Approaching the birth of my fourth child, I am certainly excited, but I'm definitely feeling nervous, even a bit panicky. This happens every time I'm about to welcome a new child to the family and hit the "reset" button on my stability once again. I thought I would've been more prepared for it, that I would have my act together a little more. But no, I'm being given a huge privilege and responsibility, and I'm still a hot mess. You can probably relate. Maybe you're about to enter a scary new job or you've been given the care of an elderly person when your plate is already full. Maybe you have no idea how you're going to make it through this upcoming season of life.
When we're thinking this way, here's something we can tell ourselves:
An Open Letter to My Despairing Self
Thank you for taking the time to make that list of all the ways that you're ill-equipped for the job you're about to undertake. I don't disagree with it, and I'm sure there are hardships and weaknesses that you've forgotten or haven't thought of yet. It's true that you don't have enough time, that you don't have enough hands, and that you aren't enough. It's quite possible that you'll always feel tired, needy, and maybe a little helpless.
But there are some major things you have failed to remember.
One is that you're getting stronger. Think about the other times you've been overwhelmed by your lot. With each new responsibility you've been given, you felt like you couldn't handle it, but now look! If even one of those is relieved for a time, it feels like you can do anything! Is it because your responsibilities are getting easier? No! It's because you, dear Self, are getting stronger!
Difficulty is not the worst thing that can happen to you, Self! Neediness and insufficiency are not the most destructive feelings you can have. In fact, biblically and historically speaking, pride is the worst thing that can happen to you. The very very worst.
Being faced with your weakness, over and over again, with every instance of short-fused blast of frustration or every poorly-timed breakdown into tears, you are being reminded of your humanity. Yet every new day, every tiny speck of progress that you don't even notice, you are being reminded that you are being held. That you are growing. That you are investing. That you are becoming.
Look at your journals; remember your past. Cries of fear and despair have been spewing from your mind and mouth for years. In fact, cries of fear and despair have been rising up to God since, what, Adam and Eve? But from the very beginning, He has covered His people's nakedness and cared for them. God's faithfulness continues from generation to generation, for thousands and thousands of years. The tender love and mercy that flavor the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is flavoring your story as well.
Self, you will survive this next season. The God who kept Gladys Aylward going as she led a hundred young orphans on a 27-day journey to safety through the China mountains is going to keep you going as well. The God who gave otherworldly confidence to Perpetua as she was torn by beasts then killed by sword as crowds watched and cheered will certainly help you too. The God who strengthened Richard Wurmbrand as he suffered in prison for many years---three of which were in solitary confinement---will be your strength too. They were sustained through their fears, and you will be too.
So you can take quite seriously God's command to not fear. Maybe one day God will call you to that kind of extreme situation, and you will have to trust that He will give you grace in that moment too. But till then, take heart that He is building faith in you. You might envision yourself to be much more self-sufficient ten years from now, but that is a faulty goal. Assuming you continue to grow in wisdom and strength, you will only become more and more aware of your weakness and neediness.
But that awareness, Lord willing, will cause your self-estimation to shrink, and your view of God---and thus your joy, lightheartedness, and yes, confidence---to expand and define you.
Dear Self, as you enter this season---or any season---you must remember Who is holding you, Who has held you, and Who has held every single one of His people for thousands and thousands of years without ever breaking His promise to one of them. Trust Him. Look upward.
And enjoy your new season. Receive it as a gift.
"If you are sufficient for your task, it's too small." -John Piper
There are some aspects of the Christian life—biggies such as caring for the poor and praying—that I read about in scripture, then see modeled by friends or illustrated through biographies, and I feel absolutely clueless. I want to be doing those things, but I’m so far from it. However, lately I've been learning that owning up to my failures in this way is absolutely freeing and actually exciting.
I recently admitted to one of my pastors that “praying has never been one of my strengths,” or some other mild way of phrasing “I don’t really pray.” He recommended I read the book With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, so I downloaded the audiobook for free via Hoopla. After listening to a few chapters while I did the dishes, I was getting ready for bed and I truly felt more excited than if I was packing for a trip to Europe.
