Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meet the Instrument

I took my fifth-grade daughter to try-the-instrument night at the high school last night. We're in the throes of the big decision of deciding what instrument she wants to play in band this year.

She thought she wanted to play the tuba, but when we tried it last night, she realized just how big the tuba really is. It was awkward and difficult to hold. She decided that while it looked cool, it wasn't the right instrument for her.

So, now we're down to the trumpet or the clarinet. I'm thrilled because we have one of each of those in our basement. I played the clarinet growing up, and my husband played the trumpet. I think the trumpet is probably a better fit for her abilities and personality, but we're going to let her choose.

Until I took her up to the high school last night, I didn't realize what a big decision this is for the fifth-graders. It's really the first school-related decision that they get to make on their own. We're offering input, but the final decision is up to her.

Many of the decisions we make in life are a lot like this decision about playing a musical instrument. They are loaded with gray areas, not necessarily wrong, just not the best fit for us.

Helping your child navigate the waters of making choices, of finding the best choice when there isn't necessarily a right one, is tough. Figuring out the best path to take when both choices have benefits and drawbacks requires wisdom and good judgment. Sometimes it takes trial and error. Making a poor choice in one area and dealing with the consequences may keep your child from making the same mistake with bigger stakes when they are older.

Equip your kids with tools to make good decisions.
  • Encourage your kids to seek wisdom. James 1:5 says "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." God is the source of wisdom. Any decision made without His input is a decision made without the right framework.
  • Illustrate the importance of asking God for wisdom when making a decision. Find an instruction book for your child's favorite toy or video game system. Ask them what they would do if they had a problem with that toy. They would probably ask a parent for help, consult the instructions, then talk with the customer help line if they couldn't solve the problem. Explain that when we make decisions, it's just like asking for help with a toy. We need to go to the source by consulting God. We can pray, look for the answers in the Bible and ask a trusted adult for advice.
  • Explain that God wants us to bring all of our decisions to Him. He wants to help us make the best choices. He tells us in Matthew 6:33 to "Seek first his kingdom and righteousness." When we do that, we can make the best decisions.
  • Avoid the temptation to make all the decisions for your kids. As our kids get older we need to allow them the freedom to make their own choices. If we shelter them from ever making a poor decision, we don't allow them to learn that our choices matter. Generally, the stakes are small in the choices that younger kids are making. It's better to learn that it's important to make wise decisions when the consequence is small than to have to learn that lesson when the consequence can ruin the rest of their lives.
Teaching our kids to make wise choices is a process. They are going to fail some of the time. But each time they make a choice that doesn't fit -- like the tuba that didn't fit my daughter -- they learn something about how to make a better choice next time.

Giving our kids the tools to tap into the source of wisdom is the best thing we can do to help them make the best decision in any situation.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The New Kid

My oldest daughter's grade is the smallest in the school. There are only three classes for her grade when the other grades in the school have four or five classes. Most of these fifth-graders have been together since kindergarten.

The other day she came home telling me about this new girl who played soccer with her at recess. I asked "What's her name?" "Does she play soccer on a team?" The answer to both questions was that my daughter didn't know.

Being the new kid stinks. Walking into the beginning of a new school year not knowing anyone is intimidating and lonely. Being the only new kid on the soccer team or in the acting class makes something a child loves, an activity to dread.

As school starts back up for most of us, helping our kids be aware of the new children in their midst and encouraging them to show some compassion and offer friendship can go a long way toward easing the transition for the new kids in their midst.

Most of the time the kids who have been together in a class or on a team don't even think about how tough it must be to be "the new kid." The established kids aren't intentionally mean. They're just oblivious.

As this school year gets under way, help open your kids' eyes to the new kids in their midst and encourage them to offer friendship and include those kids in their activities. Inviting a child to join them in a game or activity doesn't cost your child anything, but it may mean everything to the other child.

  • If your child talks about a new child at school or from a sport or activity, gently encourage them to get to know the other child. Ask them if they are including that child in their activity.
  • Help your child to walk a mile in the other child's shoes. Ask your child how she would feel if she were the new kid. Help her brainstorm ways that she can make the other child feel welcome.
  • Remind your child that God accepts each of us, flaws and all. He loves us and includes us in His kingdom, despite our flaws. He wants us to show the same compassion to others. In John 13:34, Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

Getting our kids to step outside their comfort zone to reach out to another child teaches our children compassion and gives them an opportunity to show God's love to others.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Memory Monday: "You Are a Toy!" (Psalm 139:15-16)

We watched "Toy Story 2" last night. The funny thing is the girls had to go to bed in the middle of it, but my husband and I kept watching it. There's just something about that movie that keeps even the adults engaged. From Tour Guide Barbie to the evil emperor Zorg, the characters are engaging, the pop culture references funny and the underlying message applies to everyone, no matter what their age.

The main plot of Toy Story 2 revolves around Woody discovering that he is a valuable collector's item. He becomes convinced that living in a museum would be a better life than being loved by Andy, then being discarded when Andy grows up. It takes his friends to remind him that being loved is worth more than any fame and fortune.

We're all kind of like Woody. Too often, we see someone else's life or some lifestyle that's just beyond our reach, and we yearn for it. We're willing to forget our primary purpose to run after that thing that has suddenly become important. It's that "the grass is always greener on the other side" syndrome.

Yet, God has made each of us to fulfill a purpose in His plan. When we let things distract us and pull us away from that purpose, we step outside of the plan God has for us.

