Monday, October 29, 2012

Perspective: FWPs -- First World Problems

     Last week, I went to Sam's Club and bought about 10 pounds of ground beef.  I made 8 hamburger patties and decided to brown, season, and freeze the rest.  As I was trying to brown, oh about 6 pounds of ground beef in a big ole pot, I was getting increasingly frustrated.  I had put too much in, it was hard to stir, I was burning the bottom and not getting the top cooked at all, and I began to mumble to myself something that sounded like this, "Dadgummit.  Why won't this stuff ... ahh... that hurt.  Man, this is frustrating.  Arggg.  This is taking forever!"   And then it hit me:  I am standing here grumbling about browning meat to freeze for my family to eat over the next few weeks when there are people in the world who do not have food to eat at all.
     First World Problem.
     A few weeks prior, my cell phone time kept getting mixed up on my text messages so they were all jumbled up and I could NOT for the life of me follow a conversation.  My husband texted:  "FWP."  
     First World Problem.
     I can't figure out what to wear.  First World Problem.
     I need to exercise more.  First World Problem.
     My grass is dying.  First World Problem.
     My computer is so old.  First World Problem.
     Where should we go out to eat?.  First World Problem.
     Gas is so expensive.  First World Problem.
     I really need a pedicure, but I'm too busy.  First World Problem.
     We are out of garlic bread, and I was going to make spaghetti for dinner.  First World Problem.
     I am having such a bad hair day.  First World Problem.
     My health insurance premium is going up.  First World Problem.
     Oh no!  We're out of coffee!  Yes, even this is a First World Problem.
     A First World country is a country that is developed, industrialized, and well, rich.  The opposite would be a Third-World country which is an underdeveloped country marked by poverty.  Watch this:    

     I have a toilet that flushes, a car to drive, clean water to drink, and a refrigerator with food in it.  I have more than enough clothes, a roof over my head, and a bed to sleep in.  I take my kids to the doctor when they are sick, and I buy them presents for Christmas, their birthdays, Easter, Valentine's Day, and just because.  I can read and write, my children are being educated, and my sons get more allowance in a week than a billion people in the world live on in a week.  I throw food away.  I have electricity.  My children do not have to work so we can survive.
I am blessed.
So many in the world are not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Parenting Shapes Us

     Not long ago, while in the midst of a parenting "challenge," my husband reminded me that parenting is to shape the child, but, maybe more importantly, parenting shapes us, the parents.  As Christians, God uses parenting to make us different, better, more like Himself.  
1.  Parenting Helps Us Develop the Fruit of the Spirit
     I told someone this past Saturday that by the time by youngest is 18 years old, I will be the most patient person on the planet, and I was serious.  I taught high schoolers in the public school system.  I have worked with all ages of kids in Sunday School, VBS, Children's Church, and the nursery.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for a 45 minute temper tantrum because I said, "No."  Nothing prepared me for how enraging it can be for a two-year-old to look you in the face and defy you when you are in a hurry to get somewhere.  Nothing prepared me for the looks you get carrying a screaming three-year-old out of ToysRUs.  Nothing prepared me for cleaning up throw-up on two hours of sleep for the 15th time.  Nothing prepared me for the unconditional love that I would have for my boys, and the joy I would have at their successes.  Patience, gentleness, self-control -- the Holy Spirit uses parenting to develop this fruit in us.   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galations 5:22-23  (ESV)
2.  Parenting Shows Us Our Weaknesses
     Parenting shows us where we need the Lord to refine us.  Do we have anger issues?  Worry issues?  Control issues? Do we use bad language?  When our children start yelling at other drivers, "Hey, jerk!", then we realize we need to watch our mouths.  Often, our children mirror us, and we don't like what we see.  When we see it, we can take it to the Lord and ask Him to help us, so we can be different and so we don't pass down baggage to our children.

3.  Parenting Teaches Us We Are Not in Control
     In our brains, we know God is in control, right?  Parenting confirms this down to the insides of our bones.  Despite parenting books that teach us that we can control our child's behavior if we use their "correct" methodology, parenting makes us realize that we cannot control those little hellions children.  Even harder, we cannot control the child who is bullying our child.  We can't heal our child of an illness.  We can't make a learning disability go away.  We just can't fix everything.  Ultimately, God is in control -- of the universe and of our children.  Parenting can and should help us rely on God to help us, give us strength, give us wisdom, and give us endurance.

