Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Put Your Listening Ears On

I love to talk. I'm sure you're all shocked by that statement. I process information by talking it through. If I'm at home by myself, I'll talk to the dog just to have someone with whom to talk. Unfortunately, I'm not always the best listener, and I've discovered that being a good listener is an important part of being a mom. If I can't hear what my children are saying, then I can't be wise in instructing them.

My oldest daughter is a talker, as well. My dad likes to say that I deserve every minute of her chatter. Because she talks so much, it's really easy for me to tune her out sometimes. However, when I do that, I run the danger of missing something important, some place where she really needs me to tune in and help her out. God has been talking to me about the importance of really listening to my girls because if I don't listen now while they still want to talk to me, they're going to think I don't want to listen when they're teen-agers and I need them to talk to me.

The other reason I need to be a good listener when my kids speak is because it teaches them how to be good listeners. If we don't know how to listen to each other, how are we ever going to hear God's voice?

The Bible actually has a lot to say about listening. All throughout the Bible, the prophets and even Jesus exhort us to listen to the words of God. Listening keeps us from answering wrongly or heading off on the wrong track. Study these verses so you can apply them to your life, then use them to teach your kids:
  • Proverbs 12:15 -- The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
  • Proverbs 13:1 -- A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.
  • Proverbs 15:31 -- He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.
  • Proverbs 18:13 -- He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:5 -- It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.
Let's look at two practical applications for the art or listening. First, we'll start with you. This afternoon when your kids walk in the door from school, put down whatever it is that you are doing and really pay attention to what your kids are saying. If supper is late getting on the table or your bathroom doesn't get spotlessly clean, it's ok. Taking 5 or 10 minutes to listen to your kids is more important.

Set aside a time during the day when your kids know that they have your undivided attention to listen to them. For some of you, that might be bedtime. For others, it might be over the breakfast table. Whatever the time, make it consistent and make sure your kids know that that time belongs to them. Don't spend all the time asking them specific questions. Just open up the conversation with some open-ended questions and let your kids do the talking while you do the listening.

Instill the value of listening in your kids by instituting a rule that when someone else is talking, the others in the family are listening. Make it a practice at the dinner table to let each child have a turn to tell something about his or her day. After they are done, each person has to ask the child a question about whatever was said. This keeps everyone's focus on the person doing the talking.

Show your children how much we miss when we are so busy talking that we're not listening. Take your kids outside in the evening. Have them stand quietly for two minutes and listen. After the two minutes is up, ask your kids what they heard. Try to identify all the sounds. Your kids will be amazed at how many different sounds they heard. Talk with them about how when we are talking, we can't listen well at the same time. Ask them if they think they might miss important things that other people say because they are too busy talking themselves. Stress the importance of listening to others.

This week, let's lead by example. I plan to do less talking this week and whole lot more listening. I hope you do, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Memory Monday: 1 Peter 4:11

I spent a wonderful hour with my oldest daughter last night. Her sister and her dad had gone to hockey practice, so it was just the two of us. She decided she wanted to work on a jigsaw puzzle. As we sat on the floor sorting the pieces, we started talking about whatever was on her mind. The conversation turned to how some of the girls in her class have changed since the end of the last school year. We had a neat conversation about how hard it is for some of the kids to be confident in who they are.

I don't think it's just fourth graders that struggle with being confident in who God made them to be. I know adults struggle with it, too. The root of all that struggle is that we don't know our purpose. Our purpose serves as a compass -- it points us in the direction we want to go. If you're unsure of your purpose, you end like a fourth-grade girl struggling to find her way. You might try all sorts of different things and go in all sorts of directions, never finding contentment and joy.

As children of God, we have one purpose in this life -- to bring glory to God. This week's verse 1 Peter 4:11 says "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. "

No matter what you do, you should do it with an eye toward bringing glory to God. Our goal is to have people see God's love through us, which brings glory to Him. When we know our purpose, it's much easier to navigate our way along life's path without getting stuck in the brambles or distracted by the things along the way.

Illustrate this concept to your kids by sending them out in the yard to find something you have hidden. Once they find it, give them a compass. Explain how the compass works, then give them directions to find something else you have hidden using the compass. Talk about how much easier it was to find the thing when they had the directions and the compass. Explain that knowing God's purpose for our lives is like the compass. It keeps us on the right path, headed toward the goal of glorifying God.

As you learn this verse this week, keep your purpose in mind no matter what task you are doing.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's Your Turn

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 an 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, August 26, 2010

Finding Your Spot

I love to go to my girls' music program. I am constantly amazed at what our music teacher can accomplish with a group a of kids. They don't just stand up there and sing -- they twirl, they do hand motions, they bop up and down, mostly in time with the music. Every year, though, one of my girls will come home complaining about how someone else got in her spot.

The girls' music programs only look good when everyone is in their spot. When one child starts encroaching on another child's spot, things go wonky. Kids fall off risers, somebody gets an elbow in the face, props get knocked over. It's not a pretty sight -- funny, but not pretty.

It's the same way in life, too. God created each of us -- you, me, your kids -- to fill a specific spot in His plan. When we're unhappy with who God made us to be or we try to be just like everyone else, we throw things out of kilter. Mostly, the person we mess up is us. If you have a child who loves ballet, signing her up for field hockey will probably make her miserable. On the other hand, if you have a child who loves to play football, signing him up for art class may not be the way to go.

