Friday, April 29, 2011

Jesus Gets It

"Square up your body. Pull the puck back. Shift your weight to your back leg. Push the puck forward as you shift your weight from one leg to the other. Point your stick in the direction you want the puck to go."

I don't know how many times I repeated those words to my youngest as we spent an hour practicing her hockey shooting on the driveway last night. It sure sounds like I know what I'm talking about, right?

But there's something you should know. I have never shot a hockey puck in a game in my life. I have absolutely no idea what that feels like. I had to have her coach demonstrate the mechanics of shooting to me at her last practice so I could help her improve.

Unlike many of the kids on her hockey team, my daughter has two parents who know very little about the mechanics of the game. I've been watching hockey my whole life. My brother played youth hockey. I've watched enough to understand the strategy and know where she should be on the ice at certain times. But I have no idea how to tell her to perform a hockey stop, how to shoot the puck, how to stickhandle or how to skate backwards. She's at a distinct disadvantage in that respect.

But, unlike my youngest, we are not at a disadvantage when it comes to Jesus knowing what we are going through. Because Jesus became a man, walked on the earth and died for us, He knows everything that we experience as humans. He understands the emotions, the frustrations and the joys of living in this world because He did it.  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."

Jesus gets it. He understands what it's like to be tempted to sin. He understands what it's like to have a rotten week. He understands what it's like to have others talk behind your back. Because He lived it. He can understand and empathize with our situation.

Just like us, our kids need to know that Jesus understands their situation. They need to be reminded that Jesus was once a kid, too. We don't have a lot of information about Jesus as a child, but we do know that He had a mom and dad and brothers and sisters. He got left at the temple. He probably didn't always agree with His siblings. The difference between Jesus and a regular kid is that even as a child He never sinned. But He can understand everything that your kids are going through because He was once a child, too.

Help your kids understand the importance of Jesus being in human in how He can relate to us:
  • Ask your kids to explain to you how to do something that they have never done before. Choose something outrageous like flying an airplane or cooking a turkey. See what they have to say. Then, talk about what that task really looks like. Talk about how difficult it is to tell someone how to do things we have never done ourselves. Remind them that Jesus lived on earth as a man, so He understands all the things that your kids do. He knew what it was like to obey your parents and get along with your siblings.
  • Learn something new with your child. Make a new recipe or build a new Lego creation. Do something that requires following directions. Talk about how the person who wrote the directions had to have done the task before. Otherwise, that person would be giving directions about something they knew nothing about. The directions are much easier to follow because that person had done them before. Tell your child that Jesus is like the person who wrote the directions. He came to earth and lived as a man. That means He understands everything that we go through. He understands our emotions and our temptations. He knows what it's like to have your friends turn against you and what it's like to have others disapprove of your actions. He understands because He was here.
It's so important for our kids to realize the Jesus became a man. Yes, He was a perfect man, but He experienced all the trials and joys of being human. When we bring our troubles and tough situations to Him, He can relate because He has been there.

Jesus's death and resurrection offers us salvation and power, but His life as a man allows Him to offer us understanding and empathy.

Remember, there's no situation in your life or your kids' lives that Jesus can't understand. He's not stuck relying on someone else's knowledge to help us. He's been there and done that. And that's to our advantage.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeling a Bit Like Job

I've had plenty of opportunity to practice what I've been preaching this week. It seems that Satan has taken my first blog posts of the week as a personal challenge. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to rank yesterday as about a 0. If it could go wrong yesterday, it did. I was in tears by the end of the day.

I woke up to the wonderful present of dog puke on my family room floor -- and it wasn't even my dog. We're dog-sitting this week, and our visitng dog -- a beautiful and well-behaved golden retriever named Bunny -- ate our dog's food. Not an issue normally, but she's allergic to his food, so she threw it up.

While dealing with the dog puke, my oldest daughter got up. She had pink eyes with bags under them and had been up half the night because her ears hurt. She had already missed one day of school this week and been to the doctor, but it was pretty clear she would be staying home and we would be going to the doctor. This would normally not be a problem because I work from home. But, yesterday, I was supposed to teach Bible study in the morning and go into the office to work in the afternoon.

After her doctor's visit where we came home with eye drops and antibiotics, my wonderful mom volunteered to watch my oldest so I could go to work. There were a few other extremely trying moments in my morning that I promised my oldest I would not share in a public forum. Suffice it to say that by the time I went to work, I was feeling a bit like Job. I was afraid to even ask what could happen next for fear we'd end up in the emergency room.

Clearly, the things that I'd shared on this blog this week were hitting home and turning someone toward God. And just as clearly, Satan was working overtime in my life to make me throw up my hands and quit. You see, just like with Job, Satan wants us to be ineffective in our faith. When Satan asked to test Job, he asked "“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

God didn't stretch out His hand and strike everything Job had, but He did allow Satan to test Job. Some of the things Job went through were horrific. He lost his family. He became ill. He lost his wealth. Satan's main goal for Job was the same goal he has for us -- if he can't make us turn away from God, then he wants us to be so busy questioning God and putting out fires that we don't want to turn to God for comfort.

I'll be honest, several times yesterday, I thought about what I had written this week and thought "Why did I do that?" It seems no matter what I write about, I quickly find an opportunity to practice it in my own life. Yesterday, I was struggling to find the feathers of faithfulness that I had written about early in the morning.

Yet, I had something that Job didn't have -- good friends who believe mightily in God's faithfulness. Job's friends told him to curse God and be done with it. Job not only had to fight his own doubts and frustrations to trust in God's faithfulness, he had to fight against his friends really bad advice.

When things continued to go badly after I got off from work last night, I called a good friend of mine. She listened to my frustrations, commiserated mightily and promised to pray. After I finally got the girls to bed, my next door neighbor and I went for a walk. Despite the late hour, she was willing to walk the neighborhood with me and the dogs, listen to my pathetic story and offer encouragement and laughter. I came home feeling better about my life and like I might be able to tackle another day tomorrow.

Without those two girls, I probably would have curled up in my bed and cried myself to sleep last night. As it turned out, I even managed to have a halfway decent conversation with my husband before we went to bed.

Because, sometimes, even for adults, God's faithfulness is hard to find. Some days, it's all you can do to survive, and you simply need someone else to remind you of God's promises. You need someone to be the arms of God, to offer you a tangible reminder. That's where our friends come in. God provides us with friends because He knows this life is too hard to do it by yourself.

Proverbs 27:10 says "Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away." Friends matter, and they make our lives a better place in the midst of a disastrous day. They become the tangible hands and feet of Jesus to remind us of God's presence in our lives when we can't seem to find it.

I'm thankful for those friends in my life, and I hope you'll take a minute and thank Him for those people you call friends in your life, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Dryer Full of Feathers

I opened my dryer the other night, and this is what I found:

It wasn't quite what I was expecting. No, we didn't dry an owl. That's what is left of my daughter's feather pillow. I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning my dryer. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get feathers out of your dryer? They stick to everything.

To say I was surprised when I opened the dryer would be a gross understatement. For a minute, I wasn't sure what had even been in my dryer to cause such a mess.

Life is like that sometimes. We turn a corner or make a decision that we think is going to lead us one place, and instead we're suddenly staring at a dryer full of feathers, trying to figure out what to do. A kid gets sick, a job change doesn't work out as planned, a house won't sell or a marriage hits a trouble spot.

