Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Week in My Shoes

I ventured into new territory this week. For the first time in nine years, I'm working outside our home. While I've done some freelance work from home nearly the entire time I've been a stay-at-home mom, this is the first time I've taken an assignment that requires me to go into an office every day. The change in routine has been a challenge, and my hat is off to you moms who work full time. It's a whole lot harder than I thought it would be.

In this first week of work, I've enjoyed being a part of an adult group of people where I'm not defined simply by whose mom I am, and I've had a chance to use some of those skills that have gotten rusty in the past nine years. I've discovered I don't really like getting up at 5:30 in the morning to be at work by 7, and juggling school, work, soccer, hockey, Girl Scouts and church is a huge challenge. But the thing I think I like the least about working in an office is the fact that I have to wear shoes all day, every day.

It's funny that with all the changes, I would pinpoint something so small to be the thing I dislike the most. But when I thought about it, this one thing throws my whole attitude out of kilter. I can't remember the last time I had to wear shoes for eight hours a day for four days in a row. I don't much care for shoes in general. I have hard-to-fit feet, and most of the time my shoes just don't fit exactly right. Add to that the fact that I have rheumatoid arthritis, which manifests itself the worst in the balls of my feet, and you can understand why shoes are not my favorite item of clothing.

When my feet hurt, much of my focus is in figuring out how to make that pain go away. Can I sit down? Can I take my shoes off without anyone noticing? Should I wear a different pair of shoes tomorrow? If I'm expending so much mental energy dealing with this one issue, I'm not able to focus on the other things that probably need my attention more than my poor feet. Small things have the ability to pull our focus away from the more important things.

There's a perfect example of this in the story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus goes to visit Mary and Martha. Mary is so excited to be able to spend time with Jesus, but Martha is distracted by all the things that need to be done. In her desire to be the perfect hostess, Martha misses out on the important thing -- spending time with Jesus. Too often, our lives are so focused on the little issues -- carpools, activities, making lunches -- that we miss out on the important things -- taking time to listen, sharing Jesus with our kids, playing a silly game.

We want to teach our kids how to choose the important things in life and how not to get hung up in the little things -- the things that make their feet hurt.
  • Have your kids slip on a pair of shoes that are too small. Talk about how uncomfortable the shoes feel. Point out that sometimes there are things in our lives that can make us uncomfortable and will distract us from the things that God wants us to do. We need to keep our focus on Jesus and not allow the small things that make us a little uncomfortable keep us from doing the things that God has told us to do. For example, a disagreement with your friends shouldn't keep you from treating them with love and respect. The disagreement may make things a little uncomfortable for you, but it doesn't give you the right to be mean to your friends. God still asks you to love them.
  • Ask your kids what they think their three most important possessions are. These are the things that you would take with you to a deserted island. Talk with them about why these things are important to them. Go get the three things and lay them out on the table or on the floor. Ask them if they can think of anything that is more important to them than those three items. Talk about how things can be important to us, but relationships mean more. Ask them if they think things could ever be an issue in their relationship with their friends or their siblings. Talk about ways to avoid placing too much value on the things that we have.
  • Turn on some background noise -- a radio or TV or both. Tell your child that you're going to tell her something important, then whisper an important message to her. See if she can pick out the message over all the noise around her. Turn off all the noise and repeat the message. Ask your child how hard it was to focus on the message with all the extra noise around her. Point out that there are lots of things competing for her attention in the world -- friends, TV, school, activities -- but the most important things are relationships with God and family and friends. If we allow the noise from all the other things in our lives to drown out the important things that God has to share with us, then we will miss out on the exciting things that God has in store for us.
As I slip my feet into my shoes and head out to work today, I'll be reminded to keep my focus on Jesus. I hope the same is true for you and your kids.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Respect Pyramid

We live in a world that has lost its understanding of the word respect. Respect used to be a shared value in our communities. Kids understood that parents and teachers were worthy of respect. Parents and teachers understood that they needed to be worthy of that respect. But it seems that in this day and age, respect has become an old-fashioned idea and for kids it has become something of a nebulous concept.

Most of us know respect when we see it, and we know disrespect when we see it, but explaining it in concrete terms to our kids is much more difficult. Much to the mortification of my fourth-grader, I helped out in her class at church on Sunday where we studied respect. The kids have been studying respect all month. Their definition for respect is a great one: Showing others they are important by what you say and do.

The great thing about this week's lesson was how the lesson made a very abstract concept into a concrete one for the kids. It was such a good illustration that I want to share it with you. All month the kids have been learning 1 Peter 2:17, "Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." They have been talking about showing respect to parents, friends and authority figures. This week they learned that showing respect to others shows respect to God.

To illustrate this, we took small Dixie cups and let the kids write the names or titles of people to whom they should show respect. We took the cups and made a pyramid with them. At the top of the pyramid, I placed my cup, which had the word God written on it. The girls then took turns knocking a cup out of the bottom of the pyramid to show how it affected the cup with God written on it. Every time one of the bottom cups was knocked out, the God cup fell down. The girls really understood how showing respect to their parents or their teachers showed respect to God and how disrespecting their teachers or parents showed disrespect to God.

I thought this was a fantastic illustration to show kids that what they do reflects back on God. It gave them a visual picture that they can think about whenever they are tempted to show disrespect to someone. It make 1 Peter 2:17 a reality instead of just an abstract concept. Try it with your kids and watch understanding dawn on them, too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Healing the Hurts

Some of you may have noticed that there was no blog post on Friday. I had planned to post something, but I spent my morning taking my oldest to the doctor and to get X-rays on her ankle. Last Thursday at soccer practice, she lost her footing and fell, twisting her ankle on the way down. Thankfully, it looks like nothing is broken; it's just badly sprained.

While we were driving to the doctor, my daughter asked me what I was going to write about on my blog that day. I told her I thought I would write about going to the doctor. You see, my family spends a lot of time at the doctor. In the past year, my children alone have sent us to either the doctor's office, the urgent care center or the hospital for surgery to remove a needle that was embedded in a knee, eight stitches in a chin split open by a fall on the ice, a broken finger that refused to heal, Sever's syndrome and a sprained ankle. This doesn't include the numerous other doctor's visits for well-checks, strep throat, and ear infections. My children's charts at the doctor's office are thick folders.

