Monday, June 29, 2009

Notes to a Newborn

Dear Lydia Faith,

It was just two and a half weeks ago that you made your grand entrance into the world. Despite the drama of labor and your surgical birth, your life outside the womb has been happy and healthy so far. Your early scowl quickly gave way to a variety of expressions, including sweet smiles and the rooting "popeye" face. You are a great nurser; in the hospital, the lactation consultant noted that you have a very powerful suck, and at your two week checkup, you had already gained a pound and grown an inch! While lying down, you wiggle and roll from side to stomach. In typical newborn fashion, you sleep a lot, sometimes in a deep sleep, and sometimes in a light, twitchy sleep that exists only as long as some warm arms are holding you. You can be quite vocal if your needs are not attended to immediately, but so long as you are fed, burped, changed, and held, you are content.

You are the perfect addition to our little family. Your two older brothers adore you; Donny lets you suck his knuckle, Hayden gives you hugs and kisses, and they both like to visit with you and sing songs to you. I am more in love with your Daddy than ever to see him hold you and know that God has used him and me to create these beautiful children. Everyone is happy to have a girl in the family, and even people we don't know are sending little dresses for you to wear and pink fuzzy blankets to keep you warm. It is fun to dress you in bubblegum pink baby gowns and cloth diapers, adding a softly feminine touch to your infantile innocence. You are the princess, not the spoiled brat princess, but one who is born to royalty and great expectations. We do not yet know what your personality will be like, but we expect you to conduct yourself as a proper little lady. And like the Lydia of the Bible, we pray that the Lord would open your heart to the gospel, that you might become a woman of faith and a worshiper of God.

For now, you are everything a newborn should be: small, sweet, sleepy, soft-skinned, and wonderfully precious. I delight in every part of your little body, from the scent of your softly fuzzy head to your tiny fingers and toes, your penetrating dark blue eyes, your perfect button nose, the nursing callous on your upper lip, your funny folded legs and feet, and even your cheesy-smelling neck folds. I keep you near me by holding you with one arm when we are busy at home, wearing you in a carrier when we are out, and cuddling you close when it is time to sleep. I could snuggle with you and watch your face for hours on end, because I know these days are all too fleeting, and I want to soak up every moment of your babyhood.

You will be an infant for such a short time, and a newborn for even less than that. All too soon you will be a toddler, a girl, and someday, a woman. When that day comes, I hope that you will be as blessed as I am, to hold your baby in your arms and know that he or she is a perfect, precious gift from a perfect, holy God. I pray that you will welcome your own children as blessings, just as we have joyfully welcomed you into our family and our lives.

Sweet Lyddie Bitty, I am so thankful for the privilege of being your mother. You are a precious gift from God!

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.
From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God.

Psalm 22:9-10

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes

When a mother has a new baby, friends and relatives often bring meals so that the mother does not have to worry about cooking. In our family, this normal act of kindness becomes a bit more complicated. Between Hayden's allergies, Donny's self-determined vegetarianism, and the entire family's pickiness, it is difficult even for me to make a dinner we can all eat. And what sensible person would volunteer to concoct a meal that contains no milk, eggs, nuts, soy, meat, MSG, trans fats, unusual vegetables, or mysterious textures?

So recently, when a well-meaning aquaintance from church asked if we needed meals, my first instinct was to say no and spare myself the trouble of explaining our dietary restrictions. My mom suggested that maybe someone could bring us a fruit basket instead, since we love fruit, and no one is allergic to it. It turned out to be a great idea! Yesterday a generous church friend arrived with a bag filled with fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, watermelon, and bananas - what a blessing! The fruit provides an easy snack and is full of nutrients to benefit my postpartum body and growing boys. If any of my readers are thinking of bringing something to a new mother, instead of the stereotypical casserole, perhaps she would be blessed by a basket of fresh fruit instead!

I am especially enjoying the abundance of berries that I would not normally buy for myself. Donny and Hayden love blueberries, but Don and I do not care for them, and most berries are so expensive that I usually hurry past them while filling my shopping cart with apples and bananas. With the abundance of berries in our house this week, though, I decided to search for a nutritious blueberry recipe to make use of some of the antioxidant-laden fruits.