Why? I just realized that there’s a huge privilege to being a Christian that I haven’t even begun to tap into. I already have a lot of joy in God, but there’s a joy that is promised from spending time spilling my heart before my Father, casting my burdens on Him, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, and seeing answered prayer, and I haven’t even begun to experience happiness that stems from those things.
Those feelings of discontentment that I harbor so often are indeed because I’m lacking something, but the solution isn’t “get more stuff from Target” or “move to Colorado.” The solution is to figure out exactly what we’ve been given as people who have been “seated in the heavenly places." If the privileges given to a believer feel like they’re overstated in the Bible—and I’ll admit it, sometimes I feel like scripture is exaggerating because I don't feel like I've been given "all things"---I need to realize that the problem is with ME and not with God.
Of course my first response is guilt over my lack, but that’s a self-righteous talking. It's as if any of the ways that I’m doing an “ok” job in the Christian life were as a result of my hard work and not God’s grace. A humble heart would instead have the self-dialogue, “Ok, I’m failing at this, but I would fail at absolutely everything if it wasn’t for God’s help. So, God, help me with this too."
The many, many, many invitations from God---seen also through His commands---to live life the way He designed us to live it are invitations to joy, because God cares about our happiness more than we do. When we see a command in scripture, we can remind ourselves, “This is an invitation to happiness.” God knows the happiest way to live, and Jesus actually experienced that as the Happiest Person to Walk the Earth, so He is so kind to invite me to follow that path. (In fact, He is the Way.) Remember that this was a path that led to being abandoned by friends and crucified on the cross. But it was the happiest path, and Jesus did it “for the joy set before him.” Happiness drove Jesus and it should drive me too.
So, when we see the ways we are failing in our Christian lives—maybe for you that looks like Bible reading, sharing the gospel, involvement in your local church family, etc.—we shouldn’t feel guilty but thrilled and invited. We should feel like we’re missing out on happiness. And we should be all the more encouraged to press on!
As you enter the New Year, desirous of growing in your walk with Jesus, don't be discouraged by all the times you've failed in the past. Be thrilled that there are whole mountains and rivers and caverns of joy that you haven't even discovered yet! And ask God that He will help you find them!
As New Years approaches, I plan on posting several articles on how to grow specifically in the area of Bible reading. Bible literacy is truly my greatest passion, and even more than I hope to encourage others in their motherhood, marriages, or cloth napkin usage, I want to encourage them in this.
Here are some things I've already written on the topic:
Christians, Let's Study the Bible for Ourselves!
The Real Reason We Don't Read Our Bibles
10 Years in the Word: How the Bible Shaped Me
The Ugly Trend of "Bible Journaling"
The One Thing I'd Remember If I Lost My Mind
By the way, that beautiful and stylin' man in the image above is my Pappaw! He stays up till the wee hours of the morning reading the Bible sometimes. I love him so much.
The other day I was making ornaments and trying to figure out slightly-meaningful phrases to put on them. "Merry & Bright", "Joy", and "Let It Snow" weren't doing it for me. As I painted the words "Peace on Earth," I immediately recoiled, realizing that this was a concept so misunderstood that it has become hollow, even cheap.
"Peace on Earth" is used so broadly in holiday art and festive greeting that we haven't stopped to evaluate what it means. Is Christmas a time for mankind to come together and, despite their differences, have peace with one another? Did the birth of Jesus prove that miracles can happen and maybe our planet-dwellers can all get along someday? Was Jesus an inspiring pacifist who never intended to stir up any trouble? I'm guessing these are the cultural assumptions behind the popularity of the phrase "peace on earth", so I'd like to debunk them because, like I said, they're cheap. A general sense of "peace on earth" gives Christmas about as much depth and fortitude as a potato chip.
Also, just because the King James Version translated the angels' announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 as "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" doesn't mean that it's the best translation of what the biblical author intended.