It's tough to be a kid. As our kids grow, they start learning where their spot is. Sometimes that spot is smack in the middle of what everyone else is doing. Sometimes that spot is so far away from what their friends consider normal, your child might as well be on another planet. For most kids, their friends' approval is important to them. They will do some of the craziest things to gain it. The struggle for us moms is to help our children find the spot God has for them as well as their place among their friends.

Raising confident, self-assured children who know they are valuable in God's sight and in yours is a daunting challenge. Mainly, it consists of being consistent and persistent in giving your child that message. I think that outside of "God loves you and sent Jesus to die for you," the message that they are valuable in God's sight is the most important one that your children will ever hear. I've already decided that in our house, next summer's adventure will revolve around this. I'm calling it "The 39 Clues to Finding You." Until then, try some of these quick activities to help your kids find their spot in God's plan.
  • When your child brings home artwork from school or creates a marvelous piece of artwork at home, talk about what a masterpiece it is. Ask them what they think God considers His masterpiece. Have them look up or read to them Ephesians 2:10, which says "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Talk about the fact that you are God's masterpiece means you are the best thing He could ever make.
  • Let your kids try new things. It's tough to find your spot -- the place where you can serve God best -- if you don't know what you can do. If your child wants to learn to ice skate, paint pottery, play water polo, write books or fly an airplane, do what you can to enable them to learn about those things. Even if doesn't seem like something they would be good at, let them give it a try. You might be surprised. My oldest daughter plays soccer. Honestly, she's not the most graceful child in the world, and she's about the gentlest soul you could meet. We thought she would get eaten alive on the soccer field, but we let her try it. Turns out she has a completely different personality on the field than off of it. She's aggressive, does amazing things with her feet and is a pretty talented player -- and she loves it. We never would have known that if we had discouraged her from trying.
  • Encourage your children. Offering encouragement to your kids is probably the single most important thing you can do as they seek to find their spot. Remind them often that you love them for who they are and so does God. Even when they fail at something, remind them that their value is not in whether they succeed in everything but in the fact that God made them. Don't puff your children up with a false sense of pride. Every child is not the next Renoir or Mickey Mantle, but don't put down their accomplishments either. Help your child discover the things at which God has gifted them without destroying their sense of accomplishment when they try something at which they aren't that gifted.
  • If you have more than one child, chances are they are good at different things. Have the whole family try the things at which one child excels. For example, in our house, my youngest ice skates well. My husband can't skate at all. Getting the whole family on the ice gives the rest of us an appreciation for what my youngest has accomplished. This is especially good for siblings who have a tendency to put down whatever the other one does as "not that hard."
  • Get some modeling clay or Play-doh and a mold for it. Ask your children to make several items with the clay and the mold. Point out how all the things made with the mold look very similar. Talk about how God didn't use a mold to make your child. He didn't want us all to look alike, act alike or be talented at the same things. Tell them that sometimes our friends want us to look like them and act like them, but God didn't make us to all be just alike. He made us different and special so we can take our spot in His plan.
Whatever you choose to do to remind your children that they are God's masterpiece, do it consistently and do it often. The world works hard to force our children to fit a mold. We want them to know the only mold they have to fit is the one God used to make them -- and that mold was broken the day they were born. No one else was made just like them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Hope You Dance

We danced this morning -- on our driveway while waiting for the carpool. It's a beautiful morning, so I walked out on the driveway with the girls. I'm not even sure how it happened, but suddenly I was teaching my girls the waltz. On our driveway. At 8 in the morning. On a cool, sun-kissed morning.

As I walked back in the house, I took time to just savor the moment. The return to school this year has been tough on my youngest. She's doing great at school, but she's exhausted when she gets home. We've had more temper tantrums and whining in the last week than we had all summer. It seems like all I've done for the past four days is correct her behavior, send her to her room and take privileges away. God knew I needed to dance with her this morning.

My oldest is entering the "tween" years, and she's been trying out her eye-rolling and new-found sarcasm abilities. She's not as cuddly as she once was, and she's a whole lot more independent. We've had our fair share of stomping feet and "That's not fair" in the past few weeks. God knew I needed to dance with her this morning, too.

Since I got home from She Speaks, I've been trying to finish up a Bible study curriculum for our church for the fall, work on my freelance projects, get everyone back to school and get my house back in order from the whirlwind summer. I've been short-tempered, quicker to snap at people than to laugh with them and just generally tired. God knew my girls needed to dance with me this morning.

So, we danced this morning, and I want to encourage you to do the same with your kids. Oh, you don't have to teach them the waltz. You don't even have to really dance. Just find a moment in your day to enjoy your children. Don't try to teach them some big concept, don't try to ask questions about their day -- just enjoy their company. Laugh with them. Enjoy their different personalities. Treasure who God made them to be.

God knows you need to dance, too. While it is important for us to be intentional in teaching our children Biblical truth, it's equally important that we take the time to enjoy our children as the perfect little gifts that they are. Psalm 127:3-5 says "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." In the everyday grind of life, it's easy to get caught up in the things we need to do and the things our children need to know. We can lose our perspective that our children are a reward from God -- they are a blessing.