I found some tempting muffin and pancake recipes, and settled on pancakes due to popular demand. The boys have been asking me to make pancakes for weeks, but it always seems like such a big project that I usually answer, "Not today." But this morning I surprised them by adapting a recipe for Hayden's allergies and our preferences, and while Lydia was napping, the boys and I mixed up these yummy blueberry pancakes!

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes

- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar or other sweetener
- 1 mashed yellow banana (or 2 eggs)
- 2 1/4 cups (rice) milk
- 1 cup fresh blueberries

- Sift dry ingredients.
Add wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Fold in blueberries.
Pour 1/4 cup batter onto pan or griddle, and cook like pancakes. :)
Yields approximately 20 pancakes. The boys and I each ate four, so the recipe makes about 5 servings in our house.

Even though I am not normally a blueberry fan, I enjoyed these pancakes, and hope you do too!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Long Journey of Lydia Faith: A Birth Story

Today is Wednesday, just six days after the birth of my third child and first daughter, Lydia Faith. As part of Wednesday's Walk Down Memory Lane hosted by Lynnette Kraft, I would like to share the long story of her journey into the world.

With my first and second pregnancies, I wrote out a birth plan well in advance to communicate my desires surrounding childbirth to my doctors, midwife, and nurses. This time, I finally got around to composing my birth plan the night before my 39 week appointment. As with my previous deliveries, I hoped for a natural birth with minimal interventions. I planned a waterbirth in the same hospital room where Donny and Hayden were born. Though I knew there was a good chance this little girl would be tangled in her umbilical cord like her brothers were, I hoped that maybe I would actually be able to hold this baby immediately after her birth.

My birth plan also included a list of things I wished to avoid: medication, continuous fetal monitoring, pitocin or other medical induction/augmentation of labor, episiotomy or excessive tearing, cesarean delivery, and passing out after delivery (snce I passed out twice after Hayden's birth and gave my dear husband quite a scare). I have often said that I am not afraid of the pain of natural labor - since I know my body is just doing what God intended it to do, and I think it is amazing to experience the sensations of childbirth - but I am afraid of medical interventions. I hate the side effects of drugs, am concerned that one intervention will lead to another, and the idea of being numb for such an exciting moment is completely unappealing. Despite the nervousness that inevitably surrounds impending labor, I looked forward to once again bringing a tiny little person into the world.

On the night of Tuesday June 9, just after finishing my Almost Ready post, I had trouble sleeping. After lying awake for much of the night, I woke up in the morning with contractions - contractions that indicated real labor. Though I did not have any other signs of labor, the radiating pains in my lower back every five minutes were enough for me to ask Don to stay home from work. I packed the boys' overnight bags, and Don dropped them off at his sister's house so that I could labor at home in peace. I planned to wait until the contractions were very intense and close together before heading to the hospital in order to enjoy the comforts of home and avoid any unnecessary hospital interventions.

By noon I had showered, tidied up the house, packed the last few things for the hospital, and done a load of laundry. The contractions continued steadily, but lacked the intensity I was waiting for. After lunch, I took a short nap, figuring I might as well rest while I could. Don and I went for a walk and timed my contractions, which were about three minutes apart. I could still walk through them, but by the end of our excursion, it was more comfortable to stop during each contraction. They lessened a bit when we returned home, leaving me wondering how long this early labor would continue.

In the late afternoon, I decided to check in with the doctor just to see what was happening with my body. I called to make an appointment with my midwife, Linda, and brought our bags along in case I was far enough to stay at the hospital. Judging by the frequency and intensity of my contractions, I expected to be about 4cm dilated. As we drove to Linda's office, though, the contractions slowed down. When Linda came in to check me, she concluded that I had dilated...all of one centimeter. Knowing this, and remembering how long I was in labor with Hayden, I had a sinking feeling that this could be another long labor stretching over several days. Though I hoped we would be returning later that night to check in to the hospital, only God knew when Lydia would actually be born.

