Thursday, June 30, 2011

Secret Agent Camp Disappointment

It's camp week at our house. You already know that my youngest is at hockey camp. My oldest went to Secret Agent Camp this week.

The description of the camp sounded super fun. They were supposed to learn about spy gadgets, codes and spy techniques. My daughter was going with her best friend and was so excited about going. They thought they were going to come home and be able to spy on all of us.

Unfortunately, the week has turned out to be a disappointment. The stuff they're talking about in her camp is more along the lines of what a police detective might do, rather than a spy. They've yet to see any type of spy gadget. Most of their time at camp is spent in a classroom watching the teacher demonstrate things.

To say my daughter and her friend have been disappointed would be an understatement. In the car on the way home the other day they decided to issue outrageous fines to the camp teachers for all the ways the camp did not live up to its description. By the time we got home, the imaginary fines were in the millions of dollars.

Now, I understand my daughter's frustrationg with the camp. I'm a bit frustrated at paying for something that hasn't turned out to be what it was advertised. However, I'm trying to temper my frustration so my daughter can have a good attitude.

After the million dollar fines car ride, my daughter and I had a conversation about dealing with disappointment. We talked about how even though the camp wasn't what she thought it would be, we needed to put the best face on it. We could hope the next day would be better. We can let the camp know in our evaluation that it wasn't what we expected.

But for the rest of this week, we need to quit grumbling and find the parts of camp that we can enjoy and learn from. We talked about how God expects us to do everything with a whole heart. Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." That includes summer camp.

If my daughter spends the whole week grumbling and complaining about her camp, it's just going to make her miserable, and it's not going to make the camp any better. But, if she goes into camp with the attitude that there's something here that I can learn and I'm going to give it my best even if it's boring, then she can be unexpectedly surprised if something interesting happens.

It's important for our kids to know that their attitude matters. Attitude can make any type of situation better. And sometimes it's the only part of the situation we can control. My daughter can't change the content of her camp. She can change her attitude toward it.

So, whatever situation you or your kids find yourself in today, remember that your attitude matters. Enter the situation with the thought that you're going to give it your best effort, even if the circumstances are not ideal. Because that's all God asks of us.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Fun: 39 Clues to You -- Week 4

Sometimes other people's decisions aren't the same as ours. We don't understand why they make the choices they do.

When you're a kid, it's easy to think that if other people don't think exactly like you, then their decision is wrong. How many times have you heard kids argue about what the best TV show is or what the best pizza topping is? And how many times have those discussions degenerated into an "I'm right, you're wrong" argument?

This week's 39 Clues focused on helping kids understand that even though we might make different decisions about the things we like and don't like, that doesn't make those decisions wrong. It just makes them different.

Our verse for the week was Romans 12:12 "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ." All the parts of our body don't do the same thing. They have different functions and they are intended to do different things. We are just like body parts. God intended for us all to follow Jesus, but He has different roles for each of us to play in His plan. If we try to be just like someone else, then we aren't fulfilling that role.

We had 39 Clues on Monday night this week to fit with everyone's camp and vacation schedules. We started with pizza. We had three four different types of pizza, and each of the girls got to choose their favorite kind. Before we ate, we looked at the pizza on everyone's plate. We talked about how sometimes we have choices to make that have a definite right or wrong answer. But we also often get to make choices just based on preferences.

I had the girls give me some examples of right and wrong choices. Then I asked them what kind of pizza they thought God wanted them to choose. They all laughed. We talked about how we each have preferences about certain things. Those preferences come from the way God wired us to be.

Because God wired each of us to have certain likes and dislikes, it makes God sad when we choose to ridicule others or be mean to others just because they like or don't like the same things we do. We are all part of one body, and your mouth doesn't go around making fun of your hands just because your hands are different. We shouldn't go around making fun of others just because they like or dislike different things than us.

Our featured child for the day was my oldest daughter's best friend. She loves reading and Tae Kwon Do. I gave each child some modeling clay and had them create a scene from their favorite book. Then each girl explained what their book was about. We talked about the differences in the books and I had every girl tell me whether they would read the others' books. We discovered that while we all liked different things to read, we all liked to read. I had my daughter's friend tell us the things that she likes about reading.

Then, we all went outside and had our featured girl show us some Tae Kwon Do moves. She's a high brown belt in Tae Kwon Do. She showed us some of the stuff that she can do and taught us some really simple kicks. She told us what she liked about Tae Kwon Do, and the other girls talked about whether it sounded like something they would like to do or not.

We finished up with a challenge to work together with someone else this week (like our body parts work together) to do something that is pleasing to God. We shared prayer requests and prayed together before some really tired girls headed home to bed.

Hopefully, this week, the girls will think about working together as part of one body and that will change the way they think about treating others as well.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Girls' Locker Room

There was a locker room just for the girls. It was small, and it didn't even look like a locker room. It had chairs instead of benches, carpet instead of rubber mats and no hooks on the walls. But it was just for the girls.

It was empty but for another hockey bag when we walked into hockey camp yesterday morning. The emptiness led to concerns and tears, which you can read about in yesterday's post.

At the end of the day, six smiling girls filled the locker room with laughter and joy. They exchanged tips on keeping their hair out of their eyes when they play. A shared comaraderie of being the only girls among the boys brought these girls of all ages together. The older girls helped the younger ones with their gear and encouraged them along the way.

This might sound like normal behavior for girls in the locker room, and it is. But my youngest has never gotten to experience this with other girls. She's the only girl on her hockey team. She sees other girls on other teams, but she never gets to talk to them or play with them. Having a locker room just for the girls is a luxury we don't often get.

Usually, my daughter just dresses in the locker room with the rest of her team. The boys are busy trying to whack each other with their sticks and talking about the latest Star Wars show or the latest sports scores. My daughter can hold her own with the stick-whacking and the conversations, but she misses having another girl to share the experience with.

As I watched these girls interact, I was reminded of just how important it is for each of us to have people with whom we can relate, people who are in the same age and stage of life -- people who can fill our "locker room" in life. We need people who can commiserate with our current struggles and share in our joys, people who can not only listen to us, but people who can look at us and say "I have been there."

I love having friends in all ages and stages of life. They bring perspective and interest to my life. But I also love having friends who are right there in the ditches of raising kids with me. We all need a friend we can call and begin the conversation with "Do you think I can sell my kids?" and they won't immediately call social services. More likely, they'll offer some encouragement or even offer a few hours of kid-free time.

Just like my daughter who needed to know that there are other girls out there who like hockey, who struggle with keeping the hair out of their eyes and who understand what it's like to be a girl in a world of boys, we need other people who understand where we are in life and the struggles that we are dealing with.

God never intended for us to go through this life alone. From the very beginning, God declared that "It is not good for the man to be alone." (Genesis 4:18) He wants us to share our lives with others. Being with friends who know what we're going through gives us a better perspective on our struggles. Others' experiences can help us know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If someone else survived the Terrible Twos, then maybe you will, too.

Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another," tells us that friends make us better. They offer us wisdom and they help us work through our problems. They can find solutions that we might not be able to see.

One of the girls my daughter shared the locker room with is getting the same bandana that my daughter uses to keep her hair out of her face. The other girl's mom was so grateful for a solution. It was a small thing, but it made a difference.