Yet, every time we go to the doctor, we go with the expectation that he can help us. We expect that he can heal our hurts. We want to teach our kids that God is the Great Physician. He can heal our hurts, both the physical and the emotional. So, the next time you head to the doctor's office with one of your children, use it as an object lesson to teach them to take their hurts to God.
  • On your way to the doctor's office, ask your kids how a doctor is like God. Talk about how God is the ultimate healer. Talk about some of the people that Jesus healed when He was on earth. Let your kids know that sometimes God uses doctors to help us get better, but God is always able to heal us. Be honest with your kids and talk about how sometimes God doesn't heal us. Illness is a consequence of sin entering the world and sometimes we just have to deal with that consequence.
  • Remind your children that not only can God heal our physical wounds. He can heal our emotional ones as well. Share Psalm 147:3 with your kids, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Ask them to think of a time when someone hurt their feelings really badly. Tell them that a doctor can't heal that kind of hurt, but God can. Show them how to ask God to heal their hurt feelings.
  • While you're at the doctor see how many things you can identify that the doctor can use to help people feel better. Then, have your kids identify ways that God can make them feel better when they get their feelings hurt. For example, while a doctor might use a bandage or a cast to help heal a cut or a broken limb, God can use kind words from a friend or a hug from mom to heal the wound caused by a mean girl at school.
Take advantage of this everyday occurrence in your lives to pass on to your kids an important lesson about the nature of God. Encourage them to let Him heal their hurts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Memory Monday: 1 Peter 3:15-16

I don't have any boys, but I've always loved the Boy Scout motto, "Be prepared." That motto reminds me of my favorite TV show of the late '80s and early '90s -- "MacGyver." There's a guy who was always prepared. If he had a Swiss Army knife, a wad of bubble gum and some duct tape, he could build a tank. God actually calls us to be the MacGyvers or the Boy Scouts of Christianity.

1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." God calls us to be prepared to always stand up for Him and to share the good news of Jesus with others.

Not only are we to share our faith with others, but we are to do so in a manner that attracts rather than repels. Too many so-called Christians have missed the second half of this set of verses where it talks about sharing our faith with gentleness and respect. It's not our job to force people to accept Christ. It is our job to be prepared to share the reason for our hope whenever and where ever the topic arises. The most effective way to share your faith, though, is not in a Bible-beating manner but as a genuine expression of love for Christ.

It's not our job to condemn anyone. It's simply our job to be part of the dialogue. God is responsible for changing hearts. We are just to be open to being the tools that he uses to bring the good news of Christ. When we try to make ourselves responsible for the decisions and choices of others, we run the danger of sharing Christ in a manner that isn't coated in "gentleness and respect." Jesus didn't go around forcing people to follow Him, and that's not the attitude that we should take either.

As adults, it's often hard for us to share the gospel. We fear being rejected. We're afraid we'll say the wrong thing. We wonder what others will think of us. The same fears are true for your kids. I believe that the best way for your kids' friends to meet Jesus is through your example and through your child's example. Preparing our kids to enter into honest, respectful dialogue with their peers about what they believe, is preparing them for a world that would love to trounce on their belief.

The best way I know of to prepare our kids for that kind of dialogue is to engage in it at home. Ask your kids questions like:
  • What would you say if someone asked you to tell them about Jesus?
  • What answer would you give if someone told you the Bible was just a bunch of stories?
  • What would you say if someone asked you what you believe?
  • How should you answer if someone from a different faith asked you how the faiths are different?
Walk through these scenarios with your child. As they get older, the answers will grow. Emphasize that even though we disagree with what other religions teach, we are called to treat other with respect and gentleness. We can disagree with someone and still like them and be respectful of them.

Begin having these conversations with your kids, so that when they are asked to give a reason for their hope, they will be prepared.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Do Your Best

We've been struggling in our house to impress upon our girls the importance of doing your best. My youngest, especially, has a tendency to rush through her schoolwork, her chores or any other thing she doesn't particularly like to do. We've been working to persuade her that it's important to do her best even when she doesn't like the task. When we explain this to her, we are met with the inevitable question of "But, why?"

I think even as adults, we're guilty of asking the same question about the tasks that we dislike. I don't like to clean the bathrooms, which means I often rush through the chore to get to something I like more. I know all the reasons why we need to have a clean bathroom, but sometimes that's not enough to get me to do the chore well. My kids are really no different from me.

So, how do we impress upon our kids that doing their best is important, not just for them but because it's important to God. As Christ-followers, everything we do reflects back on God, even cleaning the bathrooms. We don't have to be perfect in all that we do, but God does ask us to give it our best shot. Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." Whether it's schoolwork, soccer practice or doing chores, we want our children to do it as if they were doing it for the Lord and not for any earthly reward or punishment.

That's a big concept for kids to grasp, so let's break it down for them.
  • Ask your kids to give you examples of people who are in positions of authority. You'll probably get answers like a police officer, fire fighter, school principal, teacher, etc. Ask your kids to tell you why we should obey those people. Talk about how God is the ultimate authority over everything, so if He asks us to do something, we should do it and do it well. Share Colossians 3:23 with your kids.
  • Put your child in a position of authority. Let him decide what to have for dinner. He's the boss and you're his employee. He chooses the dinner; you make it. When you make dinner, do a terrible job -- make it taste bad and look bad. When you put dinner on the table, ask your child what he thinks about the job you did. Ask him if you were really his employee what he would do. Ask him how he thinks God feels when He gives us a job and we do it badly. Explain that if you were a chef at a restaurant and your child was the owner, your poor cooking skills would reflect badly on him, the owner. In the same way, when we don't do our best that affects the way people think about God.
  • Don't hesitate to make your child redo subpar work, whether it's homework or a chore. Remind them that God expects our best and so do you.
Remember that doing your best does not mean being perfect. My oldest daughter is never going to win the spelling bee. If she brings home spelling tests with a few missed words on them, I'm not going to accuse her of not doing her best because I know that she studied those words and tried her hardest. You're not trying to make your child an A+ student, star athlete or champion chore-doer for God -- you just want them to give God their best.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Give Up Your Expectations

Before we had kids, I had an idea of what my life would look like when we did. I'd have perfectly groomed, well-behaved children who were smart and talented. They would obey when I told them to do something and we'd have calm, rational discussions when they disagreed with me about something. They would pick up their toys and put their clothes in the dirty clothes. Are you laughing, yet?

My current life as the mom of 7- and 9-year-old daughters looks nothing like my pre-children daydreams. Just like any other household with children in it, we have good days where my children do pick up after themselves, speak with respect and do their homework without being told. But we have other days where my kids stomp off in anger, leave messes behind for me to deal with and shed tears when told to do their homework. But I wouldn't trade my messy, sometimes noisy life for the perfect one of my imagination because if I did, my children would need to be little robots doing only what I asked of them and never having a thought of their own. As nice as that sounds some days, we would miss out on the richness of life that God has given us through the two precious girls that live in our house.