I had no desire to go home and cook dinner while in labor, so Don and I went to the nearby Olive Garden, and ate soup and breadsticks while I quietly braced through contractions every five minutes. Back at home, I took a bath and tried to rest, getting a few hours' sleep before contractions woke me up at 3:30am. These were stronger, and seemed to be coming on top of each other, growing in intensity. After a half hour or so I concluded it was time to wake Don up and make the 30 minute drive again. We checked into labor and delivery at the hospital around 5am.

After getting settled in the familiar waterbirthing room, it was time to be checked out. Imagine my surprise to find that despite the intense contractions I was having at home, I had dilated to only 2 or 3 centimeters. I was not even considered to be in active labor yet! "Should I just go home then?" I asked. But Linda and the nurses encouraged me to wait a while and see if anything happened. Don and I walked around the maternity ward, and at my next check, I had progressed to 4cm dilation, so Linda decided to officially admit me to the hospital. She noted that the baby's head was not all the way down, and suggested that I try resting on my side to encourage her to move into the correct position.

Around 7am, the obstetrician Linda works under, Dr. M, came in to check on me. She felt the baby's head, estimated that I was at 5 or 6cm, and wanted to break my water to get things moving. Although I wanted to let labor progress naturally without intervening, the doctor was convinced that the baby would be born in a few hours after breaking the water. With a bit of reluctance, but a desire to get things moving, I agreed. Soon I was leaking fluid, waiting for the contractions to pick up speed and intensity. After all, breaking the bag of waters makes labor move quickly. At least in most cases. In mine, it seemed to make no difference at all.

The morning passed as I walked, rested, and bounced on the birthing ball. I knew it was still too early to get into the birthing tub, since the relaxing water can actually stall a slow labor. I walked as much as I could to keep things moving, but the varicose veins in my legs soon left me sore and longing to sit down. The best part of labor occurred when my husband wondered if he could blow up a non-latex examination glove like a balloon - and he did. We passed time batting the fingered balloon back and forth in an impromptu game I dubbed "High Five," until we finally lost our toy behind the bed.

All of our friends and relatives were waiting for the news that Lydia was here, but we didn't seem to be getting any closer, despite the continued contractions. At noon I thought about calling my mom just to check in, but decided to wait, lest she think the ringing phone was a birth announcement. My self-employed father-in-law insisted on doing his work from the hospital waiting room because he was so exciting about his granddaughter's birth. He kindly offered to go out and get me some soup, and even after he got delayed in a traffic jam, I had plenty of time to enjoy my lunch. My nurse, who started her shift shortly after we arrived, checked me and said I was still dilated 6cm, but she could stretch me to 7. When her shift ended, the next nurse thought I was at 7, but she could stretch me to 8. It appeared that progress was being made - very slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

At one point, I asked for my Bible and opened randomly to Psalm 103. I love that I can always find comfort in the Psalms. I was reminded to praise the Lord, that He satisfies our desires with good things, that He has compassion on His children, and that He knows how we are formed. The afternoon wore on, but I knew that God had a plan for this birth, and that I simply needed to wait on Him.

When the second nurse's shift started, the hospital policy was for me to spend a short time on the electronic fetal monitor, just as I had when we first came in. The nurse noticed a pattern of the fetal heartrate dropping during contractions. Although baby's heartrate always returned to normal, the significance of the drop was cause enough to keep me on the monitor - one of the interventions I had wished to avoid. With the use of telemetry, I was able to walk around the room, but I could feel the pressure mounting to hurry up and have this baby. Dr. M arrived back on the scene and checked my cervix. In her estimation, I was still at 6cm - no change from the morning. Her pronouncement: "You need pitocin, my friend."

I did not want pitocin. I wanted this baby to come out, on her own, in her own time. My sweet husband was prepared to advocate for me, knowing that I wanted to avoid interventions, but the doctor was not easily persuaded. After some discussion, Dr. M finally agreed to let me try natural methods for an hour; if that did not get things moving, we would start pitocin at 5:00.