Woody forgot that his primary purpose was to make a child happy. He got caught up in dreams of fame and lasting forever. Buzz Lightyear tries to make Woody see the light in my favorite line of the movie, "You. Are. A. Toy!" -- the same words Woody said to Buzz in the first movie.

It's easy to get caught up in the trappings of what the world has to offer and miss filling our role in God's plan. Sometimes it's hard to see how our role even matters. We feel insignificant and unloved.

When it comes to our kids, who are just now becoming who God made them to be, it can be even more difficult. In those awkward moments of becoming, it's hard for them to even know who they want to be, much less be confident in who God made them to be.

In those moments, we need to keep the words of Psalm 139:15-16 close to our hearts. "My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

God knows you, and he knows what he designed you to do. His statement to you would be "You. Are. Mine." No matter the temptation to chase after things that we think will make us happy, like Woody, the thing that will truly make us happy is doing the things we were designed to do.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Introductions: Girlfriends in God

Girlfriends are the best. They laugh with you when you're happy. They share your sorrow when tears come. They pick up the slack when you simply can't do it all.

Girlfriends are there to watch your kids when you have to make an unexpected run to the emergency room. They are there to commiserate when your kids get sent home from school sick on the one day in six months that you have a date planned with your husband.

True girlfriends live out John 15:13 every day: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

While nothing can replace a real-life girlfriend, hanging out with some girlfriends in cyberspace is sweet fellowship as well.

Today, I want to introduce you to some of my favorite cyber girlfriends over at the Girlfriends in God website and Facebook page. Mary Southerland, Gwen Smith and Sharon Jaynes are the faces behing Girlfriends in God. I've never met Gwen outside the melodies of her music or Sharon outside the pages of her books, but I'm blessed to get to count Mary among my real-life girlfriends.

Each of these ladies has an amazing heart for reaching women with the message of God's love. Through their devotionals, music and books, they have consistently shared God's truth with women. Their first Girlfriends in God book is coming out before the end of the year, and I can't wait to own a copy.

Besides offering a daily devotional aimed at women, their Facebook page is a place of warm community with other godly women. If you're looking for some encouragement, be sure to like them on Facebook. Currently, they are trying to reach 100,000 friends, so check them out today. You'll find some new girlfriends you love to hang out with.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sharing a Meal

We're back into the rush and hurry of the school year. Soccer games started Saturday and hockey practice starts tonight. Our first Girl Scout meeting is next week, and AWANA gears up in two weeks.

After a summer with few regular activities, it's taking me a while to get used to the constant scramble.  Wondering if I can magically split myself in two so I can get my oldest to soccer practice and my youngest to hockey practice when they start 10 minutes apart on opposite sides of town is becoming a regular occurrence. Figuring out how to squeeze in a family dinner at least three to four nights a week is tough.

It would be easy to throw up my hands and announce that I'm simply going to make a meal and everyone can eat it when they are home. Some nights, that's what I do. There's simply no way to make sure we all sit down to eat together if we want the kids in bed before 10 p.m. But most nights, I fight the good fight to make sure everyone has something nutritious to eat and that we eat it together.

Whether it's breakfast, dinner or a late snack, eating a meal together is important. It gives us the chance to sit down together as a family unit. It offers us an opportunity to learn about what others were doing when we were apart. It gives everyone a chance to give their opinion on current events and others' problems. And it offers us a chance to laugh together as a family.

Too often, it's too easy to give up on trying to have a family meal every night. Schedules are crazy. Mom or dad has to work late. It's hard to find something everyone likes. But a family meal draws your family together. It's worth the effort to make it a regular occurrence.

Jesus often used mealtime to counsel His disciples. One of the most important conversations Jesus had with His disciples came over a meal. "When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 22:14-16)

Jesus went on to use the entire meal as an object lesson of his death and resurrection for the disciples. Jesus knew that gathering the disciples around the table created a moment of intimacy, and it focused their attention.

Make an effort to make family mealtime a priority. It's an important piece of the day that offers time for teaching, sharing and fun. It draws your family closer. Jesus knew that gathering people around a table offered an opportunity to love them and teach them. View your table as Jesus viewed His -- as a place where your kids can be loved and taught.

Even when the schedule gets stuffed and it seems hard, don't give up on family mealtimes. They are worth more than you can imagine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gauging Growth

It's easy to tell how quickly my youngest daughter is growing. We just look to see how her hockey stick measures up. In the past year, she's grown so quickly that we've had to buy two sticks. We're headed out after school today to buy another one.

Using a hockey stick that's too short can keep her from performing her best on the ice. It causes her to hold her stick wrong and forces her to hunch over, meaning she can't get a lot of leverage when she shoots.

We all have a measuring stick for our kids' growth. Whether it's a too short hockey stick or pants that won't go past their ankles, it's easy to see that our kids are growing physically. We replace their clothes or their shoes or their soccer cleats because they have gotten to small. Those tools are no longer the right ones for them.

Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy to measure our kids' spiritual growth. It's easy to miss the signs that our kids are ready for some new tools to face the world.

I don't know about you, but no matter how much my kids grow physically, I would love to keep them little for a while longer. Because of that, it's easy for me to decide that my kids aren't ready for a more grown-up discussion or that we don't need to tackle a certain topic because it's uncomfortable for me.

But my oldest is fifth grade. Next year she goes to middle school. She needs the tools to deal with many of the things she's going to encounter in the next few years. Much as I wish it, I can't keep her little forever.