Those aren't the most fun times in our lives, but they are often the most character building. They also often bring us to a place where we have no place to go but up. We find ourselves on our knees crying out our hearts to God, pleading with Him for peace and deliverance.

And, if you're anything like me, those are the times you may look back on and find you were closest to God -- because you had no place to run but to Him.

As difficult as those times are for adults, they are even more difficult and confusing for our kids. As adults, when we're confronted with a dryer full of feathers, we have past experience with God's faithfulness to fall back on. We can remember other times when God has seen us through.

When kids run into the equivalent of a dryer full of feathers, they may not have the experience or the perspective to remember times when God has been faithful to them. Kids live mostly in the now. They need help remembering other experiences. They need to be reminded that God is faithful, and He keeps His promises.
  • Help remind your kids of God's faithfulness by keeping a family prayer journal. Write down the date, the prayer request and the answer. When your kids are having a hard time remembering that God is faithful, pull out the prayer journal and look at all the answers God has given your family.
  • Pull out a map of the world. Ask your kids to find a place far away from where you live and point to it. Remind your children that even though that place is far, far away from you, they can never go anywhere that God won't go with them. Matthew 28:20 says "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
  • When your child is faced with a tough situation, when they are wondering where God is, point out the physical reminders of God's love and faithfulness. He gave them parents who love them and want to help them through the tough situation. He gave them friends who offer love and kindness. When kids can see God providing for them in the situation, God's presence becomes more tangible for them.
I have returned my laundry room to its non-feathered state, but every now and then I still find a feather floating around, a reminder of the mess that was in my dryer. Even after our lives return to "normal," the tough situations God leads us through leave feathers behind. And the next time we're faced with an unexpected situation, those "feathers" will remind us of God's faithfulness in every situation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

At the End of My Rope

I pray in the shower nearly every morning. Some days, it's the only time of my day that I get entirely to myself. Yesterday morning, my prayer went something like this:

"Dear God, I appreciate the confidence you have in my ability to handle things, but don't you think we've had enough? My hands are rope-burned from slipping down this rope, and it appears the knot at the bottom that is holding me up is beginning to fray. Could you please make my kids well, my deadlines met and make me be a nice person again?"

Perhaps not the most inspiring prayer, but it was honest. You see, I can't remember the last time both my kids went to school for an entire week. I think it was sometime before spring break. Amoxicillin has become the sixth food group around here. I haven't had a full night's sleep in a while. I'm behind on my deadlines for a freelance project. I'm not sure when the last time my kitchen floor got mopped was. And our family is dealing long-distance with all the emotions involved in moving my grandmother into a nursing home facility today.

Our Easter Sunday started with my husband and I going to church mad at each other. Despite the beautiful exterior of our family in their new Easter dresses, we were defnitely not in a joyful mood. The stress of the past few weeks has definitely caught up with me. Many evenings, I don't want to treasure the moments with my kids -- I just want them to go to bed.

None of the things that have happened in our family are huge or terrible, but the combined weight of all of them has turned this once loving and happy mom into something of a shrew. And you know what happens when mom's attitude is out of whack, right? Everyone's attitude begins to need an adjustment.

Now that I've shattered any illusions you might have had about what goes on in our house, I want to share with you the verse that I'm clinging to these days. It's a short verse, but a great reminder of from where our strength comes. Ephesians 6:10 says "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power."

You see, that rope I'm clinging to? It's going to fray and swing with the trials of life. No matter how many knots I tie in it, they're going to come undone. All the little burdens of life are going to eventually be too much weight for my grip to handle, and I'm going to fall. Unless I'm letting God put his hands over mine, and I'm using his power to give me strength.

So often, when trouble heads my way, the first thing I try to do is solve it myself. You know what these past weeks have taught me? I control very little, and I certainly don't have enough strength to keep from falling. I don't even have enough strength on my own to control my attitude. I need God. I need the power that He offers because on my own I will fail. Every. Single. Time.

So, when life has you feelling like your rope is fraying and you feel like you're headed over the cliff, tap into the only source of power that's going to keep you going. Join me in throwing up your hands and letting God take over. Because His power is more than enough to handle the accumulated weight of all those little things that are causing your rope to fray. It's His power that will allow you to once again find joy in your role, and your family will thank you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Memory Monday: Growing Up

My oldest daughter turns 10 in a month. She is a beautiful girl who is turning into a lovely young lady. Lately, we've been having a few conversations about the changes her body will go through in the next few years. We had one the other day that I found especially revealing. It ended with her saying, "I don't want to grow up."

Changing bodies can be a scary time for kids. Some of the stuff that's heading their way sounds yucky and different. With growing up come more hygiene responsibilities and a whole host of new emotions. It's easy for kids to be scared.

Yet, all of the changes are part of God's amazing plan for us. No matter what stage our bodies are in -- whether it's pre-puberty, post-pregnancy or menopausal -- they are performing how God created them to perform. Those changes may be scary, and they may make us feel uncomfortable in our own skin, but they are still beautiful.

I know that eight years after having my last baby, I still have several pounds I'd like to shed. Ever since I hit the grand old age of 35, my metabolism doesn't work like it once did. I have pounds that have moved around to new places and clothes in my closet that most likely will never fit again. I have to work harder to keep weight off. What I'm experiencing is no different than what  my daughter is going through, facing the impending changes in her own body. And, there are days when I want to throw up my hands and announce "I don't want to grow up" too.

But the truth is that God made our bodies, and He thinks they're beautiful. Genesis 1:27 says "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Memorize this verse with your kids this week. Knowing from an early age that we are made in the image of a perfect God can help take away some of the fear associated with a changing body.

We need to remind our kids that their bodies are working just as God designed. And what He designed is beautiful. We can and should start this process when our kids are young, so that when they face changes in the design of their bodies, they have a sense of self-worth that is rooted in the fact that they are beautiful in God's eyes -- not in whether they look like an air-brushed model on the cover of a magazine.
  • When your kids are young, make it a point to focus on the non-physical aspects of who they are. It's OK for kids to like to look nice, but it's not OK for that to become a focal point of who they are. Try to compliment them on character qualities like being nice to others, truthfulness and unselfishness more than you focus on their physical attributes.
  • For older kids, buy a few of those fashion magazines. Lay them out on the table and ask them to flip through the magazines. Ask them what they think of the actors and models featured in the magazines. Ask them if they think that's how those people really look. Use a photo of a familiar person or animal and change it in a photo editing program. Show your kids how easy it is to change the appearance of someone with photo editing software. Emphasize that what they see on a magazine cover is rarely what a person looks like in real life. Comparing ourselves to those unrealistic images isn't healthy because it's not an achievable look without the help of some judicious editing.
  • When you begin to have discussions with your children about how their bodies are changing, keep at the forefront of their minds that all of this is normal and designed by God. As you begin your discussions, get a pot, some dirt and a flower seed. Together over the course of a few weeks, watch the flower grow. Talk about how the flower changes as it grows. Remind your child that without those changes, the plant would never become a beautiful flower. Tell your child they are just like that flower -- going through changes that will result in beauty.
  • Watch your words. Be careful how you talk about your own body. If you have girls, you are instilling in them an example of how they should think about their bodies. If you have boys, you are setting up expectations for how they should view the female body. What you say about your own physical image counts when it comes to your kids. Act like your body is designed in the image of God, so your children will believe you when you encourage them in how they view their bodies.
The change from little girl or little boy to young woman or young man brings with it some excitement and some fear. Knowing that God made their bodies to work this way, makes the whole process a whole lot less scary.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Joyful Celebration

Have you ever had someone that you know die? It's a sad time, knowing that you will never get to talk to them or see them again until you see them again in heaven. Usually when someone dies, we cry and we miss them.