I paced tearfully in my room, weighing the options. Would I protest the pitocin? I did not want a medically managed birth, yet I seemed to be on the road towards that very thing. The options of running out of the hospital or screaming a refusal of the synthetic hormone, though tempting, obviously would not help the situation, and would also cause stress for everyone. Don encouraged me to talk through my thoughts and emotions, but it was hard to put them into words. I did not like the way Dr. M had spoken to me; she seemed more concerned about getting the birth over with than about how I felt. The nurse was much more sympathetic, but admitted that ultimately she had to follow the doctor's orders.

More than anything, I was deeply regretting that we had come to the hospital so soon. Hadn't my plan been to labor at home for as long as possible in order to avoid this very situation? Why had I experienced those intense contractions that pushed me out the door at 4am, but now at 4pm the doctor claimed nothing was happening? One of the verses I had printed out for encouragement, Isaiah 66:9, ran through my mind: "Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God. I trusted that God would bring this baby forth in His time. But how long would the Lord - and the doctors - allow this labor to continue before bringing me to the moment of birth? Would He grant me the delivery in time to avoid unnatural interventions?

Though Dr. M. was technically on call that day, Linda had been keeping tabs on me and had left instructions to call her when things picked up and I was ready to get into the birthing tub. While I was pacing the room, Linda called at Dr. M's request to explain things in her more gentle way. Pitocin, she said, is just a synthetic version of oxytocin, the hormone my body was already producing. She felt confident that I would only need a small amount, and that with ten to twelve good solid contractions, the baby would be on her way out. She also offered to stay with me until the baby was born, which was a much more comforting prospect than having the pushier Dr. M. attend my delivery. In addition, the nurse assured me that I could be in the tub even with the IV and fetal monitors required when administering pitocin. By the end of our conversation, I agreed to start a small dose if Linda would be there, so she said she would finish with her patients at the office and then join me at the hospital.

I was shaking - a sign of transition for some, but by the nurse's estimate, I was still less than 8cm. Don and the nurse started filling the deep birthing tub, and then it was time to insert my IV for the pitocin. The nurse tried to insert it in my left arm, but the vein kept rolling away, and even a second nurse could not get it to work. After a few painful jabs, they inserted it in my right wrist instead. Don assured me I was doing the right thing, and soon the tub was filled with hot water, ready for us.

As usual, Don put on his bathing suit and climbed into the tub with me. I am surprised to learn that most fathers do not get in the tub; for me, having my husband there to put counter pressure on my back is what makes contractions bearable. It was a bit awkward to get settled, with the IV hanging from one arm, the fetal monitor around my abdomen (continuous monitoring is required while pitocin is being administered), and frequent blood pressure checks (another requirement for pitocin). I managed to find a position where Don could push on my back during contractions, and my body remembered the familiar feeling of laboring in the water. Despite the intensity of the contractions, I could tell I was not close to the end yet - as I said to Don and Linda, I know that when I feel like I cannot possibly endure any more, that means that it is almost time to push. I had not yet reached that point, which told me I was not yet in transition. In addition, I found it strange that my stomach kept growling. I had read that once in active labor, most women lose their appetite. But as Don pointed out, my body was not following the books.

Between contractions, when I had to stop to close my eyes and breathe, I chatted with Don and with Linda, who was seated beside the tub, just as she had been for Donny and Hayden's births. Don commented that he and I should teach childbirth classes, since now we had done everything. I silently hoped that we would not actually experience everything in the realm of childbirth possibilities...after all, I still had never used pain medications or had a cesarean birth, and I was happy to keep it that way.

The warm tub water was soothing and freeing, but the monitors kept sliding around, forcing me to basically stay in one position so that my contractions and baby's heartbeat would register on the machine. Finally the nurse was having trouble finding the baby's heartbeat in any position, a problem that was reminiscent of my labor with Donny, but this time I didn't have a baby crowning. I did not mind getting out of the tub; I figured that I could always get back in later when it was time to push. Once I had dried off and was wrapped in warm blankets, Linda checked me. I was still at 6cm.