Now listen. I’m an uneducated 25-year-old, not a scholar. I will not attempt to "go into the Greek" on this one. Though I think studying ancient languages can be helpful for people who are able to properly do so, I don't think we need extrabiblical information to understand the Bible. But I also don't think we as a culture understand this extremely popular phrase. So, using the Bible, I would like to offer normal-person-level reasons why a) Jesus's birth didn't bring peace on earth, b) Jesus's birth did bring peace on earth, and c) Jesus's birth will bring peace on earth.
A) Jesus's birth didn't bring peace on earth.
To use His own words from Matthew 10, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." This isn't a verse that people like to mention when they are trying to make Jesus look good. But Jesus said it, and I believe He is true and good, so let's wrestle with it.
We get clarity about what Jesus meant about "bring[ing] a sword" by the obvious context and also by further “contradiction”: other places in scripture make it clear that Jesus did not come to actually bring war physically. Remember when He was being arrested and He rebuked Peter for slashing a guy's ear? He said "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52) and in John 18:36, Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
So what was Jesus talking about in Matthew 10 if fighting isn't His strategy? The surrounding verses tells us that He used sword imagery to illustrate that He is divisive. He's not pretending to be some ecumenical religious figure. He made it clear that His father is God and He is God. Elsewhere you'll find Him saying things like "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." That doesn't give people warm fuzzies, and it certainly would never award Him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Jesus didn't come to the earth with the good news that everyone can stay the way they are and that peace will come and all will be well and all people can have hope. Jesus came with the bad news that anyone who doesn't follow Him will suffer forever. That is the kind of divisiveness He is talking about in Matthew 10. The message of Jesus is disruptive, offensive, and so hard to accept that not even His brothers believed in Him (John 7:5.) The message of Jesus is what drove people to hate him so viciously that they screamed for a notorious criminal and murderer to go free so that a homeless, miracle-worker could be crucified.
B) Jesus's birth did bring peace on earth.
So the general idea of Jesus bringing "peace on earth, goodwill to men" seems to be, biblically and from personal experience, bogus. The earth certainly doesn't have peace now and it never ever has. My preschool-age children and I learned this very quickly as we studied world history. There have always been greedy men with bloodthirsty followers, the oppressed often become the oppressors, and every culture has its own vile practices. Peace on earth has never happened, and we've never been on a trajectory where it looks likely. There isn't exactly a reason to have hope that the world will someday figure out how to vastly improve.
Unless, of course, the angels really did mean that peace would come to the earth, and the prophets meant it hundreds of years before Jesus was born when they said He would be a "Prince of Peace." To explain:
The inhabitants of the earth have, since the beginning, been warring with God whether we realized it or not. Adam and Eve's choice to disobey God in the garden was mutiny, an attempted dethroning, and an act of spiritual war. Everyone since has spent their lives attempting the same, whether we're loathed criminals or beloved clergy. We constantly consider ourselves to be the supreme authority of our lives, so we disregard our Maker's ways and establish ourselves as god. God is not okay with this. His bow of wrath is aimed toward us for this (see Psalm 7:12.)
But the fact that Jesus came gives specific hope for specific people. This savior is for the whole world, yes—scripture drips with God’s global love for every single culture; I literally weep for joy at the thought of this. But He came specifically for those who would believe. If you don’t have any interest in God but you've been told that you're His child and He loves you just as much as He loves everyone else, no wonder He's so unappealing! My husband certainly doesn't live all kids as much as He loves our kids. And I would be appalled if my husband claimed to love all women as much as he loves me. Having a special affection for the people who are your own is not unfair; it's love.
The coming of Jesus, which began His perfect life, His subbing-for-our-sin death, and His resurrection, was indeed "good news of great joy" that is available to all people.
Other Bible translations interpret the second half of Luke 2:14 like this:
"...on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)
"...on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (NIV)
"...peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." (NLT)
The specificity of who receives peace with God makes it rich. If you think your default position with God is "peace" and that you're already a child of God, then there is nothing left to do about all those feelings you have of guilt, shame, fear, and confusion. But if you believe that peace with God is possible through Jesus, then you have every reason to throw yourself into Jesus's arms and have true hope (see Romans 5.)
