Monday, January 31, 2011

Memory Monday: Waiting (Psalm 37:7)

We often tell my youngest that we're not sure what she was doing when God was giving out patience, but she clearly wasn't around when He was doing so. Patience is not a trait that comes easily to most children -- and even many adults. We live in a society of immediate gratification. Advertising screams at us that we should have what we want, when we want it. We are constantly bombarded by the message that we deserve better than what we have, and we should have it now.

But, sometimes, God asks us to wait. For children who are growing up in a world that values immediate gratification, waiting can seem like an impossible task. I know that standing in line for more than five minutes sends up cries of "How long is this going to take" in our family. I imagine God hears that cry often from his children, too.

Sometimes, when we ask God for something, He gives it to us right away. Sometimes, though, He makes us wait. From our point of view, the wait can seem interminable. But, God uses the wait to teach us things. It is in the waiting and the asking that we learn patience. We learn that God's plan is always better than anything we can come up with -- even if we can't see it at the time. We learn to rely only on God. These are things we can't learn if there is no wait.

If God gave us everything in our timing and not in His, we would miss out on the joy we can find in waiting on Him. Psalm 37:7 says "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes." One of the benefits of waiting is that it forces us to be still. Do you think Paul would have written half the New Testament if God hadn't made him wait in a jail cell for several years of his life? Probably not. He would have been too busy taking the gospel to different churches. Paul's enforced stillness allowed Him to share the gospel not just with the people of his day but with the rest of us who have lived in the past 2,000 years. All because of the wait.

As you memorize this verse with your children this week, think of times when you have had to wait. Talk about those times and see if you can find positive things that came out of waiting. The next time you have to wait at a restuarant, talk with your kids about how much more you're going to appreciate the food because you had to wait for it. If your family is waiting for an answer to prayer, help your children to identify the things that God is teaching them as they wait.

The next time you're tempted to complain to God about waiting on Him, take a minute to think about whether you have learned anything during the wait. Then, instead of complaining, thank Him for all He's taught you in the wait.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Encourage Dreaming

My 7-year-old daughter's school music program is next week. The theme is "What I Want to Be When I Grow Up." Instead of having the kids all dress alike, the music teacher is having them all wear a costume of what they want to be when they grow up. My daughter is going dressed as a hockey player.

Now, the likelihood that my petite little girl is going to actually make a living hockey playing hockey in the National Hockey League is miniscule, but we haven't told her that. She's a smart kid. She'll eventually figure it out. But, right now, we're going to let her go ahead and dream about playing hockey for a living.

You see, right now, she has a big dream. If I use the thorn of reality to pop the bubble of that dream, then I take away something precious from her. At 7 years old, it's harmless for her to want to be the next Alex Ovechkin.

When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. You'll note I'm not currently hurtling through space on the space shuttle. My parents probably knew I wasn't going to end up as an astronaut (I hated math), but they encouraged my dream. They even sent me to Space Camp.

God gives us talents, dreams and ambitions. If we are so mired in reality that we insist on popping the bubble on our kids' dreams, we take away the opportunity for them to stretch their imaginations, try new things and eventually find the special place that God has for them. You know, if someone had told me that being a journalist was a lousy job that didn't pay much, had horrible hours and was a profession populated with cynical people, I would never have gained the skills that allow me to write this blog.

God has given humans an amazing capacity to dream -- sometimes beyond our capacity to reach. But, think of what amazing feats we would have missed if someone had told Picasso he would never be an artist or if the Wright brothers had listened when people told them they would never fly.

Jesus said "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27). While we might think our children's dreams are impossible, you never know which one of those dreams God may make possible.

So, encourage your kids to keep dreaming, and dream some yourself. Who knows 15 years from now, you may see a petite young lady with curly hair taking the ice -- in the NHL.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Are Kids So Mean?

Yesterday was one of those days that simply makes a parent's soul weary. My fourth grader is discovering that life isn't always fun and girls can be mean. It's so hard to watch her try to sort out why a girl who is her friend one day decides to be mean to her the next. It's not fun for her and it hurts my heart to watch her struggle.

To make matters worse, it's state testing time. I really don't think there's a person on the planet who hates state testing more than I do. Every year at this time, the focus at school changes from teaching children for the sake of learning to teaching children to take a test. It sucks all the creativity and joy out of going to school for my daughter. She becomes a sullen, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat child focused on whether or not she's going to meet her next goal.

Combine a missed testing goal with a bunch of 9- and 10-year-old mean girls, and you get a day that can almost reduce a 9-year-old to tears and that can make a mother wonder "What on earth do I say to her?" While it all makes my heart hurt, I can't fix either issue that she's dealing with. She has to take the state tests, and these girls are just the first people she's going to encounter who make themselves feel better by putting others down.

So, on the way to soccer last night, I sent up a prayer for wisdom and dove in with some explanation, some encouragement and lots of love. If you're a heart-sick mom who's watching your child struggle with the hurtful comments of other kids, try some of these things to encourage your child.
  • Reassure your child of their worth. Remind them that Ephesians 2:10 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." No matter what anyone else says about them or to them, God created them and considers them to be his "masterpiece."