And according to Linda, instead of thinning like it normally does during labor, my cervix felt thicker. Baby's head was not pressing against it as it should have been, and without the pressure from baby, the cervix was not going to dilate enough to let baby through. A 10cm opening is required for birth, but for whatever reason, my body seemed to be stuck at 6. Linda thought perhaps the umbilical cord had tangled in such a way as to prevent baby from descending any farther. Knowing our children's history of umbilical cord entanglement, Don and I agreed that could be possible. I laughed when my gymnast husband suggested, "She's practicing the aerial silks with the umbilical cord." Meanwhile, the baby's heartrate continued to drop during each contraction. We decided to give it one more hour, but in the meantime, I breathed through each contraction as we all discussed and prepared me for the likely possibility of a C-section.

I had been in labor for two days, and there was no end in sight. With my membranes ruptured, there was an increased risk of infection as time wore on. I was stuck on the bed, hooked up to monitors and IVs, because it was the only way to make sure baby was safe. There was a good chance that the stress of continued labor could cause fetal distress. As much as I had never wanted to have a C-section, I was ready. The week when she was in breech position had given me a chance to, in some way, mentally prepare for this possibility. And now I wanted to be done with the painful contractions that were getting me nowhere. Don and I were sick of labor; we were ready to hold our baby girl. And we wanted to make sure she was safe. So I agreed to the cesarean, knowing that it would be the best - and possibly the only - solution for baby and me.

Even more than the thought of being cut open, the idea of an epidural always scared me - and of course, that was the anesthesia of choice for this operation. Thankfully, the anesthesiologist was friendly and reassuring. Sitting up to have the epidural inserted (and still contracting every few miutes) was the most difficult part for me, but it was not long before my legs felt warm and fuzzy. The anesthesiologist administered some anti-nausea medication, gave Don his scrubs, and by the time I was wheeled into the operating room, I was completely relaxed. When someone asked me how I felt, I could only reply, "Sleepy." In fact, when we got to the OR and all the people dressed in blue were introducing themselves and bustling about, I asked, "Can I go to sleep?"

The operation itself was painless. Dr. M performed the surgery, while another OB, Linda and several nurses assisted. Don stayed by my side, peeking over the curtain to watch his wife being cut open and his daughter lifted out of the womb. Within a few minutes, a newborn cry told us that Lydia was here. Finally. The little girl who was tangled in her cord and "sunny side up" was born at 9:36pm, right on her due date - June 11, 2009.

Don took pictures of our baby girl while the doctors sewed me up and congratulated us. Soon we were recovering back in the waterbirthing room, the room where both of our boys were born. I was still sleepy, but I stayed awake long enough to call my parents with the news and to nurse my sweet newborn. She latched on right away, and I rejoiced that finally, something was going right!

We had planned to name her Lydia Joy, using Grace as the middle name for our (Lord willing) second girl, and possibly others like Hope and Faith in the future. Yet in the hours and day following her birth, I was unsure. I still loved the name Joy and thought it sounded pretty with Lydia, but another name kept coming to mind: Faith. Honestly, the end result was the only part of this process that really involved joy. And even then, in the first few moments of life, Lydia was already scowling at the nurses - not exactly the perfect picture of Joy!

On the other hand, it was faith that brought us through this trial: Faith in a loving Father, faith that Lydia would be born in His perfect time, and in His way (which in this case, certainly was neither my time nor my way!). Afterwards, Linda told me that when they cut me open, my uterus was so thin that they could almost see through it. Had I continued to labor for many more hours, it could have ruptured, causing a life-threatening emergency for Lydia and me. No one had suspected this problem, nor would they have known about it if a C-section had not been performed, but God is His wisdom worked everything out for good. Though the method of birth was not what I would have chosen, it is clear that God's hand was in it - perhaps even holding Lydia back from the birth canal in order to spare our lives.

I thought I needed to trust God to persevere through the pain and intensity and unknowns of labor. And armed with a printed sheet of Bible verses, I was ready to do so. I never expected that He would test my faith in other ways; instead of just seeing how patiently and long I could endure regular contractions, He forced me to face my fears of medical interventions. Instead of trusting my body, and knowing that I wouldn't trust doctors, I had to place my hope in Him alone. And in the end, the Author of Life, the One who forms us in the womb, carried me through, and placed Lydia Faith safe in my arms.