Jesus made it clear that He has come to bring peace, but not as the world gives it (John 14:27.) He introduces a whole different kind of peace, not merely the absence of conflict (which all of us would be content to have!) but the presence of blessing. Peace with God doesn't merely mean that He isn't mad at us, but it means He actively loves us, delights in us, and works for our good. This peace extends even now to believers; since we have peace with God, we can have peace with each other. And, even beyond that, we can have peace with all people—even people who wrong us or have nothing in common with us—because all our needs have been met by the “peace with God” factor, and we are free to live peaceably with others to the best of our ability (Romans 12:18.)
C) Jesus's birth will bring peace on earth.
Here's the part where we get to dream. It's thrilling to imagine a world that not only lacks the stuff we all despise (injustice, death, pain, sorrow) but is full of the stuff our hearts have always longed for (peace, justice, joy, unity, diversity.) We can't rightly enjoy anything unless we enjoy it how the Maker intended. We don’t even know what justice or righteousness is unless we look to the One of whom it is said in Psalm 97, “righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”
Take a minute to read Revelation 21 and 22 and be thrilled at the great hope for eternity, Heaven, aka the New Earth, aka the Resurrection, aka The World We’ve All Been Longing For. This hope is for those who believe in Christ, anyway. The whole reason our planet is such a mess is because of the people in it, self included. But after Jesus died, he began a new kind of resurrection life that will happen to all whose sins went with Him to the grave, were buried, and are now gone (see Romans 6:4.) The resurrected life of the Christian is another one of those already/not yet situations that is both confusing and thrilling: we already have new life in Him once we believe in Him, but one day we will really experience new life in Him, perfectly and completely. And on this day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14), there will be peace. Glorious, perfect peace not messed up by sin anymore.
So, next time you see the phrase “Peace on Earth” or hear Linus telling the Christmas story, remember the richness of that idea. If you think you’ve experienced “peace on earth” to the full extent the angels were describing, you could certainly afford to dream and hope about something much, much better than what you see now…if you believe in the peace-disrupting Prince of Peace. :)
My oldest daughter turns four today! Writing about her is the hardest because she is such a unique, mysterious, and indescribably precious person that it's impossible to capture her with my words. So this post will include a lot of quotes by her, because I really don't know how else to write this. I love her with all my heart and I can't believe I get to be her mom.
So here are some things I really love about my Pi-Pi:
I love how she has such an immersive imagination. I estimate that she lives in reality about 15% of the time; for the rest, she's in her own world. That said, she is a realist; she doesn't speak often about princesses and faraway lands, but blends reality into make-believe so seamlessly that I sometimes wonder if maybe she actually is speaking to someone on her walkie-talkie. Here is a conversation I overheard when she was pretending to talk to my mom: "Can I come to your house today? Okay, how about tomorrow? Aw man. Well I can come early. Hold on, let me put you on speakerphone. Okay, what were you saying? No, I'm not spinning around anymore. No, I don't need any help. Hey, I have to go pee-pee. Okay. Yeah. I could take care of that, but they're so expensive I can't buy them." See what I mean with the realistic make-believe? I love it so much.
I love how she expresses affection and appreciation. She doesn't hesitate to tell Stephen "You're such a good brudder" or give him a big hug and say "I missed you!" upon his return from a biking trip. Concerning Evey, she'll say things like "She's a great sister. I want to keep her for my whole life." Sometimes, in the evening, she'll say "That was a nice little day."
I love how she comes up with the best names for people. Her list of suggestions for Baby #4 includes Coconut, Lollipop, Sweet Darling, and Little Baby That I Can Carry, among many other things. Once she gave my friend Christina the nickname "Rainbow Paper" and called herself "Crown Heart Jewel." The name she chose for me? "Bread."
I kind of love how she hates cleaning. She will literally do anything but clean. This might be the way my DNA is most evident in her, unfortunately, but it's almost funny to see how much she is willing to miss out on at the cost of her aversion to hard work. I'm excited to see her grow in diligence and appreciation for hard work...I'm learning and growing right alongside her!