  • Help your child to understand that people who don't know Jesus, don't know that they are God's masterpiece. When they feel insecure or bad about themselves, they can't fall back on the knowledge that God made them in His image. So, to make themselves feel better, they use their words to put other people down.
  • Help your child pray for those that are causing them pain. This is so hard, even as an adult, but Matthew 5:44 says "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Pray that those other kids would learn that they are valuable to God, so they will no longer need to put others down to feel better about themselves.
  • Reassure your child of your love. Make a point to tell your child how much you love him. Spend some extra time with him. Do something that will make him feel special and loved.
  • Don't hesitate to step in if the situation warrants. This may mean a phone call to the teacher or the other child's parent. This one is tricky because you don't want to make the situation worse, but don't let your child continue to be bullied if the situation begins to spiral out of control. There's a big difference between a bad day and a continual pattern of bullying.
  • Pray diligently for your child. There is nothing your child needs more than your love and your prayer. Let your child know that you are praying for them while they are at school. Knowing that you are jumping into the battle with them will bolster your child's confidence in dealing with the situation.
Remember that nothing provides healing more than God's love. Help your child remember that she is a God's masterpiece and that you consider her a gift. Children who know that they are loved and have love to give to others have the most important weapon in these childhood skirmishes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Get Plugged In

My children will tell you that I woke up grumpy yesterday. I really wasn't very nice. By the time I sent them off to school, I owed them an apology. I was out of sorts for most of the day -- overwhelmed by all the things I need to get done, frustrated with the rearranging of my schedule caused by circumstances entirely out of my control and just generally unhappy with a lot of my current circumstances. It took me until my drive home from hockey last night to figure out what my real problem was.

You see, I'm a lot like my laptop. I can carry my laptop around from room to room without plugging it in -- for a while. But, after about two hours, my laptop will run out of battery, and it will be useless until I plug it back in. I'm the same way. I can go for a while without really being plugged in to God. I can coast on what I already know. I can even feel like I'm plugged in. But, if I'm not spending daily time studying God's word and talking with Him, I'm eventually going to run out of battery.

That's what happened to me yesterday. After having a wonderful Christmas season with my family, my little world got so clogged with sick kids, work responsibilities, church responsibilities and kids' activities that I unplugged myself from the source of power. I put off having a daily time with God. We missed church several weeks in a row for illness and games.

Until this week, I was able to rest on the laurels of my past relationship with God, but yesterday, my foul mood, was directly related to my disconnecting myself from the source of power. Colossians 1:9-11 says "We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience." That's what I want -- to be strengthened by God's power. But, I have to make the effort to plug myself into that power.

Parenting is tough. My oldest daughter this week has been a bundle of conflicting emotions. It's state testing time at school, and she always ends up being a basket case from the pressure. I know this is the root of her attitude, but this week I didn't tap into God's wisdom to deal with it. I dealt with it on my own -- and not well. When she needed me to be understanding and patient, I was intolerant and impatient. Now, we all have those moments when we don't react the best way to our kids. But, I know that this week my reactions stemmed from my lack of connection to God -- not from a simple misjudgment.

So, today I want to encourage you to get plugged in to God. I spent some time talking with God yesterday and will be plugging in with Him again this morning. Because if we're trying to parent our kids under our own power, then sometimes we'll get it right but more often we'll miss the mark. If you've unplugged yourself from the ultimate source of power and wisdom, it's time to plug yourself back in.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stop the Bickering

I think my girls have been home more than they have gone to school in January. Between Christmas break, snow days, Martin Luther King day and sick days, we've spent a lot of time at home. The weather has been cold and wet, which means we've spent much of that time cooped up in the house together.

Now, I don't know what happens in your house when your kids spend a lot of time together inside, but in my house, those days generally deteriorate into my children saying things to each other that aren't very nice. Sometimes, gasp, the situation becomes so charged that they will hit or shove one another.

Sibling bickering is a part of most families. Having to share anything with another person goes against our naturally selfish natures. It's not natural for us to want to think about someone else before we think about ourselves. When we think only of ourselves, it's easy to say something we don't really mean or to lash out at someone else when things don't go our way. When your young and your brain has yet to develop all the brakes for impulse control, it's even easier.

The constant bickering can drive parents nuts. Too often, we simply react by separating our kids or offering up punishment without explanation. I know that my first reaction is to make my girls go sit in separate rooms. While that's a valid response and stops the immediate problem, it doesn't help my girls learn to get along or learn to think before they speak.

If  you are caught in the throes of sibling bickering, try some of these ideas.
  • Have your kids memorize 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." When you hear them saying something that doesn't fit the instruction in this verse, have them repeat the verse to you. Then ask them if they think what they just said fits with the directions in the verse.
  • Cut out some lips from construction paper. Give each child a set of lips and a Band-Aid. Tell them that when they want to say something mean to their sibling, they should go stick the Band-Aid on the construction paper lips as a reminder not to say mean and hurtful things.
  • Talk about putting others first. Read Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Talk about how when we get caught up in what we want, instead of putting others first, we can hurt other people with our words.
  • Give your children a task to do together on a regular basis. Forcing them to work together gives them opportunities to work out their differences. It also lets them see that the other sibling can be a help to them.
If your kids are anything like mine, you'll have plenty of opportunity to work on stopping the bickering during the cold, snowy days of winter.  Remember to hold onto your own frustration and help your kids take the focus off their own wants and put their focus on the needs of others.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Memory Monday: For Such a Time as This (Esther 4:14)

My oldest daughter will turn 10 in June. This weekend, she was telling us how excited she is to be reaching this significant (in her mind) milestone in her life. As we talked, I realized that it seems like just yesterday that she was taking her first steps and saying her first words.

My 7-year-old played two hockey games on Saturday. As I stood in the freezing cold watching her play at the very early hour of 7 a.m., I realized that she was no longer one of the smallest kids on the ice. Sometime in the past four months, she's caught up with several of the boys on her team. She's growing up so quickly.

You often hear parents bemoan the fact that their kids are growing too fast. It's hard to let go of those little girl and little boy years as our kids become tweens and teens. And I don't know about you, but I feel completely under-equipped to deal with being the parent of a tween or teen. Parenting a young child isn't easy, but their needs are pretty basic. Feed them, kiss their boo-boos, make sure they get enough sleep and teach them the basics of faith.

As they get older, though, our kids need so much more from us. They need wisdom, comfort, freedom and answers to some tough questions. As I look ahead, I worry that I won't be up to the task.