It's important for us to gauge our kids' spiritual growth just as we gauge their physical growth. When they have outgrown the simple lessons of "God loves you," we need to be ready to provide them with tougher ones like "Even though God is good, bad stuff can happen."

Hebrews 5:13-14 says "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." As our kids mature, we want to move them from spiritual milk to spiritual solid food. We want them to grow in their knowledge of God and their relationship with Him just as we want them to grow physically.

Helping our kids grow spiritually may mean answering some tough questions we're not quite ready to answer. It may mean spending some time with our kids helping them understand a passage of scripture. It may simply mean praying with them about a tough situation their facing.

But just like my daughter's hockey stick, if we don't give our kids the spiritual meat they need, it will hurt their game. It will leave them unprepared to deal with situations in a godly manner. It can leave them looking for someone else's advice to make sense of the world around them. And that advice might have nothing to do with God.

Take stock of your child's spiritual growth today. Think about the types of situations your child is dealing with today, then evaluate whether he has the spiritual tools to deal with those situations. Honestly dissect whether the lessons you're teaching your child are appropriate for her age and stage in life or if they are too simplistic or too complicated.

Just as we don't expect our kids to magically get new clothes when they outgrow them, we can't expect them to suddenly understand spiritual matters. It's our job as parents to recognize their need for more complex spiritual training just as we recognize their need for longer jeans.

While I guarantee your kids will outgrow their new jeans, their hockey sticks and their dance shoes, the lessons we teach them about God today will be the basis for the way they deal with the world tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sometimes Love is Hard

My oldest daughter has some girls in her grade that just aren't very nice to others. They spend their time looking for ways to make others feel bad. They love to exclude others and make fun of people they perceive as weaker than themselves.

Unfortunately, this isn't an unusual occurence. By the time our kids hit third or fourth grade, they've encountered at least one child who makes herself feel better by attacking others.

I have to admit that my first reaction to these types of girls is to pull out my momma bear claws and want to step in. When my oldest is on the receiving end of the hurtful things these girls can say, I really am not interested in teaching her to turn the other cheek and love her enemies. My first instinct is to tell her to fight back and be just as mean as those girls are.

But, that's not the best solution. It simply causes her to stoop to the level of these girls. Jesus' solution for dealing with people who wanted to hurt Him was to pray for them. The world tells us to fight back when someone attacks us -- to hurt them as badly as they have hurt us. But Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44)

No matter how hard, God asks us to love those who dislike us and even pray for them. That's a tall order and it goes against human nature and the general sentiment of the world. Yet, learning to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, makes us people of compassion. It shows others a picture of God's love for us.

God has every reason to dislike us. We break His commands. We forget to praise Him and thank Him for all He has done for us. We treat Jesus' sacrifics on the cross lightly. Yet, God loves us anyway. He's not asking us to do anything He hasn't already done.

Does it break God's heart when people treat each other poorly? Yes. Does it make God sad when people choose to hurt others? Yes. Do those things make God stop loving us? No. God loves us in spite of our actions. He sees beyond the surface and loves the person He made in His own image. The key to loving others and praying for our enemies is to see others through God's eyes.

Help your kids love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them by helping them find God's perspective on the person who has hurt them.
  • Pray about the situation, and pray specifically for the person who has hurt your child. It's hard to dislike someone when you are praying for them. Ask God to help your child see that person as God sees them.
  • Talk about reasons that people act in a mean way. Usually kids who are looking for ways to demean others are very insecure about themselves. They may put on a good front, but deep down they're terrified of losing the approval of their friends, and they don't think very highly of themselves. They target other kids who are weaker or who they see as a threat to their status. Understanding that the other child's hurtful comments and actions are rooted in their own insecurities can help your child feel compassion for them.
  • Teach your kids to always respond with kindness. This is hard. It's not easy to be kind to those who have hurt you. But responding in kindness puts your kids above the fray, and they won't ever have to be ashamed of their actions. Proverbs 25:21-22 says "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you."
  • Remind your kids that every child is a masterpiece, even the one's who are mean to us. Help them see the other child as a lovable person, created in God's image.
Loving our enemies is hard. It's not easy to take the high road, especially when we are hurt. Our first instinct is to lash out at those who have hurt us. But when we put on the lenses of God's eyes and we pray for those who have hurt us, God will help us love them. And love always triumphs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Memory Monday: Small Blessings (Genesis 49:26)

Friday was a frustrating day for me. I already had one child at home sick for half of the first week of school when I got a message from the school nurse asking me to come pick up my other daughter who was running a fever.

We had big plans for the weekend -- a birthday party, first soccer game of the season, tickets to the Red Sox-Royals baseball game. Two sick kids were not on the agenda.

After picking up my daughter and settling her in a chair to watch endless episodes of "Phineas & Ferb," I texted my frustrations to a friend. By the time she texted me back, my oldest daughter had started feeling better and my youngest was showing few signs of being as sick as her sister had been. I was feeling a bit better about life and was able to point out during the conversation that it could have been worse. It could have been hockey "tryout" weekend.

My friend texted me back with a statement that made me sit back and take notice. She said "Small blessings are still blessings." In the midst of feeling sorry for myself and being frustrated that my plans were being messed up, those five little words forced me to take a look not just at my attitude for the day but my attitude toward life.

How often do we miss the blessings that God offers because in the grand scheme of everything going on in our lives, they seem small?

