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  • Writer's pictureLMSpang

Leftovers, Bugs, and Screens

“We will only be this busy through the fall.” That is what I told myself in October as I looked at the months ahead before Christmas. Kody and I both had big trips in October leaving us with only a handful of days altogether as a family. The next few months we had events and conferences that overlapped with a week and a half of downtime right at Thanksgiving. We filled that time with a lot of family visiting which was a blessing but made it feel like we were sprinting through the whole season, and by the end, like we were treading water and getting tired.

Mid-February I found myself sick with a cold that wouldn’t go away and looking back at our last season. Our busy fall had turned into a busy winter. Kody had worked since early January without a day off. There was always something urgent. Looking forward to the spring, I could see the same pattern forming with lots of need everywhere and three big trips: Ukraine (Kody), Brazil (me), and Romania (Kody). Still, we were pushing through despite more than a month of back-to-back sicknesses for everyone in the family.

March came and with it a great desire for change. Kody and I began having a lot of real, honest conversations. Ministry opportunities were plentifully available but it seemed like our family received only leftovers of our energy, efforts, and time. Ezra seemed to be the most affected. He, like the rest of us, was hit with a bad cold but also got hit with rashes and a stomach bug on top of it all. He spent more than a month glued to screens as we tried to recover. As Kody prepared to go to Ukraine he became very clingy with us, unable to do much outside of screens, and afraid to go outside. There were bugs, and they were scary.

To be fair, there are a lot of earwigs where the kids play outside our home. And also with so much sickness, movies, video games, and cozying up on the couch were what the doctor ordered. However, it was time to get back to normal. Instead of sickness, screens, and fear, there were friends, adventures, and fun to be had!

I spent time reading some family and parenting books this year and knew God was helping me strategize the future of our family. It felt like I was able to step out of the sprint I was participating in, get a drink of water, and think about how I wanted to finish the race. At the beginning of the year, God spoke the word purposeful over my 2023. So many areas in my life have benefitted already as I processed that word, it was now time for my family!

There was a problem. Kody was leaving for a long trip to Ukraine. If ever there was a time I would want to rely on my favorite free babysitter—screens, it was during those 10 days! I was tempted to back up and wait until both parents were present to make any big changes. My sanity was at stake!

It was in those moments of considering retreat that I felt God whisper into my heart, “Why are you delaying what you know you should do?” Ok. Ouch. Joy Dawson would say, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” I knew I had a choice to make. Would I choose disobedience and make it easy? Or would I be obedient and trust God to get me through some potentially hard days as I ripped the screen band-aid off?

To be clear, cutting down screens was only one action step of the new family strategy. In Andy Crouch’s book The Tech-Wise Family, he talks about filling the most used spaces in our homes with things that inspire creativity, like replacing a radio (or Alexa) with a piano. He was against keyboards, but I have a counterpoint that with keyboards, you can plug in headphones. Again, I was still concerned about my sanity. My goal was and is to cut down screens (family movies don’t count) and replace that time with creative, imaginative fun.

I did it. I didn’t tell my kids we were doing this new thing until a few days later. I just cut screens one day at a time. I also bribed/threatened Ezra to go outside. With big tears in his eyes and me holding his hand, we walked out to where the kids play on this big dirt mound. They have been building a playhouse, just without the walls, and spend hours there every day. It might be a little like Lord of the Flies, but they are getting vitamin D. Ezra and I arrived just in time to participate in a hamster funeral. After some of the kids helped him find a role in their house game. Now, two weeks later, I have to go hunt him down to get him back inside. I am so grateful for the grit that he has grown in the last few weeks.

As I write this we are still in the middle of making changes in our family. Kody and I both read Habits of the Household by Justin Whitmel Early and it was hands down the most entertaining, relatable, and applicable book I have read this year. I am also waiting for Kody to finish rereading The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni. This book helps us draw a target for our family to aim for, instead of shooting an arrow and drawing the target wherever it lands.

I wanted to write this blog post about parenting in today’s world with real disruptive circumstances because that is where I am growing a lot and where I need to grow more. It continues to be my goal to produce content that is real, relatable, and human. Sometimes missionaries (or anyone who works in a religious vocation) can get a reputation of maybe not perfection, but at least a little holier than average. I want to shout from the rooftops that I am human. I am human and I need Jesus as much as any other human. I need Jesus to continue to lead our family and influence my parenting. I need to learn from other humans who have walked this road, because I too have had times of great parenting, and parenting fails. I had let my kids get addicted to screens when we were sick, tired, or just busy. Just like I held Ezra’s hand and stepped into the sunshine (and a hamster funeral), I need Jesus to hold my hand and lead me into what He has for our family.


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