That's what happened when Jesus died. His friends missed him. They gathered together and talked about Him and how they were going to go on without Him. They were sad, and they were scared.

Then, the women who had gone to the tomb showed up at the door and gave them great news. "Jesus is alive," they said. What do you think the disciples' reaction was? What do you think your reaction would have been?

The disciples didn't believe the women. Even though Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples that He would rise from the dead, they didn't believe Him. After all, no one had ever risen from the dead.

Matthew 16:21 tells us "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Yet, even though Jesus had told them what would happen, his disciples were still surprised when Jesus actually rose again.

Check out their reaction in Luke 24:36-39. "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Even though the disciples could see Jesus, they still had a hard time believing that He had risen from the dead. Can you imagine how their sadness turned to joy when they realized Jesus was actually standing there in front of them?

It's that joy that we celebrate at Easter. The joy of knowing that Jesus is alive. We don't worship a dead God. We don't worship a statue that was never alive. We worship a God who came to earth, sacrificed Himself for us and then beat death and rose again. That's a reason for joy.

It's that joy that makes being a Christ-follower different from any other religion in the world. If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, being a Christ-follower would be no different from any other religion. Like we talked about yesterday, Jesus' death on the cross makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God. His sacrifice blots out our sins.

Yet, if Jesus had stayed dead, we would have nothing to celebrate. Jesus would not have been who He said He was. Jesus told His disciples over and over again that He would die but also that He would rise again. Because He rose again, because He defeated death, we can have confidence in God's promises that we, too, will have eternal (that means forever) life with God.

We celebrate Easter on the day that Jesus rose from the dead, not on the day that He died. His death is important, but without his resurrection Jesus just becomes another person who made some big claims then died. His resurrection means that we can believe in all of God's promises. Jesus did what He said He would do. And that makes Easter a reason for us to celebrate.

As you celebrate Easter this year, remember that Easter is about joy. Think about how it might have felt to be one of the disciples seeing Jesus again after His death.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Ultimate Sacrifice

This week at Everyday Truth, we're celebrating Easter with a family devotional each day. Each one is designed to be used with your kids to take a look at a different aspect of the Easter story.

My oldest daughter made a sacrifice the other day. We had already scheduled her sister's birthday party for Sunday afternoon when we got an email saying my oldest had a soccer game at the same time. There was no changing the time on the party, and I really needed their dad and grandmother to help me out.

Instead of throwing a fit or being upset, my oldest said, "That's OK. You guys stay at the party. Granddaddy can take me." Not only was she giving up going to the party, but my oldest was giving up having one of us come to her game. And she did it without a fuss. She made a sacrifice so her sister could have something she wanted.

That's what sacrifice is. It's giving up something for someone else. Sacrifice is rarely ever easy. I know my oldest daughter would have preferred that we all go to her soccer game, but sacrifice nearly always results in something better. My oldest's sacrifice kept the peace in our family and made her sister very happy.

Easter is all about sacrifice. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me. He chose to die on the cross so that we would no longer have to be separated from God.

Think of it this way. Take out a piece of paper and draw a picture of someone on one edge of the paper. Now, write the word "God" on the other edge. There should be almost the whole length of the paper between your person and God. That distance represents our sin -- the things we do that go against God's commands. Things like lying, saying things that aren't nice about people, not obeying our parents and stuff like that. We can never cross that distance on our own. We are stuck on one side of the paper while God is on the other.

Now, draw a cross between the person on your paper and God. The cross creates a bridge across the distance. Because Jesus chose to die, he closed the distance between us and God. He made it possible for us to have a relationship with God.

Jesus could have climbed down off that cross any time He wanted. He was, after all, the Son of God. Yet, he chose to stay on the cross and sacrifice His life so that we could be close to God. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice -- his life -- for you and me. He loved you enough to die for you.

Do you know what the Bible tells us happened when Jesus breathed His last breath? Check out Matthew 27:51: "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." The curtain of the temple separated the part of the temple where the regular people could go from the part where only the priests could go. The inner part of the temple was available only to a select few. The curtain separated most of the people from God. It was a physical representation of our separation from God. Yet, when Jesus died, that curtain ripped in half, signaling the end of that separation.

As you celebrate Easter this weekend, remember that it is Jesus' death that makes it possible for us to be close to God. Without His sacrifice, we would still separated from God. Thank Him today for His sacrifice that created a bridge between us and God.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Happens When We Screw Up?

This week at Everyday Truth, we're celebrating Easter with a family devotional each day. Each one is designed to be used with your kids to take a look at a different aspect of the Easter story.

Today, let's talk about one of my favorite figures in the Bible -- Peter. He plays a small but important role in the events leading up to Jesus' death. Peter was the disciple I would vote as Most Likely to Say the Wrong Thing. He rarely thought before he spoke and was always rushing into the things. Jesus had to save Peter from his own impulsiveness more than once.

Peter was the guy that jumped out of the boat when Jesus was walking on the water. As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he could walk on the water, too. But when he looked down at the water and let fear and doubt creep in, he began to sink. Jesus had to save him.

During the final meal Jesus would eat with his disciples, Peter again became the center of attention. He made some rash statements that would come back to haunt him later. Look at what happens in Luke 22:31-34:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Peter didn't believe that he could ever turn his back on Jesus. Yet, just hours later, after Jesus had been taken away by the Roman soldiers, Peter would be asked three times if he was one of Jesus' followers. Three times he would deny that he belonged to the group of people that followed Jesus. And then the rooster crowed.

Peter screwed up. At the moment when it was most difficult to be a follower of Jesus, Peter turned his back on Jesus. He said he didn't know Jesus.

That could have been the end of the story, but it's not. We know that Jesus was crucified and rose again three days later. We're going to look at those two big events tomorrow and the next day. For now, let's focus on what happened to Peter after Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus appeared to his disciples several times after he rose again. One day, Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were out fishing. Look at what happens in John 21:7: "Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ;It is the Lord!' As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, 'It is the Lord,' he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water." Peter had not forgotten how much he loved Jesus. He was so excited to see Him again that he couldn't even wait for the boat to get to the shore. He jumped out to reach Jesus.

Then, Jesus did something important. He forgave Peter and gave him the task of looking after the people who would become the early church. In John 21:15-19, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Jesus. Peter answers yes all three times. Jesus then tells Peter to feed Jesus' sheep. Despite Peter's major screw-up, Jesus is putting Peter in charge of caring for His followers. It's a big responsibility and one that will ultimately end in Peter's death.

Why is all of this important for us? Because when we follow Jesus, it is inevitable that at some point, we will screw it up. We will not stand up for Jesus when we should or we will pretend we don't know Jesus when it would make us uncomfortable. But, just like Peter, when we screw up, Jesus is waiting to forgive us and say again to us "Follow me."

Can you think of a time when you pretended you didn't know Jesus? Maybe a time when you made a choice that you knew went against God's commands? Those are the moments when we turn our backs on Jesus. When we do that, we need to ask for forgiveness and try again. Jesus is waiting for us to acknowledge our poor choice and jump right back in to following Him. His death on the cross allows Him to offer us that forgiveness.