One of the biggest traps that we can fall into as parents is letting our dreams for the way we want things to be get in the way of recognizing the gifts we have been given in what we have. One of our biggest challenges is to give up our expectations and dreams for our kids so that we can fully participate in our children's dreams and hopes, which may be very different from our own. I'm not saying that you shouldn't encourage your children to try new things or try to improve, but when you do encourage them to do those things, be sure to examine your motives. Do you want your child to excel at something because it's something you want or do you want them to do well because it's something they want?

Believe me, I know how hard this is. When they handed me my second daughter after she was born, visions of ice arenas and hockey games did not flit through my head. When my oldest daughter decided she wanted to play soccer, I never thought three years later I would stand in driving rain in 40-degree weather to watch her play (which shows how little I knew about soccer). I never thought I would consider the school nurse an adopted member of our family. As a copy editor (you know those people who make sure everything is spelled correctly) by profession, I never thought I'd sit with a spelling list in one hand and a sobbing child in the other arm because she just can't figure out how to spell "surprise." As an avid reader, I never thought I'd sit in a library poring over the shelves looking for anything that would persuade my reluctant reader to pick up a book.

If I had my choice, my girls would participate in activities that didn't require me to sit in the stands and watch them get kicked, checked or tripped. We wouldn't be on a first-name basis with the doctors at the urgent care center, and I would have no idea how awful it is hold your child down while she is getting stitches. Spelling wouldn't frustrate them, and they would love to read. But that's not who God made my girls to be. If I try to force them into the mold that I had in mind for them, they will be miserable and so will I. Together, we would miss the opportunities for them to fit into the place God has in mind for them.

In Jeremiah 1:5, God tells Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." This is true for you and your children. God knew them before they were born. He knew my oldest would be a self-motivated child full of compassion and love. He knew my youngest would be a stubborn, spunky girl who is the life of the party. He has a plan in mind for both of them, and He gave them to me and my husband to nurture and raise so that they are ready to go when God calls.

So, the practical application in today's post is for you.
  • Spend some time today thanking God for the children He has given you. Ask Him to help you see your children as He sees them. Ask Him to help you be willing to participate in activities that you might not choose for yourself if it's something that fits your child.
  • Be open to doing things with your child that are outside your comfort zone. You might have to strap on ice skates for the first time in 20 years. You might have to learn the finer points of ballet. You might have to learn the difference between a rubber eraser and a gum eraser. Even if you know who Maradona is, you might have to figure out what his soccer move looks like. Whatever it is, be open to following your child's lead where his gifts and talents are concerned.
  • Let go of your expectations. Whatever it is that your child excels at or doesn't excel at, let them be who they are, not who you want them to be in your "perfect" world. Accept your child for who he or she is. Push them to do their best, but don't be disappointed if they choose a different activity than the one you would have chosen or if they simply want to have fun playing and not be the next Babe Ruth or Pele.
  • Enjoy your kids. Even if you have to learn about something in which you have no interest. Be interested for your kids. I'm not really all that interested in Lego Bionicles, but I'm learning all sorts of things about them because my youngest loves them.
  • Be involved in what your kids love. By simply being there, you are loving them and giving them the confidence to be who God made them to be.
Even though your life probably doesn't remotely resemble your pre-children dreams, enjoy what you have been given. In this case, reality is better than the dream.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Winds of Change

In about a week, our household is will undergo a big change. I'm headed back to work for the next two months. While I currently do freelance work from home, I haven't gone into an office every day in more than nine years. This job is still a freelance job, but I have to go into an office every day except Friday. It's a great opportunity, but my girls are less than excited about the whole idea. As a matter of fact, every time we bring the subject up, they get all weepy-eyed.

My youngest is worried about who will do her hair on the mornings her dad is getting her off to school. My oldest is concerned about her grandparents picking her up from school one day a week. Both are legitimate concerns, but they are just expressions of the much deeper cry of "I don't want my life to change." In that respect, kids are just like adults. How often do we face a change in our lives with anxiety and tears?

We often like to think that kids are extremely adaptable, but change is just as hard for them as it is for us. Sometimes it's harder because they may not understand all the reasons behind the changes in their lives. My girls always experience anxiety the night before a new school year. It's the same type of anxiety I might feel before starting a new job.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Solomon talks about how life is full of change and that God provides a season for everything. He says:

"There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

God has given us a time for everything. But sometimes those seasons come upon us, and they require that our lives change. I don't know about you, but I'm as bad as my children sometimes. God asks me to make a change in my lifestyle, and I kick and scream and cry and say "But I like my life." Seasons in life come and go, but God is constant. Despite our dislike of change, those changes help us to grow both emotionally and spiritually.
Helping our kids understand the changes in their lives, whether they are big or little, can make big life changes happen more smoothly in your household. Change also allows our kids to see that God uses those changes for a bigger purpose. Prepare your kids for big life changes, whether it's a change in your employment status, a move or just the promotion to a new grade.
  • Show your kids pictures of themselves as babies. Have them point out the things that have changed about their bodies since they were small. Then, help them find the things that haven't changed. Ask them if they would want to remain a baby forever. Talk about how God designed us to grow and change. Remind them that if we never changed, then we would never be able to talk or walk. Talk about how sometimes changes in our lives help us to be ready to do new things. A move can make us better at making friends or put us in a place where there are different opportunities available to us.
  • If you know that your family will be making a big change, don't spring it on your kids at the last minute. Give them as much time as you can to get used to the idea. Answer their questions and do your best to calm their fears. Remind them of Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God allows us to go through changes so that He can use those things for good. Help them think of a time when they were afraid or anxious about a change, but it turned out to be a good thing.
  • Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 with your kids. Try to identify times in your lives that match the seasons mentioned in the passage (when you get to the time to kill passage, you might look at it in terms of things that you have to get rid of in your life rather than actually killing someone). Helping your kids identify different seasons in their own lives will help them see that this change is just another season.
  • Go outside and talk about the current season. Talk about what each person likes and dislikes about that particular season. Remind your kids that the seasons change and each one is different and brings different adventures and challenges. Remind your kids that our lives have seasons, too, and each season of life brings its own adventures and challenges. No matter what season we are in, though, God is always with us.
I don't know what season of life you are currently in. You may be raising preschoolers or you may be trying to decide what your purpose is now that your kids are in school all day. Whatever the season, remember that God has plans for you and your children in this particular season. Embrace the season you're in and enjoy all that it has to offer. As the season begins to change, remember that God has good things in store for you and your children in the next season as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Memory Monday: Proverbs 14:30

I spent the weekend with my oldest daughter and six other fourth-grade girls at Worlds of Fun, our local amusement park. The theme for the weekend was respect, and we spent time learning the 10 commandments. As we were talking about the 10 commandments, I realized that most of the girls in my group did not know what the word envy meant. As soon as I described it, one of the girls piped up and said "That's like when I got some colored pencils and my friend had to go out and get a box that had even more in it." It didn't take long for the other girls to chime in with their own examples.