What I really wanted on Friday was two well children. I wanted a big blessing. What I got was two children sick on the first week of school, a week where they would not miss a lot of work. However, I was so caught up in the misery of my messed up plans that it was too easy for me to gloss over that blessing.

Genesis 49:26 says "Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills." God has lots of blessings He wants to offer us, big and small. Yet, too often, we can only focus on the big blessings, and we miss the small ones.

Even as we parents are prone to missing the small blessings, kids are often so single-minded that they, too, miss God's small blessings. We need to be able to find the small blessings in our own lives and help our kids focus on the small blessings in their lives as well.
  • Treat God's blessings like blessings. It's easy to write off God's small blessings as coincidence or luck. Start giving credit where credit is due. When God blesses you or your family in a small way, point it out and give Him thanks. Whether it's finding your car keys so you won't be late or doing well on a test your child thought he would fail, praise God for those things.
  • Make it a point to notice the small blessings in your life and point them out to your kids. If something good happens to you during the day, point out to your kids how God takes care of us, even in the small stuff.
  • At dinner one night, talk about what blessings are. Explain that they don't have to be big. Then ask your kids, "What blessings did you receive today?" This gets your kids thinking about ways that God has blessed them in their own lives.
Counting our blessings, both big and small, gives us a heart of gratitude. It focuses our hearts on all God has done and is doing for us. It can put the little annoyances and frustrations of life in perspective. Watching for the small blessings and being grateful for them can change our hearts and our attitudes.

Be on the lookout today for the small ways in which God blesses your life. Because small blessings are still blessings.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Introductions: Study Tools

I was watching "WipeOut" with my family the other night when a commercial came on for Old Navy "Flare" jeans. As I watched the commercial, I looked at my husband and said, "Didn't we used to call those bell bottoms?"

It seems the same fashion trends come and go over the decades. We just give them new names. The same is true with so many other aspects of life as well. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

We may think that we are facing a world that has lost sight of what's important, a world where personal pleasure has taken first place and devotion to God has disappeared. Yet, when we read the Bible, we find from Moses to Paul, people frustrated with the godlessness of the world around them and crying out to God to fix it.

Paul's letters are filled with admonishments about greed, hatred, sexual immorality, lying, corrupt government and false teachers. All things we're still dealing with today.

The Bible's relevance thousands of years after it was written shows the awesomeness of God. He wrote the Bible so it would be just as relevant today as it was when Moses and Paul were writing their portions.

And that means that no matter what you are dealing with, the Bible has something to say about it. The trick is to find what the Bible has to say. It used to be if you were looking for a verse dealing with a particular subject, the only way to find it was to pull out a concordance, which was often as big as the Bible itself. You could look up the subject you wanted verses on, and the concordance would give you a short piece of the verse that incuded the word. Then you needed to look up the verse to see if it really was a verse that dealt with the topic you were interested in.

The advent of the Internet has changed all of that. Sites abound that allow you to search the Bible with a keyword, then offer you a list of the full verses that contain that word. Whether you're looking for a verse to use with your kids or one to apply to your own life, these sites are a great resource that can help you use God's word in your life. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Bible Gateway ( This site offers 25 searchable English translations of the Bible and searchable translations in languages from Arabic to Chinese. Along with the Bible, Bible Gateway has reading plans, devotionals, commentaries and audio Bibles.
  • Biblos ( This site offers dozens of searchable Bible translations and allows you to view the same verse in several different versions at the same time. You'll also find atlases, commentaries, lexicons, timelines and a multitude of other study tools.

No matter what site you use, remember that the Bible has something to say about just about everything in our lives. Let's make use of the tools technology has given us to hide the word of God in our hearts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Really? Now?"

We were just settling into a nice routine around here. I was getting lots of work done. The house actually looked fairly decent. I was feeling pretty good about our new routine. Then I picked my girls up from school yesterday.

My oldest came out with a flushed face, glassy eyes and a miserable expression. When we got home, the thermometer read 101.6. We managed exactly 2 1/2 days of school before illness struck our home.

We had a rough year last year with my girls missing bunches of school because of illness. I was so hoping for a better year this year. We had my youngest daughter's adenoids taken out and tubes put in her ears the Friday before school started in hopes we could avoid the string of illness that laid us low so often last year. So far, we're not off to a great start.

But I'm hopeful things will turn around. Maybe this is simply an anomaly for the year.

Sometimes, we start a new job, a new task, a new schedule with high hopes. We expect that everything is going to go well. All the issues we had with the last set of circumstances will be solved with this new transition. Then we hit the first obstacle, and too often our reaction is what mine was yesterday afternoon. "Really? Now? I thought we were done with this."

I have totally reworked my schedule for the fall. I know God has been calling me to do more writing, so I had crafted my schedule so the end of the week would provide me with a good block of time to write. And, here we are in the first week with a sick kid at home at the end of the week.

I'm positive that Satan has no desire for me to write any more than I am. As a matter of fact, I'm sure he would prefer that I not write as much as I do. I fully expect more obstacles to land in my lap on Thursdays and Fridays this fall.

1 Peter 5:8 says "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." When God asks us to do something, and we begin to follow through, we can be sure that Satan is going to be throwing up obstacles in our paths. Whether it's a sick kid on the first week of a new schedule or a tempting invitation to do something else, Satan wants to keep us busy with other things so we can't do the things God asks of us.