We and our kids need these "locker room" friendships -- ones forged out of common interests and struggles. Encourage your kids to seek out some friends who share their interests. If your child loves Legos, schedule a playdate with another child who loves Legos and let them create to their hearts' content. If your child loves baseball, take him and another baseball-loving friend to see the hometown team. Encourage your kids' interests and help them find friends with whom to share those interests.

Hanging out in the girls' locker room forged friendships and solidarity for my daughter. Seek out your own "locker room" friendships. Life is so much sweeter when you share it with a friend.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Memory Monday: Just Open the Door and Ask for Help (Matthew 6:25-27)

I'm a bit tardy with this post today. I just dropped my daughter off at hockey camp, which is about 45 minutes away from our house, and it starts at 8 a.m. I love all of you, but I was unwilling to get up at 5 a.m. to write this morning, so this week's posts will be a bit later than normal. Unless, of course, I actually manage to get ahead of my schedule. But I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you.

This is the first time my youngest has ever gone to camp where I drop her off for the day and come back and get her at the end of the day. They skate for an hour twice during the day, so she has to be responsible for getting her gear on and off by herself and making sure it all gets back in her bag. The responsibility of all of this was very concerning to her.

Because the camp is across town from us, not many of her hockey friends were attending. Whenever we walk into a new hockey season where she doesn't know people, she gets really nervous. She never knows if she's going to be the only girl or if she'll know anyone else. She's always concerned about how she's going to fit in.

Between these two things this morning, I was afraid I was never going to get my daughter out of the locker room. She was letting her nerves get the best of her and was in tears before we finished getting her dressed. We had to take a deep breath and remember that we had conquered these situations before and that she was perfectly capable of handling the situation.

Her tears this morning reminded me that no matter how old we are, new situations full of uncertainty leave us feeling anxious. Usually, when we look back on the situation, though, we find that we worried for no reason.

God doesn't want us to worry. As a matter of fact, Jesus commands us not to worry in Matthew 6:34. He even  asks the question "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:27). Worry robs us of joy. It makes us irritable and anxious. Constant worry can cause health problems.

We don't want to raise children who are worriers, yet we don't want to discount the things that concern them either. My daughter had some legitimate concerns this morning. She's never gotten completely dressed in her hockey gear by herself before. She can't tie her skates. She does need some help. But this is a camp for 5- to 8-year-olds. Help is always nearby. My job was simply to reassure her that if she needed help, all she had to do was open the locker room door and ask.

The same is true any time we begin to worry. All we have to do is ask God for help. He wants us not to worry. He wants us to rely on Him for the things that we need. He wants us to replace the worry in our lives with reliance on Him. Just like my daughter is going to have to rely on the camp workers to help her tie her skates, we need to rely on God to help us through our worry. We can't conquer worry on our own. It takes God's help.

The fastest way for your kids to learn how to deal with worry is to see how you deal with worry. If they see you looking to God for help with your worry, then that's where they will learn to turn with their worries. But, if they see you in constant turmoil because of worry, they will learn that the only way to deal with their concerns is to worry and gnaw on them until you are sick. I know which one of these approaches to worry I want my kids to take, so I have to model it for them.

I hope that this week, you'll take the time with your kids to memorize Matthew 6:25-27, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

Use this verse to replace your thoughts when you begin to worry. Use it to remind yourself that worry accomplishes nothing, and Jesus commands us not to do it. Use it to teach your kids that worry has no place in their lives.

When you start to worry this week, be like my daughter and open that line of communication with God and ask for help.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Introductions: Mom's Toolbox

I know a lot about the Bible. I've been teaching and writing Bible studies for nearly 10 years. But, you know, I have never made it through the Bible cover to cover in one set period of time.

Oh, I've started with the read through the Bible in a year reading plans several times, but come March or April, I usually get bogged down and busy and end up giving up.

That's why I'm so excited about today's Friday Introduction. Starting July 11, I'm going to be joining up with some other ladies online to do The Bible in 90 Days program. This reading schedule takes you through the Bible in 90 days.

One of my favorite websites, Mom's Toolbox, is hosting this program. At Mom's Toolbox, you'll find a site loaded with insightful devotions, great tips for being a better mom and even some yummy recipes.

Amy does a great job of keeping you encouraged and giving you practical ideas that you can implement in your own home.

But the thing I'm most excited about is her dedication to helping people read through the Bible with The Bible in 90 Days. She's even offering a Bible survey reading for your kids so they can do it along with you. The readings for kids are shorter, and they won't read all the way through the Bible, but it's a great way to challenge your kids to get into the Word.

Why read through the Bible, you ask? The Bible is God's love letter to us. It's the complete story of who He is. Even those seemingly endless passages of laws in Leviticus have something to tell us about God's character. If we never read it all, we miss out on finding out more about God.

Psalm 119:105 says "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Reading all of God's Word brings light into our lives and helps us to follow where God leads. Putting God's word into your life is never wasted. Isaiah 55:11 tells us "My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Spending time in God's word is never wasted.

I'd love to have you check out Mom's Toolbox. (You can also find Amy on Facebook and Twitter). But I'd love it even more if you'd join me in reading The Bible in 90 Days. If you're interested, head on over to Amy's site and sign up, then post in the comments here that you're taking part. I'll keep a list of participants from Everyday Truth, and we'll have our own encouragement and discussion group via Facebook and email.

So, grab a friend, sign up at Mom's Toolbox, and join me in an adventure through the Bible. You definitely won't regret it, and you might make some new friends along the way.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking Ahead

I turn 37 today. I woke up this morning and realized I'm quickly approaching the age that I used to think was ancient. As my youngest daughter so politely informed me yesterday, I'm well on my way to reaching 100. (Aren't kids great for your ego?)

I've been a parent for 10 years. My oldest now has fewer years to spend in our house than she has already spent with us. In 10 more years, I'll be 47, and my kids will both have reached the age of 18. I can't believe we're almost halfway to having grown kids.

Just 10 years ago, I was turning 27, and I had a 3-week-old baby. We were just beginning to feel our way through this parenthood journey. Now, I sit here, the mom of a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Ten years ago my parenting decisions revolved around diapers, bottles and sleep. Today, they revolve around teaching good decision making and holding little hands and hearts as they take steps toward independence.

As fast as the time has flown, I wouldn't want to turn back the clock. Oh, I'd like to have my 27-year-old body back. And I miss watching my little ones explore the world. The joy of watching my girls take their first steps and say their first words has been replaced by watching them score their first goals and ace their spelling tests (sometimes).

As I contemplate the next 10 years of my life, I have no idea what God has in store for us, but as I count the blessings of the past 10, I know that His plans are good and the results are great. Oh, the past 10 years have held some big heartaches, and I know the next 10 hold their own challenges. But the past 10 years have held immeasurable amounts of joy. I'm counting on the same for the next 10 because God's plans are good. They are always in our favor.

A long time ago when I was teenager, I picked out a verse that I declared was my "life verse." It's Jeremiah 29:11 where God tells the Israelites, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." The truth of this verse has followed me through some wonderful moments and held me up through some really tough ones.

I know the truth in this verse will follow me through the next years of my life as well. No matter what the circumstances of life throw in my path in the future, I know that God loves me, and He is not out to harm me. His plans are perfect, and they are always for my good, not my harm.

