Wednesday, May 29, 2013

40 Day Challenge- the "nitty-gritty"

In the previous two posts I've written, (to break the silence and the prelude,) I shared how and why our family's 40 day challenge was born.  Today I finally get to share the "nitty-gritty" details regarding what we did to get our feet moving.  I've found that there have been so many layers to this challenge that it is best to break it up into segments when sharing.  It probably would have been more wise to break up this "nitty-gritty" post into additional segments, but today I lay it all out in one post of great length and detail.

I mentioned before that the crux of our family challenge was based on Ephesians 3:20:

"...our God is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than we could ever ask or imagine."

When tackling this family challenge, we were anticipating positive changes and great results.  We were expecting that God would wonder-work in our hearts, our home, and our circumstances...and that He would do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.  Not only were we expecting and hoping Him to do so, we were also praying and believing Him to come through in these ways.  And He did.  I can't wait to share those details with you too.  But we'll save the results for next time...today we will focus on the logistics of this family challenge.

And before I go even farther, let me give credit to God for giving me the insight and ideas for this challenge.  Surely, He was the source of it all.

1.)  The first thing we established were our reasons/needs for such a challenge.  What's the point of a challenge if you haven't determined the reasoning or desired results for taking on such a challenge? What needs to change?  What results are you hoping for? For us, we wanted a smoother running household, less stress, less yelling, more joy, more peace, more grace, self-control, responsible kids, strong work-ethic, servanthood, increased faith and prayer time.  We also wanted God to wonder-work in our circumstances.  It had been a long journey (almost 3 years) of lacking in many areas.  And although the leanness stretched and tore at us at times, God layered us up thick in faith.  With our trust and resolve strengthened, we were ready to boldly ask Him for more.  To do the immeasurable.  To work in our circumstances and move the mountains that stood before us.

2.)  The second thing we did is individually ask ourselves and our kids one thing we wanted for our family, and one thing we wished we could change about our family.  These simple questions gave insight and helped spur us on to answer and define the next two steps.

3.)  HOUSE RULES:  We brainstormed new house rules that we were going to begin to adhere to and follow.  The verse we used to mold these rules was:

"Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength...  
Love your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:27


Examples of our HOUSE RULES:
  • No yelling
  • No name-calling
  • Keep your hands to yourself (no hitting, pushing, bugging, etc.)
  • No lying
  • Clean up after yourself (toys, meals, projects, clothes, etc.)
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated
  • Build each other up (encourage, do not criticize or tear down)
  • Serve one another/ function as a team
  • Love God above all other things 
  • Speak kindly.  Honor God with your words (no potty words, compliment one another, say things that are helpful not hurtful)
  • Pray about everything
  • Have a cheerful heart
  • Be thankful always
  • No eating without permission
  • No screens without permission (tv, computer, video games, iPods)
  • No means no.  No begging, whining, debating, or arguing with parents.
  • First time obedience (Do what you are told. The first time you are asked)
  • Be respectful (of people and property.  No talking back.  Honor your mother and father)
  • No arguing or bickering
  • No slamming doors or throwing things
  • Give God your best in everything
  • Be a role-model
  • Practice self-control
  • Use your manners
You get the picture!  Once we brainstormed all of these rules, we wrote them down and reviewed them with the kids that very morning in a family meeting...establishing them as NEW HOUSE RULES that took effect immediately.  It was very important that we did this together as a family to ensure we were all on the same page and to encourage accountability.  Some of the rules may seem obvious or self-explanatory...but by involving the kids and highlighting these areas with them both aloud and in writing, it solidified them, made the expectations clear, and united us as a family.