I love how serious she is. Once I asked her what she was painting and she said "This is a Maze of Darkness. It's the only design I know how to do." She seems to embody Edgar Allen Poe in much of her storytelling, and most of her character descriptions usually include a very sad twist. While I obviously want to encourage her to be happy, innocent, and bright, I think she could grow up to have an insightful understanding of the frailty of life and the depths of the world's brokenness that drives her to hope more deeply and truly than the rest of us.
I love how she is a reader and writer before she is even able to read and write. She can (and has) spent long chunks of time "reading" adult books (upside-down) or squiggling lines profusely in her "journal." She will pretend to read the Bible to me and, in the most convincing tone ever, say things like "Behold our God. He is mighty in mercy. He is good to all." Or she'll read from a history book and make up facts, stories, and timelines that sound quite possible. Yet again she makes me wonder, "Wait, is that actually in there? Is she really reading?"
I love how she has an incredibly crude sense of humor. She thinks toots and bummies are the funniest things in the world, and her belches are nothing less than terrifying in their volume and tone. One night I told her, "Good night, Piper. I hope I dream about you!" and she replied, "I hope I dream about armpits." I really love her weirdness in this way. I'd much prefer crude to prissy!
I love how motherly she is. The way she parents her babies shows me that maybe some of the things we're trying to tell her are actually getting through, that she understands the value of what we're saying and doing, and that she knows that we love her so dearly. She's actually more strict---and patient---with her baby dolls than I am with my children! It's very humbling and encouraging...and, well, it's a little odd that she refers to me as "Grandma" more often than "Mommy."
I love how Piper exudes self-confidence. She's a girly-girl by nature, but she doesn't feel the need to look pretty for the sake of pleasing others. She has a beautiful smile, but she prefers to make ridiculous faces for pictures, as you'll see below.
I love how she loves to receive affection. She's always been my snuggly baby, and aside from difficult moments she's still always up for being held. Sometimes I teasingly tell her, "We didn't snuggle enough today. Tomorrow that's all we will do. No eating, playing, or going to the bathroom. Just snuggles. All day." And she thinks that's a perfectly wonderful idea.
I love how fearless she is. We like to call her Piper the Brave; whether it's getting on stage or riding a rollercoaster, she is always surprising me with her "it's-not-a-big-deal" approach to things that her siblings and I would certainly consider a big deal.
I love how she loves the outdoors. If you could see my daughter spinning around in a forest or a canyon, arms splayed and eyes closed, you would know why I love visiting Georgia and other states so much. Nature awakens something beautiful in her.
I'm still obsessed with her hair. It's so gloriously long---detangling it is quite a process---and, though it's lost its redness, it's gold. When I discovered that her hair was no longer orange but gold, she was delighted and agreed.
One of my favorite things about this past year was seeing little specks of progress in Piper's life. She's learning self-control and the sweet freedom that comes with it. She's learning to push herself beyond what she thought she could do and challenge herself. She's learning to speak kindly and avoid drama. I'm so excited to watch her continue growing next year.
As always, I must mention that parenting is very difficult and I do it so imperfectly. I have shed tears over my sense of helplessness as I try to navigate the hearts of my children...or just because I'm tired and I want to go to bed! But I can't look at my kids and not see them as tremendous gifts that deserve great care and focus. I so dearly love my Piper for who she is, and I hope that my love---and ultimately God's love---will break through to her more and more every day. Ugh, why do I always write these when the kids are sleeping? Now I want to wake her up and snuggle her tight! :)
Read Year 3 here.
Mary-Kay, Beachbody, doTerra, Plexxus, Pampered Chef, Younique, Jamberry, Avon, Lularoe, Tupperware, Shaklee. These are all companies whose sales model could be described as “direct-sales”, “multi-level marketing”, or as the critics would call it, “pyramid scheme.” I’m hesitant to use that last phrase because there are some legitimately illegitimate Ponzi schemes that don’t actually have a tangible product or help anyone, and in contrast many of today’s direct-sales companies really are helping people work from home and they’re providing customers with good products.
(I’m especially impressed with, and indirectly affected by, Beachbody, because as we all watch our friends get in shape and grow in self-discipline, it’s inspiring, and true change is happening, even for those of us who don't sign up but see what nutrition and exercise can do.)