Esther felt the same in her situation. She was a fairly young woman who had been thrust into the position of queen. It was up to her to save the entire Jewish population. Speaking could mean her death. Mordecai told her, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Such a time as this. God has put you in whatever position you're in -- mom of a toddler, preschooler, elementary-school-aged child, tween or teen -- for such a time as this. He chose you to be the parent of your particular child. Whatever challenges and joys you and your child will face, God knew that you would be the perfect person to deal with them with your child.
And, He doesn't expect us to do it alone. God is there to bolster us, offer us wisdom and give us the strength we need for the task. Some stages of being a parent are difficult. We'll face challenges we never dreamed of before we had kids. But, if we rely on God and remember that He put us in this place, at this time for "such a time as this," we can be the parent that our child needs.
As you memorize this verse this week, remember that no matter what situations land in your lap this week, God will help you be ready for "such a time as this."

Friday, January 21, 2011

No Guarantees

I'm pretty sure my 7-year-old has the flu -- you know the fever, achy, coughing flu. She's staying home again today, and I'm praying that she can stay fever free. She's missed an entire week of school, and she may miss her hockey games tomorrow (can't wait for the drama that announcement is going to create). This wasn't supposed to happen.

You see, back in October, my whole family got the flu shot to protect us from just this scenario. My husband marched the girls into the doctor's office and dealt with all the drama that goes along with taking two little girls to get a shot. He walked out with two girls who were protected from the ravages of the flu for the year.

Except they weren't. The flu shot only covers scientists' best guesses as to the strains of flu that will be in circulation that year. Sometimes they're wrong, and even those people who get the shot get the flu. This appears to be one of those years in our house.

This whole episode with illness reminded me of a question my youngest asked in the car the other day. She wanted to know if being a Christian meant we were protected from bad stuff. At first, I thought, "Where did she get that idea?" but then I realized that this is a common misperception. Sometimes we think that being a Christ-follower is like getting the flu shot in that it will protect us from something bad happening to us. That's simply not true.

God doesn't promise us a life that is free of challenges and trials. As a matter of fact, Jesus said "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). He promises us peace in our troubles, but He does not promise us a life without trouble.

Help your kids get their minds and hearts around this concept:
  • When tough things happen to your kids, and you hear the inevitable, "That's not fair," talk with your kids about how God didn't promise that life would be fair. Share John 16:33 with them. Ask them what they think peace is. Help them to understand that God is with us even when life gets tough. Talk about how God's grace and peace gives us strength to get through the tough situations.
  • Write down some good things and some bad things on slips of paper. Put them in a bag or a hat and have your kids take turns drawing them out. When they draw out a slip, ask them how they would feel if that event happened to them. Remind them that during the good times in our lives, we should be thankful, and during the bad times, we can rely on God to give us peace.
When tough times come, remember that being a Christ-follower is not a cure-all for everything that ails us. We shouldn't expect life to suddenly be easy. We should simply expect a life filled with grace and peace -- even when times are tough.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lessons from Linus

As I've sat at home this week nursing a sick 7-year-old (who, by the way, is still sick, and her sister has a snow day), we've been reading a lot of Peanuts comic strips. We have a big book that contains thousands of the comic strips, and my daughter loves to read them.

So, we've been climbing up in our big recliner, sharing a blanket and reading them together. Tuesday we ran across a strip about Linus and his blanket. Linus tells Charlie Brown "This blanket absorbs all my fears and frustrations. At the end of each day I shake it out the door, thus scattering those fears and frustrations to the wind!" Charlie Brown asks him, "What about tomorrow?" Linus replies, "Tomorrow I start with a clean blanket. Not unlike the proverbial clean slate."

You know, Linus has the right idea. Carrying our fears and frustrations around with us creates a heavy weight. The more fears and frustrations we carry, the heavier the load gets. But we have something better than Linus' security blanket. We have God. Peter tells us "Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

God loves us, and He knows that carrying around fears, frustrations and worries does nothing but cause us harm. Fears, frustrations and worries keep us focused on the unimportant things and not on the things of God. We need to be like Linus, shaking out our figurative blankets and letting God handle our fears and frustrations. When we choose to worry over our fears and frustrations, we're telling God that we don't trust Him to handle them. We choose to carry the burden by ourselves instead of letting God carry them for us.

Teach your kids to cast their cares on God, so they aren't weighted down by them.
  • Deal with your own tendency to worry and carry your own fears and frustrations. Ask God to remind you to turn those fears and frustrations over to Him. Children copy what they see. If your children see you worry, they are likely to worry, too. If they see you take your cares and concerns to God, they will take their cares and concerns to God.
  • Give your kids a physical way to get rid of their fears and frustrations. Have them write down their concerns on a piece of paper. Then, pray with them about each of their concerns. After praying, have them rip up the paper and throw it away. Talk with them about how ripping up the paper is symbolic of letting God have their fears and frustrations. They have turned them over to God, so we don't want to take them back and carry that heavy load all by ourselves again.
  • Gather some rocks. Give your child a Sharpie. Let him write a fear, frustration or worry on each rock. When he is done, put the rocks in a bag and have him carry the rocks around. Talk about how our worries are like rocks. When we try to carry them by ourselves, they get heavy and affect everything in our lives. Now, have your child give you the bag of rocks. Walk around for a bit with your child. Ask your child how it feels to walk without the rocks compared to walking with them. Talk about how much better it is to give our worries to God and let Him deal with them instead of carrying them around and letting them weigh us down.
Like Linus, we can start each day with a "clean blanket." All we have to do is turn our fears and frustrations over to God.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rearranging Priorities

This was it. This was supposed to be the first week of the new year where I was going to get lots of things done. I made my to-do list on Monday while I enjoyed the Martin Luther King holiday with my girls. I was going to have four days to get into a new routine. My to-do list included a new writing schedule, some freelance projects, errands, cleaning out some areas of my house that haven't seen the light of day in a while and even a little time for me. Today, not even halfway through the week, my to-do list lies in figurative tatters.

Instead of running errands, we have run to the doctor. Instead of cleaning my house, it looks like I'll be cleaning my driveway of a half-foot of snow in the morning. Instead of having kids in school, I have a sick one at home and will probably have both at home for a snow day tomorrow and maybe Friday. Instead of writing and working, I've spent my days cuddling, watching movies and reading to my sick daughter.