As I embark today on another year of this parenthood journey, I'm going rely on God's gracious promise that His plans for me are good. And, I'm going to teach my kids that even when we encounter heartache and pain, God is planning good things for us. He is offering us joy beyond our wildest imaginings.

Won't you walk into the future holding onto that same promise? And teach your kids the same? Because God is good, and He promises the future holds great things.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Fun: The 39 Clues to You -- Day 3

We're back on schedule with our summer adventure -- 39 Clues to You. If you missed the first two posts about our adventures, you can find them here and here. The goal of 39 Clues to You is to teach my girls and four of their friends about the value of others. Join us on our journey as we learn that it matters to God how we treat each other because each person is precious to Him.

We drove home from Colorado yesterday -- that's 10 hours in the car. Now, we don't have a spacious minivan or SUV where each girl has lots of space to themselves. My car is a VW Passat station wagon (which I love, by the way). The bigger the girls get, the less room they each have -- and the more often they fuss at each other.

We've found the trip home always seems longer than the trip out, probably because everyone is tired of each other and just plain tired. Yesterday, our girls started the trip bickering with one another. It wasn't so much what they actually said to one another as how they said it.

My girls are old enough to know better than to flat-out insult one another, but they are experts at making sure their tone conveys exactly what they think of their sister at that moment. It's frustrating, and we've been trying to impress on our girls that our tone and what we are thinking is equally as important as the words that actually come out of our mouths.

Today's 39 Clues adventure focuses on the importance of treating others respectfully with our words. But I'm not going to lecture on what words God wants us to use or not use. Giving the kids a list of rules to follow simply makes God seem like a hard taskmaster. No, today, we're going to go after the root of the problem and take a look at our hearts.

Our memory verse for today is Luke 6:45: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It's what's in our hearts that determines what comes out of our mouths. If we're filling our hearts up with anger, frustration and meanness, then that's what's going to come out of our mouths. However, if we are spending time with God each day and letting Him fill us up with His love, then words that reflect His love will come pouring out of our mouths.

To illustrate this point with the girls, I'm giving them each a cup and a bowl. We're going to pour water in the cups until they overflow into the bowls. Then we're going to talk about what we expected to come out of the cups. We poured in water, so why didn't we expect orange juice or hot chocolate to come out when it overflowed?

We'll talk about how our hearts are like the cup. We can't expect love to overflow out of our hearts into our words, if we're not filling our hearts up with God's love. We'll spend some time talking about what our speech will sound like if it's overflowing with God's love. And we'll discuss how words really do matter. We can't take them back once they're out, and they can hurt worse than an actual punch to the arm.

Before we use our cups in our illustration, I'm going to have the girls use Sharpies to decorate them with hearts. Part of their homework will be to drink out of their cups everyday to remind them to fill their hearts up with God's love every day.

Our featured girl for the day is my next-door-neighbor's oldest daughter. I'll hand out the clues, and we'll figure out which girl we're going to learn about today. She's a gorgeous girl who is a lot of fun. She's super smart and  is an excellent problem solver. She loves to play piano and volleyball. So, today, she's going to teach the rest of us about her two favorite skills. We're going to get a little piano lesson, and we're going to head outside to bump and set our way through the afternoon.

After our activities, we'll come back inside and talk about how hard or easy each of them was. And, we'll talk about what we liked or dislike about each one. We'll have my neighbor's daughter talk about why she loves each of those activities.

We'll wrap up with a reminder that God made each one of  us different and our differences are what make us useful in God's plan. Even if some of the girls dislike the activities, they'll have a new appreciation for how difficult each one of those things is.

The girls will leave today with a devotional page that takes them through 1 Corinthians 13 in the next five days to help them spend time each day with God. They'll also leave with a challenge to write down the times this week when their words reflect God's love.

Hopefully, by the time they leave today, they won't just have a better understanding of the talents of one of their friends, but they'll be more aware of their words as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Road Trip Redux

We are once again on our annual trip to Denver. We left early this morning so we can make it back in time for my oldest daughter's soccer practice tonight. I reread this post from last year yesterday and wanted to share it with you again. I wish I could tell you that my attitude about road trips has improved immensely, but I would be lying. It's improved, but not a lot. I'm not really looking forward to the trip home.

Yet, as I rered this post, I was once again convicted of the need to use the time we have together in the car. On our way home this morning, we'll be finishing the book The Saturdays and having some great conversation about the value of choosing how to spend our time wisely.

I hope whatever trips you take together this summer will be an enjoyable break from your everyday routine. Enjoy every minute -- even if you're stuck in the car for hours on end.

As this posts this morning, my family is on our way home from our annual trek to Denver to visit my husband's dad. We are traveling across the great state of Kansas on our way home. If you've never traveled by car across the Kansas plains, let me fill you in on a little secret -- you're not missing much. The land is flat and dotted with farms pretty much from the time you leave Denver until you reach Salina. There's really not much to see.

Let me tell you another secret -- I hate riding in the car. I'm worse than the kids. I grew up in New England where you could cross six states in about three hours. It just didn't take that long to get anywhere, so I never learned to sit in the car for endless hours. My dad traveled a lot, so if we were going someplace outside New England, we flew on his frequent flier miles. My philosophy on taking a trip is "Why drive when you can fly?"

However, neither my husband nor I currently possess jobs that provide us with frequent flier miles or enough money to fly everywhere we want to go, so we drive. So far this summer, we've been through portions of seven states on our two vacations. We've spent about 50 hours traveling in the car. As you can guess from what I've just told you, I can't wait to get home.

When we were traveling out to Denver, God prodded me to realize that I'm not taking advantage of the time I have in the car with my family to point out the great variety in God's creation. A car trip is a great opportunity to not only share the beauty of God's creation with your family but is also a great time to connect with your kids. After all, you're all pretty much trapped together in the car. You might as well use the time wisely. So, the next time you're on a car trip, try some of these ideas to pass the time. You might learn something about your kids and you just might have a great time.

  • Don't miss out on the scenery. Even in the plains of Kansas, there's something to point out about God's creation. Genesis 1:31 tells us "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." That means that even the flat land of Kansas that I find so uninteresting is part of God's good plan. On the way home, I plan to point out to my kids that even though the land may not seem exciting, Kansas provides us all with wheat, which makes our bread. Cows and pigs are also part of the Kansas landscape that help to feed us. God knew that we would need large plots of flat land on which to grow our food, so He provided it. It's all part of how He cares for us.
  • Play the alphabet game -- with a twist. In the alphabet game, everyone tries to find the letters of the alphabet in order on the highway signs you pass. As you find a letter, you call it out. In this game, you still try to find the letters of the alphabet, but each person is assigned another person in the car. As you call out the letters, you have to yell out the letter and an attribute that starts with that letter that applies to the person you've been assigned. For example, "A is for amazing at math." Set the rules so each attribute has to be a good one. Remind your kids that Ephesians 4:29 tells us that we want our words to build each other up, and this is one way to do that.
  • Play 20 Questions. This is another familiar game but one that will let you focus on learning a little bit about your kids and what they think is important. Start with a topic, say favorite breakfast cereals, and have the person who is going to answer the questions think of their favorite breakfast cereal. Everyone else asks yes or no questions about the cereal to try to figure out the answer. Continue the round until everyone has gone. For the next round, choose a different topic that will delve into learning more about your kids. Question categories could include favorite school subjects, things they don't like to do, things that we struggle with or don't think we're good at. If your child is having a tough time with a certain issue but doesn't like to open up about it, work it into the game and see if a discussion doesn't develop. Take the time to query your kids about the things they chose as answers to the questions and offer some godly advice if the situation warrants.
  • Have a "Great Things God Put in (whatever state you're traveling through)" scavenger hunt. Before you leave home, think about the things you think you will see on your trip. Create a basic scavenger hunt list (words or pictures) for each child. Give it to them at the beginning of the trip and see who can find the most things on the list while on your trip. Talk about the things on the list and what makes them special and why God might have put those things in that state.
  • Read a great book together. Time in the car is a great time for a read-aloud. Choose a book that will foster some discussion within your family. Maybe you are working on a particular character quality or behavior this summer. Find a book that deals with that issue and read it in the car. Talk about the book. Before you leave home, find some scriptures that deal with the topic and work them into the conversation.