4.)  I often felt that by the end of the day I was completely spent.  That I was constantly doing things for everybody with little time to myself and no end in sight.  While some of this is just par for the course as a mom and wife, I knew that my kids could be doing more around the house to help me out.  I also knew that by me doing most things myself, I was enabling them and doing all of us a disservice.  I admit, some things are just easier to do on my own.  It gets done better and faster.  But, I wanted my kids to develop responsibility, a servant's heart, and good work ethic.  Even though they are 9, 8 and 3, there is still much they can learn and do.  I realized I had some quite capable workers in my midst and it was time to put them to work!  And not just as I pleased, but by coming up with a set of responsibilities that would become part of their every day. 

So, we came up with a list of RESPONSIBILITIES.  These responsibilities were based on the following verses:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if working for the LORD, not for man."
Colossians 3:23

"Serve one another out of love."
John 13:35

"Do not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up."
Galatians 6:9

Some of the kids RESPONSIBILITIES were as follows:
  • Brush your teeth (every morning and every night...and put toothpaste on your toothbrush when you do it! Make sure the toothpaste covers your mouth and not just the sink. Put your toothbrush and toothpaste away when you're through, since it really doesn't make for nice bathroom decor.)
  • Make your bed
  • Straighten up your bedroom
  • Clean up your messes/toys
  • Keep the bonus room clean (straighten every night)
  • Set the table
  • Clear the table
  • Read for at least 25 minutes every day
  • Empty dishes from dishwasher
  • Put dirty clothes in hamper or laundry room
  • Fold your clean laundry
  • Put away/hang up clean laundry 
  • When playing outside, put all bikes and toys away before you come back inside
  • Empty the trash (and put in a new trash liner!)
  • Take out the trash, and bring empty trash cans back up to the house
  • Help sweep and vacuum when asked
By following the House Rules and taking care of our daily responsibilities, we wanted to make sure that we were placing ourselves in a position where God could bless us.  

5.)  We didn't want this entire challenge to feel like "work" without reward.  The night before we started this challenge, Darcy and I brainstormed all of these areas on our own before involving the kids.  Again, believing that God could do IMMEASURABLY MORE than we could ever ask or imagine, we came up with a list of BIG DREAMS for our family, and for ourselves individually.  We presented all of these things with excitement and encouraged our kids to do the same.

The verses we used to mold these "BIG DREAMS" and to shape our future prayers were:

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..."
Matthew 6:33

"You do not have, because you do not ask God."
James 4:2

"If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
John 15:7

"Everything you ask in prayer and believe, it will be given to you."
Matthew 21:22

"But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt."
James 1:6

"He rewards those who diligently seek Him."
Hebrews 11:6

"...His incomparably great power for us who believe."
Ephesians 1:19


Examples of our BIG DREAMS (some smaller and more significant than others) included:
  • Financial security/becoming debt-free
  • A God-honoring career for Darcy that he would enjoy and would provide for our family (one in which we would not have to move away to do so)
  • Owning a "new" home
  • Believing God, increased faith, supernatural-wonder-working faith
  • Ministry opportunities
  • To become a published author
  • To start a business
  • To mentor and provide for another family
  • Being fruitful, effective, and influential for Christ
  • Family vacations
  • Regular date nights
  • Missions trips
  • Training up responsible, wise, godly kids with character and integrity
  • Passion/success with homeschooling
  • New school curriculum
  • Being able to afford holistic, homeopathic care for our family
  • Being able to afford regular dentistry and vision care
  • To take care of our parents
  • Seeing explicit divine action, God revelations of Himself and His activity
  • For God to graciously break any negative, destructive, behavioral cycles and replace them with Christ-like behavioral cycles
  • To cook good, healthy meals for my family
  • Getting back our gym membership
  • Being able to afford vitamins
  • Piano lessons for Brooke, and sports/extracurricular activities for the kids
  • Fixing the cracked windshields on both of our cars and getting new tires for Darcy's car
  • Surpassing our church's building campaign commitment, and giving more
We actually had a bit of fun asking the kids to come up with their own BIG DREAMS...we said nothing was out of reach or would be considered silly.  Here are some of their responses:

BRAYDEN:
  • "Dad to get a job at a college, so that we could watch basketball games with him and go swimming with him all the time!" (*note: Darcy was a principal and these are things they often did when he worked in the schools.)
  • "Raise money so we can do fun things together as a family like go to Dave & Buster's, the Rec, buy more toys, and go on vacation."
  • "Get baptized on my birthday."
  • "Invent video games when I grow up."
  • "Move into a bigger and better house."
  • "Go to Ocean City more often."
  • "Go to Lake Michigan with our cousins."
  • "Learn how to snap." (hmmm...that's a good one!)
  • "Move into an apartment with one of my friends when I am 18 or 19."
  • "Get a dog!"
BROOKE:
  • "Be baptized."
  • "Raise more money for the poor."
  • "Ride a unicorn." (hmmm....)
  • "Own a penthouse, like a hotel." (too much Disney channel watching?)
  • "Write a book."
  • "Make my own movie."
  • "Be rich." (to which Brayden replied: "Don't be rich because that would be hard to love God.  You'd just have so much stuff to do.")
BERLYN:
  • "Go to Florida as a family!"
  • "Go to Mexico!" (to which Brayden replied: "Not me, people talk funny there, like that guy on Napoleon Dynamite.")
  • "Go to Ohio!" (Hmmm...I'm thinking this is because I had just come home from there...)
We also tagged these things with some chief goals for our household:
  1. Pray together more (as a couple, and as a family).  Get on our knees together.
  2. Read aloud together regularly (books and the Bible)
  3. Family Service Projects
  4. Less TV/Less "screen time" in general
  5. Acts of kindness: Do ONE nice, kind, thoughtful, unexpected thing for another member of the family once a day.
  6. Spiritual Nourishment (spend time daily in reading, music, prayer, and study)
  7. Memorize scripture
  8. Physical Health and Fitness (better eating, more movement)
Before I even came home from the homeschooling convention I realized that I needed to make one committed change immediately to get started and prepared for all of this.  I like to wake up and spend my first moments with the LORD by doing a Bible study, reading scripture, and/or spending time in prayer.  I used to set my alarm an hour and a half before everyone else in the house got up so that I had the time to do this.  However, since homeschooling, we aren't on a rigid schedule in the morning.  I got into the habit of leisurely getting out of bed on my own internal clock.  I still had my quiet (or somewhat quiet) time with God each day, but it was usually interrupted by little ones who had already awoken.  I found this time to be less quiet and less rewarding...and that I wasn't getting in enough of it each day.  In addition, it caused us to start our homeschooling day much later than I desired....often making all of us feel stressed and rushed.  I had fallen out of the habit of setting my alarm, and decided it was time to return to it.

They say you can turn a new behavior into a habit by repeating it for 21 days. In Kyle Idelman's book "Not a Fan" he talks about the "as now, so then" principle of human behavior.  He writes, "Simply stated the 'as now, so then' principle is the idea that current habits are overwhelmingly the most likely predictor of future practices.  The vast majority of the time, the decision you make today will be the decision you make tomorrow.  If you don't do it now there is no reason to think you will then."

We were embarking on a challenge that would incorporate many new habits into our home and our hearts.  Setting my alarm early each morning to spend the firstfruits of my day with God was the first one I tackled.  Let me share a bit of what that this looked like because I added a few extra practices to my routine:

Each morning I set my alarm to wake up an hour before everyone else, crawled out of bed, brushed my teeth, grabbed my coffee, and went straight to my "quiet room" spot.  I hit my knees and prayed  aloud each morning before I did anything else.  Then I grabbed my "40 Day Family Challenge Journal" (I highly recommend you keep some record of this) and added the following steps to my daily morning quiet time routine:

First, I made my "LIST OF 3."