     Often, we focus so much on turning out perfect children that we fail to see how God is using parenting to turn us into children who are more like our Father.  So, the next time your son talks back or your daughter refuses to eat her dinner or your son whacks you in the face with a pillow when you're not looking, take a deep breath, pray, and ask your Father to give you what you need to be a godly parent, a godly person, a reflection of Him, and, I believe, He will answer.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Blame Game: A Lesson in Taking Responsibility

     Last December, three weeks before I put a hole in my bumper, I was in another car accident.  I was waiting to turn left onto El Camino Real at about 6:00 p.m. on a Friday.  The traffic was insane, and I remarked to my children, "I shouldn't have come this way.  This is dangerous."  I actually checked behind me to see if I could turn around.  The woman in front of me, driving a very big Mercury Mountaineer, pulled into the median to try to get across.  She realized that, not only was she not going to make it, but that her big vehicle was blocking oncoming traffic.  She put her vehicle in reverse, hit the gas, and slammed into the front end of my car.  The boys and I saw it coming.  I screamed, "She's going to hit us," honked the horn, and braced myself.
     She did over $1200 damage to the front end of my car, and after about ten days of trying to reach her by phone, her insurance company had to go to her house.  She told them that I rear-ended her.  She lied.
     She said she was sitting still, and I rear-ended her.  Despite the fact that I had two witnesses in my car, they said it was her word against mine, and her insurance would not pay.
     She lied, and we had to bear the burden for her choice to not accept responsibility for her actions.  For months after the accident, my youngest son flinched and grimaced every time he saw someone brake in front of us.  We had to pay our $250 deductible to have the car fixed.  We had to do without our car for a week while the vehicle was in the shop.  I currently have a huge hole in my back bumper because the second accident, which was my fault, happened three weeks after the first, and I didn't want them to think I was lying the first time, so I didn't claim it.
     She lied.  The injustice of it really rocked my boys' world.  They didn't understand it.  Why?  Why would she lie?  "Why?" they have asked me over and over again, especially my youngest.  He wanted to canvass the neighborhood, find witnesses, prove our innocence, hold her accountable.
     She refused to take responsibility when it meant repercussions for her.  She blamed someone else for her mistake.  She was selfish.  Who knows?  Maybe she was going to have a serious insurance hike if she was in one more accident, but still, shouldn't we do the right thing, tell the truth, no matter what?
     Ever since that accident, this woman has become the poster-child, in our family, for NOT doing the right thing, NOT taking responsibility for our actions, NOT admitting we are wrong even when it means getting in trouble, and NOT being willing to make it right with the person that we have wronged.  I've explained that this is an issue that goes back to, well, Adam and Eve.
     So, I guess, in the spirit of Romans 8:28, thank you God for giving my boys a very real, tangible lesson on owning up, making things right, and doing the right thing at all costs.  I have used the example of this woman over and over again when one son blames another for his own sin, when one of the boys refuses to admit wrongdoing, when one is making an excuse for bad behavior, when one son needs to make it right -- or when one of the boys is trying to make sense of why someone he knows will not take responsibility.  Adam and Eve, Aaron and the golden calf that just "jumped" out of the fire, Saul who offered the sacrifice because Samuel took too long, and a woman who said she was rear-ended to avoid having to be responsible.  
     I pray that my boys will remember this lesson, that it will be a part of who they are, and that they will stand up and be men who take responsibility, even when it's hard, because it's the right thing to do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

God Only Gives Us What We Can Handle... Where's That in the Bible?

     I read Dr. James' Dobson's The New Strong-Willed Child years ago because, well, I needed to!  I remember coming away from the book with the quote, "God gave you this child because He knows you can handle it" as my new mantra.  When parenting got tough, I would recite this phrase in my head.  Admittedly, there were many days when I thought God had messed up because I just could not handle it.
     Not too long ago, while running that quote through my head, again, trying to cling to it like I had for many years, I felt God speak to me, quietly:  "Stop clinging to that.  It's not true.  You can only do it through Me."  Sucking in air at the realization, I started turning this over in my mind.  God does NOT give us what we can handle.  We can only handle trials, tribulations, and all that crazy, tough stuff through His power and His strength.
     Feeling mad and frustrated at Dr. Dobson for "hindering" me, I looked up the "quote" in his book.  This is what I found, underlined in the book, by ME, years ago: 

     "When parents bring one of these tough youngsters into the world, they need to recognize that while raising that child may be difficult for a time, it is worth their effort to do the job right.  Their attitude should be, 'The Lord gave me this challenging child for a purpose.  He wants me to mold and shape this youngster and prepare him or her for a life of service to Him.  And I'm up to the task.  I'm going to make it with the Lord's help'...if they can perceive their task as a God-given assignment and believe that He's going to help them to fulfill it, then the frustrations become more manageable."  (p. 31, underlining mine)