With a little planning and a better attitude than I usually take on my car trips, you can have a pleasant ride, good conversation and everyone might learn a little something about God and each other. Have a great trip.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Memory Monday: Making a Beautiful Mess (Isaiah 64:8)

We recently spent some time in Kentucky, visiting my extended family. While we were there we went through some things that had belonged to my grandma, including boxes of old family pictures. In the boxes, we found school pictures of all the grandkids from kindergarten through graduation.

We had a good laugh at some of the hairstyles and fashions in those photos. My girls’ favorite pictures were those of the era when I had my hair permed and braces on my teeth. They thought mom looked pretty funny.

Looking at those pictures, I realized there were some years that I looked pretty awkward. Those years between being a cute, little kid and a grown-up young lady had some pretty bad moments. Those tween/early teen years are often not kind as your body changes and you begin to look like the adult you will become.

Looking at those photos now, with the perspective of 25 years in between, I can laugh and see the woman I was becoming. But I remember living those years and feeling awful about being caught in between. I felt as awkward as I looked.

Even now, I go through stages in my life where my life is an awkward mess. Stages where stress is the only constant and it seems like I’ll never get to where I want to be, never become the person I think I should be.

Yet, it is in the middle of the messy, awkward stages that God works the most. Isaiah 64:8 says “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Sculpting something out of clay is a messy process. Your hands get covered with mushy, sticky clay. If you’re throwing a pot on a pottery wheel, clay will sometimes go flying. If you’ve ever been in a potter’s workshop, you know that the floor and often the walls end up with clay on them. No potter wears nice clothes when they’re creating something.

Yet, the Bible also tells us that God makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Through the messy process of becoming who He designed us to be, God is working to make us beautiful to Him.

It’s often hard for kids to see that God is making them beautiful. The world’s standard for beauty is skewed toward an impossible-to-meet standard of perfection. Hollywood stars and starlets present artificial, made-up bodies as the standard for beauty, and our kids get discouraged because they can’t meet that fake standard.

Help your kids understand the process of becoming beautiful by letting them throw a pot or make a sculpture out of clay. Give them a lump of clay and let them make as big of a mess as possible. Let them take as long as they want. Let the clay dry and have them paint it.

When they are done, talk about how the process of making something beautiful was messy. Yet, the end product is beautiful. Explain that sometimes, we’re like that clay. We’re messy and not all that attractive, yet God is molding us into something beautiful. He’s making us into someone who is beautiful both inside and out, someone who is seeking to follow Him.

Memorize Isaiah 64:8 this week and remember that while the world may tell us that beauty is some unattainable standard, God tells us we are beautiful because He made us. The process of becoming who God made us to be is often messy. But to God, we are always beautiful – just because we belong to Him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Introductions: One Girl Among a Bunch of Boys

Last night and this morning, I've been babysitting a friend's three kids. That makes five kids in my house. If you're the mom of five or more, God bless you. It's been loud and challenging. It's also been raining, so my grand plan of sending them all outside to play went nowhere.

So, we've spent the last 18 hours together in our three-bedroom ranch. I've been busy trying to get us ready for vacation while settling disagreements, finding toys for a bored 4-year-old and mentioning that hockey sticks are not a weapon.

Yesterday, the 4-year-old followed me from place to place as I was trying to pack She talked non-stop. I have never been so glad to put a child to bed. My poor ears simply needed a break.

Listening to one voice for long periods of time can skew your perspective. Simply listening to my friends' daughter all day yesterday, I learned that a radio is a magical thing, she was very concerned about where she was going to sleep and she likes princesses. But if that was the only voice I listened to ever, I would have a very skewed perspective of the world.

I love that each of you makes Everyday Truth a part of your day. I love sharing my life with you each morning. I love that you are willing to send me emails and comments to share your lives with me. But there are so many great voices out there that I don't want you to miss, either. So many wise people who have amazing things that God has laid on their heart to share.

God offers us wisdom in so many places. Mining the treasure trove of wisdom that's available from others always brings fresh perspective into my life. Some days it helps me to know I'm not alone. Other days it brings a much-needed smile to my face. Proverbs 11:14 says, "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers."

The more wise, Godly voices we have in our lives -- whether they be in real life or virtual -- the better able we are to seek after God. We should never substitute someone else's voice for God, but we can gather insight and joy from what others have learned about Him.

So, I'm going to start using this space on Fridays to share with you other blogs and books that touch my heart and speak wisdom into my life on a regular basis. Some of them are written by people I know while others are ones I've simply come across on my own. We're going to call it our Friday Introductions.

Today, I want you to meet my friend Tonya Shrader. She's the mom of two boys and has an amazing testimony of God's faithfulness. She's a talented writer, and I'm thrilled to call her my friend. She writes a fantastic blog called "One Girl Among a Bunch of Boys." This week she blogged about her experiences teaching Vacation Bible School and had some fabulous insights into the hearts of children. Her blogs this week made me smile and brought tears to my eyes. Head on over and check out what she had to say. I'm sure you'll love her as much as I do.

I hope you enjoy this trip as we venture outside the cyber walls of Everyday Truth to meet some new people on our journey. If you know someone who writes a great blog or has written a book that touched your life, shoot me an email or leave me a comment and I'll consider using them in a future post.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Joy Shared

I'm sure the neighbors heard us celebrating last night. My beloved Boston Bruins brought home the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years last night.

I didn't have to console my 8-year-old with a speech about how sometimes we work really hard for something, but it just doesn't work out and the important thing is that we do our best. Instead, we got to watch Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hoist the cup over his head, then give it a big kiss. It was a wonderful moment, made even sweeter because I had someone with which to share it.

You see, I've been in this spot before. Besides being a Bruins fan, I'm a Red Sox fan. When the Sox ended their 86-year World Series title drought in 2004, my parents were out of the country, my daughters were too little to care, and my husband thinks my sports obsession is a bit over the top. When the Red Sox won, there was no one with whom to celebrate. While the victory was sweet, it was lonely.

Last night, my daughters were granted a bedtime reprieve to watch the game. When the final seconds clicked off the clock, we all cheered together. We discussed the great plays of the game and watched the Bruins goalie pick up his well-earned MVP award.

Even had the Bruins lost, it would have been easier to bear with the commiseration of my girls. We would have discussed what a great run it had been and dissected the missed opportunities. Sorrow shared would have been sorrow lessened.

