Friday, April 29, 2011

Rebuilding the Walls

I am taking an intermission from my series on Proverbs 31 to write about something that jumped out at me the other night during our kids' story time of all things. We have some books that my mom gave us with ideas on how to answer some of kids' biggest questions about God and the Bible. Even though they are geared toward older kids our twins love carrying them around and calling them their "Bibles". So cute. They often choose to hear one of these as their story, too.

The other night they picked "102 Questions Children Ask about the Bible" and the question was:
"Why didn't the Jews ever change their clothes while they were rebuilding the walls?"
My ears perked up - maybe because I was folding laundry while Daddy was reading - is this a Biblical mandate for laundry reduction?? We read on...

You are probably familiar with the story of Nehemiah. He was cupbearer to the King - of Babylon. (Nehemiah 1:11, NIV) He was also a devout Jew and was devastated to hear that the walls of Jerusalem lay in rubble. The walls of a city at that time bespoke its reputation and more importantly provided the main defensive strategy against invaders. The Jews had been in exile in Babylon, but a remnant had returned to live in Jerusalem, still under Babylonian authority. The walls were broken down and the gates were burned. Attempts to rebuild had been labeled rebellion. Nehemiah prays, and given the opportunity, boldly asks the King for permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and devises a strategy for rebuilding the walls. It is a community effort, but not without opposition. Detractors within and without seek to keep the walls in disrepair. Discouragement, ridicule, threats, and fatigue faced them at every stage of the rebuilding. But, "the people worked with all their heart." (Nehemiah 4:6, NIV) Part of their strategy was to always be prepared for work and for a fight...half of the men did the work while half were equipped with weapons. "Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other." (Nehemiah 4:17, NIV) Lastly, they didn't spend a lot of time on creature comforts:
Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. (Nehemiah 4:23, NIV)*
As I have continued to ponder this story over the last couple of days, I can't help but see some analogies to our own family. The last four years have been pretty brutal, in part from choices we made and in part from the vagaries of living in a fallen world - stuff happens. I can't list everything we've been through, but suffice it to say it has been a lot. Just when we think we're getting our feet back under us another wave of circumstance bowls us over and leaves us wondering how we'll rebuild this time. I think, without realizing it, my husband and I have followed the example of Nehemiah. We work hard. We try to prepare and react well to each situation that we face. We have trimmed away at luxuries that we once considered commonplace. I think that we can do more, though.

In particular I am considering the weapons that Nehemiah dispersed among his crew. In their case they had their spears, their shields, their bows and their armor at the ready. The weapons we need are not physical, but spiritual, and are described for us in Ephesians 6:14-18 (NIV):
Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests...
We need to work with one hand and be ready to fight with the other. We have the same enemies of discouragement, ridicule, threats, and fatigue hurled at us in the spiritual realm. Only God can provide us with the strength to keep rebuilding for His honor and glory.

If you find yourself in a similar position, and I know many people do these days - we aren't the only ones who have been beaten down in the last few years - I hope you will be encouraged to read the story of Nehemiah. In the end they overcome, and so shall we!

* I had to laugh when the NIV version was different from the version in the 102 Questions book. I'm not sure which version they used (it is not cited) but they quote: "During this time we never took off our clothes, except for washing. This included me, my brothers, the servants, and the guards who were with me. And we carried our weapons with us at all times. (Nehemiah 4:23)" It was the phrase "except for washing" that caught my attention. Were they washing the clothes or themselves? It is unclear. Since this version differed from the NIV I looked at the footnotes in my study Bible and saw this note, "The meaning of the Hebrew for this clause is uncertain." I believe this refers to the "even when he went for water". To me it looks like one version interpreted this as washing (something) and the other interprets it as going for water. I am no Hebrew scholar and haven't studied the Hebrew text here, but my guess is the verse should read: "...each had his weapon, even when he went to the bathroom!" Every mom I know can relate to that translation! :-)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest Post

I am excited to be guest posting over at Barbara Manatee's blog (My Sweet Life) today. Barbara is hosting a series in honor of Autism Awareness Month and I was honored to contribute today. Please head over there to check it out. A Rose is a Rose. Thanks, Barbara!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Digest 30

Sunday Digest is turning 30...and it's Easter evening, after a long busy weekend, so this is going to be short and sweet. Sunday Digest needs its beauty sleep and so do I. These are the sweetest links I've found recently. Visit these other sites and let them know you found them through The Simple Life. Thanks!