As 1 Peter 5:8 says, we need to constantly be alert, looking for ways that Satan wants to distract us from God's plans for us. Satan may not always throw up obvious stumbling blocks. He may simply offer us a more tempting option -- something that sounds like more fun or like it will do more good than what we're currently doing. But if it's not what God has asked us to do, and it is taking away from what He has asked us to do, then it's the wrong thing to do.

Help your kids stick with God's plan for them and not be distracted by Satan's temptations. Help your kids sort through the right and wrong things to do in certain situations. Pray with them when they are trying to make choices. Give them encouragement and wisdom so they can discern what God wants them to do.

Be on the lookout for ways that Satan wants to distract you from what God has planned for you. Don't get discouraged when road blocks pop up on the path God has asked you to take. Stick with God's plan because it's always better than anything we can come up with on our own.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's Movie Time

My days while my kids are in school are usually spent working, writing, cleaning and taking care of our household. Today, I'm going to the movies.

I started the movie tradition the year my youngest started first grade. It was my treat for getting my kids this far -- a little mommy celebration. It marked the end of one phase of my life and the beginning of another. I went from full-time stay-at-home mom to part-time work-from-home mom and from the mother of preschoolers to the mother of grade-schoolers.

I've continued going to the movies the first week of school every year since. Sometimes I go by myself and sometimes I go with a friend. It's become a ritual that marks the passage of another year for me.

Even more than the turn of the new year, the turn of the school year causes me to reflect on where I've been as a mom and where God wants me to go. It's a time to ponder my kids and how they are growing -- physically, spiritually and emotionally. After a summer packed with time together, it's a great time to evaluate how we're doing as a family.

And, my trip to the movies each year is my way of marking these moments in time. It's a fun tradition that reminds me to take a moment to celebrate the mommy accomplishments of the year and begin planning for the next one. My movie trip has become a reminder for me to continue to be intentional in the way I deal with my children.

In the Old Testament, people set up stone altars when God did something they wanted to remember. They used the altar as a physical reminder of what God had done for them. In Genesis 35:3, Jacob built an altar, saying "Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

You could say my movie tradition is like those altars. It's a physical reminder to me to take a moment to stop and reflect on what God has done in our lives in the past year.

The time flies by so fast when it comes to our kids growing up. It's easy for us to get so busy that we forget to celebrate the moment. We forget to praise God for the wonderful changes happening in our kids. We are so caught up in getting to the next activity or the next stage of life that we forget to stop and savor the moment.

So, as your kids head back to school in the next month, I encourage you to take some time out and mark the moment. Think about all the things you have to celebrate about being a parent -- the accomplishments and growth of your kids, the lessons you've learned and the hopes you have for the future. Set them all out before God -- praise Him for the good stuff and ask for help with the tough stuff. Create a tradition of your own to remind you each year of all that's gone before and all that's yet to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Second Chance

The other night we went to school for sneak-a-peek night where the girls got to check out their classrooms and drop off their school supplies. We always find out who their teachers are before school ends in May, so the big event of the night for the girls is to find out with whom they will be sitting.

When we walked into my youngest daughter's classroom, she was dismayed to discover she was sitting next to a little boy that she remembered from first grade. In first grade, this little boy's behavior had been less than stellar, so my youngest was a bit apprehensive about sitting next to him again.

After shushing her disappointment in the classroom, the subject came up again when we got home. I reminded her that she didn't know how this little boy had behaved last year and that he may have changed a lot in a year. We talked about how important it was to give him a chance before labeling him based on his past behavior. She was skeptical, but she agreed. We prayed about it both before she went to bed and before she left for school yesterday.

When she came home after a half day of school, the first thing she had to say was, "You were right, mom, he has changed."

As our kids start a new school year, it's important to remind them to give other kids a chance. Whether it's a new kid in class or a child with a past reputation, we want our kids to go into the classroom with an attitude of acceptance.

Too often kids get pigeon-holed into a certain segment of childhood society early in their lives. It can be difficult to change the perceptions of other children and, sometimes, even adults. It's not fair, and it can hurt.

God always gives us a second chance. He's always ready to forgive us and renew a relationship with us. Jesus sought out people with whom the rest of society wouldn't give the time of day. He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and criminals. He saw past the reputation to the heart beneath. He never doubted that people could change.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:22-24 that anyone can be made new in Christ. We can shed the old self and put on the new. "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Help your kids carry an attitude of acceptance through the school doors this year.
  • Pray with your kids about any relationships that concern them. It may be a child they have had trouble with in the past or it may be a new child.
  • Read the story of Zacchaeus with your kids from Luke 19:1-9. Talk about how Jesus could have ignored Zacchaeus because of his reputation. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a cheat. No one liked him, yet Jesus sought him out. He knew there was more to Zacchaeus than what was on the surface. Remind your kids that anyone can change, and it's important to give people a second chance.
  • Remind your child of a time when they changed for the better. All of us have failed in our attitude or actions. By reminding your child of how much they have changed over a period of time, you help them to see that others can change as well.
  • Encourage your child to include anyone who wants to play in their games on the playground. It's easy for kids to become exclusionary. Encouraging a policy of including everyone in their play opens up opportunities for other children to take part and become part of a group.
It's hard to persuade people to change their opinions. No matter how much a person has changed, those first impressions leave lasting impressions. Encourage your kids to give other children a second chance. Because God gives us one.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Memory Monday: Another School Year (Luke 2:52)

School starts today for my girls. We have backpacks ready and first-day outfits laid out. The girls are partly excited, partly anxious and partly sad that our summer has come to an end. Mom is partly excited, partly anxious and partly sad to see them go back.