So, today, I hope you dance.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer's End

The kids are back in school, and the weather forecaster just predicted tonight's low temperature to be in the 50s. I guess summer is officially over. Before you let the lazy days of summer slip too far into the past, take a few minutes to evaluate how it went.

At the beginning of the summer, I challenged you to make your summer count and be intentional about the things that you did this summer. Now that summer is over evaluate how you did. This isn't an exercise in beating yourself up for not accomplishing everything you would have liked. You want to take some time to evaluate what you did do, so you can better understand what works and doesn't work for your family. That Jell-o fight may have sounded like a great idea but when you actually did it you discovered you have a child who hates to have slimy stuff thrown at her.

You may have had several things planned that you didn't get to do. Don't worry about it. Sometimes God takes you in a different direction than the one you had planned. Proverbs 16:3 says "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." That verse doesn't tell us that everything we plan will succeed, just that when we commit our plans to the Lord, whatever happens is a success. Proverbs 19:21 tells us "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Keep that in mind as you evaluate your summer.

Now, to the nuts and bolts of evaluating your summer. Sit down with a piece of paper and write down all the things you planned for the summer. Next to each one, write down how you think the activity went. If you had a goal for what you wanted to teach your kids this summer, write it down and evaluate how well you accomplished that goal.

Next, sit down with your kids and ask them what their favorite parts of the summer were. Make notes of what activities they would like to do again and which ones they didn't like. Ask them if there was anything they would have liked to do that you didn't get to do. Put those things on your list for next summer.

Find some quiet time and sit down with your lists. Pray over your lists and ask God to show you anyplace where you could do things differently. Ask Him to show you the things to put on your list for next summer that you might not think about on your own.

Finally, talk with other moms about what they did over the summer. Some of my best ideas have come from other moms. Put any of those ideas on your list for next summer.

Now, tuck your lists away where you can find them in the spring and enjoy the cooler, routine-laden days of fall.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Memory Monday: 2 Corinthians 5:17

I love summer and the long, fun days that it brings, but I always breathe a sigh of relief when school starts. It's nice to have some routine in our lives again, and it gives all of us a chance for a new start. Everything changes when school begins. The girls have to learn new routines, new rules and new teachers' quirks. I have to change my schedule to work around running whichever end of the carpool I'm responsible for that day. We throw off the laid-back, flexibility of summer and return to the structured routine of the school year. Every August, I feel as if we are getting a new start, one full of possibilities and opportunities.

Our verse for this week addresses just this idea. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" When you ask Jesus to be in charge of your life and become one of His followers, you get a new start. No matter what you have or have not done in the past, you are a new person in Christ. The Bible tells us that we are adopted into God's family and that we become co-heirs with Christ. God has wiped away our past sins and made us a new person.

If you're looking for a good example of this to share with your kids, use Zacchaeus. It's a story with which many kids are familiar (my youngest daughter loves this story because Zacchaeus was short like her), but your kids may never have looked at it from the perspective of how an encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus. You can find his story in Luke 19:1-9. Because of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus not only stopped cheating people, but he paid back four times what he had taken from people. People who had encountered Zacchaeus an hour before he met Jesus would have told you he was a liar and a cheat. One meal with Jesus changed Zacchaeus so radically that an hour after his meal with Jesus those same people would not have recognized him.

When you encounter Jesus -- in your Bible study, in someone else or in prayer -- you should walk away a changed person. When you put Him in charge of your life, you say goodbye to the old ways of doing things, and you focus on the things that are important to Him. While you are learning this verse this week, examine your life and see if there's any place where you are hanging onto your old habits or ways of doing things instead of embracing the new things that Jesus has for you. I guarantee that Jesus' ways are better. So throw off the old, the new has come!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's in a Name?

Before my girls were born, my husband and I spent hours pondering what name to give our unborn child. It's your first big responsibility as a parent -- choosing a name that your child will carry with them for the rest of their lives. You have to factor in all the nicknames a name could create as well as how well it goes with your last name. Do you want to choose a family name or go with something trendy? Will it bother you or your child if four other kids in her class have the same name? With our oldest, we came to an agreement pretty quickly on both a boy and a girl name. With our second child, though, we were at the hospital having her, and we still didn't have a boy name we could agree on. Good thing she was a girl.

Our names identify who we are. Our first names identify which person we are within a family. Our last names identify that family. I'll never forget being told when I walked out the door one day as a teenager "Remember who you are and whose you are." My parents wanted me to remember that I was a Briley. Whatever I did reflected back on my family. They also wanted me to remember that I belonged to God. Whatever I did reflected on God. Those are big responsibilities to carry, but it's an idea that we want to instill in our children.

Proverbs 22:1 says "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." We want our children to recognize that having a good reputation -- one that glorifies God is more important than being popular or being part of the "in" crowd. When choices have to be made, we want them to recognize that choosing God's way and being known for that may not be the popular choice, but it is the one that will help them hold on to their "good name."