This consisted of the top three things I needed to accomplish that given day.  I am a list girl.  Sometimes my lists are a mile long.  And then by the end of the day I am discouraged that I only got to cross off a fraction of that list.  So, I decided I may be more productive and feel more accomplished if I just wrote down and tried to tackle the three most pressing needs of the day.  The goal was to take each day as it came and not feel stressed and overwhelmed by all the combined needs and challenges of the week.  I found this method to be very helpful.  I didn't always get to cross off everything on my list of 3.  But, it kept me focused and on track each day.

Second, I made a "LIST of ONE." (or what I called, my "encouragee"...someone I was to encourage)

I really had felt God pouring out His favor on my relationships around this time.  I wanted this to continue and desired to strengthen these relationships and do my best to keep them flourishing.  I committed each day to reaching out to just one person.  It could be by phone, text, email, fb, card/note, or personal visit.  Sometimes God just laid a person on my heart, and other times I sought out a person to encourage.  It was another method I used to keep people and relationships above work and service.  A big part of our family challenge surrounded itself around our need to "connect."  I wanted our family to connect to God and to each other.  I desired healthy, growing relationships both inside and outside of our home.  I found a lot of joy and blessing in following through with this goal each day. 

Third, I wrote down our family's daily prayer requests, things I was learning through my Bible study, evidences of God's work in our hearts, our home and our circumstances, pressing needs and challenges we were facing with our 40 day challenge, etc.  This has proven to be a great record of God's wonder-working and faithfulness over this time.

Once I completed these things, I dove into my Bible study and spent time in intercessory prayer and prayer for our family.  After a good hour or so, my kids were up, and I felt more equipped to start my day and manage my time better.  It was so peaceful and refreshing to start my days in this way.

Lastly, we planned for "KNEETIME."  A final, yet crucial, habit that Darcy and I dedicated ourselves to was praying together as a couple.  In all honesty, we did not do this enough!  We often had the intention to do so, even talked about it, but as each day drew to a close we would find ourselves too tired and would end up putting it off till the next day.  And then the next...And then the next.  Too often we found ourselves only praying together when we were in desperate need.  This is something we both longed to change.  So we made it a habit to get down on our knees nightly to do this.

During our nightly "kneetime" we prayed bold and audacious prayers over our family and our circumstances.  I'll share this in more detail at another time.  But this is where things really began to take root.  It by far has been the most effective and rewarding aspect of this entire family challenge.  I can't begin to express the importance of this one, simple, yet so necessary, act.  I truly believe this is where the majority of God's wonder-working was activated.

So there you have all of the "nitty-gritty."  Because we could not control our external circumstances, we decided to take charge of the things we could control internally and began working on transforming the heart of our family and taking steps to put these changes into place.  We set off excited, expectant, hopeful, and convinced that God was up to something BIG.  On several occasions I even thought to myself, "If I were going to write a book about this, I would title it: 'BIGGER is BETTER: 40 Days to BIG Prayer, BIG Dreams, and BIG Faith in an even BIGGER God'."

If you find yourself desiring change within your family, I encourage you to attempt a similar challenge. Early on in our 40 Day Family Challenge we felt the winds of change blowing through our household in real and tangible ways.  God showed up BIG and did not disappoint.  Of course, this challenge was birthed out of the needs and goals for our individual family.  Every family is different, so feel free to tailor your challenge as you see fit.

If you do find yourself interested in taking on a challenge such as this, remember to make a thoughtful plan and ask for insight from the LORD.  Set yourself up for success, but expect the unexpected.  Leave a margin of grace. Life happens and change doesn't occur overnight.  We were not perfect in following through on all of our goals, rules, and responsibilities each day.  We even had to revisit and review the rules and responsibilities with our kids around Day 15 as things were beginning to slide and fall loosely.  We kept each other accountable and refused to give up.  We recommitted to our challenge each day despite the roadblocks that came our way.  And we did not compromise on our prayer time.

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
James 5:16

I beg of you, do not attempt a challenge such as this, expecting BIG things, without making prayer your chief priority.  Have fun with it.  Dare to dream big, and expect that our God is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than you could ever ask or imagine! 


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