around the corner.  I am so thankful for the changes of seasons so that we can truly appreciate each season we are given.”  And when I’m about to complain of a runny nose preventing me from sleeping well, I hope instead to say, “I’m so thankful that of all the health ailments I could have right now, this is the worst that I’m experiencing.  I’m thankful I’m not battling cancer right now or fighting for my life.”

This is not easy.  I’m curious to see how I do.  I know I will fail if I do this in my own strength, so I will rely on Him.

I desperately want to experience life to the fullest the way God intends.  And I believe a thankful heart is the key.  Being thankful changes every moment.  It changes the way we see our moments.

Our world needs a good dose of positive right now.  Let’s be the ones to make the first move.

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Family Fun Fridays

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For many families the weekends are cherished times.  With intentional planning, it can be a time to slow down, reconnect, and protect your time together.  Since certain seasons will prove to be easier than others at having relaxing weekends, it’s important to be intentional when we can.

Sometimes simply naming something provides all the specialness you need.  Name it, add a little extra touch, and see how far it takes you.  Our children aren’t of driving age.  They are still young enough to be with us more than their friends.  But we still find that even at their young ages, we need to protect our time periodically and simply be.

Fridays at our house have been named “Family Fun Fridays”.  The week is over, activities are done for the most part, and everyone can slow down.  Now instead of Friday nights just existing and whatever happens happens, they are anticipated greatly.

2 components make up our Family Fun Friday: Activity and Food.

We made a master list of family fun friday activities.  Your family can come up with activities geared towards the ages and interests of your own children:

  1. Game night
  2. Wii night
  3. Pillow Fight
  4. Nerf Gun Fight
  5. Bingo Night (with prizes)
  6. Watch home movies
  7. Theme night
  8. Kapla Block building competition (or Legos)
  9. Hide and Seek
  10. Indoor campout (or backyard campout in the summer)
  11. Craft night
  12. Service night (do an outreach project together)

Keeping the meal simple allows you to enjoy the time together without the stress and hassle of preparing dinner and having a big mess to clean up.  Having an element of the evening that always stays the same provides that tradition building component where the children know what to expect and excitedly anticipate it.  Homemade pizza is a simple meal that can actually become part of the activity of the evening as well.  It can be as simple or as creative as you would like it to be.  The kids can take part and make their own, you can get a little gourmet, or you can keep it simple like we do!  Trader Joe’s pizza dough and sauce, some pepperoni and cheese is all our little guys want.

It’s less about what you do, and more about that you do.

Protect those Family Fun Fridays.  Try your best to say no to things that will interfere.  We’ve had to turn down outside invitations in order to keep this time special.  Our kids appreciated seeing that we valued our time with them above our other interests.

Set up a system for selecting the activity each week.  We put all ideas in a hat and take turns each week selecting from the hat.  This prevents every other Friday from being a Wii night!

Make sure that phones, ipads, computers, and all electronic devices do not receive an invite to the family fun night.  The distractions that come with them will prevent your family from connecting and truly living in the moment.  It’s ok if your Facebook friends don’t know what you are doing on Friday night (or whatever night your family chooses).

Above all else cherish every second of your family fun nights.  You will never have that exact night back again. Make a memory every chance you can!

Shift away from the Drift

 

Time Sheet

 

(Timesheet courtesy of http://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours/manage-your-time/)

We are well into the New Year, but it’s never too late to set a resolution, goal, or make a desired change in our lives.

A shift is in order in my own life.  Not a change necessarily, just a shift to get me back on track. It’s something I’ve done for years but found it is an area I’ve become complacent in.  An area I’ve let slide because I’ve allowed so many new distractions into my life. Funny thing about distractions is that you often don’t recognize them as distractions until you notice everything else around you sliding.  Then you take an inventory of your day, your time, and your jaw drops to see all that was wasted on silly distractions.

Challenge:  If you want more moments in your life, spend a week charting your time.

When I worked as a CPA, one thing we were required to do was log our time.  Clients needed to be billed for the billable time I spent on their accounts.  Logging my time was great accountability.  I wanted to be productive, I wanted to be efficient.  And let’s be honest, I wanted a raise as well.  At the end of the day, I could feel good about that time log when I saw that every single 5 minutes was accounted for.  My goal was to be as billable as I could.  The more billable, the more valuable.

While this is good for a CPA, it’s not so great for a mom.  Often the greatest investments of our time can’t be quantified.