Use some pop culture to help your children understand this concept.
  • Choose a few people or characters with which your children are familiar. Try to choose people that are known for something, for example, Hannah Montana might be known for her singing or her TV show. You can choose sports stars, actors or actresses or even cartoon characters, whatever appeals to your child. Name the person or character and ask your child what they are known for. Ask them if they think being known for that particular thing is good or bad. Get them to explain their answer. Ask them if they would want to be known for that particular thing. Ask them if they think God would be happy if they were known for that. There may be no right or wrong answers, but it's a great way to get your kids talking about the types of things for which they want to be known.
  • Read Proverbs 22:1 and talk about what it means. Discuss with your kids how difficult it is to change your reputation once you are known for something. If you have a story of how your reputation for something caused problems in your life, share it with your kids. Be real and let them know that you aren't always perfect.
As you discuss this topic with your kids be sure to remind them that even though people are sometimes known for one certain thing that doesn't mean that they are that way all the time. People can change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. God can effect the biggest changes in people, so though our reputations may precede us, we need to remember that God can change people's hearts and attitudes. It's not our place to judge others; we simply need to make sure our actions glorify God.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

Have you ever noticed how noisy our lives are? Just sitting in my house this morning with no TV or radio on, I've heard train whistles, cars passing outside, the dog snoring and the refrigerator running. In a lot of households the TV or radio is on constantly, sometimes several at once. All this background noise in our lives may not seem like a big deal, but it's something to which we need to pay attention.

Are you someone who has to have the TV or radio on whenever you are home. Does it matter if anyone is watching it? Do you think about what is on the radio when you are driving the car? Are you aware of what is being said by others when your children are around?

My youngest daughter is an auditory learner. If she hears something once, she can repeat it almost word for word. The things that are said around her will be remembered. The TV commercials and shows, the talk radio programs and the song lyrics are all being processed by her 7-year-old brain. Like all kids, she's a sponge. She soaks up whatever it is that surrounds her.

That sponge quality means that we need to be aware of the things our children are hearing. I always notice that the longer the school year goes on, the more my kids' speech begins to resemble that of their classmates. What goes in the ears, comes out the mouth.

Today, I want to challenge you to be aware of what is going into your children's ears. Think about what is on the TV or the radio before you turn it on. Monitor what comes out of your own mouth when you speak. Use Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- think about such things," as a guide for deciding whether something is appropriate for both you and your children to hear. If it's not true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, it's probably not suitable for anyone who calls themselves a Christ follower.

Engage your kids in helping to clean up the airwaves around your house:
  • Sing or play a few well-known commercial jingles for your kids. See who can name the product the ad represents the fastest. Talk about how the things we hear are powerful and how they can stick with us for years. Read Philippians 4:8 to your kids and talk about what it means. Ask your kids to come up with ways that they can determine if the things they are listening to meet the standards of Philippians 4:8.
  • If your kids have iPods or CD players, sit down with them and look at their music choices. Go through the lyrics of some of the songs with them. Talk about whether those songs meet the standards of Philippians 4:8. Don't demand that your kids get rid of their songs, but encourage them to choose to raise their standards to God's standards.
  • Make your own listening choices wisely. Tune to your local Christian radio station when you're all in the car or play books on CD that the whole family can enjoy. Some of the best conversations that we have had in the car have begun with a song on KLOVE.
As you begin the process of clearing the air in your lives, you might find that without all the background noise to distract you, you can hear the voice of God more clearly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Day of School

I just dropped my girls off for the first day of school. This is the first year that my oldest wouldn't let me walk her to her class. I got the "Mooommm" outcry when I asked. My second-grader started to tell me I had to drop her at the door, too, and I told her she didn't get a choice, mom was walking her in.

As they stood at the door to the school, I was hit with the realization that another year has gone by. My girls are bigger, older, stronger, and (hopefully) more mature. They have grown in so many ways since I dropped them off at the school doors last year. We've embarked on the adventure of being a two-sport family. We've seen them make great strides in how they think about putting others first (unless, of course, it's your sister; then it's "me first") and thinking about how they can make a difference in the world. We've seen a little bit more of the world and broadened our perspectives about what it means to be "rich."

When I looked at those girls as they passed through the doors of the school this morning, I wondered what this year will hold for them. I prayed that God would protect them and let them enjoy these fleeting moments of childhood. I prayed that they would have fun and that their friendships would grow. And, mostly I prayed that God would help them make wise decisions. While my influence as a parent is still great in their lives, every year that I send them through those school doors I'm aware that my influence is tempered by that of their friends and their teachers. My prayer is that God's influence is greater than all of those, and that it's His counsel that they seek when faced with a tough decision.

With that in mind, we started a new tradition this morning. This school year, I'm committed to not just praying for my children but praying with them before their day starts. First thing, every morning, I plan to pray with each of my girls, individually. This morning, I did it when I woke them up. I asked them what they wanted me to pray for today, and then I prayed for them. I've tried to do something similar in past years, but somehow we always run out of time. This year, I've been convicted that this is the most important thing I can do to prepare my girls for the day. We're going to make it part of our morning routine, so they leave this house knowing that they have been covered in prayer.

I urger you to consider doing the same with your kids. The rewards are numerous. You get to share a time of prayer with each child, and your children will begin to open up to you about the things that are bothering them when they know you're going to pray about it with them. Plus, you get into the practice of each morning placing your children into God's powerful hands. There's no better place for them to be.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Memory Monday: Ephesians 4:29

I hope you are all enjoying Memory Monday as much as I am. I have two new verses in my heart and have had plenty of opportunity to use them. This week, we're going to memorize a verse that I've made my children memorize but never took the time to learn myself (bad mommy, I know). I know the general idea of the verse but can't recite the whole thing from memory. This week, we're going to change that.