Shortly before Lydia's birth, I read the birth story of Mrs. Parunak at Pursuing Titus 2, a similarly long and intense labor with a different ending. In her story, she mentioned 1 Peter 1:7, and it was snippets of this same verse that came to my mind in connection with Lydia's birth:

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Despite my best laid plans, in the end, I got most of the things on my "wish to avoid" list. (I obviously avoided tearing, since I never got to the pushing stage, though I certainly was cut open! And I did not pass out after delivery, probably because it was a full day before I felt well enough to even attempt standing.) Maybe it was not fire, but this labor was certainly an exercise in faith. I am so thankful that the Lord protected both of us and blessed Don and me with a beautiful, healthy daughter. May the praise, glory, and honor be forever His!

Friday, June 12, 2009

She's Here!

After a long and unpredictable labor, Lydia Faith was born on Thursday June 11, 2009 - right on her due date! She was 6 lbs. 15 oz. and 19 1/2" long. I'll share the lengthy birth story when I get a chance. For now, we are resting and recovering at the hospital and all are doing well, praise God!

From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.

Psalm 71:6

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Almost Ready

In case you were wondering, I don't have a new baby yet.

Instead, I have been busy getting ready for the new addition, keeping up with chores, and resting in preparation for the days to come. My due date is now two days away, but other than some Braxton-Hicks contractions in the evenings the past two weeks, I have not experienced any indications that labor is near. I wonder if this may be my first "late" baby, since Donny was born right on his due date and Hayden the day before. At the same time, I am not in a rush. I know my life is about to become much more busy and challenging, so I am enjoying this time with just my two boys - and my full nights of sleep.

Last weekend, I finally packed my hospital bags and overnight bags for the boys, completing one of the final steps of necessary preparation. I checked it off on the paper that has been hanging on my fridge since early spring, an ambitious list of projects that I hoped to tackle before baby's arrival. It is nice to feel a sense of accomplishment when looking over the items I have been able to complete, including:

- make doctor and dentist appointments for the boys and transfer the appropriate medical records
- organize hall and office closets
- dust window sills and corners (this was my limited attempt at spring cleaning)
- vacuum behind and under things (I vacuum exposed areas regularly, but once in a while it is a good idea to make sure nothing is growing behind the couch)
- rake front yard
- start seedlings for garden
- prepare garden area
- start compost pile
- get pool repaired and opened
- buy (and borrow!) maternity clothes
- research and purchase newborn diapers
- organize boys' clothes; put away winter and get out summer clothes
- write out birth plan (I finally did this just in time for my 39 week appointment!)
- sort, organize, and wash baby clothes
- get baby things out of attic; set up Pack N Play bassinet
- acquire vehicle to fit three car seats
- read Honey for a Child's Heart and The Duggars: 20 and Counting
- go to the zoo

I still have plenty of projects to keep me busy if I have the time: filing papers, sewing, freezing meals to eat after baby is born, organizing digital photos, working on my little garden. There will always be projects to do, but for now, I am feeling content. For the most part, we are ready for this little girl to arrive anytime in the next couple weeks. And then I will have many more things to add to my daily snuggling a sweet newborn dressed in freshly washed pink clothes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Photos by Preschoolers

The boys were kind enough to let Don and I sleep in last Saturday. In fact, it was surprising to spend an extra hour in bed without an invasion of rowdy would-be snugglers or the sound of toy disputes echoing down the hall.

When I found my camera in the office later that day, I discovered the cause of their silence: they used the forbidden gadget to take no less than 40 digital photos!

And of course, every one was taken on the scenery setting with a slow shutter speed, so not a single picture is in focus. :)

But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:10-12

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Raising Little Disciples

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

I firmly believe, and have mentioned before, that children are blessings. They are precious gifts from God that we are to welcome, treasure, and raise up for His glory.