None of the things I've done this week are bad. They're just not what I had in mind. God has spent the week rearranging my priorities. While the things on my to-do list were good, the things I've spent my week doing are more important. It won't be too many years from now that there won't be sick kids in my house. In about 10 years, it can snow 10 feet, and a snow day won't affect my life much.

But, today, those things do affect me. And when my schedule and plans get interrupted, I can get frustrated. I see the things I need to do piling up, but they aren't getting done. But then I'm reminded that my girls need to know that when they need me, I'm available. They need to know that when the chips are down mom and dad are going to be there to love them.

Because that's how God loves us, and the best way to for our kids to grasp God's love is for us to be an example of that love for them. God says in Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love." Our kids need us to love them like God loves us with an unconditional, everlasting love. Being there when they need us is part of that.

So, the next time your child needs you to rearrange your schedule because they're sick. Or your son or daughter comes home from school and needs you to stop what you're doing to listen to a problem they're having at school. Or maybe your child simply needs some of your undivided attention. Set aside your to-do list and be a picture of God's love to them.  Be the hands and feet of God to your children so they can see God's love through you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life Interrupted

Do you like the Everyday Truth blog? Want to go deeper in learning how to teach your children Biblical truths? Join me for the Everyday Truth Bible study from 9:30-11:30 on Wednesday mornings at Westside Family Church in Lenexa. Childcare is available. Register at Westside Family Church. Click on LifeStudies and type Everyday Truth into the search box.

Can't join me in the mornings? I'll be teaching a new parenting study called Laying the Foundation: Being the Parent God Intended on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8. We'll be looking at how we can model our parenting on God's example so we can be the parent our children need. This study is co-ed, and childcare is available. Register at Westside Family Church. Click on LifeStudies and type Laying the Foundation into the search box.

As I sat down to write this morning, my 7-year-old wandered out from her room. Then came the words every mom dreads, "I don't feel good." A thermometer and mommy instincts confirmed that she, indeed, is not feeling good and will be staying home from school today. My guess is this is her third round of strep in less than a month.

I'll be honest. This is not how I planned to spend my day. My girls were off for Martin Luther King Day yesterday and had two snow days last week. It seems like they have been home more than they have gone to school this month. I have a lunch meeting I'll have to reschedule and work that needs to be done. There are carpools that will need to be rearranged, and I'll have to figure out how to get my oldest to soccer tonight.

Instead, we'll be headed to the doctor's office this morning, and I'll spend a good portion of my day cuddling with my girl. It's moments like these that we can either treasure or we can grumble. After writing about disappointments yesterday, I'm trying really hard to find the good in my day today.

I'm reminded of Jeremiah 29:11, which says "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." While today's new plans don't seem prosperous or harmless, good may come of them. Maybe our doctor can figure out why my youngest keeps getting strep. She and I will get to spend some time together without anyone else around. I won't have to make a mad scramble tonight to figure out how to get her to hockey practice and my oldest to soccer practice at the same time tonight.

I'm going to try to practice what I was preaching yesterday and find the Pollyana moments in this day. It might not be what I had planned, but it is a moment that God can use. Maybe He already has.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Memory Monday: Working Through Disappointment (Romans 8:28)

Do you like the Everyday Truth blog? Want to go deeper in learning how to teach your children Biblical truths? Join me for the Everyday Truth Bible study from 9:30-11:30 on Wednesday mornings at Westside Family Church in Lenexa. Childcare is available. Register at Westside Family Church. Click on LifeStudies and type Everyday Truth into the search box.

Can't join me in the mornings? I'll be teaching a new parenting study called Laying the Foundation: Being the Parent God Intended on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8. We'll be looking at how we can model our parenting on God's example so we can be the parent our children need. This study is co-ed, and childcare is available. Register at Westside Family Church. Click on LifeStudies and type Laying the Foundation into the search box.

My 7-year-old daughter recently went to an event she had been looking forward to for a long time. She was so excited about getting to do something fun and sharing it with her friends. Unfortunately, she got put into a group that didn't have any of her friends in it. Although she had fun, when she came home the thing she was most focused on was her disappointment in not getting to share the event with her friends. It took me a good 10 minutes to get her to start focusing on the things that she did like about the evening.

It seems to be human nature to focus on the things that go wrong instead of the things that go right. Disappointment is a part of life, and we need to help our kids understand that they will be disappointed, but there is always something good to come out of that disappointment. Romans 8:28 says "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." This verse simply means that if you are a Christ-follower, then God can use anything -- disappointments and hurts included -- for our good.

As you memorize this verse this week, work with your kids to help them see how God has used and is using their hurts and disappointments for their good. Remind them that sometimes it may take a while for them to see how God can use something that we consider bad for our good. Help your children to understand that this verse doesn't mean that nothing bad will ever happen to them. It simply means that God can take those hurts and tears and use them to honor Him.
  • When your child faces a hurt or a disappointment, ask them to think of another time that they were hurt or disappointed that eventually turned out OK. Help them to focus on the end result instead of the moment of hurt. When I finally got my daughter to talk about something other than her disappointment at being separated from her friends, she discovered that she really did have a good time at the event. Helping your kids move past the immediate pain of the situation to focus on the "big picture" lets them see that while an event may hurt for a little while, they may gain something important from the situation.
  • Play the Pollyana game. Pollyana is the story of a little girl who is able to find the good in every situation. It's a great book, and if you haven't read it with your kids, I highly recommend it. To play the Pollyana game, simply ask your kids to name one good thing about whatever situation their in. The game forces them to look for the glimmer of good in a bad situation.
  • Don't gloss over your children's feelings of hurt or disappointment. Let them pour out their hearts to you before trying to get them to see that there is life on the other side. It's important to let them know that it's OK to feel hurt and disappointment as long as we don't wallow in those feelings forever. It's our job as parents to let our kids express their feelings and then help them to move past the situation.
Remember that how your kids see you dealing with hurt and disappointment is just as important as anything you can say to them. If you wallow in the hurt, then your kids will follow your example, but if you trust that God has something good in mind, even if you can't see it, then that's the attitude your children will take as well.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Exciting Plans

Every morning when I sit down to write this blog, I feel so blessed that God has asked me to be a part of His ministry to other moms. There is no higher calling in this world than to invest in the life of a child, whether it be your own or someone else's. I've spent the past few weeks really seeking God's guidance on where He wants the Everyday Truth ministry to go this year.