So, when we have our "Peter moments" when we choose to ignore Jesus, remember that Jesus is simply waiting for us to come crashing out of the boat to return to Him. And, He's always willing to forgive our screw-ups and set us back on the right path -- because He loves us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Lesson in Serving Others

This week at Everyday Truth, we're celebrating Easter with a family devotional each day. Each one is designed to be used with your kids to take a look at a different aspect of the Easter story

You know the one thing I miss the most about my life before children? Having the time, the patience and the money to go to a restaurant where you sit down, a waiter comes to your table and asks what you want then brings the food to you. After you're done eating, someone comes and clears the table for you.

Oh, we still occasionally eat at a restaurant like that, but not too often. It's just quicker, easier and cheaper to go someplace where you order at the counter, carry the food to your table and clear your own table at the end of your meal. Those types of eateries are also more likely to have "kids eat free" nights, which helps stretch the budget.

You see, the thing I miss about eating in a sit-down restaurant is the opportunity to be served. I like not having to do the work and letting someone else take care of me. Most people would rather be served than serve someone else.

Yet one of the last lessons Jesus taught us during His time here on earth was about serving others. As He gathered with His disciples for the Passover meal, He put on a towel and washed His disciples feet. Stop for a minute and read John 13:1-17 together to learn the whole story.

In Jesus' day, people either went barefoot or they wore open sandals. The roads were made of dirt, so feet got dirty. When they sat down to eat, they sat on the floor around a low table, so their feet were very close to the food. Washing your feet was important because who wants to eat with someone else's dirty feet just inches from your food?

The job of washing the guests' feet was usually given to the lowest servant. It certainly wasn't a pleasant job. Think about it. Would you want to wash someone else's dirty, smelly feet?

Yet, Jesus took on that job to teach His disciples a lesson about serving others. Jesus knew He wasn't going to be around to teach His disciples in person much longer, so He washed their feet to gave them a picture of what serving others looks like. Every time His disciples thought about serving someone else, they would see in their minds a picture of Jesus washing their feet.

Jesus said to the disciples "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14-15) He instructed them to go serve other people.

Jesus didn't say, "If you're a grown-up, go serve other people." He told all of us to serve others. Even if you're a kid, you can find ways to serve other people. It can be as simple as helping a kid at school who drops his papers or it can be as big as starting your own organization to feed hungry kids. Just because you're young doesn't mean you can't serve other people. All it takes is seeing someone in need and choosing to meet that need. When we put others before ourselves and look for ways to serve them, we become like Jesus.

Before you finish today, take a sheet of paper and draw a picture of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. Hang it somewhere in your room where you will see it. Whenever you see that picture think about how Jesus thought serving others was so important that He used some of His final hours on earth to teach that lesson to His disciples. With that picture in your mind, go out and find a way to serve others today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Memory Monday: A Celebration

This week at Everyday Truth, we're celebrating Easter with a family devotional each day. Each one is designed to be used with your kids to take a look at a different aspect of the Easter story.

Today is my youngest daughter's birthday. When she went to bed last night, today looked like a happy day. She has birthday treats to take to school, and we were going to go shopping for a new bedspread and decorations for her room for her birthday present after school.

Then, she was up half the night with a horrible headache. She woke up this morning with a sore throat. Unless she makes a huge recovery in the next hour, it looks like we'll be spending her birthday in pajamas, curled up on the couch watching movies.

This is not the birthday I would have predicted for her yesterday as she ran around with her friends at her birthday party. It was a day of fun and celebration. Lots of smiles and laughter were had while celebrating her life.

Can you think of a time when you were expecting something good and something different happened? How did you feel? Did anything good end up coming of the different thing that happened?

That's what happened at the very beginning of the last week of Jesus' life. He entered Jerusalem to much joy. People lined the streets and laid palm branches on the ground as He passed by. They celebrated his arrival. They shouted and celebrated. Matthew 21:9 says "The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!'”

By the end of the week, things would be different -- not at all what an onlooker would have predicted as they watched the celebration as Jesus entered the city. Those same people that had celebrated Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem would be demanding His death. This man who had been celebrated as He entered the city would be handed over to the Roman authorities, beaten and sentenced to die on a cross. It was a scenario that would have been unthinkable just a few days before.

As you think about Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem and how quickly things changed during the week, remember that Jesus was not what the Jews of the day expected. The Jews of that time were living under Roman rule, which meant they had to follow Roman laws and they didn't have a lot of freedom. The prophecies in the Bible had told them that Jesus would be their savior. They thought that meant He would come and defeat the Romans, but God meant for Jesus to save everyone from a life separated from God. That required a different kind of sacrifice than the one the Jews were expecting. And the Jews didn't like that. They felt like Jesus had let them down. It wasn't what they were expecting.

Even though Jesus wasn't what the Jews expected, the events of the week following the celebration of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem -- Jesus' death and resurrection -- allow us to have a relationship with God. Those events mean that our sin doesn't separate us from God forever. Jesus provides a bridge to God, which is a cause for celebration. The Jewish people that celebrated Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem were right to celebrate. They just had the wrong reasons in mind.

This week, with your family, memorize Matthew 21:9. Those words are words of celebration, and Easter gives us a reason to be joyful. Jesus became the sacrifice that allows us to have a relationship with God. And, that's a great reason to celebrate.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Unexpected Friends

I had lunch yesterday with a friend of mine. She has a very different life than me. She's single with no kids and is working on her master's degree. She's also my youngest daughter's hockey instructor. We first met her when we went to buy my daughter's first set of hockey gear. I wrote about our first meeting with her in one of my first blog posts, Finding God in the Sporting Goods Store. She's been a blessing to my daughter, but as my daughter got to know her, I realized I wanted to get to know her, too. She's been a staunch supporter of my daughter's hockey dreams, offering advice and encouragement. But hockey aside, she's also smart, funny, vibrant and genuine. Definitely someone I wanted to get to know.

Somewhere over the course of the past year we became friends. We occasionally go out to lunch and regularly text back and forth. She broadens my perspective on the world simply because her life is different from mine.

On my way home from lunch yesterday, I realized I am blessed. While the vast majority of my friendships are with women who are in the same place in life as me, my world is enriched by some amazing friendships with women who are in different ages and stages of life. God has made such a huge variety of people in this world, and our lives are enriched when we get to share them with people who are different from us.

We naturally tend to gravitate toward people who have similar likes and dislikes and who are in situations similar to ours. But, if we avoid relationships with people who are in different places in their lives than we are, we miss out on the joy those people can add to our lives and the joy we can bring to theirs.

We've all heard the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but too often that's what we do when choosing our friends. Too often, we automatically rule out friendships with people who don't seem to share a common interest with us. Sometimes, we'll get a second shot at a relationship with that person, but most of the time we simply miss out on the richness that person can bring to our lives.

The Bible tells us that each of us is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) and even goes so far as to call each of us "God's masterpiece" (Ephesians 2:10). I don't want to miss out on the great variety of temperaments, talents and viewpoints that God has created. But to get to know those people who are different from us generally takes more effort than becoming friends with people with whom we have obvious things in common. Many times, we're not willing to put forth that effort, so we miss out on the masterpiece God made in someone else.

Looking below the surface trappings of our lives to see the people underneath is what God wants us to do. He wants us to see others with His eyes. 1 Samuel 16:7 says "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We want to be able to look beyond our obvious commonalities or our obvious differences and see underneath to the masterpiece that God created.