Life is a lot like our hockey celebration. It's much sweeter when it's shared. God never intended for us to go about life alone. One of the first things God said after He created the world was "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

God knew that life lived by yourself is a lonely existence. We were made for companionship -- the companionship of a spouse, friends, children and family. Shared joy is sweeter, and shared sorrows are lighter.

Sometimes, we thinkt that we can go it alone. We don't need companionship to grow spiritually. We don't need anyone to share in our lives. But God never intended for us to be Lone Ranger Christ-followers. Even Jesus surrounded Himself with companionship in His disciples.

If you're trying to go it alone, stop. Find someone with whom you share some common interests and begin sharing your life. This requires openness and transparency, and it's not always easy. Opening ourselves up to others brings with the inherent risk that that person can hurt us. But if we shut ourselves off from the rest of the world and make no effort to connect with others, then we condemn ourselves to a life half-lived. A life where there's no one with whom to celebrate the joys or share the sorrows.

And, if we live a life without reaching out to others, we teach our kids to rely only on themselves as well. We rob them of the opportunity to share their joys and lessen their sorrows. We teach them that living an insular life is good because it lessens your chances for hurt. But they lose the opportunity to enjoy the amazing diversity of people God puts in their path.

God intended for our lives to be shared. He doesn't want us to walk alone. If you have created a life where there is no one to share your laughter or your tears, reach out today. Ask God to show you people with whom you can connect.

And if you are connected with others, look outside your small circle of friends to find someone who needs connection, too. Draw them in and begin to share in their lives. Life will be sweeter for both of you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Value of No

My fingernails are a jagged, broken mess, and my toenails haven't been painted in more than a month. I tell you this because it's a sign of a mom living a life without margin. It takes less than five minutes to do either one of those things. Yet, I haven't managed to scrape together 10 minutes to get them done. So, if you see me today, ignore my fingers and toes.

My kitchen floor is icky, too. I'm not sure when the last time was that it got mopped. It's on the list. It just hasn't made it to the top. I've got several things that have been on the list for a while. Some days I wonder if they'll ever make it to the top of the list.

Some of you came to this blog this morning looking for another post on our 39 Clues summer adventure. It is Wednesday, after all. Up until about five o'clock yesterday evening, I was planning for my day to go something like this: get up and write blog, get two kids and myself ready for Vacation Bible School, spend all morning teaching VBS, grab lunch, have 39 Clues, babysit my neighbors' kids, run my youngest to the doctor to get her latest ear infection taken care of, work for four hours while watching the Stanley Cup game -- all while doing laundry to get ready to go on vacation.

When I write it all down, it looks even crazier than it sounded last night. Yesterday afternoon, I was quickly turning into a puddle of stress as I looked at my very dirty house and thought about everything that I had to get done to pull off VBS, 39 Clues and finishing my freelance project.

Despite the fact that it's summer and schedules are supposed to slow down, June has been our crazy month. We had two car trips planned, VBS and my girls are headed to camps when we get back. And, my parents, whom I can always count on for providing me with some child-free hours, are gone most of the month on vacation. Throw in an unscheduled freelance project, a birthday party and just the general summer activity and June 14 found this household with one stressed-out mama.

My kids and husband will tell you that I wasn't very nice to be around last night. So much so that my husband took my girls and went to the pool. While I enjoyed the blessed peace and quiet, I couldn't relax. There was just too much to do. At one point, I was trying to figure out how many hours of sleep I could do without so I could get everything done. When I found myself trying to figure out how to squeeze in a doctor's appointment for my daughter (which should have been at the top of my list), I realized I was in trouble.

So, I did something that my husband will tell you I don't do often enough. I said "no." I called up the moms of my daughters' friends and told them we weren't going to have 39 Clues today. We'll push it off to next week. I said "no" not because I don't want to do it and not because it's not a worthwhile thing to do. I said "no" because it was something I shouldn't have scheduled on a week where we had VBS and were planning to leave on a trip in the first place.

Why is it so hard for so many of us to say "no"? We take on more than we can handle and then make everyone around us miserable trying to get it all done. Many of us live our lives pressed to the edge all the time. We give up sleep, meals and time with our families trying to be Super Mom. And where does it get us? Does it make us happier? More fulfilled? More Godly?

No. It makes us grumpy, tired and stressed. Wow. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." But you know what? Sometimes that time is not now.

We can't do everything and be everywhere, no matter how hard we try. The myth that to be a great mom, you have to be perfect in everything is just that -- a myth.

Saying "yes" to every opportunity that comes our way not only stresses us out, it sets a bad example for our kids. We try to teach our children to make wise choices -- to consider the impact of the decisions they make on themselves and those around them. Yet, we contradict that by saying "yes" to every request that comes our way. What we're actually teaching our kids is that it's never OK to say "no" and pleasing others is the most important thing -- more important than family, health or sanity.

If you're overloaded and stressed out, it's time to say "no" to some of the things on your plate. Create some margin in your life so you can go back to being someone your family enjoys hanging out with.

Today, I'm going to make sure my daughter gets seen by a doctor, VBS gets taught and my freelance work gets done. But, I'm also going to make some time to file my fingernails and paint my toenails. My kitchen floor might actually see the bottom side of the mop.

And tonight, because I said "no" to something last night, I'm going to have the chance to sit down -- without a computer in my lap -- and share watching the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with my girls. No distractions of work or chores. Just time spent with my hockey-mad daughter and her tolerant sister and dad. Because saying "no" lets me focus on the people who are important in my life. Try it today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Playing in the Rain

It rained here on Friday -- a good, soaking rain that my garden loved. Apparently, so did my oldest daughter. As we were driving in the car, she said "I hope it keeps raining, so I can play in the rain."

My kids don't play in the rain on a regular basis. Kansas is home to severe thunderstorms in the spring and summer, which negates the possibility of playing while it's raining. Lightning tends to put a damper on the playfulness of the situation. The only other type of rain we get is generally the cold, freezing kind, which doesn't make for good playing either.

But one day last summer, we had a passing shower. It might have rained for about 20 minutes with no threat of lightning. My daughter had some friends over, and they went out and danced in the rain. They splashed in puddles and generally had a fantastic time. They got soaked, but they dried. My daughter remembers that as one of the most fun experiences she's ever had. And she's been looking for another opportunity to play and dance in the rain ever since.

Too many times when figurative rain falls in our lives, we don't view it as an opportunity to rejoice. We let the situation suck the joy out of our lives. And we teach our kids to do the same.

Sick kids, lost jobs and other crises don't, at first glance, seem like a time to rejoice. But, neither does a rainstorm look like an opportunity to dance. The thing is that circumstances should not have the ability to suck away our joy because joy is not dependent on our circumstances. We can dance in the rain because our joy is found in God, not our circumstances.

Paul says in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" This statement from a man sitting in a Roman prison at the time. The rain was pouring on his head, yet he was encouraging others to rejoice in God.

Use your next rainstorm to teach your kids to find joy in God even in the most trying situation. Choose a "safe" rain and take your kids outside. Let them play and get soaked. While you're out there, talk with your kids about how the rain is like the bad stuff that happens in our lives. It comes down and it soaks us. If we let it, it can rob us of our joy, just like the rain makes us unhappy if we're stuck inside all the time or it cancels an event we've been looking forward to.