When I started this blog last May, it was a step of obedience made with a lot of uncertainty. Who am I to tell you how to teach your kids? My kids are certainly far from perfect, and I am certainly not the perfect mom. But God said write, so here we are. God has been faithful every morning to show up and provide something to write about every morning. I'm looking forward to another year of sharing God's truth with you so that you can share it with your kids.

I want to encourage you that if God is asking you to do something for Him this year, just jump in and do it. You can have no idea how amazing the rewards will be. I am constantly encouraged by all of you as you read the blog and leave a comment either here or on the Facebook page. When we step out in obedience, God richly blesses us in ways that we can't begin to imagine. Paul, who obeyed God even when it led Him to prison, says in 1 Corinthians 9:23, "I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." I pray that you, too, would follow God wherever He leads so that you can share in His blessings.

As we start this new year, I wanted to highlight a few things that are coming for the Everyday Truth ministry. I'm excited about where God is taking me in this new year, and I hope that these changes will meet the needs of even more moms.
  • If you love the blog, join me for the Everyday Truth Bible study. I will be leading it at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kan., on Wednesday mornings from 9:30-11:30 beginning Feb. 2. This 12-week Bible study will let you dive deeper into eight Biblical truths. Learn what that truth means to you, and leave with practical ways to teach that truth to your children. Check back on Monday for sign-up info.
  • Everyday Truth will get a new look sometime this year as it moves to it's own website. A new site will allow for more options and opportunities and will give you the opportunity to purchase Everyday Truth studies and devotionals. It will also provide a forum for doing online studies.
  • By the end of the year, I plan to have a Thanksgiving devtional, a Christmas devotional and summer curriculum that you can use with your kids written and available for you to download. Be watching for more information.
I can't wait to see what other things God has in store for this ministry as the year goes by. If God is asking you to follow Hiim down a path you never dreamed, take that first step today.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knowing Jesus

I was driving my 9-year-old to soccer practice the other day, when out of the blue she asks "Do you think it hurt when they beat up Jesus?" (My 9-year-old is my deep thinker. My other daughter's out-of-the-blue comments tend to be more along the lines of "You know, I think every movie would be better with a bazooka.") After explaining to her that it did hurt when the soldiers beat up Jesus because Jesus was 100 percent human and 100 percent God, I realized that we probably haven't drawn a very accurate picture of Jesus for her if she needed to ask that question.

The temptation is to tell our kids that Jesus loves them and paint a picture of Him as this gentle, loving person. When your child is a preschooler, that's a fine picture for them to have. It's one they can understand and one that presents Jesus in a manner they can accept. But, as our kids get older we need to do a better job of fleshing out a truer picture of who Jesus is. One of the goals of a Christ-follower is to become more like Jesus. We can't do that unless we really know who Jesus is.

Jesus was not a meek and mild man. He was clearly a strong leader as He had crowds following Him. He wasn't afraid to stand up for the truth even when it meant He would die. He got angry (remember Him cleaning the money-changers out of the temple?). He fought injustice (just by speaking to the woman at the well, He threw out society's rules). He confronted hypocrisy. Yet, He was clearly joyful and gentle as children loved Him and couldn't wait to be near Him.

Our kids need to know that Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man. He understands what it's like to face the same obstacles that we face today. Hebrews 4:15 tells us "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin." Children need to know that while Jesus was sinless, because He was human, He was tempted to sin just like we are. Jesus understands our trials and sufferings.

Use some of these examples to paint a more accurate picture of Jesus for your children:
  • Let your kids know that Jesus understands what it's like to have your friends turn on you. Share with them the story of Judas who turned Jesus over to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. Just knowing that Jesus confronted a problem similar to what your kids encounter with their own friends can help your children understand that Jesus was real and faced trials.
  • When your children are justifiably angry about something, talk with them about how Jesus was angry with the money lenders in the temple. Talk about how He sometimes got angry with His disciples (He once called Peter "Satan.") Let them know that sometimes anger is OK, but we need to not let our anger take over and push us to sin.
  • Ask your kids to describe Jesus. Ask them if they think He ever was sad, tired, angry or upset. Point out that Jesus felt all of these emotions. He cried when His friend Lazarus died, He often went to be by Himself to recharge and He was often irritated and upset with the Pharisees and their refusal to see the Truth. Try to paint a broader picture of who Jesus was for your kids.
It's important for us to create a picture of Jesus for our children that goes beyond the fact that Jesus loves them. If we want to raise true Christ-followers -- ones who will change the world around them for Jesus, then they must know and understand exactly who Jesus is and why He is worthy of being followed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

How do you explain the unexplainable to your children? My 9-year-old has had a lot of questions this week about why people do horrible things. She has heard some of the news about the shootings in Tucson, and we've had several conversations about why someone would do something so horrible. It's been my job this week to answer her questions and reassure her as much as possible.

I find this job of explaining evil in the world to be one of the most difficult jobs of a parent. How do I explain evil to her and reassure her when I don't understand it myself. I have no idea why someone would want to hurt another person. I have no idea why God allows bad things to happen to innocent people. I feel completely under-equipped for this part of my job as a mom.

But, I find that mostly what she needs is to know that she's loved, that God is in control and that her little world will remain mostly the same. Sometimes it's hard to balance how much she needs to know about the "big, bad world" with my desire to keep her world a peaceful place. Unfortunately, in this day of instant communication, it's difficult to keep the bad stuff out of our kids' circles of influence. Even the Christian radio stations were talking about the Tucson shootings this week.