We also want to encourage our kids not to dismiss people they know as possible friends based on surface knowledge of that person. Encourage your kids to look beyond obvious commonalities and search for ways to connect with other kids who may be different from them. We can't expect our kids to be friends with everyone, but we can teach them to look for opportunities to be friends with a variety of people.

When we look beyond the surface picture, we might find that our single next door neighbor has a wicked sense of humor, or your child may find that the shy kid who sits next to him at school is actually a whiz at soccer. It simply takes a minute of our time and a little effort on our part to reach out and befriend those people in our lives who may seem different from us. I've found that those friendships always enrich the lives of both people involved.

So, today, look around your world with new eyes and see if you can identify someone in your life that might make a pretty good friend even if they are at a different place in their life from you. Encourage your children to see the kids around them with new eyes -- to look at all of the kids they know as potential friends. Who knows, you may find a new friend in the sporting goods aisle. I did.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Don't Miss the Empty Tomb

It's that time of year again when our schedule gets overbooked. I honestly think that this weekend in April is the busiest one of our year, including the holiday season.

My youngest turns 8 on Monday, so her birthday party is this weekend on top of her regularly scheduled hockey game, the AWANA carnival and an egghunt. My oldest is going on a church retreat, to another friend's birthday party and has a soccer game at the same time as my youngest's birthday party. We'll finish the weekend out with our second-to-last AWANA meeting.

I have freelance deadlines coming up and am in charge of planning and hosting the birthday party. It would be really easy to lose sight of the reason that we're celebrating this weekend and get caught up in the details.

You all know that I love to throw a good birthday party. I've made Super Mario decorations, planned games, including an obstacle course, a balloon battle and a question mark box pinata. I still have a lot of details to take care of before the party on Sunday, and I'm sure I'll be a bit stressed before it all comes together.

I'm trying not to let the details get in the way of enjoying the weekend celebrating with my daughter. It would be really easy to get so focused on the party and all the other things we have to do this weekend that I could miss the joy in the moment and the reason for celebrating -- my daughter.
As Easter nears, we don't want to get caught up in the details and the noise surrounding this celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection. What a joyful time of the year. We serve a God who defeated death and offers us life. When the women went to the tomb, it was empty because Jesus is alive. The angels told them "He is not here. He has risen, just as he said." (Matthew 28:6) That's an amazing message, and one to be celebrated.

Unfortunately, the world has commercialized Easter to the point that it's true meaning has been lost. It's easy for our kids to get caught up in coloring Easter eggs and egg hunts and completely miss the truth of Easter. Spend the next week helping your kids to focus on the reason we celebrate Easter.
  • Starting Monday, check out the blog for a family devotion that will walk your family through Easter week, focusing on the events in Jesus' life in that last week. Each day will include a fun activity to do or an easy discussion to have with your kids.
  • One of my favorite object lessons for kids during Easter are Resurrection Eggs. These are plastic eggs that have something inside each egg that tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. It's fun and engaging for kids. Let older kids open the eggs in order and tell you the events that go along with each object.
  • Take every opportunity in this next week to talk about Jesus' death and resurrection. While there's nothing wrong with coloring eggs and going to egg hunts (we do), make sure your kids know that those things are simply fun. The true reason that we celebrate Easter is because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave so that we could have a relationship with God.
Take time this next week to focus on the meaning of Easter -- Jesus. Don't get so caught up in planning for the family dinner or choosing the perfect Easter dress or even helping with your Easter services that you forget the reason for the celebration. Take time every day in the next week to spend some time focused on Jesus and celebrate the joy of Easter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It Takes Teamwork

My oldest daughter had to put on a play with some other kids in her class last week. They had to write the script, make the props and perform the play in front of the rest of the grade. My daughter was really frustrated with her group. Apparently, half the group kept goofing off and not getting the work done. She was very concerned about how well they were going to do when they performed.

My daughter's frustration stemmed from the fact that her grade relied on the actions of others. Simply doing her best was not enough. She needed everyone else to do their best as well. It was an excellent lesson for her to learn how to work together with others toward a common goal.

Parenting is a lot like that group work that my daughter had to do last week. It takes teamwork to be effective. Whether you're married or a single parent, it still takes teamwork. Our kids need to be surrounded by adults who can pour God's wisdom and love into their lives. We need to partner with our churches and our Christian friends to create a circle of people to whom our children can look for wisdom and encouragement.

Make wise decisions about the people whom you allow to become influences in your children's lives. While we want to create a circle of adults whom they can ask for help and advice, we want to make sure those people are going to offer Godly wisdom and advice. To be a team that influences our children, we all have to be moving in the same direction and have the same goals.

2 Corinthians 6:14 says "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" This verse doesn't mean we can't be friends with people who don't follow Christ, but it does mean that we need to not be in a yoked relationship with them -- a relationship in which it is absolutely necessary that we pull in the same direction. Oxen were yoked together so they could share the load of pulling something heavy. When we engage in raising our children, we need our team to all pull in the same direction or we'll be ineffective.

This is especially true of parents. Both parents have to work together as a team. In some situations, that's more difficult than others. Parents who are divorced or separated face challenges as sometimes the kids are exposed to extremely different lifestyles and opinions. In these situations, sometimes all you can control is what goes on in your own home.

But, if both parents are in the home, you have to work together as a team. That means not criticizing the other's parenting in front of your kids. It means talking about your parenting goals and setting the same rules and limits no matter whose in charge. It means deciding what things you want to work on with your kids and both of you following through.

When we work together with our spouses, extended family, friends and our church, we widen the circle of adults who have influence in our children's lives. We create a team of people who are willing to pour God's love and wisdom into our children. If we choose that team wisely, our children will benefit in ways we can't begin to imagine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teaching the Truth of the Bible

One summer when my oldest was three, we had a Vacation Bible School curriculum that had a Japanese theme. The story for the day was about Mary and Martha, where Martha chooses to sit at Jesus' feet instead of helping Martha with the chores. My oldest came home from church and told me they had learned about these women who lived in Japan who had met Jesus. Clearly, she was a bit confused.

This story came to mind again as I was talking to our church's preschool director on Sunday. She was telling me about some preschool curriculum she had seen on a recent trip. The DVD-based curriculum included a fictional talking donkey telling the children that the Bible is true. Now, there's nothing wrong with using stories to illustrate a point, but younger children have a hard time telling truth from fiction already. It simply confuses them to have something like a talking donkey, which most preschoolers know isn't real, explaining an important truth to young children.

Too often, we treat the Bible like a storybook -- no different from the other picture books that we read our young children. Then, we wonder why they don't accept the Bible as true. From the time kids are very young, we need to treat the Bible as a book that is true. When we teach our children about the men and women in the Bible, we need to make it a point to remind them that these aren't just stories. They are accountings of things that really happened. The people in the Bible were as real as other historical figures.