This morning I ran across Proverbs 14:30, "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." I love the visual that this verse gives us about how destructive envy can be. I think envy is something that kids struggle with almost constantly. There's always someone who has more or is better at something than your child.

My girls have TV envy. According to them, we are the last household on the planet to still have a TV that looks like a box. No, we have not yet joined the flat-screen revolution in this house. Every time we go in a store that has TVs, the girls have to go look at them and talk about how much cooler they are than our TV. Any time they go to someone else's house, they let us know all about the TV that the other kid has. Despite the fact that we have good reasons for not upgrading  our TV at this time, our girls continue to envy other kids who have flat-screen TVs.

Today's verse offers a great way to create a visual picture for your kids about what envy can do. Take a peach or other soft fruit and set it in a plastic container in the window sill. Leave it there for a few days until it starts to decay. Show your kids how the decay starts as a small spot on the peach, but it slowly takes over the whole thing until it is a rotten, smelly, disgusting thing. Read Proverbs 14:30 and talk about how envy can take over our minds to the point of pushing everything else out. Remind them of the queen in the Snow White fairy tale who was so jealous of Snow White that she wanted to kill her. Talk about how envy can cause us to do things that we might not otherwise even consider.

Don't leave out the first part of the verse, either. Talk with your kids about what they think a heart at peace looks like. Ask them why they think God contrasted a heart at peace with one full of envy. Ask your kids if there are things that they envy about others. Pray with them and help them to turn those things over to God. Ask God to fill your hearts with peace, so that your bodies will be full of life. Show your kids how to capture their envious thoughts and replace them with this verse. Tell them that every time they feel jealous of someone else, they should give that thought to God and say Proverbs 14:30 to give themselves something else on which to focus.

As you learn this verse this week, I pray that you and your children will have bodies full of life and that you will leave bone-rotting envy behind.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beyond My Wildest Imaginings

God does some amazing things. I was flipping through the stats on my blog this morning, and I was completely awed by God. Besides being able to see how many people clicked on the blog, there's this nifty, little feature that lets me see from what countries people are clicking on the site. Most of the hits on this blog are from people in the United States, but yesterday there were also hits from Japan, Germany, Singapore, France and Algeria. On Wednesday, someone from Saudi Arabia clicked on the site.

As I write this, I am sitting here grinning because who am I that God would use me to reach people halfway around the world? I have no idea if these ideas work as well in Singapore or Saudi Arabia as they do in the United States, but I'm in shock that God used me to reach out and touch someone in a faraway country with His word. Ephesians 3:20 says that God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine," and in the case of this ministry that is so true.

Today, I want to share with you a little bit of the journey that has brought me to this spot in my life. I spent some time this summer reflecting on how I ended up here, writing this blog and sharing the message that you can teach your kids about God's truths simply as you go about your lives. As I looked back on the experiences in my life I discovered that God has spent the past 20 years getting me ready to do this. As you read my story, take a moment to look at your own life, examine your experiences and see how God has prepared you to fulfill His special purpose for your life.

I've always loved to write, from the time I could pick up a pencil I've been writing stories. When I was in high school, I discovered journalism and decided that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I went to journalism school at the University of Missouri and spent five years working as a copy editor at a trade newspaper. When we had kids, I stayed home with them but continued to do some freelance work as an editor.

After my first daughter was born, I started teaching ladies' Bible studies. At first, I simply taught the video study or the used the leaders' notes to lead the discussion. After a few years, I decided I didn't always like the video or the notes, so I started creating my own. From there, I felt God calling me to write my own studies.

I've also been teaching in the children's departments of various churches since I was in high school. I love to teach Vacation Bible School, but the curriculum is often written for churches much smaller than ours. For years, I've been taking the VBS curriculum apart and creating new activities to fit our large groups. I had no idea that God was preparing me to share that skill with you.

All of these activities -- writing, leading Bible studies and teaching children -- are things that were good all by themselves. But in the last year, God has shown me that all of those things were a stepping-stone to this ministry. He put all those things in my path and asked me to do them, so that I could end up here, writing a blog that somebody in Japan would read.

If you had asked me 10 years ago what my life would look like today, I would not have been able to come close to picturing my current life. If you had said I would be ministering to parents, I would have thought you were a lunatic, but God had an amazing plan. He spent years preparing me to be able to fulfill my part in His plan, and I am in awe of His perfect timing.

I tell you all of this not to simply tell my story but to encourage you and your kids. God can use every one of your experiences to help you bring Him glory by filling your place in His plan. I'll be honest, there were some painful experiences along the way, but if I hadn't sat in the NICU with my newborn for a week, I would never have come face to face with the fact that every child is a miracle. Out of that thought came the idea that if I've been given a miracle, what am I going to do with it? Looking back, I know that the moment I asked myself that question 7 1/2 years ago was the beginning of Everyday Truth. It took 7 years for this ministry to take form, but it started with that question borne out of one of the most painful experiences of my life.

If you're not sure how you are supposed to be serving God right now or your child is confused about what his role is, remember that God may just be molding you to do something beyond your wildest imagination. Because God's imagination has no limits. Your job is to continue doing what God has called you to do -- whether that's changing 20 diapers a day or teaching 10 three-year-olds on Sunday morning. You never know how God will use those skills you have learned to change a life for Him.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Make It Concrete

My oldest daughter is in fourth grade this year. Her spelling lists have gotten a lot harder, and she now has to know what the words mean as well as how to spell them. She often comes home with words that she doesn't know what they mean. My favorite lists are when she comes home with words that are defined with words that she also doesn't know.

When we talk with our kids about God, church and the Bible we need to be careful that we are using words that they understand. If you've been a part of a church for any length of time, you just naturally tend to pick up the terminology that your church uses to describe things. When we talk about being saved, becoming a Christian or being alive in Christ, we need to remember that children tend to be concrete thinkers. They will take big, abstract concepts and try to fit them into their concrete way of thinking, sometimes with amusing results.

When I was a kid, I always thought God must have a big oven so he could bake a whole bunch of bread because the Lord's Prayer says "Give us this day our daily bread."