There were days I might make a pit stop to chat with a friend in her cube.  When I returned to my cube, I’d chart that time to miscellaneous non-billable.  I really hated that.  Really, really hated it.  My nature is to be as productive as possible.  It’s a blessing at times and a curse at times.  At the end of the week, I would look at my percentage of billable to non-billable time and had a clear picture of where I had invested my time.  I saw which clients received the most attention, which clients needed a bit more of my time, where I was out of line.  It also encouraged me to find better ways to make the most of my time.  For example, if I checked my email at every ding, I had to switch gears to read and respond and would lose time on working on the current task.  If I checked at specific times, I could produce better results.  Logging my time showed me which changes to make and how to make them.

What if we were to log our time at home?  What would the results show us?  Too much Facebook?  Too much Pinterest?  Too much phone time?  Too much tv time?  Too much cleaning?  Too much what?  If you feel you simply don’t have enough time for things that are important then I challenge you to chart your every move for an entire week.  You may be shocked at what you find.  How do I know this?  Because I took a hard look at my own time.

And this is how I realized a shift was in order.  A shift to be more intentional.  Surprised?  Considering I write about capitalizing on the moments, the experiences?  Since I desire to create meaningful traditions?  I, like many others, have a tendency to lose my focus at times, to drift.  Distractions are tricky like that.  They sneak in and steal your time, cause you to lose your focus, and take you to a state of being overwhelmed.  They are so sneaky that they often sneak in, do their damage, and sneak out before you ever know what hit you.  Until something really hits you, jolts you to the point of looking into yourself and taking inventory.

As my children are getting older, they simply need me less and less.  This is both good and bad.  The bad side is that because they don’t need me to entertain them, if I’m not careful, I will lose out on precious moments with them.  I can get caught up in my distractions or my to-do list because they don’t “need” me.  They may not need me, but they do need the moments with me.

Several instances occurred showing me I was veering off-course and needed redirection, but the one that stuck out the most occurred with Zachary, my 7-year-old.  Everyone was home from school, normal afternoon routines were in place.  Homework had been completed, chores were completed, Jacob had a few things to wrap up in the house and Zachary went out to soak up the warm Carolina sun.  I was skipping around the kitchen cleaning messes and trying to get a step ahead.  To be the super mom who was so organized and so together that she would be able to prepare dinner (early), get a head start on nighttime routines, and even prepare for the next morning.

I’m skipping right along, feelings of efficiency and productivity providing feelings of worth and value because they can be measured.  I can see the boxes I checked off and feel good about what I accomplished.  Yet, these aren’t the measures of a good mom.  And I know this, yet still find myself battling it daily.

This is the danger of being me.  It’s an area God deals with me on regularly.  Thankful He is patient and will never give up on a stubborn, hard head like me!

As pride is coursing through my blood, I strolled by the glass door in the kitchen that looks through the screen porch to the playground.  And I stopped.  Zachary was sitting on the slide, all by himself, with not a care in the world, soaking up the sun, with a beautiful smile on his innocent face.

Everything stopped in that moment.  I laid down everything in my hands, undoing the task I was intent to complete, walked outside and shut the door on the stress, distractions, and worries that lay inside the walls of my home.  He didn’t hear me approaching.  The slide is a double slide, just perfect for the 2 of us.

“Oh, mom, you scared me!  What are you doing.”

“I came to play with you.” Then I sat on the end of the slide, feet planted in the mulch, and I laid back.  Basking in the warmth of the sun.  “Wow this sun feels amazing.  It’s peaceful out here.”  I looked up at the sky, watched the clouds as they formed their shapes and moved away, watched the birds fly from tree to tree.

“Mom, isn’t it amazing how God could create something like the sun.”

“Yes, something that is millions of miles away, millions of degrees, yet we lay here on this slide and feel the warmth in the perfect temperature.  The light the warmth.  It’s simply amazing.”

I reached over, grasped his hand that is getting bigger each day, and squeezed.

Oh the moments.  They need to be seized.  Constantly.  They are there, always, waiting for us to grab them to make them into something to be remembered.  So simple they can be.  Like sitting on a slide feeling the warmth of a rare February day.  Relishing in the time we’ve been granted.  Thankful for the sweetness of simplicity.

And I walked away blown away by God again.  That He cares enough about me to let me fall on my own, time after time after time, yet He never gives up.  He never throws His hands up.  He patiently allows me to find my way through Him who is Ever-present.  What a model He is for us parents.  Patiently allowing His children to mess up, to fall, to feel the pain, then He helps them back up, comforts their pain, and shows them the better path.

So my February New Years Resolution is simple.  It’s to be INTENTIONAL with my time.  Creating SIMPLE moments.  And LOTS of them.

Will you join me?