While I no longer have first-day tears (on my part and theirs) like we did in kindergarten, the first day of school always brings a twinge to my heart. Each year as I watch them head into the school building, I realize that we're another year closer to my girls being grown.

This is my oldest daughter's last year of elementary school. As proud as I am of the young lady she's becoming, I miss the little girl she was.

My youngest is now a third-grader. In some ways, that's harder for me to accept than the fact that my oldest is a fifth-grader. My youngest is no longer one of the "little" kids at school. Her class gets grouped with the older kids when they split the school into groups for activities. Since she's my baby, I think that fact makes me realize just how quickly the time has passed.

As I send my kids out the door for another school year, I'm once again reminded that no matter how quickly the time passes or how big my kids get, they still need guidance. I want them to grow like Jesus did: "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52)

While I want them to grow and be healthy, I also want them to grow to be wise. As they get older, my kids are making more and more of their own decisions. Some are good; some are not.

As they leave our house to venture once more into the world, I know there's nothing I can do to protect them from the things they will encounter. It's my job to build them up at home, pour God's wisdom into them and cover them in prayer when they're gone.

As school starts again, whether we are sending your kids off to a school building or we are their teacher at home, our kids still need us to be their support system. They need us to encourage them, teach them and pray for them. No child is too old to need those things.

Take a moment today, and every day, to give your child an encouraging word, to find a teachable moment and use it and to spend some time specifically praying for your kids. There's nothing more important you can do today.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Introductions: Discipline Resources

All week we've been talking about discipline. We've discussed what it is and how to go about it. There's no one right way to discipline our kids, but we've learned that consistency and individualized methods make a difference.

 It can all seem overwhelming as a parent. Trying to teach and not punish. Trying to be calm and not angry. It begs the question, what happens if I screw it up?

Here's the deal, we all screw up sometimes. We're not perfect and there are going to be times when we blow it. We rush to judgment. We are harsh instead of loving. We hurt feelings instead of correcting behavior.

But a couple of mess-ups aren't going to scar your kids for life. When you don't react well, admit it and ask your kids for forgiveness. You may end up teaching them even more than if you had disciplined them well in the first place.

We don't carry the burden for changing our kids hearts on our own. God is right there with us. On those days when we've thrown up our hands and simply want to be anywhere but in the midst of disciplining our kids, God is there. When it seems like nothing we are doing is effective, God is there. All we have to do is ask for help.

God promises He will always be with us, and He's always willing to give us wisdom and strength when we ask for it. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Raising kids is tough, and we don't have to do it alone. God is there to help.

God also provides us with some great physical resources.
  • The first source of wisdom is the Bible. When it comes to discipline, the Bible has lots to say about just about every topic you might encounter. Don't hesitate to take your kids to the Bible and have them learn what it has to say about whatever behavior they are struggling with.
  • One of my favorite books on discipline is Creaitve Correction by Lisa Whelchel. This is a great place to turn when you're out of ideas for how to discipline your kids. She has some very creative methods for disciplining our kids. Not everything in this book will be right for every family, but there's probably something in there that will work with every kid. Be sure to also check out the parents page on her website, which is filled with parenting resources.
  • Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child, both by James Dobson are two of my favorite books. Dare to Discipline talks about the importance of discipline and the Bible's take on it. It offers some practical suggestions for disciplining your kids. The Strong-Willed Child is a great tool for those of you, who like me, have a child whose strong will leads to frustration. It's a book that will give you insight into how your child's brain works and what methods work best with these kids. If you're not familiar with the Focus on the Family website, be sure to check it out, too. Lots of great parenting resources are available for you there.
Whatever resources you use and discipline methods you choose, remember that you're not walking this road alone. God is there to provide the wisdom and strength to raise kids whose hearts are turned toward Him.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Practical Discipline

I vaguely remember what life was like before I had kids. I had lots of free time. My house had a coffee table and breakable knick-knacks on the bookshelves. I always had time to do my hair and dress nicely before I left the house. And I had lots of ideas about how other people's children should behave.

I knew exactly what I would do if my kids ever screamed their way through the grocery store or kicked another person's seat for the entire two-hour plane ride. I just knew that my kids would never act that way because I would know how to discipline them.

Ten years later, I'm older and wiser and have drug a screaming child out of the grocery store and apologized profusely to the person sitting in front of my 3-year-old who kept kicking the seat. I've sat on the front porch while a child sat in her room screaming at the top of her lungs for the entire neighborhood to hear.

Disciplining our kids isn't easy. Sometimes the constraints of our location or the people we're with limit our options. There's not much you can do to discipline a child in the confines of an airplane without making the entire plane of people miserable.

Sometimes our own mental state makes discipline difficult. I don't know about you, but there are days where I'm simply too tired to want to deal with the same behaviors I've been trying to work on for the past month. I'm simply happy if the kids aren't tearing up the house.

But discipline is so important. No matter the circumstances, disciplining our kids has to be a priority -- not because we enjoy it or because we want to punish our children. Discipline needs to be a priority because it's through discipline that our kids learn the attitudes and behaviors that are appropriate and pleasing to God.

Proverbs 13:18 says "Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored." Discipline teaches our kids the values and principles on which they should base their actions.