Keeping this in mind, when you talk about things like salvation will help you present the ideas in terms that your children understand. So often when talking to our kids, we revert back to terminology that we learned. Just because it's familiar to us, doesn't mean it will make sense to our kids. Here's some easy ways to break down some big concepts for your kids.
  • Salvation -- Sin is the stuff that we do that God tells us not to. For kids, that's things like disobeying your parents and being mean to your sister. Sin keeps us from being close to God. The Bible tells us that the consequence of sin is to be forever separated from God. But Jesus died on the cross so that we could be close to God -- we can be His sons and daughters. All we have to do is tell God we're sorry for doing wrong things and ask Jesus to be in charge of our lives, and we can be close to God forever.
  • Why bad things happen -- God doesn't cause bad things to happen, but He doesn't always stop them from happening. Bad things happen -- people get sick, people hurt each other, natural disasters happen -- as a consequence of sin. Because people can choose to do wrong things, the world isn't perfect and bad things happen. But, if we have Jesus in charge of our lives, we know that God can use even the bad things for good.
  • Why everyone doesn't follow Jesus -- God gives all of us a choice. God loves us and doesn't want anyone to be separated from us. But God wouldn't get any joy from forcing us all to follow Him. He wants us to choose to follow Him. Some people choose not to because they think following Jesus is just a bunch of rules or they don't think they need God. We can pray for the people we know who don't follow Jesus.
No matter the topic, remember to find ways to explain things to your children in the most concrete terms you can find. If possible, give them a visual picture of what you are talking about. And whenever you don't know what to say in answer to your kids' questions, ask God for help. I promise He'll supply you with exactly the right words.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't Miss the Sunrise

I was out walking this morning when the sun came up. It was a gorgeous sunrise, all red and pink. I got to enjoy it the whole time I was walking down one street, but when I turned the corner toward my house, I could no longer see the beauty because the houses were in the way. They blocked my view.

It's so easy to miss seeing God and his awesome wonders because we let the everyday things in life block our view. If we aren't looking for God in the small things (and the big ones) then we can't help our children see Him, either. When was the last time you were so amazed by something that you couldn't help but stop and thank God for it? When was the last time you were struck speechless by the beauty of God's creation? If you can't name a specific time, it's been too long, and it's time to again start seeking God in the moments of your life.

Despite the houses blocking my view this morning, I could still see glimpses of the sunrise. Even when we aren't looking for God, He provides glimpses of Himself in our lives. Too often we chalk those things up to coincidence or good luck or we just don't think about them at all. Nothing is a coincidence if you are a Christ follower. God is always at work in your life. We just have to recognize His work for what it is.

Teach your children how to find God at work in their lives, and show them how easy it is for us to get caught up in the everyday and miss seeing God's work.
  • Either use a photograph or have your children draw a picture of something beautiful that God made. On other small pieces of paper, help your children write down things that can distract us from noticing God's creation -- they can be physical things like houses or things that make us busy, like school, activities and friends. Cover the picture with the smaller pieces of paper and talk with your children about how sometimes even good things like school and friends can distract us and have us overlook God's work in our lives. Take a minute to thank God for all of His creation and the things He is doing in your family's life.
  • Ask your child to write a story or draw a picture, depending on their age. While they are working turn on the radio, the TV, talk to them, just generally make all sorts of noise. Make an effort to distract them. If they complain about it or after they are done, ask them how hard it was to focus on what they were doing. Explain that sometimes it's hard for us to focus on God because there are so many distractions that we sometimes miss what God is trying to tell us or we miss seeing the awesome things that He does. Talk about the types of distractions that your children face.
  • Create altars in your children's lives. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would build an altar whenever God did something amazing. Create altars in your children's lives by pointing out when God is doing something great in their lives. You can mark the moment with a conversation, a note in a journal or even a physical momento. Being able to look back on what God has done in their lives will help them through the tough times because they will be able to see that God has been faithful.
As a parent, be sure to be looking for the moments that God does something in your life. Don't hesitate to share some of those moments with your kids. And don't let distractions in your life block your view of the sunrise moments that God provides.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Forget to Have Fun

The winner of my prize for offering feedback on the blog goes to Ginger in Texas. Ginger, use the contact us link on the right to send me your address, and I'll send the book your way. Thanks everyone for all the feedback. Don't hesitate to continue to let me know how I can serve you through this blog. Enjoy today's post.

Our Saturdays have been packed lately. We've had company and soccer tournaments, hockey tryouts and Girl Scout ice cream parties. But, this past Saturday, we found ourselves with an open day on the calendar, so we decided not to jump into a home-improvement project or fill the time with errands. We took a day to have fun and took our kids to the Old Settler's Day festival. We rode rides, watched the parade, wandered around craft booths and ate cotton candy. We enjoyed each other's company and spent time laughing together.

I don't know about your family, but we sometimes get so busy doing our "stuff" that we forget to make time to just have fun. We have three nights a week of sport practice, one day every other week of Girl Scouts, and one night a week of AWANA. Sometimes it seems like it's hard to fit any fun, family time in. But it's those fun, family moments that your kids will remember. Those moments are the glue that binds your family together. Think back on your own childhood. You probably don't remember every soccer game or dance recital, but I bet you do remember the camping trip where your brother fell in the lake or the bike ride where mom got a flat tire.

Making time to have fun with your family might seem hard, but it doesn't have to be. On nights when we don't have some kind of activity, we try to do something together as a family. Some nights we watch TV (my kids love that crazy show WipeOut), others we play games, and some nights we go out and shoot hoops or play street hockey. Some evenings, we just take the dog for a walk. You may only have an hour together as a family some nights, so make the most of it. The dishes will wait, but your kids won't.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh." Make sure that your family's life includes those moments of laughter. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Get a joke book from the library, and spend one evening reading jokes to each other.
  • Go camping together. There's nothing like getting away from the TV and the distractions to enjoy some time together.
  • Go for a walk together.
  • Surprise your kids by going out for ice cream.
  • Have a video game tournament. Pick a game you all enjoy, and let the winner keep the controller. See who can hold onto their controller the longest.
  • Read a book out loud together.
  • Play board games together.
  • Tell a silly story together. Let one person give the first sentence and everyone has to add a sentence after that.
  • Announce a topic and have everyone draw a picture of it. Vote on whose picture is the funniest, the most realistic, the most colorful, etc.
Whatever you choose to do, make the most of whatever moments you have together. Be intentional about having fun together because those shared moments of joy will bind your family together in ways you can't begin to imagine.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Memory Monday: Proverbs 16:28

It's Monday, so that must mean it's time for a new verse. One of my readers mentioned to me that the last two weeks, the verses were pretty long, so this week's is short and easy. This one's for you, Kristy. While the verse, itself, is short, it's oh so difficult to put into practice because it deals with gossip. If there's one thing in this world that most women struggle with (besides an incredible fondness for chocolate), it's taming our tongues. And, as I'm sure any of you with school-aged kids know, our kids struggle with it, too.

The problem with gossip is that most of the time it's not true, and it is almost always hurtful to someone else. You know the hurt gossip can cause either through a personal experience or through having your child come through the door in tears because someone started a rumor about her. Gossip is never helpful; it always hurts. And most of the time, the gossip becomes so convoluted and twisted that any semblance of truth is completely gone. Gossip can destroy friendships and cause dissension in families. Satan loves gossip because it is so easy to twist the truth when we're willing to gossip.