And, it's not necessarily a bad thing for our kids to know that evil exists in the world as long as we're there to comfort, guide and reassure. While I would prefer that my girls not have to deal with things like this at their ages, it's important to be aware that they are probably going to hear about major events from their friends, from a snippet on the radio or TV, or even from random conversations going on around them. Refusing to discuss the subject with them once they're aware of it, will just make it more difficult for them to understand it.

So, here are my tips for helping your children wade through their feelings and thoughts when they are confronted with a national or local tragedy.
  • Answer the questions that they ask as honestly and age-appropiately as possible. Don't give your kids more information than they need. They may be struggling with some aspect of the issue that may not even occur to you. By simply answering the questions that they ask, you are giving them the information they most need to process the situation without adding to their worries.
  • Remind them that no matter what happens, God is in control. He knows what is happening, and He is there. Remind them of Deuteronomy 31:6, which says "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
  • Remind them that most people in the world are not out to hurt others. Reassure them that you do everything you can to keep them safe.
  • Don't lie to your kids and promise them that nothing bad will ever happen to them. You can't guarantee that promise, and if something difficult happens to your child or one of their friends, the blame may come back to sit on your shoulders because you promised nothing bad would happen.
  • Shower your child with your love and remind them of the unending love of God.
The most important part of helping your child cope with a tragedy is to take your cues from them. Keep the door open for conversation and don't be surprised if some of the questions your child has are very different from the ones you have. Reassure and love them and help them to know that despite the circumstances, God is with them.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    The Days are Precious

    Like many of you this weekend, I sat in horror as the news rolled in that a deranged man had opened fire on a crowded parking lot of people waiting to see Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Shock turned to sadness as word rolled in that several people had been killed, including a 9-year-old little girl.

    Today, I thought about blogging about helping your kids deal with tragedy, but as I sat down to write, the only thing I could focus on was that 9-year-old little girl who went to the supermarket parking lot with a neighbor because she was interested in how our democratic republic works. She had just been elected to the student council. Her name was Christina Taylor Green.

    As I hugged my 9-year-old close after the news, I was reminded of an important truth that we as parents need to keep in mind. We have no idea for how long God will entrust these precious little souls to our keeping. We always assume that we have a lifetime, and we do, but we don't know the number of days in that lifetime. I remind of you of this thought, not so you become fearful, but so that you will realize the importance of each day with your kids.

    Whether we get 3 months, 9 years or 65 years with our kids, every day is precious. We should treat every day as the gift that it is. Take advantage of every moment. Use those moments to teach, to love and to make memories. Thank God for each day He gives you to train your children. Remember that even in the midst of days when your kids won't obey, when they are rude to others and when you wonder who is raising those kids, the days with your kids are precious.

    Make it a point not to waste your days. Even in the midst of busyness, find ways to let your kids know you love them. Be intentional in seeking out the teachable moments to leave your kids with a firm grasp not only on your love but on the love of God. Take time to do something special and make memories.

    Psalm 90:12 tells us "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." When we realize that each day is a precious commodity, we become wiser in our choices about how to spend it.

    So, today, be sure to let your kids know you love them, find a moment to teach them, pray for them and make a memory with them. Because today is precious.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Memory Monday: Snow Day (Psalm 51:7)

    As I look out my window today, I see a blanket of pristine white. We're having our first snow day of the season. Since I don't have to go anywhere today, I'm enjoying the beauty of the winter wonderland.

    I have to admit when I considered the possibility of a snow day today, I wasn't all that excited. I work from home, so any day the kids are home makes it difficult for me to work. The snow has also interrupted a couple of meetings I had planned for today. But, as I gaze out at the beauty created by the blanket of snow, I find myself looking forward to a day of children who look mummified in their snow gear, snowball fights and snowman building (I could really live without the snow shoveling, but I'll do some of that, too).

    The picture out my window reminds me of Psalm 51:7, which says "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." When God forgives my sin, he makes my life as clean as the snow. When God looks at me, through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, He sees a soul as pure as the snow on the ground outside my front door.

    When you have a snow day, take advantage of the moment to memorize Psalm 51:7 with your kids and to talk about what it means to be washed "whiter than snow."

    • Before anyone tromps through your yard, have your kids look out the window. Talk about how a sinless life looks like an untouched field of snow. After your kids have played in the yard, take another look at the snow. It will be churned up and dirty in places. Talk about how when we sin, our life looks like the churned up snow. Ask your kids what happens when new snow falls. The yard will look beautiful again. Jesus' death on the cross allows God to see our lives as if they were that untouched, sinless field of snow. He forgives our sins and wipes away the dirt and holes left in our lives by that sin.
    • If you live somewhere where it doesn't snow, buy some of the fake snow, and demonstrate the same lesson with your kids.
    As you enjoy your next snow day, remember to look at the time with your kids as a gift. Take advantage of the opportunity to spend some unexpected time together, and use the opportunity to provide an object lesson about how God makes us "whiter than snow."

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Choose to Invest

    We don't normally have hockey practice and soccer practice on the same night, but last night, my older daughter had an extra soccer practice. I have to admit I wasn't all that excited about spending every spare moment of my afternoon and evening running from practice to practice. Dinner for the girls consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich eaten in the car. And, both practice facilities were freezing for the spectators. I have to admit that I was doing my own bit of grumbling in my brain.

    Last night, though, I got to watch two very different coaches make a difference in the lives of my kids. My hockey player's coach asked her to help coach some younger kids. You could almost see my daughter stand a bit taller and her confidence grow by a huge leap. My soccer player's coach is an example of consistent, positive reinforcement. When things don't go as well as he would like, he finds ways to encourage the girls. His favorite word to yell when a kick is missed or a pass gets blown is "Unlucky."