However, if you’re thinking about signing up for one of these companies as a rep, I do beg that you pause and reconsider. Here are some questions to ask before “taking the leap”:
1) Does the company really have your best interests in mind? Don’t trust the motives of the founders of the company or the people at the top of the pyramid. Here’s a dead giveaway: If they sell their products on their website without using a consultant portal, or even worse, if they sell their items directly through Amazon, you can be quite assured that the company cares more about their income than yours.
Also, ask yourself, “What’s at risk for the company if I fail?” If “absolutely nothing” is the answer, that should give you some pause.
2) Does your sponsor really have your best interests in mind?
There’s a good chance that you know and love the person who is trying to get you to sign up for this. She really is probably an awesome person. But none of us can ignore the fact that she is motivated by money to get you to sign up. Whether reps realize it or not, they are painting their lives with the company as being ever-so-rosy because they want other people to sign up so they can make money. Deception—or even just exaggeration or wishful thinking—is an unfortunately pervasive element when it comes to these things.
3) Are you willing to burn bridges with acquaintances and make them feel used by you?
Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in this situation multiple times: Someone I haven’t seen in a long time or possibly haven’t even met adds me on Facebook, acts interested in what I post, messages me privately to ask me how I’m doing, and at some point pops a question centered around “Would you be interested in trying out this new…”
Immediately, I feel used by this person. I wonder if any of what this person said was genuine or if she was just trying to meet a quota.
I try not to be offended easily, so I get over it. But this can really hurt or offend some people. No matter how awesome your product is, please know that once you start posting about your “business”, people will unfollow your account and maybe avoid talking to you in face-to-face interactions as well. Just a heads-up. You should especially ponder this carefully if you’re a Christian who is trying to genuinely hold out good news of Jesus, which does not have a buy-in price.
4) Are you willing to put your friends in potentially uncomfortable situations for your own gain?
Of course your true friends can discuss things openly with you and will most likely want to help you reach your goals. But if your income now rests partially on your friends’ shoulders and their connections, they might feel a little obligated, as if your financial success depends on their social connectivity. That’s not really fair.
5) Is signing up as a rep really making you “a business owner”; did you really “fire your boss” and become self-employed?
I’ve spent the last 16 years living with business owners (my dad and my husband) so I get kind of twitchy when someone uses that phrase lightly. Did you have to take a huge risk, come up with a product, design a logo, create a website, figure out all the legal stuff, hire an accountant, create a pay scale and marketing campaign, hire, fire, and train employees, have every single family dinner interrupted with phone calls, deal with customers who are threatening to sue you or willfully neglecting to pay you, and sometimes work 80-90 hour weeks? Do you know what it’s like to not have one true day of vacation all year long because other people are depending on you for their family to eat and you have to make sure you’re on top of things?
Though direct-sales reps work hard (possibly as hard as I just described) and business ownership looks different for everyone, I really hope you’re realizing this is usually not the same thing as entrepreneurship and the blood-sweat-and-tears American dream. (I'm serious about the blood part. My husband's arms have been torn by monkeys. But that's a story for another time.)
6) Is this product truly unique and valuable?
Many of these companies truly provide good products. I’m not sold that certain pricey protein shakes are any better than a plant-based meal replacement protein powder you can get from Amazon for a fraction of the price. And I’m not convinced that some products are worth any money at all. But Usborne books, Jamberry nail wraps, Beachbody DVDs? I’ve tried really hard to find cheaper products of their caliber and came up with nothing. I will gladly go through a MLM rep to purchase excellent products I can’t get anywhere else that are actually going to last a long time. But some of those supplement and weight loss brands? I’m not convinced those products are actually good for anyone.
And even if a product is good, is it worth joining the company? Will you be buying so much of this product that you need a rep discount and downline to support your own spending? In that case, is it possible you’re spending too much?
7) Did you find out about this product soon enough that you can really find "financial freedom"?
If you’re hearing about this product from a friend, that means that all your mutual friends have most likely already heard about it. And the later you are to the game, the less likely you are to acquire clients.
