why completion is harder to write about than the struggle

When Sammy the plumber made his last visit to our newly renovated bathroom yesterday, I breathed a sigh of relief. First of all, please note that we know our plumber by name. We should. He has become a household name to my daughters over the past 4.5 months that we [Seth] has been working on renovating our master bathroom. This is because we live in a house built in the early 1900s and one that was remodeled by someone proud of their DIY mentality yet with little skill. Or maybe they just became lazy along the way. This “master bathroom” was one of their projects, and each stage of remodeling uncovered another layer of poor workmanship and shoddy structure. Such as the clothesline that held a few of the bathroom pipes together. Or the prefab shower that wasn’t actually attached to any structural part of the house – simply nailed up to the drywall. And the icing on the cake was the fact that they had actually cut through a load-bearing supporting beam of the house in this “remodeling” project.

All of this added up to what should have been a relatively quick and easy “re-do” becoming a long and arduous process. Thank goodness I am married to a man who is a perfectionist about these things, committed to persevering through details and behind-the-scenes-structure in order for it to be done right. At one point, he asked a structural engineer friend from church to consult with him as he worked on rebuilding the floor joists. After their brainstorming session, this friend graciously volunteered to come help Seth with that foundational work – which included building a temporary wall in our kitchen to support the floor above while they reinforced it. Wow.

I could go on and on about Seth’s work; my frustrations; interrupted naptimes; living in a construction zone. Etc. Etc. In fact, it would be easier to talk to you about the struggle of this process of rebuilding our 4′ by 8′ bathroom. It’s easier to describe the process with its highs (choosing a good paint color; finding a picture that perfectly complemented this bathroom; how the glass doors came in just in time) and lows (see paragraph above) than to wax eloquent about what it’s like now that it’s completed.

Isn’t that true about life too? It is in the process of parenting that we are prolific; in the waiting of pregnancy we hope and dream and speak – the birth comes and we are speechless. I find that when I am walking through a trial, words come more easily than when that trial is done. Or if I speak about a trial in the past tense, my words sound a bit empty – a little too “tie-a-ribbon-on-it” perfect.

As a “J” personality, I am always longing for closure. (Referring to the Myers-Briggs personality test – J or P – which are you? Also closely related to type A or type B.) And yet. When closure comes, there is a sense of emptiness in it. The home project, as beautiful as it is, is never quite as fulfilling as I imagined it would be. The successfully potty trained twins don’t make life 150% easier as I had pictured it. [Enter comic relief: we now do potty RUNS wherever we go, like the Virginia Aquarium this morning when I grabbed my two-year-old by the hand after she announced she needed to go potty; and we fought crowds like it was an emergency.] I think this is life this side of heaven. The completion feels great, for a moment, but never quite all it should be. For we are still longing for a Day of Completion to come.

Meanwhile, we’re in the struggle. And let’s write about it together, giving words and hope and meaning to the waiting.

a prayer for potty training

There is advice aplenty about potty training, but very little written about the spiritual challenges of potty training. Yes, you heard me right. The spiritual challenges of potty training. Anything that opens our hearts wide up to see the frustrations hidden beneath; the expectations for life to act according to our plans; the desire demand to be in control – well, this becomes ripe fodder for growth. Or repentance. Or sanctification. Or all of the above.

Maybe you approached potty training much differently from me (and I am sure some of you are out there!), but for me it’s been an exercise in surrender. Surrendering my expectations and realizing the limits of my control over my daughters. I cannot control when (or if) they will use the toilet. I can nudge them in the right direction; provide incentives to make it more attractive for the desired behavior; set up an environment that is conducive in pottying. Yet if she decides she isn’t ready – or if her physical development isn’t there yet – it just won’t happen.

There are spiritual analogies here as well. As I seek to nurture my daughters’ faith, it’s much the same way. I can nudge them in the right direction (towards faith and wisdom and away from unbelief and foolishness); provide incentives to make it more attractive for them to walk in the path of life; set up an environment that is conducive for faith. But at the end of the day, it is up to God and her whether she will take hold of this Life or not. And when. I can’t force her into a prayer of belief or into steps of faith that may be beyond her spiritual development.

How do I fill this gap between where I want my child to be (re: pottying and spiritual development) and where she is? Deal with my own heart, and P.R.A.Y.

So with this round of potty training, I was clued in a bit more to potential frustrations and disappointments and challenges, and I penned the following as we set out to “launch” potty training a few days ago. I humbly offer it to you if you, like me, need it.

Father, I ask that you’d give us discernment to know/evaluate whether L. and A. are ready, and to lovingly encourage them to do what we think they’re ready to do. If one of them isn’t, give us wisdom and restraint to back off if needed. Give us perseverance and endurance because even if it goes really well, it’s a process. Help me to expect the best but not force them into my will. Help me to know how to gently nudge them and when to step away to foster their independence.

Restrain my anger and frustration. Give me the long view, both for potty training and even more so for how You’re using this process to expose my own heart and make me more aware of my own need for grace. Give me wisdom to walk away and regroup when it’s overwhelming.

Above all else, let everything I do be done in love — in Christ’s love that dwells in me. Love that is patient, kind, not boastful or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way, isn’t irritable or resentful, bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13) I don’t have love on my own nor can I muster it up. I come to You needy of it, and confident that You delight to make your people loving.

When sin is revealed in my own heart, let me quickly repent and ask for forgiveness — not cover it up/try to hide it/make excuses. When the waywardness of my daughters’ hearts is revealed, let me be quick to show them the grace You shower upon me as well as any correction appropriate for the situation.