Today's verse Proverbs 16:28 is a reminder of the consequences of choosing to gossip. It says "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." I don't know about you, but I don't want to be considered perverse or the person who broke up friendships. I certainly don't want my children to be on the giving or the receiving end of gossip.

One of my favorite ways to teach my girls about the dangers of gossip is to play the old telephone game where one person whispers something to the next person until it goes all the way around. Usually what comes out of the last person's mouth doesn't at all resemble what the first person said. This gives you a great illustration of the way a story can change when it passes through many people. Remind your kids that if they have any concern about whether a story is true, then they should ask the person the story is about. And if something is hurtful or mean, they should just ignore it.

Remind your children never to repeat a story unless they know it to be true. If they don't know if something is true, remind them to talk to you first before repeating it. Together, you can figure out if it is true, and if it is something worth repeating.

Remember, too, that if your children hear you gossiping with others, all your teaching about gossip will go right out the window. You have to set the example with regard to your tongue, so your children can follow it.

So, this week, as you memorize this verse, guard your tongue. Examine the things that come out of your mouth for truth. If it's not truthful or helpful, don't say it. Remind your children of the same. Let truthfulness and helpfulness be the standard against which you and your children measure your words.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Keep on Keeping On

Today is a big day in our house. My youngest gets to lace up her skates, strap on her helmet and pick up her stick to get on the ice with all the other 7- and 8-year-olds playing house league ice hockey tonight. We have been working for this moment for over a year. Personally, I never thought she'd stick it out through the year of learn-to-skate classes, but she did, and we're so proud of her.

We encountered many tears, frustrations and "I'm not sure I want to do this" comments throughout the year. She is not my kid with a lot of innate stick-to-itness. She has to be coaxed and encouraged along the way. She wanted to step on the ice and be the next Sidney Crosby. I had to remind her that even Sidney Crosby probably fell down the first time he set foot on the ice.

Of all the things my youngest has learned in this year of preparing to play hockey, the most important thing she has learned is perseverance. The poor girl thought she was never going to learn to stop. Learning to stop came at the high cost of extra time spent on the ice, private lessons and eight stitches in her chin. The one thing we kept telling her was that if you want something, you have to work for it. Sometimes it takes perseverance.

I think perseverance is a character quality that gets short shrift in our culture. We live in a me-first, I want it now culture. The idea of delayed gratification is foreign to many. The prevailing thought is "If I want it, I should have it." That's not what we want our kids to learn. Sometimes life is hard, and if our kids haven't learned how to persevere through the tough times, then they'll never reap the rewards of doing so.

We are called to persevere. Galatians 6:9 says "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Sometimes, our reward for continuing to do the things that God asks for us is not immediate. Sometimes we suffer for doing what we should. (The Christians of the early church lived in constant fear of death.) But, in the end, we will reap the reward that God has for us.

If you have a child who wants to give up whenever things don't go exactly as they wish, work with her to teach the quality of perseverance.
  • Look for opportunities to talk with your children about perseverance. Take your kids to a marathon or watch one on TV. Talk about how hard it must be for the runners to keep running for 26 miles. Ask your kids how far they think they could run without wanting to stop. Share Hebrews 12:1 with your kids "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Point out that God is calling us to persevere in tough circumstances, just like those marathon runners persevere until the end of the race.
  • Set up an obstacle course in your backyard. Make it hard, and if you have more than one child, include obstacles that require them to work together to cross. Make your obstacle course require some thought for how to get through it. You can even include some mental challenges as well as physical ones. Have a really great prize for finishing the course -- ice cream, extra video game time, whatever motivates your kids. Your kids might get frustrated. Just encourage them to keep trying. When they finally finish, give them their reward and talk about how they worked through their frustration. Talk about what made them want to persevere. Apply perseverance to issues that they struggle with in their daily lives. Is math hard for them? Are they having trouble with a friend? Talk about how persevering through the situation will give them a greater reward in the end.
  • Model perseverance. If your children excel at something that is tough for you, let them teach you how to do it. Maybe it's a soccer move or a dance move or cup stacking. Stick with it until you learn how to do the task. Ask your kids how they would have felt if you had quit in the middle. Ask them how they think it makes God feel if we quit doing something we should just because it's difficult.
As you go about teaching your kids to persevere, remember to point out the rewards of perseverance. Whether it's finally playing on a team, learning something new or simply pleasing God, perseverance always reaps rewards.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Giving Up the Good Stuff for Something Better

It's ironic that I wrote about having a healthy family yesterday because I spent all of yesterday morning in the doctor's office with my oldest. She's been having horrible pain in her heel, so much that she can barely walk. Turns out she has a condition called Sever's Syndrome, which is caused by her bones in her leg growing faster than her Achilles tendon. Wearing cleats as much as she does aggravates the tendon and causes pain. The prescribed cure is rest, ice, stretching and Advil. She's ok with the ice, stretching and Advil, but when the doctor told her she couldn't play soccer for a week, she looked the doctor in the eye and said "That is unacceptable."

In thinking over that response, besides the fact that it makes me smile, it made me wonder how often we tell God that something that He asks us to do is "unacceptable." We tend to get settled in our own comfort zone, busy with whatever activities to which we feel God has called us, and think that we should stay there -- forever. Sometimes God wants to use our service in certain ministries and activities to prepare us for the next thing He has planned, but when He asks us to move on, we tell him "That is unacceptable." When we do that, not only are we missing out on the blessings that God has for us in the new task He has for us, but we are robbing someone else of the opportunity to be blessed by taking over the role we are leaving behind.

It's important that we train our children that when they leave one thing behind, they are simply making room for more blessings. My youngest daughter and I gave up Girl Scouts this year. I was her troop leader, and I really enjoyed it, but she decided that Girl Scouts was not for her. She wanted more time to do other things, like play hockey. While it was a tough decision to make, looking at our schedule this fall, I can see that God moved that off our schedule so that both she and I would have time for other things that He had in mind.