Explain that we can choose to dance and play in the rain in spite of those things. And, we can choose to find joy even in the most difficult circumstances. Talk about how happiness and joy are different. Happiness comes from things that happen around us. Joy comes from God. We can choose to be joyful because we know that God is with us. Our circumstances may be difficult, but God is bigger than our circumstances. We can always be joyful because He loves us and is always with us.

So, when the rain is pouring down on your head, turn your face toward the sky and let it soak you. Turn your back on your circumstances and find your joy in knowing God keeps His promises. Your situation may not change but your heart will.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Memory Monday: Passing the Decision-Making Baton

My oldest daughter turned 10 a little more than a week ago. Besides making me feel old, this milestone in her life has come with the realization that she is well on her way to being a young woman and is no longer that little girl I can hold in my lap. Pretty soon, she's going to be as tall or taller than me. She has her own distinct taste in clothing that is different from mine and pretty distinct ideas about how she wants to do things.

We discovered this weekend that with age come tougher decisions. When she was little, it was easy for us to be in control of every aspect of her life. We chose what she ate, what she wore, whom she played with and which adults would have a big influence on her life.

As she has grown, we've had to relinquish some control on many of those decisions. Don't get me wrong. We still exert our influence on a regular basis, but more and more it's in the role of offering advice on making good decisions. We still step in when we need to, but we are beginning to pass the baton of decision-making to her.

This weekend, we were faced with a choice that forced us to step out of our comfort zone and pass the decision-making baton to her -- with our input.

We've always tried to surround our kids with as many Godly adults as we can. If we have the option to have them coached or taught by a Christ-following adult, we've done our best to make that happen. We've made a lot of their sports and school decisions based on who we think the best adult influence will be. I guess we've created something of a cocoon around our kids.

Yesterday morning, the sermon at our church was about being on the offense as a Christ-follower. Our message series is about being called to serve God -- about getting out there and getting in the game for Jesus. One of the points the pastor made was that too often we create these cocoons around our families. We're playing defense trying to protect our kids and families from any worldly influence instead of equipping our families to be light in the world of darkness. It was a message I needed to hear before we headed to my daughter's soccer tryouts.

God didn't tell us to create a protective barrier around our kids until they're 18. He called us and our families to serve Him. Joshua 24:15 says, "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Memorize this verse this week and think about ways that you and your family can choose to serve God.

Building a cocoon around our kids isn't a bad thing when they're small, but if we don't start poking some holes in that cocoon and giving them opportunities to be light in a world of darkness as they grow, then when we throw them out into the world as adults, they won't have the ability to make good decisions. Let them practice those decision-making skills while they are still in your home and listening to your advice when the consequences are small, so they don't make huge mistakes when they're older and the consequences are huge. That's what we did this weekend.

You see, last year when our daughter decided to make the switch to club soccer, we researched a bunch of different clubs and carefully chose a club where we knew the coach and we knew the philosophy of the coach fit our lifestyle. Our oldest had a fantastic season being coached by a Godly man who cared about her as both a player and a person. We were looking forward to another year of the same.

But the club shook up my daughter's age group by adding another coach, about whom we know very little. He will be coaching the top team. Watching her at tryouts, my husband and I were hoping we wouldn't have to make a decision about playing her on the top team or leaving her with the coach we love. But after yesterday's tryout, the coaches asked us to consider putting her on the top team.

While proud of her for making the team, we were torn. We loved having her on a team where we knew she would essentially be protected from harm. That second team is a known quantity. Yet, she had worked so hard and the opportunity to play tougher competition really appealed to her. Ultimately, we realized we had to lay the decision in her lap.

So, we presented the pros and cons of each situation to her, and she chose to play on the top team. Despite being sad about not playing for her current coach, she's really excited about the coming season. My husband and I aren't sure how it will all turn out and left to our own devices would probably have chosen to play her on the team that we know.

But we also know that the goal of parenting is to move our kids to a place where they can make their own decisions, relying on God for wisdom. My daughter may find herself faced with some tough situations on this new team in her interactions with a new coach. We don't know if she'll play a lot or little. We don't know this coach's style of coaching. We don't know whether this choice will make her happy or make her miserable.

What we do know is that it's important to begin letting our daughter make decisions and live with the results. No matter the situation in soccer this year, our daughter will have a chance to be a light for God on her team. No matter what the coach is like, she'll get the opportunity to learn that her reactions to him matter to God.

And we'll be right there with her, offering guidance and support. We're not leaving her on her own. We're just letting her take a few steps toward adulthood while she still has us to fall back on. And isn't that what parenting is all about?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting Into a Routine

We're only two weeks into our summer vacation, and I'll admit there have been a few times in those two weeks when I've caught myself wondering how much longer it is until school starts. We were on vacation last week, and this week my girls and I have struggled to settle into a comfortable routine.

I look at the calendar for June and see Vacation Bible School, another short trip and a week of camps. I know it will be the beginning of July before we see anything that remotely resembles a settled schedule. I know my daughters yearn for a routine as well because yesterday I found them both with a piece of paper trying to create their own schedule for the day.

For whatever reason, many of us are wired so that we need a routine. I'm not a Type A, schedule things down to the minute personality, but I do like to have a general outline of what I need to accomplish during the day. I'm usually willing to throw out the plan at a moment's notice if something better comes along, but I generally like to start the day with one. I find that having a plan helps me get the things done that I need to do.

When it comes to encouraging our kids in their spiritual growth, we need to have a routine, as well. We can't just expect our kids to learn healthy habits that will feed their spiritual growth on their own. We need to teach them to spend time with God reading their Bibles and praying. We need to encourage them during the week to think about how God wants us to act toward others. And we need to be an example of those things for them.

Ephesians 6:4 tells us "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." It's the last part of that verse that I want to focus on today. We need to bring up our children in the "training and instruction of the Lord." That takes a concerted effort on our part.

If we put our focus on helping our children create habits that will aid their spiritual growth throughout their lives, we're giving them the tools to continue to grow. Just like we teach our kids to eat healthy foods so their bodies can grow, we need to teach them how to fill their souls with spiritual food so they can grow spiritually as well.
  • Emphasize the importance of spiritual growth with your kids. Lay an assortment of healthy foods in front of your kids. Explain that healthy foods help us to grow big and strong. Then show your kids a Bible. Explain that just like healthy food, the Bible helps us to grow. Ask your kids if the food you showed them can help them grow if they don't eat it. Talk about how the Bible is the same way. If we don't spend time reading God's Word, then it can't help us become more like God.
  • Set aside some time each day for your kids to spend on their own with God. It doesn't have to be a long period of time, but it needs to be consistent. Get your child a devotional book to guide their time with God if they are struggling to know what to do during their God time. Let them know that their time with God should include prayer and reading the Bible.
  • Talk with your kids about what they are learning during their time with God. Make it a dinner table conversation where everyone shares something they have learned in their time with God.
Making time with God a priority and a habit when your kids are young will make it easier for them to maintain that habit when they get older. Be sure you are setting an example by having your own time with God. Creating a routine for the habits of spiritual growth will help both you and your kids spend time with God. It will nourish your souls and create a habit that will last a lifetime.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Change the Tone

For the past few days, my kids have been enjoying hacking around on an electronic keyboard that's on loan from my parents. The girls love to stand at the keyboard and pound out a "song." There's only one problem. My girls don't know how to play the keyboard.