I do ask for minimal messes, but even more than that, I ask for longsuffering and the attitude of Christ when they happen. He who made himself nothing … taking the very nature of a servant … (Philippians 2). Do guard and protect us from causing any hurt in what could be trying days. And give us joy, laughter, and fun! Bond us closer to you and one another through this process.

In Jesus’ Name,

Old Navy, Romans, and Potty Training


What do all of these have in common, you ask? Quite simply it’s the fact that all were topics of our dinner conversation since I found a *steal* at Old Navy today in some great summer shorts; Seth’s working on preparing the Romans training for women’s Bible study leaders next week; and we commence potty training, round 2, tomorrow.

Here’s another way they all tie together. The shorts I bought were a “pre-treat” for a mom who quite honestly is dreading potty training 33-month-old twins. My husband and I discussed all the various options of potty training to come up with the plan that we are willing to try tomorrow. And these verses in Romans 5:3-5 is going to get us through the next few days! Thanks to my friend Suzanne who reminded me of this gem today as we were discussing many of the typical trials of raising babies and toddlers.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We may all be suffering together, but the hope is that the short-term “suffering” of potty training twins will yield (eventually) to the independence these girls will need to carry them through preschool and really the rest of their lives. It’s one of the most important skills that we all take for granted that someone had to teach us at some point. Let’s all take a moment to thank our moms or dads or grandparents or nannies or daycare workers right now for helping us gain our freedom. [It’s no coincidence that we’re initiating round 2 on “Independence Day” – insert laughter here.]

And here’s the other thing. God cares about Old Navy, Romans, and potty training, because I’m his girl. His daughter. The God who cares about each sparrow who falls and numbers each hair of my head likewise is connected with me about the highs, lows, and conundrums of my day. Nothing’s too small (shorts from Old Navy); nothing’s irrelevant (potty training); and nothing’s too complex (Romans). That’s a God to celebrate – that we are free in Christ to call him Father … what a gift!

The conundrum of potty training

Aah, yes. It happens inevitably for a parent raising kids. They get to the place where a combination of being tired with the mess and expense of diapers leads them to fantasize about a diaper-free existence for their toddlers – particularly if these toddlers are twins. (Of course, said parents gloss over the messy part of “potty training” in their minds or any possible obstacles like the said toddlers not really being ready.) This is what the new year brought us to in our household: potty training! And it has not gone well. It doesn’t help that there is no unified approach to potty training, toilet learning, elimination communication (I didn’t make that last phrase up – seriously is the name of an ultra-gradual approach). Just consider a few of the conflicting messages a parent will get when trying to train herself to get her toddler ready for using the toilet:

  • When? Either as soon as 18 months (or earlier) or as late as “whenever your child seems to be ready – could be 4 or 5 years old”
  • Parent-directed or child-centered? Some say it’s definitively the parent’s decision and should be controlled almost exclusively by the parent, and the child will catch on/learn quickly. Another approach says not to rush a child, and to wait for the child to show readiness signs before starting.
  • How long? As short as “one focused, intense morning” (yes, one book makes that claim) or as long as several months to a year for complete toilet training.
  • When to introduce underwear? Some say starting with underwear becomes the motivation for your child to use the toilet; others say to wait until the child is accident-free.
  • Once you introduce underwear, should you go back to diapers or pull-ups? Some say never because it confuses the child; others swear that night-time training is a different skill from day-time training and so you shouldn’t try to do both. Another opinion is that if the child doesn’t seem to be ready, you should return to diapers or pull-ups and wait a few weeks or months before trying again. And yet another opinion is that doing so could confuse or hurt the child, as if the parent is witholding a vote of confidence and this could damage their self-esteem.
  • What kind of rewards are recommended? For as many who say “the best reward is your hug and smile and rejoicing,” there are also those who recommend stickers, candy, etc. as positive reinforcement. Both camps seem to be feel adamant about their position.
  • How much should the parent assist during the actual “potty attempts”? The parent should always accompany the child (at first at least) is one approach. Another says the child should do everything completely independently, down to emptying the little toilet bowl into the big adult toilet bowl.
  • Should the parent give reminders? As expected, “YES! Set a 20 minute or even 5 minute timer,” is one answer. And then there is the equally emphatic, “NEVER! It’s the child’s job to learn how to go to the bathroom, not the parent’s job to remind.”
  • Are twins to be trained together or separately? To train them together will help you and them get through the process more quickly, says one camp. The other says to go at each twin’s pace, which means you’ll likely train them separately.
  • Is there ANYTHING that’s common to all approaches? Great question. I asked that myself. And I came up with the following (1) It’s essential for the parent to stay positive, upbeat, encouraging – a cheerleader and guide regardless of how the progress is going or how many accidents occur. (2) Never, ever, ever make the child feel pressured to go potty or guilty because she had an accident.

Truly, it’s a wonder that any of us actually become toilet trained. This is not  for the faint of heart. Speaking of heart, I think potty training could also be called “parent’s heart training.” Meaning you will be pushed to the limits of yourself and will be able to see a new angle of your heart. What you run to for comfort, how quickly you want to violate the inviolable rule of staying positive, why you feel like you need to control what’s ultimately not yours to control (your child actually deciding to “go” in the toilet), whether you tend to rush your child or to impede your child’s progress.

There is much for all of us yet to learn in this process! I’m sure there will be future posts on the process since we are not in the camp of “learned it in a day.” [That attempt was 15 days ago actually.] Apparently, my girls are in a different camp than me. I am needing to learn to s l o w  down and back off. This is hard for me, but good. I know I have much to learn, just in a different area than they do.