Let's look at Ephesians 4:29, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." If you have more than one child, you know that it can seem like you spend more time breaking up arguments than you do anything else. While our children are going to disagree with one another at times, this verse tells us that even when we disagree, we need to be respectful in our speech.

Remind your children that what comes out their mouths is a reflection of what is in their hearts. Because we have Jesus in our hearts, the words that come out of our mouths should be a reflection of Him. Ask your children to think about whether what they are about to say is a reflection of Jesus. If it's not, then they should keep those words in their mouths.

In our house, I tell my kids that every time they open their mouths, they should stop, count to three and think about if what they are about to say is useful for building others up. I have to tell you that if you are going to use this method, you need to apply it to your mouth as well. Nothing undermines our teaching, like our own example, which is why this verse is so important for all of us to remember.

Create a picture for your child of how hurtful words can tear someone else down. Give your child a set of building blocks or Legos and ask them to build the tallest tower that they can. About midway through their building process, walk by and knock it over. After they get done having a fit at what you've done, tell them that hurtful words do the same thing to people that you did to their tower -- it tears them down. Help your child rebuild his tower and talk about how we want our words to be helpful, just like your hands are helping your child. When our words are helpful, they build people up.

As school starts for many of us this week, may it be a week of helpful words and children who build each other up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Journey Across America: National Treasure Hunt

We finished off our Journey Across America yesterday with a National Treasure Hunt. The girls had to use all the verses and facts they learned this summer to navigate their way from clue to clue. We ended at Power Play, which is our local arcade/go-kart/laser tag/bowling/all-around family fun place. The treasure was $15 cards to go play. Despite a few kinks thrown into the plan by the 20-minute rainstorm that closed the pool and made several of our clues soggy--words written in Sharpie hold up well in the rain; the paper they're written on, not so much.

We started with pizza for dinner so nobody would be searching for clues on an empty stomach. Just as we set out for our first stop, Maple Brook park in honor of our visit to New Hampshire, it started to rain. At the park, the girls found copies of the Declaration of Independence. Remembering what Ben Gates did in National Treasure, they promptly figured out that there was a hidden message on the back. They dumped grape juice on the back to find the next clue. They recited their verse and headed off to my parents house.

At my parents house, they had to find clues hidden in the furniture (a reference to our visit to North Carolina). Once they found the clues, they had to put them in order so they formed a sentence. They told their driver the requested verse and the North Carolina state motto and headed for the next stop. At this stop, we encountered the "bad guys" (the girls' dads) who were busy trying to steal the clues and the girls' hats. Every time a bad guy got a clue or a hat, the girls had to stop and recite any of their verses. The bad guys followed us around from this point on.

The next stop was the girls' elementary school because that's where they see many of their friends (a nod to our stop in Texas). The girls rounded up clues in the form of cows in the driving rain. Once they found all their cows, they had to figure out the clue written on the backs of the cows. They said their verse and state motto and headed for the next destination, which was supposed to be the pool.

Because of the only thunder and lightning we've seen in two weeks, the Oregon Trail pool (a reference to our Kansas visit) was closed. We tossed splash balls in the grass, and had them run to find them. Their next clue was written on the splash balls. They recited their verse and moved on.

We found all 50 states represented on coloring pages that at one time were hung along the fence in our neighbor's back yard. By the time we arrived, however, all of the papers were wet and on the ground. As we walked around and did our best to unfold them, the girls searched for the states we had visited. Those papers had words that would form their clue. They wrote those words down and had to unscramble them to decipher their clue, which was to find the mistake in Philippians 3:13-14 and the Preamble to the Constitution (a nod to what we learned in Wisconsin).

After successfully fixing the mistakes, they moved on to our back yard where they had to dig through the sand (remember the sand dunes in Idaho?) to find their next clue, which told them to recite a verse. The last clue told them to look at their hats. The hats had numbers and a key to cracking the code written on the underside of the brim. They decoded the letters, then had to put them in order to spell out our final destination, Power Play.

When they arrived at Power Play, they had to recite Matthew 6:33 and mark all the states we had visited on a map. When they were done, they had to answer the question, "What is our greatest treasure?" Then, they got their Power Play cards, and we spent the next two hours playing games, riding go-karts and collecting tickets.

The girls had a great time, and I think I had as much fun as they did. I know God was smiling as these six girls were running around town, constantly spouting His word.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Never Stop Growing

In our house, we know a lot about how the body grows. My youngest doesn't make enough growth hormone on her own, so she takes a shot every night that gives her the growth hormone that she needs. Growth hormone is necessary for growth to take place, but it's also necessary for a whole lot of other things in your body. It helps keep your bones from becoming brittle, and it affects a whole bunch of other systems in your body. Without growth hormone, your body simply will not grow like it should.

Just like we don't want our children's bodies to be stunted in their growth, we don't want their spiritual growth to be stunted, either. We want to help them build the habits they will need to continue growing spiritually throughout their whole lives. The most important way to do this is to model the behavior for them. If you're not consistently spending time studying your Bible, praying and worshipping, then you can't expect your children to do it. If you're not growing, then it's hard to tell your children that they need to grow.