Sometimes, though, we find that our discipline methods simply aren't working. Either we've misread what's important to our child or our current method has simply outlived it's usefulness. When that happens, it's time to ask for some help. Talk with your friends about how they deal with certain situations, whether it's lying or disrespectfulness. God gave us Christian friends and family to help us out when we've reached the end of our effectiveness.

So, today, let me be your friend and offer a few suggestions of some things that have worked with our kids.
  • Always provide the tools to do better next time. Wait for your child to calm down, and wait to be calm yourself, then discuss what happened. Ask your child what they could have done differently to get a better result. Help your child figure out a way to resolve the situation that got them in trouble, so the next time they are faced with a similar situation, they can deal with it appropriately.
  • Provide a scripture to back up your point. Giving your kids a scripture that deals with the situation takes the authority off your shoulders and puts it on God's shoulders. Many kids respond better to a "rule" that comes from God than they do to a "rule" that comes from you.
  • Isolate a social kid. One of the most effective punishments I've found with my youngest is to have her stand in the corner facing the wall in the same room as the rest of us. She's not allowed to talk or participate in anything going on around her until her time is up. It's almost painful for her to stand there.
  • Find your child's currency. Figure out what's important to your child, then make that thing a privilege. My youngest loves her video game time, so we use it as a discipline tool. If the offense is great enough, we'll take her video game time away. Figure out what it is that your child enjoys enough that it's painful when it's gone.
  • Sports and activities are a privilege. Yes, you're paying for them, but if that's what's important to your child, then missing a practice or a game may be the way to get through to them. Letting down their teammates because they chose not to behave appropriately at home may be just the ticket to getting their attention.
Whatever method you use to discipline your kids, quit using it if it's not working. Figure out a new way to get through to your child. Use the resources available to you: friends, family, books. Be creative in looking at your child's personality and figuring out his currency.

Discipline takes a lot of work and persistence on the part of the parent, but the results are changed hearts and attitudes in our kids.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Personality Matters

My oldest is a sensitive soul. All I have to do to get a point across to her is look at her sternly. She's also a rule follower. She always tells me what she is doing and asks before doing anything she thinks will be outside the rules. I've often said that monkeys could raise her. She's that easy to discipline.

My youngest, on the other hand, is strong-willed and no respecter of rules. If you draw a line in the sand, she will jump over it. In her mind, rules are simply suggestions of how she should behave. She may or may not follow them, depending on how she feels that day. She's difficult to discipline because she's not often swayed by what we think.

With these two different personalities living in our house, we learned early on that our discipline methods would have to be individualized based on our girls' personalities. What works with my youngest would crush the spirit of my oldest, and what works with my oldest doesn't even cause my youngest to miss a step.

Ephesians 6:4 says "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Using discipline methods that don't take into account the personality of your child, is a sure way to exasperate them.

Take a moment to consider your child's personality, then think about the way you discipline them. Are your discipline methods working? Are they tailored to your child's personality? Are your methods teaching your children or crushing them? Are you seeing heart and behavior change when you discipline?

If your discipline doesn't seem to be effective, then it may be time to change what you're doing to get different results. Consider some of these things when deciding how to discipline your kids.
  • Don't crush a sensitive child. Kids who take everything to heart and wear their feelings on their sleeves can be hurt by harsh discipline. If your child internalizes everything you say, you want to be very careful not to use your words to harm. These kids often respond really well to a rational discussion of the issue. For these kids, being yelled out seems worse than losing privileges.
  • Avoid placing too many rules on a child who likes to break them. Some kids see rules as a challenge. As soon as you make a rule, they will set out to see how far they can bend it. Try setting up broad parameters for these kids. We did this with our youngest. We no longer talk about things we don't do. We talk about how our actions need to show respect for God, others and ourselves. All those things we don't want her to do fall under these three things, but we no longer have a list of rules to follow. The goal is to get her to change her heart, not follow a list of rules. If there are few rules to bend, then we can spend more time talking about how our behavior should reflect God's priorities.
  • Don't break the spirit of a strong-willed child. Kids who are stubborn and strong-willed can drive a parent to tears. Our frustration can cause us to come down on them with a really heavy hand. But it's important to remember that God gave them that little stubborn personality for a reason. The goal of discipline is not to break their spirit; it's to mold that spirit.
  • Be consistent. No matter the personality of your child, no discipline is effective if it's not consistently applied. Inconsistent discipline confuses kids and leaves them guessing about what to expect.
No matter your child's personality, remember that God created them to fulfill a purpose in His plan. He gave them parents to help guide and direct them. Discipline is meant to teach them and to turn their hearts toward God. And discipline is at its most effective when it is tailored to the personality of your child.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One Size Does Not Fit All

I've read lots of books about discipline. Sometimes I take away good stuff that I can use, and other times I look at the book and think, "Does this person even have children?"

The trouble with books about discipline is that they often assume that all children are the same. What works with one child will work with all children. If you've ever met more than one child, you know that each child is different. So it stands to reason that what works with one child may not work with another.

Too many discipline schemes are based on a system that takes a one-size-fits-all approach. Effective discipline will take an individualized approach. The key to effective discipline is finding the things that matter to your child.

My youngest is a tough kid. She's not phased by much. She doesn't really care if you're upset with her. You can talk until you're blue in the face and not get through to her. But take away her video game time or tell her she can't go to hockey practice, and you've got her attention.

My oldest is just the opposite. She couldn't care less about video games, but raise your voice or express disappointment, and she will dissolve into a puddle of tears.

Clearly, attempting to have one system of discipline for both of my kids would never work. When we set up systems for discipline without taking into account the children we are disciplining, we undercut the effectiveness of the system.