    As I watched my girls practice last night, I was struck by just how blessed we are that these two people have chosen to spend their time, energy and talent investing in my girls. Standing at the second practice, I realized that these two people have made a huge, positive impact in the lives of my kids, and I am extremely grateful. As I thought about it, I realized that we are blessed to have several people in the girls' lives who consistently make a positive difference. From Sunday school teachers to grandparents, my girls are surrounded by people who love them and want to see them succeed in all areas of their lives.

    As you read this today, I want you to think of the children with whom you come into contact that are not your own. Think about the ways in which you can make an impact on their lives. Children were important to Jesus. When the disciples were trying to keep the children from bothering Jesus, Jesus said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Luke 18:16). Children were important enough for Jesus to invest His time in them. The children in your life -- both your own and others -- should be equally important to you.

    There's a song I sang in high school that says "You're the only Jesus some will ever see. You're the only words of life some will ever read." Some of the children in your life may never encounter Jesus unless they see Him in you. Some of those children may never have been a part of a loving family. Some of those kids are simply starved for attention. God has put them in contact with you for a reason. Take the time to invest in their lives. Love on them and encourage them. You may never know the difference you will make.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Learning to Be Content

    Our church's women's retreat is coming up in March with a theme of "Rejoice!" I'm helping to set up the breakout sessions, and in preparation for that, I've begun studying the book of Philippians. Yesterday, I was struck by these words from Paul in Philippians 4:11-13:

    "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

    I have read those words many times before but yesterday the word "learned" struck me. I began to think about how you would go about learning to be content. We live in one of the most materialistic cultures in the world. We have so much in this country, yet we are always wanting more. Many Americans live on credit that so overextends them that their lives are one big ball of stress caused by trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

    Imagine how much less stress we would have in our lives if we learned to be content. I don't know what happens in your home, but it seems that as soon as Christmas is over, my kids start talking about the things that they want for their birthdays, which are four and six months away. The only way our kids will learn to be content in all circumstances, with both their material possessions and with their life circumstances is if we teach them how to do that.

    The tempation is to remind our children how good they have it. Did your mother ever tell you to clean your plate because "there are starving children in Africa?" Did you ever wonder how those two things were related? Was your mother going to scrape the stuff off your plate, put it in a box and send it to those kids in Africa?

    Kids need concrete, non-preachy ways to help them understand the idea of contentment, which is simply finding joy in your own circumstances. Because our joy does not come from our situation but from knowing God through Jesus, we should be able to find contentment in any circumstance. Open your kids' eyes to the way other children in other parts of the world (and even in places near your home) live, but do it in such a way that it teaches them contentment--not makes them wonder what the connection is.
    • When your kids start to get the "gimme's" for things that are well beyond their reach, help them to focus on the blessings in their own lives. Gently turn the conversation to the things they have to be thankful for. Play a game to see who can name the most things for which they are thankful.
    • Participate in service projects that allow your kids to help other kids, both locally and abroad. Help out at a local soup kitchen. Collect books for a local school or homeless shelter. Get your kids involved in choosing the people they want to help. If at all possible, let your kids tour a facility that helps kids in some way, whether it be a homeless shelter or a ministry partner in the inner city. Give your kids an up-close look at how some other kids live.
    • Work together to sponsor a child through a Christian organization. Most child sponsorships cost only $30-50 a month. Talk about all the things that your sponsored child receives for that small amount of money. Find out all you can about how your sponsored child lives and compare it to how your children live.
    • Talk about contentment with your kids. Read Philippians 4 with them and talk about how Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. As a family, make a list of the things that make you content. Focus on the intangible rather than the tangible. Make up scenarios that take away material things and ask your kids how they could be content. For example, "You live in a tent in the forest, how can you be content?"
    Contentment is learned. The most important way you can teach it to your children is to be content yourself. If your kids see you constantly striving to "get more" and never being content with what you have, then that is what they will consider normal. If you have never learned to be content, spend some time with God asking Him to show you how to be content in your current circumstances. Remember that our contentment comes from our joy in Christ, not from any material possessions. When we focus on that, we, too, can learn to be content.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Fostering Understanding

    Today, I'm going to talk about a concept that has become something of a dirty word in our society -- tolerance. So many times a disagreement will degenerate into someone calling someone else intolerant, simply because they don't agree on an issue. Many times, people will call Christ-followers intolerant because we believe that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God.

    Jesus, himself, said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). However, Jesus was also the picture of understanding. He hung out with the poor, the tax collectors and the sick. These were people who were normally shunned in His society. No one could accuse Him of being intolerant.

    We want to foster the qualities of compassion and understanding in our children. We want them to exhibit those qualities just like Jesus did. Yesterday, we talked about how to support your kids when they make choices that are outside the accepted norm among their peers. Today, let's discuss the importance of teaching our kids to accept others who may not fit the stereotypical mold and even to live at peace with those that they may not necessarily get along with all the time.

    My oldest daughter has a child in her class that the other kids have decided to pick on. My oldest has an inborn sense of compassion that makes her go out of her way to help others to start with, but the plight of this little boy really bothers her. We've talked about it over and over again throughout the year. She's decided the best thing she can do is to simply continue to treat this little boy just like she would any other child in her class. Several times she's found herself in the position of standing up for this child to the others. That's the way we want our kids to act when faced with a situation where a child is different.

    Creating compassion and understanding for others is a process that can only be fostered at home. What your kids see at home is how they will act when they are away from you. Even with children that they tend to butt heads with, we want our kids to act with compassion and understanding. Romans 12:18 says "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Compassion and understanding go a long way toward helping your kids to live at peace with everyone.