Find Your “Just One”

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If you have ever looked at the problems of the world and felt that you are only one person against a mountain of problems and wondered how you could make a difference,  I encourage you to listen to this message from Andy Stanley.  If you have ever heard someone say, “You can’t save them all,” this message addresses that theory.  If you’ve ever thought that the little bit you can do will not solve the world’s problems, I challenge you to try.

We can’t end world hunger.  But we can feed one.  We can’t adopt all the orphans but we can show one the love of Christ.  We can’t save them all.  But that isn’t our job.  We can use our gifts, talents, and resources to impact just one.  Who knows what a difference that just one will make.

When you involve your children in investing in just one, you are creating an experience for your child that will drastically impact their life.  When your family invests in “just one”, you are actually investing in many.  You will see a change in the hearts of your children and grandchildren.

The moments you give and gain from investing in “just one” will change your life.

Andy Stanley is one of the best communicators I’ve ever listened to.  I hope you enjoy!

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.aspx?ID=%7B1D8BB9BC-FA5D-4245-A29A-D1AD7CC597A5%7D

Love You Forever

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Life is changing.  Quickly.  I always knew it would.

These boys.  They don’t stay little long.

Quiet bedtime routines are rare in a house of 3 boys.  Bedtime used to be such a sweet, soothing time.  It is no longer.  They are older, bigger, rougher.  But their hearts are still little, soft, and gentle.

I hear the loud footsteps before I see the boys.  Giggling, chasing each other down the hall, as they tug back and forth their towel.    Another sings and splashes loudly his favorite Christmas carol, with words he feels are a better fit.  The volume is loud.  Boys are loud.  Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and thank God they are healthy enough to be this loud, that I even have them at all.

Retreating quietly down the steps, I leave them to their wild play.  I need to retreat from the chaos, steal a few minutes of peaceful calm so I can be gentle with them at their heart’s most tender time of the day.

I glance around the kitchen.  It’s a mess.  It’s ok.  Deep breath.  Banging, thumping, squeals echoing down the stairs.  It’s time to reign them back in.

Slowly walking up the steps, I can hear them.  “Here she comes, hurry.”  Whizzes of little boys throwing dirty clothes into the basket, running to brush teeth, and leaping into bed.  As I round the corner, my littlest has a beaming smile.  He’s 4 but thinks he’s 9.

“Here’s my story.”  He hands it to me.  My shoulders drop as I reach for this old familiar book.  This book that I received as a gift while pregnant with Jacob.  This book that had my husband in complete sobs the first time he read it to our child.

Love You Forever

“No, Mom, that book makes me cry.”  My eyes find his.  This boy who wants to grow up yet doesn’t.  This boy who still shares every tiny detail of his life with me.

“I know, it makes me cry too.”

Andrew is curled up in my lap like he does every night for his story.  Zachary is nestled close into my side.  And Jacob is across the room on his own bed with his own book in hand.

We read the account of this new baby and this mother who holds him and sings this song to him, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”  I use the same sing-song voice I’ve used every time I’ve ever read this book.  I swayed back and forth with Andrew in my lap like I’ve swayed my boys every time I’ve ever read this story.

We read the account of when the boy turned 2 and he drove his mama crazy.  The older ones laughed, “Just like Andrew!” And Jacob gently lays his book aside and makes his way gradually closer.

Then we read when the boy was nine and Jacob shouted, “Just like me!”  That mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  And Jacob moved closer.  Now he is perched on the bunk bed ladder peering down at us reading beneath him.

Then he was a teenager.  Zachary chuckled at his strange friends and strange clothes.  They no longer could see themselves in the story.  But I could.  And that mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Just like she always did.

The room was very quiet now as all 3 boys listened closely.  They listened as the teenager grew into a man and moved away.  We read how she picked up that grown man and rocked him back and forth.  Andrew piped up, “Hey, he’s not a baby anymore.  He’s a big man!”

Jacob was quiet.  His face serious as he studied the picture of that mama, old and gray, rocking her great big boy.

Then she got sick and she needed her boy to take care of her.  And he did what she had always done for him.  He rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

And he carried the tradition on with his new baby daughter.

Even the smallest of traditions make a lasting impression. That mama sang a simple song as she rocked her baby.  Yet it developed into so much more.

Traditions provide bonding opportunities.  In a world that is chaotic and distracted, family traditions provide stability, acceptance, belonging.  And love.

More than anything our little ones need to know they are loved.

And my 9-year-old boy, the one who is so much like I was as a child, this boy who in the last year has decided he doesn’t need to be read to, climbed into his bed and called out to me, “Hey mom, can you start reading to me every night again?  I mean, I still like just reading to myself, but can you start reading to me again?”

“Of course.  It’s always been my favorite thing to do with you.”

Traditions form a tight grip.