     Sorry, Dr. Dobson, I've been misquoting you in my head for years.  "I'm up to the task.  I'm going to make it with the Lord's help" is quite different from "God gave you this child because He knows you can handle it."   
     Now, the question comes, why, for years and years, did I misquote that book?
     It is simply so easy for me, maybe for you, too, to try to do things in my own strength -- a job, child-rearing, parenting, illness, marriage, church service, etc.  Isn't it the American Way to pull ourselves up by our boot-straps, get to work, and get it done?  If we work hard enough in school, we can get out of our poor neighborhoods.  If we do our best in sports, maybe we'll get a contract.  If we get into a good college, we can get a good job.  If we work our tails off in a business, we can be rich.  If we would just try harder, we wouldn't be in this mess.  If we read enough parenting books, try enough strategies, pray hard enough, find the right system, our kids will turn out... perfect.
     Don't you think our Enemy looks on, nodding his approval, knowing we will fail, happy to see us striving in our own power?  

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13 NKJV

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.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV

     Thanks Lord for the reminder.  In all I do, in all that You have set before me, help me to focus on YOU as the source of my strength and power.  Help me when I've had all I can take.  Lift me up.  Renew my strength.  Help me stay the course.  Give me patience, perseverance, endurance to run this race.  For when I am weak, yet trusting in You and Your power, then I am strong.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hot Chocolate Pudding -- One Way to Use Up Hot Chocolate Packets

     Last year, I put all our hot chocolate packets in a ziploc bag and put them in the freezer.  One thing is guaranteed:  If you put hot chocolate in the freezer, no one will drink it because they won't remember it is there! I have somehow ended up with WAY too much hot chocolate.
     Yesterday, I decided it was time to use up all those little packets.  It's too hot in Houston to drink hot chocolate in October, sadly, so I did some online searching to try to discover other ways to use it up.  For whatever reason, I thought it would be cool to make pudding out of it.  I couldn't find a recipe so I made one up, and well, it passed the Mullin boys' taste test so here it is.

Jenny's Homemade Hot Chocolate Pudding

5 packets of hot chocolate (I used Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate Sensations)

4 heaping tblsp. All Purpose Flour
dash of salt
2 cups milk (I used 1 cup whole, 1 cup 1%)
1 tblsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix hot chocolate powder, flour, and salt in a saucepan.  Over medium heat, whisk in milk.  Stir continually (about 12-15 minutes) over medium heat with whisk or spoon.  When thickened, stir for 2 or 3 minutes longer and then remove from heat.  Whisk in butter and vanilla.  Pour into little bowls (or one big one), cover with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the pudding to keep a hard "crust/skin" from forming on top, and chill.

     Easy!  No added sugar.  Delicious!  I doubled the recipe and added crushed Oreos on top for lunch at church and came home with an empty bowl!  I see lots of pudding in our future.  Yep, we have lots of hot chocolate packets in the freezer!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

He Never Changes

     This morning, my little guy sat in my lap, saw this "saying" on facebook, and said, "I don't get it."  
     "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," I replied.  "It's a Bible verse."  Silent pause.
     "It means that Jesus never changes.  He never gets so angry with us that He decides to destroy us all. He never gets so frustrated with us that He decides He's not going to save us after all."  Light bulb.  He's always faithful, always loving, always just, always holy, always good, always Jesus.  He always keeps His promises.
     I'm thankful for the reminder.  Usually, while reading things on facebook, I just sort of skim over the sayings and the admonitions to re-post things if I really love Jesus.  Today, I got to really think about what Hebrews 13:8 means by explaining it to a child, my child, and that always touches me.  Thanks Lord, for the reminder.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Is Man that You Are Mindful of Him? Astronomy Lessons

     This semester I have the privilege of teaching astronomy to 27 third through fifth graders.  The last time I taught astronomy was about 5 years ago to my oldest son.  Coming back to the subject so many years later does not dull the awe that I feel every time I study the heavens.

Psalm 8
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:  all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,  the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!    

"Swirls of gas and dust reside in this ethereal-looking region of star formation seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. This majestic view, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), reveals a region where low-mass, infant stars and their much more massive stellar neighbors reside. A shroud of blue haze gently lingers amid the stars."

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is just one of an infinite number of galaxies in the universe.

The Milky Way contains 200 - 400 billion stars.  
Our Sun is just one of those stars.

Our Sun is a medium-sized star.