The Bible, itself, tells us that God's words are true. Psalm 119:160 says "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal." The Bible is not a story. It is a book filled with truth that applies to our lives today. It's words offer wisdom, love, comfort and joy. We need to teach our children that they can rely on the truth of God's word.
  • Choose your child's Bible wisely. Picture Bibles are good choices for preschoolers. My favorites are the ones that use scripture within the text. Look for a picture Bible that offers some application to your children's lives -- either through questions or additional activities. For older children, choose a Bible in a translation that is easily digested at a child's reading level. My favorite is the New International Reader's Version. Choose a Bible that includes a daily devotional aimed at your child's age level or one that includes some life application notes.
  • Don't lump the Bible in with other books. Make sure your children know that the Bible is God's word. While men wrote the book, God told them what to write. With young children, every time you read the Bible with them, remind them that the Bible is true. Encourage older children to seek answers in the Bible when they are trying to make a decision or they are worried or scared. This teaches them that the Bible is a reliable source of wisdom.
  • There are some places in the Bible, where the accounts seem fantastic -- there's a parting sea, the sun stopping in the sky, people being sick one minute and well the next. It may seem like just another piece of fiction to your children. When you read about one of these miracles, stop and talk with your children about how God can do anything and that everything in the Bible is true.
Much of faith is based on accepting that what God says in the Bible is true. If we start teaching our children that the Bible is true at an early age, they will recognize that the Bible is different from other books. When we hold it up as a true source of wisdom, we help our children understand that the Bible is God's word and offers us wisdom.

But, if your kids never see you reaching to the Bible as a source of wisdom, all of your teaching will be for nought. We have to act out what we're teaching. We must make sure that we are offering a children an example of trusting in the truth of the Bible as well as teach them that it is true. We must live as if the Bible is true -- because it is.

How do you help your children understand that the Bible is true? Leave a comment or join the discussion on the Everyday Truth Facebook page or follow @ldfairc on Twitter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Memory Monday: Change Your Attitude (Colossians 3:23)

I don't like to cook dinner. Walking into my kitchen at 5 or 5:30 every evening and putting together a meal every night doesn't appeal to me at all. I love to bake, and I love to make a really nice meal for a group of people, but the daily chore of putting together something that everyone in my house likes to eat every night is not my favorite chore.

Friday night I really didn't want to cook dinner. When my husband came home, he really didn't want to go out to eat. So, I made dinner. But I did it with a really poor attitude. Oh, I made a nice dinner -- chicken, potatoes and vegetables, but I grumbled about it in my head the whole time. And I didn't even pretend I was happy about it. Everyone in my family knew that mom was not happy about cooking dinner.

And, much to my regret, I didn't let it go after dinner either. I stewed the whole evening. The issue went from the fact that I didn't want to cook dinner to everything that I considered to be unjust in my life. I threw myself a little pity party -- ok, a big pity party. And I made my family miserable while I did it. My husband was afraid to open his mouth, so he went downstairs. The girls were trying to figure out what was wrong with mom, so they were afraid to say anything either.

We don't have a lot of nights where we don't have to take a child somewhere, so we usually try to make the most of the evenings at home that we do have. Yet, my attitude caused us to miss out on a fun, family evening on Friday night. In the span of five minutes, my attitude changed our evening from the possiblity of a fun, family night to a miserable, tension-filled evening.

Like it or not, a mom's attitude generally sets the tone for the household. It's a lot of responsibility, and it may not be fair. However, it's true. There's a saying that goes "If mom's not happy, ain't nobody happy," and I've found that to be so true in our household.

I know there are things that you have to do in your daily life that you really don't like to do. For you, it may not be cooking dinner. It might be surviving the car line at school or dealing with a demanding boss or even helping with homework. Whatever it is, keep in mind that your attitude toward that task directly affects your family, especially if your attitude spills over into how you treat your family.

What we need is a change in attitude toward those things that we dislike doing. Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." If we view even those tasks that we dislike as tasks that we are doing for God, then it's a whole lot easier to change our attitude toward that task. It keeps our hearts and minds focused on God. If we cook dinner, clean the bathroom or change the dirty diaper with this verse in our hearts, we can do even the repetitive, menial jobs in our lives with purpose.

Memorize this verse this week, and the next time you have to do a job that you dislike, pull it out of your memory banks and use it to keep your attitude in check. That way, your attitude won't change the atmosphere in your home. When our hearts and minds are focused on the right things, even the tasks we hate become ways we can serve our families and God.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Dash of Compassion

We went to the school art fair last night. Now, I have to admit, this is not one of my favorite school activities. I'm up at school enough that usually by the time the art fair rolls around, I've seen all the artwork on the wall already. Neither of my girls is in chorus or band yet so we don't have a performance to watch. And last night we needed to rush from the art fair to soccer practice.

But last night was different. My youngest came home from school yesterday, raving about these owls her class had made in art class. She was excited about her own owl, but she was most excited about another little boy in her class and the owl he had made. She was telling me how he had done an "awesome" job and she couldn't wait to show it to me.

To be honest, I was kind of half-listening as I cooked dinner, but then she said something that made me look up and pay attention. She told me the little boy who had made the awesome owl had disabilities and someone else was making fun of his owl. She said, "I told the teacher, and he got in big trouble."

Now, I don't want to raise tattle-tales, but in that moment I was so proud of my daughter. In weeks past, she has come home and complained a bit about the extra attention this little boy gets and how he can be a disruption in class. However, when another child was going out of their way to belittle this little boy, my youngest stood up and said "That's wrong."

Last night, she was as proud of this little boy's owl as she was of her own. She recognized that creating that owl was a bigger challenge for him than it was for anyone else in her class. His owl wasn't the best one hanging on the wall. As a matter of fact, it wasn't cut out that well and the painting wasn't precise, but my daughter recognized that for this little boy, it was a big accomplishment. She was excited for him and had become his champion.

This is not my child who is known for her compassion. She's usually more than willing to look out for herself. She's just as likely to push you out of her way as she is to stop and lend you a hand. We've been working hard to get her to look outside herself and think of others first. Last night, we discovered that all of that work is making a difference.

Teaching compassion isn't easy. It seems that some kids are built with an innate sense of compassion while others have to be taught the quality over and over. Humans are born selfish. It's our nature to look out for our own interests, but God calls on us to have compassion for others and put them first. Philippians 1:3-4 says "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."

When we teach our children to put others before themselves, we teach them to become more like Christ. And we teach them to be champions for others who may not be able to stand up for themselves.
  • Encourage your kids to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. When you see your child do something selfish, take a minute to talk with your child about how they would feel if someone had done that to them. Remind them of Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
  • Illustrate walking in someone else's shoes for your child. Give them a pair of your shoes, then have them walk around the house or take them outside and have them try to run. They will most likely stumble and trip. Talk about how hard it is to walk in shoes that don't fit you. Remind them that they need to withhold judgment on another's behavior because we have no idea what types of challenges they may be facing or how we would react if we were in the same situation.
  • When something another child is doing bothers your child, help your child to see the reasons another child may do those things. Understanding someone's motivations or the obstacles they face may go a long way toward allowing your child to see past her own frustrations to offer some compassion to the other child.
Teaching compassion to our children is an ongoing job. It's not a lesson their selfish nature will allow them to learn in one sitting. Keep encouraging your child to put others' interests before their own and to understand others' circumstances and some night they will surprise you with their excitement for the accomplishments of others. Maybe you'll get to join in the excitement about someone else's beautiful owl, too.

How do you teach your child about compassion? Leave a comment or join us on Facebook or Twitter to join the conversation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sibling Love

Some days, I think my girls would rather eat nails than spend time with one another. Like any siblings, they argue over silly things, get jealous of each other and do what they can to annoy one another. But, other days, they love each other, stand up for each other and help each other. It's sometimes like living with Jekyll and Hyde.