    To help foster compassion and understanding, try some of these ideas:
    • Remind your kids that God loves everyone, including those children who are different or who rub them the wrong way.
    • Add the kids with whom your children are having trouble to your family prayer list. Nothing takes away animosity like praying for someone. It's hard to hang onto anger or frustration when you're praying for someone.
    • Encourage your children to be champions of the "weak." Point out times when Jesus championed someone who was disliked or considered weak in His society. Celebrate the times when your kids stand up for others in the face of ridicule or peer pressure. Create a Champion award that you give to your child when they show compassion and understanding to someone else.
    • Point out to your children some famous people that were different as children. Albert Einstein had trouble learning to read. His teachers thought He was stupid.  He went on to become probably the most famous scientist. Talk about what the world would have been like if everyone had given up on Einstein.
    • Model compassion and understanding for your kids. Look for ways that you can stand up for others in your own life. When your kids see you doing it, it will become easier for them to do it as well.
    Offering compassion and understanding to others doesn't mean that you always have to agree with them. Jesus didn't always agree with what the people He helped were doing, but He loved them anyway. We can show compassion and understanding to others without offering approval to everything they do. The goal is to love like Jesus loved, so that others can see Jesus in us.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    It's OK to Be Different

    As you've probably noticed from reading this blog, my girls are far from your sterotypical girls. I have to practically wrestle my oldest to get her to wear anything other than jeans and a T-shirt. And, clearly, my youngest has chosen an unusual sport for a girl -- at least in our part of the country.

    I love that my girls are confident enough in who they are that they feel comfortable stepping outside the "typical" box, but sometimes that can be tough. Kids can be mean. For whatever reason, anyone who steps slightly outside the norm can be shunted to the edges of the childhood social circle. That's tough on kids and on moms and dads.

    I don't know about you, but when one of my girls comes home upset about some mean comment that someone made, I want to put on my mommy bear claws and wade into the childhood social strata and knock some sense into kids. But that's probably not going to help, and it won't fix the problem.

    The best thing we can do for our kids is to help them find their niche. They may never be the most popular kid in school, but they can find their place and surround themselves with good friends. But all of that starts at home.

    If your kids are not completely confident that you will back up their "different" choices, then they won't have the confidence to be who they are in a crowd. I'm not suggesting that you back up wrong choices, but if your daughter wants to play hockey instead of taking dance or your son wants to play the flute instead of the tuba, those are choices where your approval or disapproval makes a difference.

    God made each one of us to be exactly who we are. He wired each of us differently to fulfill a different role in his plan. I'm not really sure how my oldest always playing soccer with the boys at recess or my youngest preferring to play with matchboxes rather than dolls fits into the grand scheme of God's design, but I do know that He has a plan. He wouldn't have given my girls the personalities that they have if He didn't have a use for those specific traits.

    So, how do you go about creating an environment in your home that allows your kids to be who God made them to be?
    • Watch your reactions. You can put a stop to a great idea simply by reacting poorly to it the first time it's presented. When my youngest asked to play hockey, my first reaction was "Are you kidding me? I like all of your teeth in your mouth where they belong." Luckily, God stopped my tongue from saying that and instead allowed me to ask her some questions about why she thought she would like to play instead.
    • Be interested in what your child is interested in. If your child's passion is science, learn something about science. Do some cool science experiments with your child. If their interest is soccer, learn the rules and figure out how the game is played. If their interest is dance or music, learn enough talk knowledgeably with them about it. I can play neither soccer nor hockey, but I know the rules of both games and enough about the strategy and mechanics to be dangerous. Being interested in your child's passions lets them know that you support their endeavors. It gives them confidence to stand up and be themselves when you're not around.
    • Build them up when the world tears them down. It can be tough to go against the grain in anything. The childhood social strata values conformity above all else. Be there to talk with your kids when someone teases them. Let them know that God made them to be the special person that they are. Remind them that they are God's masterpiece.
    • Illustrate the importance of each person in God's plan for your kids. Put together a puzzle with your child, but take out one of the middle pieces. When you are done, talk about how the missing piece left a big hole in the picture. Explain that we are like God's puzzle pieces. When one of us is missing, it leaves a gap, a role that isn't being filled. Like puzzle pieces, we're all different so we can fill a different part of God's plan.
    Helping our kids become confident in who God made them to be is an important part of our role as parents. As you help your children understand the importance of being who God made them to be, keep in mind these words from Romans 12:4: "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Help your child learn to fill their function in the body of Christ.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Memory Monday: A Fresh Start (Proverbs 16:3)

    It's the start of yet another year. We've all got a clean slate, a year of calendar pages that are open and full of possibility. Lots of people like to make resolutions at this time of year, but I find that resolutions don't generally get me very far. As our pastor said yesterday, "If resolutions worked, we'd all be fit, skinny and rich."

    The problem with resolutions is that we tend to set the bar ridiculously high. I'm not a super organized person, and there have been many years on January 1 that my resolution has been to become a person who has "a place for everything and everything in it's place." Guess how often that works. Yep, I still file by putting things in piles.

    Instead of resolutions, this year spend some time asking God what direction He wants for you this year. Use the start of this new year to discover where God is leading you. I know that in 2011, God has amazing plans for you and your children. Take a few moments to look around and see where God is working. When you see Him working, join Him.

    The first of the year is also a good time to sit down with your family and set some family goals for the year. Find our from your kids if there are new things they want to try or learn. Discover what each other's dreams are for the year. See if you can't go about fulfilling some of them. As you sit down and plan your year, keep in mind this week's Memory Monday verse: "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans" (Proverbs 16:3). As you make your plans for this year, remember to give them to God.

    Use this opportunity to teach your kids to give their plans to God as well.
    • As you make plans and set priorities for the year, pray together as a family that God would direct your steps this year. Ask Him to place people in your lives that you can help and to give you opportunities to share God's love with others. If your children see you turning your plans over to God, they will gain a better understanding of the importance of doing so.
    • Talk with your children about how we can make plans, but we always need to be open to letting God change them. God's plans are always better than our own even if the change in plans causes disappointment in the short-term.
    • Let your children be active participants in helping to plan things. Help them to look around their community and find needs that they can meet. Show them how to look for places where God is working and find ways to join Him.
    As you plan your year with your family, put aside the resolutions and create a plan that you commit to God. May 2011 be filled with possibilities and amazing blessings from God.