Remember that the people who are trying to sell you on becoming a rep also need you for their own success, so they might not be completely transparent about how much money they’re actually making. If someone just became a rep and still relies on her day job for income, can you really trust that she’s making good money and that you—who will most likely make less money than her—can make good money?
8) Do you know multiple people who have become successful after working hard with this company?
Out of all the friends and family members and acquaintances I know who have ever been involved in a multi-level marketing company, only three of them have made good money doing it. I’m happy for them, but really. Three. Two of them have been with their company for upwards of 15 years; the other joined her company before anyone had ever heard of it. I know many, many more people who signed up as a rep and worked extremely hard, but have been hurt and lost money in the end…after already damaging connections with people who didn't want to see or hear a sales pitch every single day.
Am I just a grumpy keyboard warrior? I hope not. I’m a friend, and I aim to be a cheerleader for women, so I want them to succeed. I write this post because I have seen way too many friends fail, and it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part. It’s because this is a slippery business.
This weekend I went to a yard sale and found that a lady was selling the rest of her Lularoe leggings (probably 40 pairs or more) for $5 each. Her facial expression was pained yet relieved when she said the business didn’t work out for her, and she seemed very happy to take my $40 for eight pairs, even though I’m sure she was still losing money on the deal. (One pair normally costs $25.)
I was sad for her all day, and also sad for all the remaining Lularoe consultants (a close friend being one of them) who have to try to compete with closeout prices like that. I love my leggings, and I’m not trying to diss the company---let me know if you need a consultant because my friend rocks!
But direct-sales company have a disturbingly high failure rate. My heart is broken because they target moms who want to be able to quit their jobs and stay home with their kids. Oh how I admire women who desire to do that! Unfortunately, the pyramid model is designed to rip off those at the bottom. Some women are cut out for it and get in early enough to succeed, but too many lose money and burn bridges. I just beg that you ask yourself these questions and really think before jumping in!
Stores and toy-making companies do not have your best interests in mind. You can't assume that just because it's got great reviews that it's a great thing for you; the company marketing it to you wants your money, and they're willing to sell you garbage to get it. Sadly, even mommy-bloggers often promote or review toys because they're being paid by the company or an affiliate program to do so. Why not recommend "15 Must-Have Toys for Toddlers" if you make money from each referral?
I'm very sad that Christmas is a financially stressful season for so many because they feel like they actually need to buy stuff to make their kids happy, especially when the hottest toys are pricey and annoying trash. There's got to be a better way. Let's ask ourselves some questions before buying.
1) Is this going to encourage independent play in a healthy way, or is it creating emotional distance between my child and me?
There is so much value in letting kids play on their own so they can develop independence and creativity (and so you can have some time to yourself!), but if you're not careful, buying toys for your kids can almost push them away so they don't have to be involved in your life, and you don't need to be involved in theirs. Even from babyhood, constantly busying your child with a toy instead of inviting them to watch whatever the adults are doing can communicate "you are separate from us" instead of "you are a valuable member of this family and community." (Again, I'm not saying all toys or bad or that children should never play by themselves. I'm just asking that we think.)
2) Am I buying this because it's best for my child or because he/she demands it? (Who is really in charge here?)
Giving good gifts to your children is a wonderful thing; delighting in their delight, reveling in their wonder, it's all great. However, whether we're buying our kids gifts as a Christmas surprise or on-the-spot at Target, we need to be aware of whether we're giving to them as a gift or a bribe. Are we lavishing our child with a good thing, or are we appeasing their demands? If you're afraid that your child will be upset if he/she doesn't get a particular toy, or if you feel like you need to buy this toy just so you can get out of the store without a meltdown, the authority roles in your household might've swapped in an unhealthy, even dangerous, way. (I speak from guilty experience!) Your child should feel utterly loved and enjoyed, but he or she should not feel entitled to anything beyond necessities.
3) Will I hate this toy?
If you give your child something that annoys you---such as a toy that makes noise or a playset with characters you don't care about---you will most likely not want to play with your child using that toy. If the toy is creating distance, it is not needed! As previously said, independent play is great, but if the toy is insulting to your intelligence and sensibility, why subject your child to such mind-numbingness? But if you give your kids toys that you'll enjoy too, you can jump right in and play together.