1) One of my favorite fellow autism mom bloggers (Autism and Oughtisms) posted this review of her son's first term at a special needs school. She is in New Zealand, so their system is a bit different from things here in the States, but it is lovely to hear about how they have found just the right program for him. My dream for every child, special needs or no.

2) One of my favorite adults with autism bloggers (Reports from a Resident Alien) posted her ideas about disability and difference. I love getting her inside the disorder perspective.

3) Hopeful Parents is a group blog that has a wonderful set of writers from a variety of families affected by all sorts of Special Needs. Spectrummy Mummy posted a story about rewards for her daughter and the unintended rewards for herself, too. Very encouraging.

4) Another fellow autism mom blogger (Squashed Bologna,) who I particularly love following because she is also dealing with sandwich generation stuff like our family, has started a series on all of the issues surrounding siblings with special needs. So far what consequences we've had in this arena have been felt by us as parents more than our kids, but I am reading with interest for future days when this will be a hot topic around our house, to be sure.

5) My fellow 5 Minutes for Special Needs contributor Lee, shared a suggestion from his family's experience... Family Game Night. So far we opt for movie nights, but I hope we can add this to our repertoire. Lee mentions several benefits that would be really helpful for our kiddos.

That's it! I did also want to take this opportunity to welcome my newest followers. Thanks for joining the journey here at The Simple Life. I'm always working a few kinks out here, so please forgive the cyber-dust if you happen along when I'm mid-renovations. In particular this post should debut my use  of intense debate to manage comments. This should allow me to reply directly to commenters, which should be a lot of fun. I enjoy doing this at 5 Minutes for Special Needs. I'm still playing with the look of my banner, too, so if you're back in the next few days and it looks different, it's still me! Feel free to let me know if there are topics you'd like me to write about or if you have other suggestions...very open to input over here. Easter Blessings to you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big A, little a...

What begins with A? The Third Round of Alphabe-Thursday...of course! I'm happy to be playing along again, when a Thursday post arrives on the schedule.

Jenny Matlock

"Look at how good I can do my A's, Mom." She holds up a scrap of paper on which she has written, in sharpie. Using her best handwriting there is a row of Big A's interspersed randomly with a field of little a's, and some strange Accent marks I've never seen before. Are they teaching her Arabic on the side, and in first grade, too?

"I made happy faces next to the good ones and sad faces next to the ones that aren't good enough." I smile a little hesitantly. Do I dare to tell her they are all good enough for me? After all how important is penmanship really these days? We all know that some of our most trained individuals are among those with some of the worst handwriting. Do I tell her how happy I am that she can make her letters at all, to recognize them, to have the desire to try to form them well?

"I think they're all good enough, sweetie. I'm proud of how hard you are working on your handwriting." Assessment is such a routine in our educational system right now. I know there is a huge debate about whether or not it is Appropriate at the level that we use it. Sometimes, I'm sure it is over done.

"I know, Mom, I'm doing really good." I am pleased with how Assured she is. Pleased that she is learning the Art of self-evaluation. Amazed by her Big A's and little a's.

Just a short snippet of everyday life around our house, but a reminder of how I need to weigh my own Actions and Attitudes. Are they good ones? Do they deserve a happy face?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mean What You Say...