One million of our Earth's would fit inside 
our medium-star-sized Sun.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  
what is man that you are mindful of him, 
the son of man that you care for him? 
Psalm 8:3-4

Yes, what is man that You are mindful of him?  
We are but tiny specks in the vast universe 
and yet God knows us, loves us, and sent His Son to die for us.  
Your name, O LORD, is truly majestic!

All photos from
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Monday, October 1, 2012

My Purposeful-specific-quality-inducing-praise Experiment

     I've been reading lately about praising your children, and I realize that I am very, very good at pointing out what my kids do wrong.  However, knowing that praise is a good thing, I try to praise my kids as much as possible.  After some of my reading in the last few months, I wonder if I'm doing more harm than good.  Read on.  
     There are studies out that show giving children unspecific, random praise, such as "Awesome.  Good job!  Excellent.  Way to go," can actually harm their success in life. (The Praise Paradox: Are We Smothering Our Kids in Kind Words? and Can You Praise Your Child Too Much?)  For example, saying "You're so smart," all the time actually conditions them to want to give up easier when trying something hard because they automatically assume they are no longer smart if the answer doesn't come easily.  However, praising children about their hard work and perseverance even when things are tough makes them desire to keep on trying even if the test or task is hard and frustrating.  
     Also, I have been reading about praising children intentionally for the qualities you desire to see growing in them and finding those nuggets of greatness among their bad behaviors.  What qualities do you want to see in your child?  Do you want him to be cooperative, patient, respectful, helpful, humble, kind, grateful, and selfless?  Do you desire your child to honor authority figures, choose good friends, manage time well, avoid temptation, exhibit self-control, and handle rejection appropriately?  Do you want your child to persevere, share, and express thankfulness?  If so, choose to see their successes in these areas, no matter how small, and specifically praise them for those qualities instead of only pointing out their failures.  No matter how small the success, praise them for the characteristics you want to develop in your child.  This type of "praising" takes thought and a plan.  What do I want to see developed in my child?  Then, you must go about seeking, actively, to see and praise those attributes.
     On the flip side, the argument goes that parenting a child ONLY when he or she has done something wrong is parenting in the negative.  When our child comes to the table  right away when called to dinner, then we say.... nothing.  When our child ignores us and continues to play even when called, then we lecture about the necessity of obedience.  If our child shares like he's supposed to, we may say, "Good job sharing" or not.  If he refuses to share, well, we go after it.  The point is to try to also parent in the positive moments.  
     I've been mulling this over for a while now, and I think I want to try this method of praising my children and see what happens.  Here are some examples of the way I used to praise my children (1) and the way I hope to try doing it (2).  I call it my purposeful-specific-quality-inducing-praise-experiment. 

1.  I love to see you reading!
2.  I like the way you came over and began reading your book.  Reading is such an important skill, and I'm glad you see how important it is.  You are really showing wisdom!

1.  Good job starting your school work.
2.  I like the way you started your school work without complaining.  You are showing responsibility and hard work.  I appreciate that.

1.  You are a great piano player.
2.  Your piano playing has really improved because you have worked so hard.  I appreciate the way you have listened carefully to your teacher and made the necessary corrections.  That shows maturity.  You are really growing up!

1.  Wow!  You ate all your dinner without complaining.
2.  Thank you for eating your dinner without complaining, even though some of the food was not your favorite.  It shows a lot of self-control not to complain, and I like that you have decided to make healthy choices for your body.  Good job!

1.  You got a great grade on that test! You are so smart!
2.  You really studied for that test and your hard work and perseverance paid off!  You did your best, and it shows!  I am proud of you.

1.  Good job at the store today.
2.  That line at the grocery store was really long, but you were so patient.  I like the way you helped me unload the cart.  What a good helper you are.  I am blessed to have a helper like you.  

The toughest is turning something really negative into a positive.
1.  You would've been done with your math by now if you hadn't been fussing and complaining so much.  You lose your Wii time for the day!  (Imagine angry face!)
2.  That math was hard, and you got really frustrated.  You showed great self-control by calming down quickly and then getting that math problem done.  Way to stick it out and work hard.  (I actually did this after my youngest son got so frustrated with a math problem that he threw his pencil all the way across the table.  I sat silently until he calmed down, picked up his pencil, tried again, and completed the problem correctly.  Then I gave him the above praise.  His reaction to this praise was absolutely amazing.  At first he was stunned and looked at me quizzically, expecting the number 1 above response, and then he gave me a huge hug.  Hmmm... maybe there is something to this.)

     At the bare minimum, it makes sense to me to praise the qualities and characteristics that I want to see in my kids WHEN I see them.  We'll see how this goes...