What comes out of the keyboard is the most disharmonious sound you can hear. Several times this week, I've had to send them to do something else just to give my poor ears a rest.

Yet, yesterday, a friend of ours came over and began playing the keyboard. This talented musician created beautiful melodies on the same instrument that my girls used to create headache-inducing sound. The difference? Our friend knew which keys to use to make a harmonious sound.

I don't know about you, but sometimes our house sounds more like my girls playing the keyboard than it does like my friend who can make beautiful music. Mean words, sibling competition and frustrated parents make for a disharmonious tone in our home.

The key to creating harmony between siblings and even parents is the same as creating harmony on the keyboard -- training. Very few people can walk up to a musical instrument and start playing Mozart. They have to learn to play the instrument, usually starting with simple songs and scales.

Our kids also need to be taught to create a harmonious tone in our homes by showing respect for others and getting along with their siblings. Take steps to train your kids to live at peace with each other, so your home is a refuge for everyone who lives there.

Romans 12:18 says "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Helping our kids to understand that peace and harmony in our homes depends on their actions and choices puts us on the road to having that peace under our rooves.
  • If you have a piano or other instrument, show your kids the difference between a harmonious sound and a disharmonious sound. Ask them which one sounds better. Explain that bickering, arguing and disrespect are the equivalent of disharmonious sounds. Getting along and showing respect for others make a harmonious sound. Encourage your kids to create harmonious sounds in your home.
  • When your kids start arguing, calmly explain that you don't allow that behavior in your home, then escort them outside -- no matter the weather. Tell them they can come back in when they are going to contribute to harmony in the household.
  • If your kids can't solve a disagreement, don't hesitate to step in and teach them how to solve it. Too often, we simply solve the disagreement for our kids, which teaches them nothing. It's so much easier to simply send them to separate rooms or tell them to play something else than it is to solve the underlying issue. But teaching them to solve their problems means you won't have to step in as frequently. Offer your kids options for compromise and help them figure out which one to take.
  • When your kids start to bicker, give them a task to do together. I usually hand over the bathroom cleaning supplies when my kids start arguing with each other. Forcing them to work together to complete a task in a small space forces them to figure out how to work together.
A harmonious household is a peaceful place to live and creates a welcoming atmosphere. Everyone hits a discordant note at times, but the goal is to have your home be a place of refuge more often than it is a place of bickering. May your home be blessed this week with the sounds of harmony.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Fun: The 39 Clues to You -- Day 2

Today is the second day of our summer adventure “39 Clues to You.” Two weeks ago we kicked off our adventure with a day dedicated to learning about how each person is God’s masterpiece – the best thing that He can make. If you missed it, you can read about our first day here.

The goal of this summer’s adventure is to help the kids understand that each person is important to God. Each of the girls gathered around my kitchen table has special gifts and talents that God will use. Because God made each person different, we need to respect and appreciate those differences. How we treat others matters to God.

Today, our lesson focuses on being the image of God. Our memory verse for the day is Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

God created us in His image. That means we are created to be like God. We aren’t exact replicas of God, but because we are created in God’s image, we should reflect the character qualities of God. To illustrate this point with the girls, I’m going to have them draw an image of themselves on a piece of paper. We’ll talk about how that image reflects their physical characteristics. Then we’ll talk about how we are made in God’s image, not to reflect His physical characteristics but to reflect His character. We also need to be aware that if we claim to follow Jesus, then our actions show the world a picture of God. We want those actions to be an accurate reflection of who God is.

Each week, we’re going to focus on the gifts and talents of one girl. This week, our clues will lead us to learn more about my oldest daughter. The girls will get six clues that they must put together to figure out which girl we’re focusing on. As we reveal the clues, we’ll add things to the “picture frame” stuck to the wall, which represents the masterpiece God created when He created that child.

Each child will be asked to identify something that they like about my oldest daughter and write it down. We’ll add those items to the “picture frame” as well.

My oldest daughter loves to play soccer and draw, so our activities for today include learning some soccer moves and playing a soccer game. She also enjoys drawing, so we’ll be learning how to draw a few simple items. When we’re done learning these things, we’ll talk about whether they were easy or hard. We’ll discuss how we can’t all expect to be good at the same things, but we should appreciate the talents that our friends have.

We’ll finish the day with a reminder that each person is made in God’s image and we should act as if what we do reflects back on God because it does. The challenge for the girls this week is to get caught being a reflection of God in their actions toward others, which is a good challenge for all of us to take on this week.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Soccer Tryouts and Tears

My oldest daughter plays club soccer, and we spent the weekend going to soccer tryouts in near 100-degree heat.

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of club soccer, every June soccer clubs hold tryouts. Kids can try out for as many or as few teams as they like. Then, they wait for soccer clubs to call and offer them a spot on the team.

We're a family that has chosen not to tryout hop. Our daughter tries out for one club that guarantees her a spot on one of their teams. The whole tryout process leaves me feeling conflicted, though.

My daughter is 10. She's a decent soccer player who shows occasional flashes of brilliance. She's not a girl who can dominate a game all by herself, but she's an important cog in the wheel of her team. And she loves playing soccer at a competitive level. However, tryouts generally leave me with a sobbing child at some point during the two-weekend long process.

The first day of tryouts on Saturday did just that. The club she plays for has different levels of teams. This year, our daughter played on the top level team and before the tryout we talked about what it would take to make that team again.

A combination of nerves, heat and getting kicked in the ribs had my daughter having a bad day at tryouts. She was exhausted and frustrated. All weekend, I watched girls come off the field in tears. The combination of stress, heat and exhaustion were taking their toll. As I watched the tears fall, I thought, "Why do we do this to our kids?"

The answer is our youth sports culture forces it on us if our kids have even a smidgen of talent. To sit out of the process pretty much leaves your child with no chance of ever making the team when they get older. But the pressure those 10-year-olds felt on the field this weekend was crazy.

Don't get me wrong. I love having my kids play sports. I wouldn't trade the things they have learned from playing team sports for anything. My girls have had great coaches who have invested in them both as people and players. They have learned lessons about winning and losing well. They have gained self-confidence and courage.

But the pressure they feel in trying to make a team is out of proportion with the importance of making that team. Short of pulling my girls out of the sports they love, which would stifle some of who God made them to be, we have to figure out how to help them through the stress of the situation.

So, after a tear-filled Saturday, we changed our tactics on Sunday. Instead of talking about how to make the top team, we simply encouraged our daughter to go out and do her best. We reminded her that we love her whether she makes the team or not and whether she plays soccer or not. Removing the pressure of expectations from my daughters' shoulders made a huge difference. Even a ball to the head didn't keep her down long on Sunday. She even found reasons to smile out there on the blazing hot field as she competed for her spot.

What was the difference? Well, a good night's sleep helped a lot. But the thing that made the most difference for my daughter was knowing that her worth to us and to God was not tied in up in whether she did well on the field or not. Sometimes in our efforts to encourage our kids to do their best in whatever they do, we place unrealistic expectations on them. Everyone wants to be the parent of the next super star, but most of us are not those parents.

When our kids know that they will be loved and accepted by us no matter what happens on the field or at school, it frees them to be able to be themselves. God expects our best. He tells us "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Colossians 3:23). But God doesn't expect us to be someone that He did not design us to be. Ephesians 4:11 reminds us that He gave everyone different gifts: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers."