Yesterday, my youngest came home with a paper that she had written at school. The question was "If you could spend the afternoon with any member of your extended family, who would it be?" This is what my youngest wrote:

I would spend the time with my sister because she loves me and without her I would be super bored.
She cheers me up when I am sad.
When I am hurt she gets my mom and she's always there for me.

When I read it, I had to smile. Despite the way my girls act sometimes, they really get it. They understand that their sister is going to be there for them. Both girls know that when the chips are down her sister will be standing there beside her.

I want my girls to be friends as well as sisters -- the kind of friends who will drop everything for the other one. John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That's the kind of friends I want my girls to be.

Siblings go through phases where they often seem not to like each other. But, if we foster an atmosphere of working together and always supporting each other in our families, our kids will get it.
  • Make supporting each other a priority in your family. In our house, unless the weather is beyond miserable or the other child has her own event, we all go to every game or concert. We tell our girls that it's part of being a family. If we're at a game, the sibling not playing is expected to sit, watch and cheer while the game is going on -- no going off to play on the playground or run around with the other younger siblings. The reason we're all there is to support the child playing, and we expect the non-participating sibling to be supporting her sister as well.
  • Foster cooperation. While the temptation is often to separate our kids when they're arguing, forcing them to work together to accomplish a task makes them work through their issues. If my girls are at each others' throats, I'll often give them a chore to complete together. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor." Usually by the time my girls are done with their chore, they've forgotten what they were arguing about in the first place.
  • Don't tolerate words that tear each other down. When your kids start to say mean things to each other, send them outside to sit on the front step -- no matter the weather. Calmly explain that you don't allow that kind of talk in your house and send them out the door. Tell them they can come back in when they have tamed their tongues and apologized to each other.
  • Don't compare. Each of your children is unique. They are not going to react the same way or accomplish the same things. No matter how great the temptation, avoid comparing your children. This sets up competition and resentment. There's enough natural competition between siblings. We, as parents, don't need to add to it.
I was reminded by my daughter's paper yesterday that my girls really do get it. They love each other and know the other one has their back. I let my older daughter read the paper. She didn't say much, but the smile on her face told me she felt special. Help your kids understand that family is about drawing close and circling the wagons when someone in the family is having a tough time.

Family should be an extension of God's love here on earth. The arms of your family members should be the tangible arms of God's love. Help your children be those arms to their siblings, so that atmosphere of love will last even when you're no longer around to encourage it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Tough Sporting Night

I have two athletes in my house -- kids who love the sports they play with a passion. Last night, they both had practice. And last night, I put two crying children to bed because they had had tough nights at practice.

My oldest couldn't seem to get her feet under her at her first outdoor soccer practice. According to my husband, who was there with her, she got kicked in the ankle, smacked her head when she collided with another girl and her Sever's Syndrome was acting up, making her heel hurt. It was a rough night for her physically.

My youngest was having issues of a different kind at her practice. Her coaches were trying to help her fix her grip on her stick. She has a tendency to hold her stick upside down, so her coach wanted her to change the way she placed her hands. He corrected her every time she skated past. One of the other coaches wanted her to skate harder, so he pushed her a bit every time she skated past. The end result was that my daughter felt like she wasn't doing anything right.

Her coach came over to show me what he wanted her to do when she holds her stick. As he walked away, my youngest burst into tears. Her coaches weren't doing anything wrong, but my daughter wasn't able to see that they were trying to help. She just felt like she wasn't doing anything right.

Unfortunately, life hands all of us days like both of my daughters had yesterday. Some days, we can feel beaten down physically -- through fatigue, injury, illness or chronic disease. Other days we can feel beaten down mentally, whether though a sharp comment from others or a misperception of the situation.

When we feel beaten down, the only place to look is up, and it's our job to help our kids learn to lean on God when they feel the world is against them. We can choose to let our kids waller in their own self-pity or we can teach them how to let God lift them up, dust them off and put them back on the path.

God loves us. He wants us to have joy even in the most miserable of circumstances, and He wants to be our refuge when circumstances have beaten us down. Psalm 46:1 tells us "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." A refuge is a place you go to be safe -- a shelter from the storm. God is that refuge. We simply have to run to Him. Help your children learn to take their circumstances and disappointments to God, so He can be the source of joy.
  • When your kids face tough circumstances, teach them to turn the situation over to God. Find something in the situation for which they can be thankful. For example, last night, my youngest daughter and I thanked God for coaches who want to make her a better player. Then, we asked Him for wisdom for my daughter to know that her coaches are trying to help her, not criticize her.
  • Do what you can to help your child see the reality of the situation, rather than just their perception. My oldest daughter just felt clumsy last night, and to some degree she probably was. However, it was their first outdoor practice, the ground was uneven and she had been up pretty late the night before. Not a good combination for my already sometimes uncoordinated child. Sometimes when our kids can see the contributing factors to a situation, they stop feeling so bad about themselves. Don't allow your kids to place blame when they have done something wrong, but help them have a realistic view of any situation.
  • Provide your kids with a refuge so that they can see God as their refuge. On days when the world is beating your kids down, they need to know that they can come home and be loved. No matter what happened while they were away from your home, they need to know that home is a place where they will be loved and accepted no matter what has happened to them or what they have done. This doesn't mean you should forgo any appropriate discipline, but make sure your kids know that you love them and God loves them, no matter the circumstance.
  • Model turning situations over to God for your kids. Let them see you taking your difficult circumstances to God. Ask them to pray for you when you face tough circumstances at work or in other areas in your life. Let them know when you are praying for them.
God doesn't want us to live life beaten down. He wants us to have "abundant life." He's always waiting to be our refuge and strength, even when circumstances seem to have the upper hand. Help your children see God as someone to whom they can run to be filled back up with his love and joy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Friendship is More Important than Laser Tag

My youngest daughter's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. She had long ago decided that she wanted to go play laser tag with her friends for her birthday. I had checked out the prices and decided she could take six friends. She was really, really excited about it.

Sunday, I clicked onto the laser tag website so I could call and make the reservations. When I popped up the website, there it was in big, bold letters -- YOU MUST BE 7 YEARS OLD AND 42 INCHES TALL TO PLAY.

Now, my daughter meets both of those requirements. She's turning 8, and she's taller than the height restriction. Two of her best friends, however, haven't turned 7 yet. They both turn 7 in the next month.

As I looked at those big, bold words on the website, I worried that telling my daughter was not going to be fun. Have I mentioned before that she's a bit of a drama queen? I envisioned much weeping and gnashing of teeth before she finally came to the conclusion that her friends were more important than a game of laser tag.

Much to my pleasure and surprise, my daughter was disappointed but immediately decided that we would have to do something else so her friends could come. I did promise her that we would take her to play laser tag sometime this summer, but it really didn't take any coaxing for her to decide that she wanted all of her friends at her party.

Rather than sacrifice her friendships on the altar of selfishness, she laid down the thing she wanted most so she could have the thing that was best for everyone. We're now planning a Super Mario birthday party here at home. More work for me but something that everyone can attend.

Friendships are valuable. Good friendships are rare. We need to treat them like the precious commodity that they are and teach our children to value them as well. Knowing that there are people in this world outside your family who truly love and accept you and choose to hang out with you makes the world a much better place.