When you or your child has a tough decision to make about activities or ministries, take a deep breath and work through it together.
  • Pray about it. Remember Philippians 4:6 says "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, bring your requests to God." God wants to hear about how torn you are over the decision. He wants to be able to show you what He has planned for you. Pray with your child so he has an example of how to pray about his decisions.
  • Remind your child that even though it may seem she is leaving behind something that is good, she is replacing it with something that is better. If God calls you to do something, it is always better than doing something you are not called to do. Illustrate this by giving your child a piece of watermelon or some other fruit that they like. Ask them what they like about the watermelon. Then, offer to trade their watermelon for a slice of chocolate cake or other sweet treat. Ask them if they would be willing to trade the watermelon, which they probably think is good, for the chocolate cake, which they will probably think is better. You can do this illustration with food or trading a small toy for a larger one. Be sure to emphasize that sometimes God asks us to trade something that we think is good for something that He knows is better.
  • Seek outside counsel. If you or your child feel like you are being called to do something different, ask other Christians what they think about the idea. Usually, God will confirm what He has called you to do through the wise counsel of others. Encourage your children to ask the opinions of other trusted adults -- their children's director, their Sunday School teacher or the Christian parent of a friend who knows them well. Learning to seek wise counsel at a young age will help them when they are faced with big decisions later in life.
Most importantly, remember that when God calls, He expects us to follow. Don't let your or your child's fear of leaving your comfort zones have you saying to God "That is unacceptable." You don't want to miss out on the blessings He has for you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's a Temple

Nearly every night, I'm asked the question, "Can we have dessert?" Many nights, the answer to that question is "yes." Some nights, though, the answer is "no." That answer is usually met with groans and cries of "But why not?" from my kids. Kids love sugar (and so do I). This generation also seems to prefer video games over playing outside. Those things can be a dangerous combination if we let our kids indiscriminately partake of them.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." We are called to honor God with our bodies, and we, as a culture, struggle more with this than with any other directive. In this culture, it is so easy to not pay attention to our bodies and to unintentionally pass that inattention on to our children. The percentage of obese people is at an all-time high, and childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic.

If you or your children struggle with your weight, I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I am trying to point out that the way we treat our bodies is important to God. He calls us to honor Him with our bodies. Our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. Anywhere that God dwells is holy. In the Old Testament, there were specific rules for taking care of the tabernacle, where God's spirit dwelled during the Israelites exodus from Egypt. Our bodies have become the temple for God's spirit, so we should follow His instructions for taking care of our bodies as well.

Teaching our children to care for their bodies at an early age means that they will be less likely to struggle with body image and weight problems later in their lives. Our example is the single, most important way we teach our children about taking care of themselves. That's not easy. I'm guilty of telling my kids to eat healthy, and then sneaking some chocolate when they're not around. There's nothing wrong with a treat, but our lifestyle needs to show that we think that our bodies are a temple -- holy and set apart.

If you don't already lead a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and physical activity, it's never too late to start. Start with little changes and have fun doing them.
  • Read Daniel 1:3-16 with your kids. Talk about how Daniel made the choices about his food that God would want him to make. Ask your children how we can make good choices in our eating habits as well. Discuss how those choices honor God.
  • Let your kids plan and cook a meal. Lay out guidelines for them -- they have to include a meat, a dairy and a fruit or vegetable -- then let them do the planning, shopping and cooking. Provide whatever level of help and supervision that's appropriate for the age level of your child. Be sure to emphasize that healthy eating builds strong bodies and honors God.
  • As a family, come up with some active activities that you can do together. It can be anything from bike rides or walks to basketball games and ice skating. Just taking a soccer ball and shooting it at a net after supper offers physical activity and fun for your family. Not only are you getting active together, you're spending time together.
  • Add walking to your daily routine. Walk your kids to school instead of driving or park farther away from the store when you go so you have to walk farther. Make little changes that add up to big ones.
Whatever you choose to do to improve your family's eating and exercise habits, remember that the main goal is not to have the skinniest, most toned body. It's to have bodies that we treat as temples for the Holy Spirit. Healthy eating and exercise habits give us more energy, which allows us to answer God's call no matter what He calls us to do.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Memory Monday (on Tuesday): Isaiah 40:29-31

The past few nights, I've been heading to bed early. I've found myself simply worn down and exhausted by the demands of my family, my job and my commitments. Even when I get to bed early, I haven't been sleeping well. Either a child has woken me up or I've simply slept fitfully. This morning, I'm simply weary.

I look at the explosion of chaos in my kitchen -- the result of a weekend filled with company, a soccer tournament and a cookout -- and I feel weary knowing I'm going to have to dive into the mess sometime today. I feel weariness settle on my shoulders as I stare at the mounds of laundry that my family has managed to dirty since the last time I did laundry at the end of last week. I feel weary when I think of the extra stories I need to edit today because I took yesterday off.

Our children experience weariness, too. A bad day at school, an overscheduled life and, sometimes, dealing with parents and siblings can create weariness in our children. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our kids is to let them take a day off. I know that my oldest daughter enjoyed playing in her soccer tournament this weekend, but she is really looking forward to next Saturday when we don't have soccer or hockey. She can sleep in and just be lazy. The date is marked on her mental calendar.

The true cure for weariness, though, is not a day off -- though that can help. Jesus is the one who can lift that burden of weariness off your shoulders. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Doesn't rest sound wonderful? We're not supposed to run ourselves into the ground. Jesus offers us strength and rest. To be a successful mom, we need both, and for our kids to be successful, they need both.

That's why this week's memory verse reminds us of the source of our strength. Memorize Isaiah 40:29-31: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

On the days when you're exhausted because a kid was up all night or your family is in the midst of crisis remember these verses and seek out Jesus to be the source of your strength. Don't try to do everything out of your own strength; let Jesus give you His strength, so you can soar on wings like eagles instead of trudging along your own dusty path.
When your kids face things that make them want to give up, remind them of this verse. If you have someplace you can go to see an eagle, take your kids to see one. Talk about how beautiful an eagle is when it soars, yet it doesn't work hard. It allows the wind to carry it. Just like the eagle, we want to let Jesus carry us. If we rely on His strength, then we won't get tired.
Let these verses penetrate your heart this week, and remember when you feel weary to spread your wings and let Jesus help you soar.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Feedback and a Prize

This post might look familiar. I published it last Friday. I really would like some feedback on how you use the blog. You can comment here or on the Facebook page. Just let me know what you think.

When I started writing this blog back in May, I wasn't sure anyone would read it. However, I felt compelled to write it. When people besides my mom and my husband started telling me they loved reading it and were using some of the ideas with their own kids and grandkids, I was amazed. As I wrote in my first ever post, I never wanted to write a parenting blog, book, study or anything else. I didn't want anyone thinking I knew it all or that my kids are perfect. Yet, God knew that the message of Everyday Truth -- that you don't have to be a biblical scholar to teach your kids' God's truth -- was one that moms everywhere need to hear.

From the time I first sat down at my computer to write, God has been faithful. Every morning, He provides me with something to say that will, hopefully, touch a mom's heart and change a child's life in some small way. The topics to write on are endless, but today I want to ask you all to offer some suggestions. Anyone who comments on the blog today will be entered in a drawing to receive a copy of "This Fine Life" by Eva Marie Everson, a novel set in the 1960s south about a small-town pastor and his wife. It's a great read.

So, here's what I want to know. Comment on any or all of these topics.

What topics would you like to see covered on the blog?