I know that it's much easier to spend time with God when your children are not around, but your children need to see you spending time studying your Bible and praying. Even if all you do is read a couple of verses, make sure your kids see you consistently spending time in God's word. You can have a more serious time of study later, but modeling this behavior for your kids is the best way to impress upon them how important it is.

Help your children understand what it means to grow spiritually. It's kind of an abstract concept for them, so let's make it more concrete.
  • Most kids love to look at pictures of themselves when they were younger. Break out the baby albums and flip through them with your kids. Talk about all the things they could and could not do when they were younger. Compare that with all the things they can do now. Talk to them about how it wouldn't be any fun to stay small forever. To be able to do more things, they had to grow. Talk about the things they will be able to do when they get older. Read Hebrews 5:12-14 with your kids and talk about how God needs us to grow in our understanding of Him just as we grow bigger physically. The more we grow, the more God can use us to fulfill His plans.
  • On your kitchen table set out some healthy foods that would help you grow. Also set out some junk food. Ask your children to choose the things that will help them grow to be big and strong. Ask them if they can think of things that they might need to grow in their understanding about God. Just like we need to eat the right foods to grow strong physically, we need to put the right things into our minds and hearts to grow spiritually. We need to spend time reading and memorizing God's word, spend time with other believers and spend time talking to God.
  • Give your children a journal and a devotional book. Make doing a devotional part of their daily routine, just like brushing their teeth and combing their hair. Have them write what they learned from their devotional in their journal each day. This exercise helps them form the habit of spending time with God each day.
Remember, your teaching is only as effective as your actions, so be sure to be a model of spiritual growth for your children.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Be Discouraged

I can tell it's almost time for my girls to go back to school. Yesterday, my girls couldn't be in the same room without picking at each other. Broken Silly Bands, losing at a board game and stubbing a toe all required lengthy crying sessions and more drama than any one household should have in a day. The girls are tired and they're ready to see their friends.

While I will miss them when they go back to school next week, it will be a relief to stop sounding like a broken record. I don't know how many times this summer I've said things like "Clean up your room," "Stop touching your sister," "If you don't do your chores, we can't go swimming." Do you ever feel like your kids can't hear you? I sometimes wonder if when I speak I sound like the teacher on the Charlie Brown TV specials to my kids.

It's easy to get discouraged when we think we've done a great job offering up an object lesson or a deep conversation about God and our kids don't seem to "get it." Don't be discouraged. Just come up with another way to get the point across at a different time. The more our kids see and hear us talking about important Biblical truths with them, the more it will sink in. They may not understand it the first time, but by the third or fourth time, it will start to make an impact on their hearts. Isaiah 55:10-11 says "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,  so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Any time we speak God's word to our children, it is never wasted. God tells us it will achieve the purpose for which He sent it.

Remember that all children are different. God made each child to fill a special purpose in His plan. They don't all think alike, so it may take different strategies to reach each of your kids. I know that in my house, my girls are completely different in how they solve problems. If I tell my older daughter to go clean her room, she goes and does it. If I tell my younger daughter to go clean her room, she walks in the door, looks at the mess and starts saying, "There's too much. I need help." Where my older daughter sees a problem to be solved, my younger one sees a problem that overwhelms. I've discovered that if I give my younger daughter a list to check off the things she needs to do to clean her room, she gets the job done with no fuss. It's a matter of understanding your child's unique personality and working with it.

So, if one activity or conversation didn't seem to get your point across, try a different one. Ask God to show you what the best way is to teach your child. And don't be discouraged when you feel like a broken record. Someday, you'll be rewarded when your child comes and tells you he understood your point and put it to use in his own life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Memory Monday: Philippians 4:6

It's Monday, so it must be time for another verse to memorize together. How did you do with last week's verse? Did you find yourself in situations where you could use that verse? Did you share it with your children? Leave a comment and let the rest of us know how Isaiah 41:10 was used in your life last week.

This week's verse is Philippians 4:6. This is one of those verses that many of us probably know in some form, but we may not know where it's found or the entire verse. It's also, I think, one of the most difficult verses in the Bible to obey. It says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Wow, that's a tough one. With school getting ready to start, it's an anxiety-ridden time in many households. Kids are worried about whether they will fit in at school, whether they'll like their teacher and whether being in a different class from their best friends will affect their friendships. Moms are worried about whether they will like the teacher, whether their kids will fit in and whether their children will make wise choices while they are at school. The problem is, all that worry is a sin.

God commands us in this verse to not be anxious. When we worry, we are telling God that He is not big enough to handle the problem. 1 Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you." There's nothing too big for God to handle, and we need to act like that is true. The thing I love the most about Philippians 4:6 is that it doesn't just tell us to not worry, but it gives us something with which to replace our worry. It tells us to take it to God in prayer, and to be thankful. I don't know about you, but when I'm worried, I'm not generally feeling too thankful. When we capture those worrisome thoughts and replace them with thoughts of thankfulness, we put up a barrier to Satan. We don't allow him to take our worry and use it to keep us in a place where we are not trusting God.