But though they are blessings, children are still human - imperfect humans who can cause even the most joyful mother to shake her head in disapproval or walk away in discouragement. Lately, I have sadly noticed a tendency to find more frustration than joy in my own children. Though I love them and thank God for them daily, I have become discouraged by the seemingly constant complaining, arguing, crying, and disobedience. Instead of enjoying my children, I confess that I have often been enduring them.

Thankfully, the Lord in His wisdom gave me a gentle reminder: children need to be discipled. Yes, they need to be disciplined also, and we have been faithful in that, but discpleship is something more. It involves a relationship where the teacher instructs the student in specific doctrines, creating a faithful follower. While I do use Scripture to remind my children of how God wants them to act, I have been slack in bringing them to the Word simply to love it and learn how to live it. How can I expect my children to act like Christians without taking the time to teach them how to BE Christians? And if adult Christians need regular time in the Word in order to grow spiritually, why would the same not be true for little ones?

I realized recently that it had been a long while since I had a time of devotions with the boys. We used to spend time every morning reading a devotional book, reciting Bible verses, and practicing obedience. Then a few months ago, when our mornings started to fill up with outings - errands, doctor's visits, and even Bible study - our times of daily devotions were pushed aside. Once we got out of the habit, it ceased to even cross my mind. Breakfast, bath, and laundry are always done, but the Bible was forgotten.

Likewise, Bible time has been crowded out of our evenings. With frequent guests, occasional social gatherings to attend, and now Daddy coming home later, we are often getting the boys ready for bed later than usual. While I would never fail to brush their teeth, we skip Bible story whenever bedtime runs late. Our former nightly ritual has become an occasional treat for calmer evenings. Thus while I have continued my own quiet time, my children have not had the benefit of regularly learning and studying God's Word.

So last night, without regard for the clock, I made a point to sit down and read a Psalm to Donny, explaining what the words meant as I read. And this morning, just as I was about to escort two boys to the bathtub, I remembered. I pulled out the devotional book we bought a few months ago - the one we had only read two pages of as of this morning. Today, the children and I read a short entry about wisdom, a fitting character trait to learn from Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom.

When instructing them in the Word of God, I expect the children to sit quietly and listen and obey directions. When my expectations went unmet this morning, we moved into discipline and discussion of the lack of wisdom they were displaying. It was ugly - as sin always is, whether my children's or my own. But eventually, everyone was calm enough to play a round of The Obedience Game. When met with consistency and patience, the sin nature submitted to the joy of obedience.

The Obedience Game is much like Simon Says: I give an instruction to one or both children, and they are to carry it out immediately with a joyful exclamation of, "Yes Mumma!" I often send them to another room to practice obeying, "Come to Mumma!" Other times, they have to jump, put their hands on their head, or pick up toys. Although we have only played the game a few times since moving here in December, the boys immediately remembered it and were, as usual, eager to play. They happily followed instructions and called, "Yes Mumma!" until we concluded the game for a short bath. When it comes to making obedience fun, this game definitely works for us!

I would like to tell you that the children and I both exhibited flawless behavior for the rest of the day, but that would be entirely untrue. Hayden cried for no reason, insisted on buckling himself into his booster seat despite my warnings that no one would unbuckle him, and then cried over the consequences of being stuck in his seat. Donny made a mess with his yogurt and I got angry. But afterwards, we seemed to find a resolution sooner than we would have the day before. I had hope for my children. And being aware of my own part in the chaos helped me to control my responses.

I think my recent frustration has been that I am constantly reacting to issues instead of acting to prevent them. I have stamped on fires, irritated that the same ones flare up whenever my back is turned, without taking sufficient time to eliminate the cause of the smouldering flames.

I am realizing that it is not enough to wait for a problem (and the wait may not be a long one!) before offering a lesson from God's Word. My children need to be constantly, patiently, lovingly instructed in His ways. If I want them to grow up to be followers of Christ, I must teach them what it means to be a follower, and gently help them toward that goal.

Children are always blessings, but I will only reap the benefits of those blessings when I invest myself in training them. By going to the Word together, all of us imperfect humans can grow towards being the blessings to others that God intended us to be.