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True Obedience Versus Towing the Line

Over the holidays I loosened my nutritional hold on my household quite a bit, and allowed more than a modicum of sugar to course through my children’s veins. I do love to bake, and don’t see how I can fill the house with goodies and then not allow the girls reasonably free rein with the cookie jar; I worry it’ll set them up to see the sweets as something forbidden and oh-so-desirable.

Likewise, as candy comes into the house from Christmas parties and gifts from friends, I can’t simply take the twenty cabillion candy canes and dump them in the trash. Ok, if I’m being truthful, more than a small amount of store candy DID end up in the trash, but my girls were pretty free to consume whatever they brought in the house – after checking with a grown-up, of course. And Maddie’s big request from Santa? A gumball machine filled with jelly beans.

I know.

But guess what? She got it. AND a huge stack of pennies for instant access.

All this to say that the Milner household would seriously flunk most blood sugar tests when the new year starts. So I let the girls get one week of school under their belts – complete with a few last Christmas cookies lovingly tucked into their lunches – and then announced we’d spend a week going sugar free.

Now, when I say sugar free, I don’t really mean that. We still consume naturally-occurring sugars, like in fruit, and even ingest a fair amount of processed sugar still, from ketchup and sandwich bread and a few things like that. I can’t force a huge diet change on the girls like that, and most of our “extra” sugar is pretty lean: agave nectar in our preservative-free bread; homemade jam on fresh-ground peanut-butter for sandwiches; that sort of thing. But I made it clear that for a week, there’d be no hot cocoa after a freezing walk home from school, no piece of candy from the candy jar, no mid-week whipping up a batch of chocolate-chip cookies to snuggle and read with.

The girls, to their credit, took the news really well. I’d expected some fuss, especially from Cora, who’d grown used to having a mid-afternoon pick-me-up from the cookie stash in the freezer a few times a week. But they have been quite great, not complaining at all and not even asking me to reconsider. And I figured, well, they know my word is good and it’s no use asking me to change my mind, so all will run smoothly while at home. Beyond these walls, well, there’s a limit to what I can control.

Then yesterday after school I was cleaning out Maddie’s backpack and found a small bag of jacks and a ball. “Hey kiddo, what’s this?” I asked, holding up the bag.

Maddie looked over. “Oh, that’s just a prize I got in class today.”

“How’d you get this in class?” I pursued, intrigued. “What game did you win?”

“Oh, it was no game or anything. Everyone got a treat handed out,” Maddie said matter-of-factly, “for the whole class doing something well. Our teacher gave everyone a Hershey’s kiss, and I knew you didn’t want me eating sugar this week so I told the teacher I wanted to give it back and after I explained why she gave me this instead.”

I stared at her, and then broke into a huge grin. “MADDIE! Do you realize that I never would have known if you’d eaten that Hershey kiss? Do you UNDERSTAND how proud I am that you chose to do what you knew I’d want you to do, even though there was no possible consequence looming? You, my friend, are really growing up and I am so darn proud of you. Just for that you get an extra book at bedtime.”

Maddie lit up with delight, hugged me, and skipped off, elated and glowing from the praise.

I’m still having a hard time letting this sink in, to be truthful. I don’t always see such fruit from my labors so clearly, and to know that she obeyed me WHEN SHE DIDN’T HAVE TO, and even more importantly, WHEN SHE DIDN’T SEE ANY REAL NEED TO, like a safety issue or some such, makes all the obedience struggles and all the loooooooong talks we’ve had feel so worth it.

I don’t want to raise robots. I don’t want to raise kids who act out of fear of what my reaction might be, or kids who do juuuuuuust enough to get by and fly under the radar. And instilling in my girls a sense of real obedience – and even more importantly, a joyful obedience – has been high on my list of both Priorities and How The Heck Do I Do That?

I’m not the best model for this one; my obedience to God is sometimes, um, sluggish. Sparse. Nonexistent. And I’ve tried to be honest about that, to talk about it with the girls and explain why we work on obeying even when it doesn’t always make sense.

I might be making too much out of this. But if you knew Maddie, and how much that girl loves her sugar, you’d understand.

My girl’s growing up. In her emotions, in her discipline muscles, in her desire to do what’s right. And I love seeing that in action.


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