Would you be interested in doing an online Bible study?

How do you use this blog? Do you visit every day, once a week? Do you use the suggestions with your kids?

If you are a member of the Facebook page, what do you think of the posts? Are they helpful?

If you have used any of the ideas on the blog, how did it turn out?

Would you be interested in having an Everyday Truth Bible study or seminar at your church?

Let me know what you think. I'm open to any and all suggestions. Thanks for helping me make the Everyday Truth blog as useful as possible for you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Leader of the Pack

We have a great dog. He's a German short-haired pointer named Buddy. He's two years old, but we've only had him about six months. He's gentle, playful, loving and wouldn't hurt a soul unless you tried to hurt one of us. He doesn't jump on the furniture or people, comes when he's called and goes into his crate when told. He's very well-behaved -- until we want to take him on a walk.

As soon as you get the leash out, Buddy starts jumping and whining like a maniac. His tail wags so hard, you think it might fall off. He will actually sit down for you to put his collar and leash on, but then he's off like a shot. All 60 pounds of him will drag you around the block. The girls can't walk him; he's just too strong. We've been working with him to teach him not to pull on the leash, but he's so excited to go for a walk that he thinks he has to lead the way. He has a fit if one of the girls gets in front of him, pulling so hard on his leash that he tries to choke himself.

Too often we're like Buddy. Either we don't want to let God lead in any fashion or we hear God tell us to do something and we take off on that path with waiting for God to lead. Buddy doesn't like to follow anyone. It doesn't matter if it's one of my girls or other kids walking to school. He wants to be in front -- the leader of the pack. So many times, we think we have to be the leader of the pack. The person who makes the decisions and sees to the details. But being the leader is never our role. Our role is to be a Christ-follower -- that means that Jesus is always in front. You can't follow from the front. You have to be behind the leader to see where He is going.

Kids, by nature, are selfish. How many times have you had your kids fight over who is going to get the first bowl of ice cream, sit next to mom or be the first to take a shower? Their natural tendency is to want to be first. Our job is to show them how to follow, and to make wise choices on whom to follow.
  • Start with yourself. If you're not living out an example of a life committed to following Jesus, then anything you do or say to your kids about it is going to fall on deaf ears. Ask God to show you the areas in your life where you are leading instead of following Him. Decide if there's anything you need to change in your activities or daily schedule so that you are following God instead of trying to lead Him.
  • Play follow the leader with your kids. Every so often run up and get in front of the leader. See what chaos breaks out in the line behind you. I'm sure your child will remind you that you are not the leader. Talk about how hard it would be for you to follow the leader if you are in front of him. Tell your children that God wants us to follow Him, not try to lead. Ask your children what ways they can follow God when they have to make tough choices. Ask them if there are certain people that they know that they might not want to follow because of the choices that that person makes.
  • Load a wagon with something heavy like rocks or bricks. Have your child try to push the wagon up the hill. It should be difficult because the wheels will turn. Next have them try pulling the wagon up the hill. It should be easier than pushing. Talk about how just like pushing the wagon, it's hard for God to show us the direction He wants us to go from behind. When we let Him get in front of us, it's much easier for us to follow His leading.
This can be a tough concept for kids to grasp because it's not concrete. Be sure to encourage your kids to pray and ask God what to do when they are faced with a decision. Talk about the ways that God lets us know what He wants us to do -- through the Bible, through others, through prayer.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Prioritizing Life

My oldest daughter has our family embarking into the world of competitive soccer this year. Before we signed up, we sat down with her and talked about the time and money commitment it takes for her to play. We made sure she understood that this was a year-long commitment, so she needed to be sure she wanted to make it a priority in her life. She decided to play, and she loves every minute of it. She never wants to be late to practice, she likes to practice her skills and she loves playing in the games (even when it's 104 degrees outside). She knows that to play, she has to work hard in school and have all her homework done before practice. She's made it a priority to play soccer.

Priorities in your family are based on your values. If you value something, you will put a priority on it. My oldest values soccer because it lets her be active, make friends and play on a team. She prioritizes it by making sure her homework is done, practicing her skills and being on time to practice.

Too often, our family's schedules are dictated by what is urgent and not necessarily what is important. Today, I want you to take a hard look at your schedules and decide what is on your schedule that you truly value and what is on your schedule that doesn't emphasize your values. Start by looking at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Martha had let the urgent take the place of the important, and Jesus called her on it. He pointed out that Mary had put a priority on the more important thing -- spending time with Him. When we let all the urgent things in our lives push out the things that we say we value -- time with God, time with family, creating strong relationships with friends -- then we're really saying that we don't value those things at all.

I'm not here to tell you to not let your kids play sports or do dance or take piano or take swim lessons. I am saying, make sure whatever your family is involved in reflects what you value. For example, as you know, my youngest daughter plays ice hockey. That may not seem like it reflects a value in our family, but it does. Hockey has taught my daughter that sometimes you have to work really hard to get what you want. Hockey is a tough sport to learn. Not only do you have to be quick, smart and agile, you have to do it all on ice skates. In learning to play, she has learned valuable lessons about character qualities on which we, as a family, place value.

Make it a family process to decide on what things your family places the most value. Your kids need to learn that everything in life has a place, and sometimes we have to pass on good things so we can focus on better things. Don't make all their decisions for them. Even young children have an opinion about what is important to them.
  • Have a family meeting where you have listed out all the activities in which members of your family are involved. Lay out a piece of posterboard and work with your family to come up with four or five values on which you are going to judge your activities. Your values will be unique to your family, but they might include things like: Friendships, God, Family or Health.
  • Look at your list of activities. Put each activity under the value to which it relates. You may have some that don't fit a category. Set these aside. If an activity fits under more than one category, write it down under each one.
  • Prioritize your values. Does God come before friendship? Does family come before health? Direct the conversation but include your kids. Ask for their opinions.
  • Look at the activities that don't fit under a value. Talk about why you are doing that activity. Decide together whether that is an activity that needs to be on the schedule.
  • Explain to your kids that these are the values on which your family will be basing its decisions about activities. The priority goes to whichever value your family has decided is the most important one.
  • Set limits. There are so many good activities out there, that even when you have set your priorities there can be too much on the schedule. Limit your kids (and even the adults) to whatever number of activities fits your family. In our house, our kids can do one sport and one activity per season. Right now my oldest is in Girl Scouts and soccer, and my youngest is just playing hockey.
When you decide on your values and priorities as a family, everyone is moving in the same direction when making decisions. When a birthday party conflicts with a planned family event, you can simply point out that you all decided together that family is a higher priority than friends. Specific situations may require game-day decisions, but your values provide you with a place to start. Not all decisions are easy, and some require sacrifice on the part of each family member, but in the end, you know you're all moving toward the same target.