So, the next time you find yourself worried or you find that your children are worried, take hold of those thoughts, and replace them with prayer over the situation and thanksgiving in the situation. As you memorize this verse this week, prepare to be tested in it. Satan likes nothing better than to make us ineffective, and keeping us wallowing in worry is an effective way for him to distract us from our purpose.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Who Would Have Thought?

He was born in a humble log cabin. He taught himself to read. He lost the first time he ran for public office. He suffered from depression. He lost a son, and his wife never recovered from the loss. He also was the 16th president of the United States, led the country through the Civil War and signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. When you look at Abraham Lincoln's humble beginnings, would you have thought he would turn out to be one of the most influential men ever to hold the office of president?

I recently attended a workshop by Cecil Murphy that asked the question "who would have thought?" The workshop was about unlikely books that were published and became best sellers. The idea behind it all was that God sometimes uses the most unlikely people to reach others for Him. I've been pondering this idea and started noticing in my Bible study time all the places that God used the unlikely person instead of the obvious one to accomplish His purpose.

We all have moments when we're discouraged and don't think God can use us. Know that it is in those moments that God is most able to use us. When we are broken, God is most able to let His light shine through our lives because we know it isn't anything that we are doing but all that God is doing. Our kids face times of discouragement as well -- times when they feel unloved and unloveable, times when they think they will never accomplish anything. When your kids feel this way, show them some of the stories in the Bible of men and women that God used in amazing ways. Help them to see that God will use all of their gifts, talents and even disappointments as He grows them into the person He wants them to be. Here's a few examples of unlikely people that God used.
  • Judah. Judah was one of Joseph's brothers. As a matter of fact, he's the brother that came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery. Of Jacob's 12 sons, the logical person to head the branch of the family that would be Jesus' branch would have been Joseph. He was wise, he was godly, he was forgiving and he was strong. Yet, God chose Judah. In Genesis 49:10 Jacob gives his blessing to Judah, and he says "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his." Jesus descended from the line of Judah. Who would have thought?
  • Ruth. Ruth was a Moabitess, a sworn enemy of the Israelites. Yet, through her loyalty and courage, she married Boaz and became the grandmother of David and a part of the lineage of Christ. Who would have thought?
  • Peter. Peter was a fisherman. He wasn't a speaker. He wasn't a rabbi trained in the scripture. He was simply a Jewish fisherman who answered Jesus' call to "Follow me." Peter was brash, bold and sometimes ridiculously obtuse. He denied Jesus three times. Yet, Peter is the one who recognized Jesus as the son of God. He's the one who stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. Peter is the one that Jesus called "the rock." Peter spent the rest of his life proclaiming the gospel and was killed for his belief. Who would have thought?
  • Saul/Paul. Saul was the person who held the coats while Stephen was stoned. He sought out believers and killed them. Having Saul knock on your door was a frightening experience for the early church believers. God changed Saul's name to Paul and rearranged Paul's life. Paul became the biggest champion of the gospel in the early church. He was the world's first missionary. He spent countless years of his life in jail because he preached the gospel and was eventually killed for his belief. Who would have thought?
We all have our own "who would have thought" stories -- people we've met along the paths of our lives who are being used by God in amazing ways, especially considering where they started. It may even be your own life that is a "who would have thought" story. Keep in mind that our kids need to hear these stories. Being a kid is tough sometimes, and kids tend to have a very limited view of the future. If life is upsetting now, it seems to them that it will always be upsetting. Sharing stories with your kids of the way God can use the most unlikely of people helps them see a longer term view of the world. What "who would have thought" story can you share with your kids?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Journey Across America: California

We did it. We made it all the way across the country this summer. Our "trip" across America came to a close yesterday afternoon with a "visit" to sunny California. All summer, six young ladies have gathered at my kitchen table in their red Journey Across America T-shirts and their patriotic straw hats to have an adventure and learn about God. We've tackled subjects like freedom, friendship, turning to God in the difficult times and being who God made you to be. As these girls have absorbed the word and truth of God this summer, I've seen them grow and become better friends. They know scripture and pieces of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And, we've had a blast.

Yesterday, we visited The Golden State -- California. California's state motto is "Eureka!" which means "I have found it." It's a remnant of the Gold Rush days when the largest mass migration of people in history made their way to California to search for gold. However, we discovered yesterday that the most important thing for us to look for in this life is not gold or fame, which are two common reasons that people point their lives toward California. The most important thing we can seek after is God. We learned Matthew 6:33, which says "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." The pursuit of God needs to be the No. 1 priority in our lives.

To get this point across to the girls, we spent time yesterday seeking things. They looked for 10 slips of paper with things about California on them. Once they found the papers, they had to look up on Google or in the reference books I had whatever was written on their slip of paper. They had to find one fact about each thing and share it with the group. The point was that we can seek information about God just like we can seek information about other things. When we seek God, we seek Him through prayer and reading the Bible.

We also sampled some food from California. California grows more fruits and vegetables than any other state in the United States. We sampled plums, peaches, broccoli, carrots, grape tomatoes and strawberries. The fruit went over well; the vegetables not so much.

The end of our day yesterday was spent making a movie because California is home to Hollywood. The movie had to include their verse for the day, the state motto and everyone had to be in it. The girls wrote the script, found costumes and acted out the movie while I filmed it. We even had to do a second take on one of the scenes. We finished by gathering around the computer and watching our movie masterpiece.