Expect the best from your children but be sure they know your love and acceptance isn't dependent on anything they do. Don't let the expectations of the rest of the world get in the way of your unconditional love for your child. Your unconditional love and acceptance allows your child the freedom to be who God created them to be.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Memory Monday: Toeing the Line

We just returned from a 10-day vacation. We visited relatives on both sides of the family, attended the Indy 500 and spent a week on Lake Freeman in Indiana with my extended family.

The house we rented on Lake Freeman had its own beach. We never went in the water, but the kids spent hours playing in the sand. The beach had a pretty steep drop off into the water, so we were a bit concerned about someone accidentally falling in.

With six kids on the beach ranging in age from 3 to 10, we spent a lot of time telling them not to get too close to the edge. We discovered that "close" is a relative term. The adults' idea of close to the water wasn't what the kids considered close to the water. There was much discussion between parents and children about how close was too close.

To solve the issue, we laid a rope in the sand and said, "Don't cross this line." The defined line made it much easier for the kids to know how close was too close to the water. It was interesting to watch how each child dealt with the clearly defined rule.

Our two rule-followers never went anywhere near the rope. Once the line had been defined for them, they didn't have any trouble not stepping over it. The other four weren't as convinced about the steadfastness of the rule. They would get near the rope and often try to see how close they could get to the rope.

I sat and watched my youngest get as close to the rope as possible and even put her toes on the rope. She knew better than to actually cross the rope, but she wanted to see how far she could go before it was considered disobedient.

How often are we like my youngest? God clearly lays out rules for us to follow -- not because He loves making rules but because He loves us. Yet, we don't always see the wisdom in those rules and we see how close we can get to the line He has drawn -- and often we step over it. The consequences are that we step into sin without meaning to.

None of our kids wanted to fall into the murky lake water, but if they got too close that's exactly what would have happened. The same is true with sin. Most of the time, none of us intend to jump into sin. We just get too close to the line and fall in. We end up covered in the muck and mire of sin because we stepped over the line God drew.

Jesus told us in John 14:15, "If you love me, keep my commands." Following God's rules is a way that we show we love Him. If we try to follow God's commands as if they are a to-do list to get into heaven, those rules become a burden. But if we recognize that God created rules for us because He loves us and we follow those rules because we love Him, staying within the lines God has drawn becomes an act of worship, not a tedious task.

Most of the time, we make rules for our kids because we are concerned about their safety or their character. The same is true wtih God. He didn't just set arbitrary rules. All of the commands God gives us are either intended to keep us safe or to mold our character.

As you memorize John 14:15 this week, help your kids to understand that God's rules are about love -- not restrictiveness. He loved us enough to give us a framework in which to live. We show we love Him by following His commands.

Toeing the line of God's commands is much easier if we understand the reasons behind the rules. And God's reason is love.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Hope You Dance

We're on vacation this week, so I'm re-running some of my favorite posts from the last year. Enjoy some of my favorite ideas, and I'll be back with you on Monday.

We danced this morning -- on our driveway while waiting for the carpool. It's a beautiful morning, so I walked out on the driveway with the girls. I'm not even sure how it happened, but suddenly I was teaching my girls the waltz. On our driveway. At 8 in the morning. On a cool, sun-kissed morning.
As I walked back in the house, I took time to just savor the moment. The return to school this year has been tough on my youngest. She's doing great at school, but she's exhausted when she gets home. We've had more temper tantrums and whining in the last week than we had all summer. It seems like all I've done for the past four days is correct her behavior, send her to her room and take privileges away. God knew I needed to dance with her this morning.

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

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

So, we danced this morning, and I want to encourage you to do the same with your kids. Oh, you don't have to teach them the waltz. You don't even have to really dance. Just find a moment in your day to enjoy your children. Don't try to teach them some big concept, don't try to ask questions about their day -- just enjoy their company. Laugh with them. Enjoy their different personalities. Treasure who God made them to be.
God knows you need to dance, too. While it is important for us to be intentional in teaching our children Biblical truth, it's equally important that we take the time to enjoy our children as the perfect little gifts that they are. Psalm 127:3-5 says "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." In the everyday grind of life, it's easy to get caught up in the things we need to do and the things our children need to know. We can lose our perspective that our children are a reward from God -- they are a blessing.

So, today, I hope you dance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Trusting When You Can't See

We're on vacation this week, so I'm re-running some of my favorite posts from the last year. Enjoy some of my favorite ideas, and I'll be back with you on Monday.

My youngest daughter is petite. For much of her life, she wasn't even on the growth chart. We've spent a lot of years picking her up so she can see what all the rest of us can see without trying. She really dislikes large crowds because she can't see over or through them. For a long time, she couldn't see over the edge of the car door to see out the window, even in her car seat. We would point something out to the girls, and we would hear "Where? I can't see it!" It was really important to her to be able to see what we were seeing so she could believe what we were saying.

For some kids, believing that God is there and He cares about them is tough because they can't see Him. It's our job to help our kids understand that God loves them and they can trust Him even though they can't see Him. Hebrews 11:1 tells us "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Kids, especially young kids, are concrete creatures. They like to be able to see that what you are telling them is true. Since we can't see God, we need to show our children the evidence of God so that they can place their faith in Him. For without faith, they will never have a relationship with the God of the universe. Ephesians 2:8-9 says "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." Faith brings us to a saving relationship with God. It is God's gift to us, and we can do nothing to earn it.

So, how do we bring God from the realm of faith into the world of the concrete for our kids?

  • Point out to your child all the things that he does that require faith. We can't see what holds up an airplane, but we have faith that it will fly. We can't always see what holds our furniture together, but we have faith that it will hold us up when we sit in it. When your kids go someplace, they can't see you, but they have faith that you will come back and get them.
  • Point out the evidence of God to your child. Everything from the rocks to the rainbow scream of God's existence. The beautiful variety of plants and animals show evidence of a Creator.
  • Help your child remember times when she has seen God work. For older kids, have them keep a journal of times in their lives when they have seen God work. It can be simple things, like when they prayed to do well in their soccer game and did. Or it can be big things, like if they prayed not to be afraid during a tough time and God gave them peace. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people built altars every time God did something amazing in their lives. It helped them remember the things God had done for them. Keeping a journal, helps your child create altars of their own. When things get tough, and they don't see evidence of God in a situation, they can go back to their journal and see the evidence of all the times God has shown up in their lives. If you have younger kids, keep a family journal of the way God works in your family's life.
  • This activity requires at least two people. Blindfold your child. Have another member of your family give your child directions to walk through an obstacle course. When they have made it through the course, talk with your child about how hard it was to have faith in the person giving the directions because they couldn't see that person or where they were going. Explain that sometimes having faith in God is like that. Sometimes we can't see where we are going, and we can't see God. We simply have to have faith that He is there and that He is leading us safely to the other side of whatever trouble we are facing.
Faith is the central component of the Christian walk. The earlier we can help our children trust God even though they can't see Him, the easier it will be for them to continue to place their faith in God as they get older.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Never Stop Growing

We're on vacation this week, so I'm re-running some of my favorite posts from the last year. Enjoy some of my favorite ideas, and I'll be back with you on Monday.

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

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

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

Help your children understand what it means to grow spiritually. It's kind of an abstract concept for them, so let's make it more concrete.

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