4) Will I hate cleaning up this toy?
I have a conspiracy theory about this. I think many toy-makers create toys with so many tiny pieces because they know the pieces will get lost and parents will need to keep buying more toys. (Building toys such as LEGOs and Lincoln logs are an exception to this suspicion.) When you see the toy online or on the shelf, I want you to visualize it (and all its pieces) on your floor as you're trying to clean up before guests come over. Will this be strewn throughout the house? Will your child actually clean up the toy whenever you ask, or will you spend your valuable time cleaning up after your kids when you could have spent those moments with your kids?
5) Will buying this toy feed my child's materialism?
My children don't even have that many toys, but the same insatiable desire for stuff that exists in me exists in them too. When they browse the toy catalogs, they circle multiple items on every page. When they visit grandparents, they come back asking me for everything they've seen on the TV commercials. Though the kids know they are not allowed to ask for anything in stores or start a sentence with "I want", they figure out ways around it, like "Could you keep this in mind for my birthday?" My children are by no means little greed-monsters, but if I constantly feed their desires of dissatisfaction, what am I doing for their hearts? Am I strengthening or weakening their relationships with each other by giving them just one more thing they won't want to share? Is buying them all these toys going to help them become joyful, others-centered, and generous people as teenagers, adults, and future parents?
6) Is this an item that I can buy used?
You can spend $60 on a singular Lego set, or you can buy thirty pounds of Legos from a teenager who grew out of them for half that price. (That’s what we did; homeschool graduates are a gold mine.) Same goes with Thomas the Train, Lincoln Logs, etc. You can usually tell a toy is a good one if it can be resold even after a kid's childhood! Buy the high-quality brands, yes, buy them used. Check Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and Craigslist, and you might be able to buy your child a much nicer toy than you were expecting and still come out under budget.
7) What is this toy going to do for my children?
The top toys this year (costing upwards of $50) are literally centered around opening the toy: watching the toy "hatch" from an egg (which, according to reviews, takes about twenty minutes) or opening up 50 little "surprises" inside a plastic dome that are all, 100%, complete garbage. Aside from the few moments of anticipatory glee (and maybe a little while of "caring" for the animal afterwards), is this doing anything for the child's well-being? Is it helping them grow as a person? Is it making mental connections, promoting compassion, or developing individuality? If the toy isn't giving the child delight of any kind of depth, is it really worth it?
Sure, call me the Grinch if you want, but I think it's good to ask ourselves questions about why we do things, especially when we're dealing with something as important as the hearts of the children entrusted to us. I have bought so many things for my children that I regret, I have had so many lazy-mom motives for treating them to things, and I have wasted so many hours cleaning up toys that accomplished so little good for our family. I'm learning from painful experience that materialism makes me miss out on the good stuff in life.
In January, after being inspired by the likes of minimalist Joshua Becker and others, I did a major purge and hid or got rid of nearly all the kids' toys. I have absolutely no regrets. (The kids did, of course, accumulate and find more toys. My house is still messy. It's a journey.) I'm also finally learning that when grandparents buy them toys, I can say "Thank you! They'll have so much fun with that at your house!"; they're happy that I'm not throwing the toy away, and I'm happy that I don't have to deal with the toy here. We've been so much happier this year since we've felt freed up to do so much without the burdens of toys.
Sans toys, the kids and I can spend the entire morning doing crafts together and reading a book aloud on the beanbag. We now have time to cook and bake together; my 5-year-old recently discovered that he can make a mean cranberry sauce with his own special recipe; I just wash the berries and give him free reign over the seasonings, and he does the rest! We are free to go on field trips weekly, to play outside for hours...toys were holding us back. I am now learning that motherhood is so much more enjoyable when I'm actually doing life with my kids rather than just trying to get stuff done while they're busy. I have some things up my sleeve for Christmas, but I expect each item to become a valuable addition to our family's life, not a mere appeasement to the child-gods.
I want to enjoy the best things in life, and a surplus of toys cannot offer that to me. I ask that you consider the same!
Receive new posts via email here! :)
My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today