Next week, we have our grand finale where the girls put into practice everything they have learned this summer. We'll be headed out on a scavenger hunt based on the movie "National Treasure." Look back here next Thursday for a report on whether the girls solved the mystery.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

We have two weeks left before school starts. Between travel, camps and just hanging out with our friends, it seems as if the summer has flown by. One thing I've noticed in our household as we near the end of summer is that my girls are becoming more likely to argue and fight with one another. It could have something to do with the 100-degree heat we've been experiencing -- tempers are short, and we're stuck inside -- but I think it has more to do with the natural animosity that siblings feel for each other from time to time. It's tough sharing your life with someone you didn't get to choose.

From the beginning, siblings had trouble. The first instance of sibling rivalry ended badly--with Cain killing Abel. We definitely don't want our kids following in their footsteps. We all have people in our lives who rub us the wrong way sometimes. As adults, we usually do a good job of dealing with our frustration (or at least hiding it). Our kids are still in the process of developing those coping skills. Our job, as parents, is to foster a spirit of cooperation and love in our homes between our sometimes very different children. On the days when your kids are pushing each others' buttons and generally driving you up a wall with their constant bickering, look for ways to help your kids recognize the good in each other and for ways to get them to help one another.

Ideally, we want our children to recognize the value of the sibling relationship. They can love one another and look out for one another when mom and dad aren't around. We want our families to be able to close ranks against the world around a wounded family member -- not be the reason for the wounds. Our goal is to help our children recognize the value in their siblings and the value in families. We want our children to view their siblings as friends and helpers, not as competition. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times," and John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." When we persuade our children that this is the goal, it cuts down on the animosity between them.

If you're in the throes of sibling rivalry at its finest, this may seem like an impossible task. It's not, but it won't happen overnight. It takes a pattern of consistently offering opportunities for cooperation and constant prodding to support the other sibling.
  • Create a policy in your home that, if at all possible, family members support another member of the family in whatever they are doing. Both my girls play sports. If the my oldest has a soccer game, and the youngest doesn't have anything else going on, my youngest is expected to be at the game. The same holds true if my youngest has a hockey game and my oldest doesn't have anything else going on. We hear the usual grumblings, but our response is always "Families support each other." The grumbling has started to subside, and my girls have figured out that being part of a family comes with responsibilities to other members.
  • Force your kids to work together. I often give my girls chores that they have to work together to complete. It puts them in a situation where they have to figure out how to cooperate to accomplish a task. It also gives them the chance to see the other sister's skills and talents. Try giving your kids a scavenger hunt or other fun task to complete where they have to work together to reach the reward at the end.
  • Teach your kids to rely on each other. Talk with your children about how when they are at school or at someone else's house together, they need to look out for one another. Remind them that when you are not around, their sibling is their best option for help and support.
  • Put a small bucket or basket on each child's door. Let your children know that the baskets are for them to leave notes for one another. The only rule is that the notes must be kind and uplifting. They can thank each other for things, point out good things the other one has done or just leave a note to say hello. This opens the lines of communication between siblings. Put one on your door as well, so your kids can leave you notes, too.
Siblings are never going to get along 100 percent of the time, but God put each of those children in the same home for a reason. Creating an atmosphere where cooperation and support for each other is the norm, not the exception, goes a long way toward helping your children appreciate their siblings.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Memory Mondays

I just returned from She Speaks, a conference for Christian women who write, speak and lead. The weekend was filled with informative sessions, creative women and convicting speakers. Karen Ehman was the last speaker yesterday morning. She talked about how she had been convicted about memorizing God's word. She told us that she could memorize a 14-minute monologue, but she found herself only able to recite about 30 verses word for word from the Bible.

As she spoke, God began speaking to me. I began to think about how many verses I knew word for word including the reference. What I discovered is that I don't know nearly as many as I thought I did. God's Word is the most important tool we have for teaching our children. Children are concrete thinkers. If we can show them a verse in the Bible that relates to the issue they are facing, it's much more effective than if we simply say "The Bible says..." If our children can see and hear the Word, their chances of remembering it are much higher.

With all that in mind, I want to challenge you to join me in a new feature on the Everyday Truth blog: Memory Mondays. Join me each Monday as we learn a new verse together that we can then use as we are training our children. I'll post the verse each Monday along with ways you can use that verse with your children. Try to learn the verse by the following Monday when I'll post a new verse and ask you to post how God used the previous week's verse in the lives of you and your children. If we learn one verse a week, by this time next year, we'll all have 52 verses hidden in our hearts. If you want to join me, leave a comment on this post. I'll have the occasional  giveaway for my Memory Monday readers, so keep an eye out for giveaway posts. If you forget which verse we are memorizing, I'll have it posted on the right-hand side of the blog each week.

Let's start this week with Isaiah 41:10, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." You can use this verse with your kids when they are afraid or feeling abandoned and alone. It's a great reminder of how God goes with us no matter where we go. He promises us His strength and His help. His hand will hold us up when we are weak.

So sign up to join me in hiding God's Word in our hearts so that we can be more effective in training our children. I can't wait to see how God can use this in your life and the lives of your children.