First, apologies again for disappearing. I have still been making my posts over at 5 Minutes For Special Needs. My two most recent posts there will explain a lot of my disappearance. We had Spring Break the first week of April. I thought I was going to keep up my blogging, but we went to visit my dear Mother-in-Law. It was a harder visit than I had anticipated, and many things I had hoped to accomplish in my spare time were not achieved. When we returned home I thought I would pick up where I had left off, but realized pretty quickly that where I had left off was "Really Way too Far Behind On Everything". I spent last week trying to catch up. I think I have my act together now, but we'll see. There's a lot going on right now, and writing, though wonderfully fulfilling for me, has to fit in the down times, and there have been precious few of those. I was stunned to see how long it had been since I posted. Ah well...jumping back in with both feet...

All it took was a snap. No matter what else was happening, we would hear that snap and come to full attention. My father lead the congregational singing in the church that I grew up in. My mom was often singing in the choir or playing organ or piano. This meant that both of my parents would be on the platform during a good portion of the worship service, leaving my brother and I to sit in the pew alone. The hard wooden pew, with not much besides a church bulletin and a pencil to keep us occupied. Under these conditions it was often hard to keep from pestering each other, or finding some other amusement like dusting the pews with our Sunday best. No matter what distraction we managed to find, when my mom would see us getting out of line she would just snap her fingers. We knew then that she had seen us, and that if we continued in our current activity we would likely be embarrassed in front of God and everyone by her marching down off the platform and removing us for a "talking to" in the restroom. We got the message and straightened up...already knowing that we might get a scolding after church for misbehaving in the first place. We knew that snap, and we paid attention to it.

I don't have a very good snap yet, but I have a different signal with my kids when I really need them to pay attention. I start the countdown. Depending on what is happening I start at different numbers, but when I start counting backward they know that I really mean business, and generally they get moving.

I'm sure you've experienced this scenario:
"Honey, I need you to put your blocks back in their box." [no response...child continues playing]
"Time to clean up the blocks, buddy." [no response...not even a flicker of recognition]
There are two options at this point. Lose your cool, or show them that you know they heard you. This is when I start counting. For a "clean up your toys" situation when it really doesn't matter too much how long it takes them to do it as long as it gets done, I might start at 10. Usually by the time I get to 5 my kids will start acting on my request without me needing to even repeat it. If you really think they didn't hear you (like in a noisy environment or if they are running full tilt on a playground with their best friends) you can precede the countdown with a third request accompanied by full eye contact and gentle physical touch. If I'm in more of a hurry I start the countdown at 5. If it is urgent (like a possible safety concern) or if I sense true defiance I start the countdown at 3. The only time I don't give a countdown is if there is imminent danger, then I just intervene as calmly as possible.

There is a big caveat to this technique. You have to follow through. The first dozen or so times you countdown your child may not think you mean it. Particularly if they are used to you asking them to do something without them responding and then you end up doing it for them. Or if you often tell them to be ready to go in 5 minutes, but then get caught up in conversation with your friend and 20 minutes go by before you're really ready to go. You have to mean what you say. If you don't care enough about it to follow through, then don't even bother to make the request. So now your scenario can look like this:

"Honey, I need you to put your blocks back in their box." [no response...child continues playing]

"Time to clean up the blocks, buddy." [no response...not even a flicker of recognition]
"5...4...3...2...1" [child does not budge]
Go over to the child and touch their shoulder (gently, that's the hard part!)
"Time to clean up, now." Put your hand on their hand and guide them to pick up a block and put it in the box. Repeat as necessary. They may resist. They may argue, but the blocks are getting put away and you have shown them that you really mean it.
You may need to repeat this method many, many times, depending on how strong-willed your child is, and on how long you've let them get away with ignoring your requests. We did more countdowns than the entire history of NASA at our house last year. I still do at least a couple of countdowns daily, mostly with my twins now.

Never do a countdown without following through, and if you're asking your child to do something, always be prepared to do a countdown. It's a snap.


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