Proverbs 18:24 tells us, "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." We want to have and be the friend who sticks closer than a brother, and we want our children to have and be those friends as well. To do that, we must teach our kids to treasure their friendships.
  • Lead by example. Let your kids see you making time for your friends. If they see you making choices that put others' needs ahead of your own, then they will be encouraged to do the same.
  • Remind your kids of the ways that friends make life richer -- they help us, they have fun with us and they encourage us. Read Ecclesiastes 4:12 with your kids. It says, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Give your child a piece of yarn and ask them to break it. They can probably do it with no trouble. Next, give them two strands of yarn and have them twist the two strands together and try to break it. It will be much harder. Last, give them three strands of yarn and have them braid the strands and try to break it. They probably won't be able to break the braid. Explain that the braid is like a friendship that includes God. It can't be broken easily.
  • Encourage your kids to put their friends first. When they have a friend over, institute a friends first rule. The visiting friend gets to go first in games and other activities. This simply reminds your child to put their friends' needs ahead of their own.
  • Help your children figure out how to solve problems with their friends. Don't let a disagreement turn into a rift that ruins a friendship. Teach your kids that forgiving each other is part of treasuring their friendships.
When we teach our children to value their friendships, we are giving them tools to make their lives richer, fuller and happier. Friends bring joy into our lives in ways no one else can. Often they stand in for family when family is not around. Learning at an early age that friends are important and friendship requires sacrifice will put your kids on a path to having successful friendships all through their lives -- even if it means giving up something they really want right now.

I'm sure next year I'll be writing about my daughter's amazing laser tag 9th birthday party, but this year, we'll keep our party and our friends close to home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Memory Monday: Find the Answers (Psalm 119:97-100)

We were on our way home from AWANA last night when my oldest daughter started asking me questions about Satan. She wanted to know why he had been thrown out of heaven and what was going to happen to him when Jesus came back. I was feeling pretty confident about my answers -- until my youngest decided to join the conversation with the question, "Why doesn't God forgive Satan?"

Now, it had been a pretty long day. I had spent a great portion of the day trying to catch up on some work and meet some deadlines. My brain was pretty fried -- not to mention the fact that I was driving a car at 70 mph. When she asked that question, my brain went into slow motion mode, thinking how do I explain this to a 7-year-old when I'm not super clear on all of it myself?

So, I came up with the brilliant answer of, "Well, I don't think Satan is sorry for what he's done." I went on to explain that God loves us and wants to forgive us, but we have to ask Him to do so. She seemed pretty happy with that answer. Then she hit me with the profound statement of the day: "Satan should just read the Bible."

Now, I'm not going to get into the deep theological issues behind the conversation we had last night. I'm sure there are biblical scholars out there who can explain all the reasons why God doesn't forgive Satan and why He gave Satan the run of the earth. Those types of answers are useful but to offer them up here isn't going to give us any practical application for today.

What I want to focus on is the simple, profound statement of my almost 8-year-old, who gets what so many of us miss -- that the Bible has the answers. How often do we seek answers from just about every other place before we seek answers from the Bible? We call our friends, we read self-help books, we Google things -- all before we pick up our Bibles to see what God has to say on the subject.

All the good stuff is in the Bible. It offers instruction on parenting, relationships, money and so much more. It comes from the source of all wisdom, yet too often we're too busy looking for the world's answers to look for God's answers. The world has said the Bible is an outdated text. As Christ-followers it should be the first place we look for answers, yet sometimes we buy into the world's view and seek instruction other places first.

The Bible needs to be our first source of wisdom. God gives us friends, family and other experts to help us, but He expects us to test all other advice against His wisdom. If the Bible is not the first place we look for answers, then how can we expect our children to seek out God's wisdom when they need answers?

Make the Bible a centerpiece of your life. Let your kids see you searching out God's wisdom when faced with a problem.
  • When your kids come to you looking for advice about something, don't hesitate to say, "Let's see what God has to say about that." Look up some verses with your children on the topic. Help your kids see God's wisdom on the subject.
  • Keep your Bible handy. We can only glean God's wisdom if we're using our Bible regularly. Have a daily quiet time and make sure your kids know that you have one. Encourage your children to have their own quiet time where they read the Bible (or look at a picture Bible) and talk to God. The time doesn't have to be long, but it's a good habit to begin instilling in even young children.
  • Give your kids an example of how human wisdom changes over time. Talk about how a long time ago, people thought the earth was flat. Now, we know that the earth is round. Explain that over time, as we learn more about things, the advice and knowledge that we have changes. Yet, God's wisdom never changes. It worked for Moses, and it will work for them.
  • Memorize Psalm 119:97-100: "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts." David knew that God's word made him wise. We want to be like David in seeking God's word when we need wisdom.
If we simply seek God's wisdom first, we will avoid much pain, confusion and heartache. God's wisdom is always best, and it's always available. We just have to read the Bible.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lukewarm Fans

Like I told you yesterday, we spent yesterday afternoon at the Royals Opening Day. My girls were super surprised and thrilled to get to play hooky to go to the game. My dad and I were like little kids because neither of us had ever been to an Opening Day ballgame before.

The weather stunk. It was cold and drizzly. We watched the game wrapped in blankets. The Royals had moments where they made the Bad News Bears look like a good baseball team (how bad do you have to be in the field to let a player get to third base on a bunt?)

But the thing that struck me the most was the lack of passion in from the fans in the stands. The stadium was half empty, despite being "officially" sold out. Many fans looked out the window and simply decided not to show up. By the fifth inning, half the fans that did show up had left, and the score was only 2-0. By the end of the game, there were probably only a couple thousand fans left.

I grew up in Boston and Chicago, and I am a passionate Red Sox fan. Royals fans puzzle me. They only want to watch their team if it's going to win. I lived in Boston during the years before the Red Sox had won a World Series. Fans of the Red Sox went to games and cheered on their team no matter how bad it was. They always believed that this was the year their team would break its nearly century-long drought of winning the World Series. So, the fairweatherness of Royals fans is not something I understand.

Sitting at the game yesterday, I was reminded of Revelation 3:15-16 "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." God doesn't want us to be like Royals fans, who are decidedly lukewarm about their team. He wants us to be like Red Sox fans -- passionate.

Lukewarm Christ-followers are those that say they believe in Jesus, but they are not passionate about following Him. When tough times come, they fall away. Satan likes nothing better than a lukewarm Christ-follower because they are not effective. Others don't see Christ in a lukewarm follower. What they see is a what people see when they see some Royals fans -- someone who doesn't care much but who will show up if all the conditions are right.

We want to be like those fans who showed up in their cold weather gear yesterday. Wrapped in blankets with hot chocolate on their hands, they stayed to the bitter end and cheered on their team as they tried to rally in the 8th and 9th innings. God wants us to have a hot heart for Him. He wants others to see our passion for Him and be drawn in by that passion.

When we are passionate about God and what He is doing, it's easier for God to use us. When God calls, we will follow. If someone offers me a chance to go see the Red Sox play, I'll do whatever it takes to rearrange my schedule so I can go. When God calls, if we are passionate about Him, we will do whatever it takes to follow where He leads -- even if it means making some difficult choices.

Revelation 3:16 says that God will spit the lukewarm Christ-followers out of His mouth. God wants us to whole-heartedly follow after Him. He wants us to show up to serve Him even when the circumstances aren't perfect -- even when they make us uncomfortable. It's not always easy but it is always worth it.