God didn't make us all alike, so it's silly for us to assume that what works for one child will work exactly the same way for another. Psalm 139:13-14 says "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." We need to take into account those fearfully and wonderfully made attributes when we consider discipline. We're setting ourselves up for failure when we institute a discipline system that doesn't take our children's individuality into account.

If you look at how God disciplined the Israelites and how he later disciplined David, you'll see He didn't use the same tactics. He let the Israelites wander around in the desert for 40 years to make His point. David's son died because of his sin.

  • Use your kids' natural likes and dislikes to institute discipline. Taking away TV time from a child who prefers to read isn't effective, but taking a favorite TV program away from a child who loves TV will make an impact.
  • Don't be afraid to use different discipline tactics for kids in the same household. Your kids are not the same, so the methods you use for discipline may not be the same. Your kids may think this is unfair, but it's not about fairness. It's about effectiveness.
  • Remember that discipline is about teaching. Whatever method is going to be most effective to teach our children how to change their heart and improve their behavior is the one we should be using.

Spend some time today considering your kids. See if your current discipline system takes into account their individuality. If it doesn't, then work to revamp your system.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Memory Monday: Discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Every now and then, I hear from readers who want to know why I've never tackled the topic of discipline in this space. Honestly, I've left discipline alone because it's such a broad and difficult topic. There's no one way to discipline your kids. What works in our house may or may not work in yours. The discipline I'm comfortable with handing out may not be the one that you're comfortable with.

However, in the past few weeks, God has been showing me that there are some commonalities to all forms of discipline. For discipline to be effective, we have to understand what it is, why we should discipline and how God views discipline.

All week, the blog is going to look at discipline. Today, we're going to examine what discipline is and what it isn't. Tomorrow, we'll look at why a one-size-fits-all approach is a terrible way to approach discipline. Wednesday, we'll focus on our kids' personalities and how they should affect the way we discipline each of our kids. In Thursday's blog, we'll look at some practical ideas for disciplining our kids.

The word discipline rarely brings to mind warm and fuzzy thoughts of a loving relationship. More often it conjures up a picture of sternness and punishment. So, what is the true picture of discipline?
  • Discipline stems from love. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, "My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." God disciplines us because He loves us. We should approach discipline with our children as an act of love -- not one of anger or frustration. Never discipline your children when you are angry. Your kids won't learn anything and your discipline will become punishment.
  • Discipline is not punishment. Punishment is designed to hurt someone. It is a sentence for a crime. Discipline is designed to teach our children. If we hand out discipline to our children without helping them learn something from the situation, then we're not disciplining, we're punishing. Discipline provides our kids with the tools to change the way they handle the same situation in the future. Punishment does not.
  • Discipline should touch the heart. When we discipline our children, we are looking to change their hearts. We can get our children to follow any rules we set up with a grudging attitude. They can choose to follow those rules without ever engaging their hearts. Discipline should focus on heart change, not just behavior change.
  • Discipline must fit your child. Every child is different, and no one method of discipline is going to work for every child. We use different methods on each of our girls. Their personalities are so different that using the same methods on both kids would be a waste of time. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to figure out what works with your child.
I think disciplining our kids is one of the hardest parts of being a parent. However, God discipline us because He loves us. If we model our parenting on God, then we need to look at disciplining our children as an act of love, as well. Memorize Proverbs 3:11-12 this week as you examine your heart and attitude toward disciplining your children.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Don't Miss the Sunrise

We're hanging out at the lake this weekend with some friends, so I'm reposting one of my favorite posts for you today. I'll see you again on Monday.

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

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

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

Teach your children how to find God at work in their lives, and show them how easy it is for us to get caught up in the everyday and miss seeing God's work.

  • Either use a photograph or have your children draw a picture of something beautiful that God made. On other small pieces of paper, help your children write down things that can distract us from noticing God's creation -- they can be physical things like houses or things that make us busy, like school, activities and friends. Cover the picture with the smaller pieces of paper and talk with your children about how sometimes even good things like school and friends can distract us and have us overlook God's work in our lives. Take a minute to thank God for all of His creation and the things He is doing in your family's life.
  • Ask your child to write a story or draw a picture, depending on their age. While they are working turn on the radio, the TV, talk to them, just generally make all sorts of noise. Make an effort to distract them. If they complain about it or after they are done, ask them how hard it was to focus on what they were doing. Explain that sometimes it's hard for us to focus on God because there are so many distractions that we sometimes miss what God is trying to tell us or we miss seeing the awesome things that He does. Talk about the types of distractions that your children face.
  • Create altars in your children's lives. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would build an altar whenever God did something amazing. Genesis 12:8 says "From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord." Create altars in your children's lives by pointing out when God is doing something great in their lives. You can mark the moment with a conversation, a note in a journal or even a physical momento. Being able to look back on what God has done in their lives will help them through the tough times because they will be able to see that God has been faithful.

As a parent, be sure to be looking for the moments that God does something in your life. Don't hesitate to share some of those moments with your kids. And don't let distractions in your life block your view of the sunrise moments that God provides.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Fun: 39 Clues Finale

Another summer adventure is in the books. We finished up the summer with a scavenger hunt that required the girls to complete tasks tied to their own unique talents. The prize was a trip to play laser tag.

I wish I could tell you that the six girls that gather around my kitchen table each week learned so much that they always make good decisions about what comes out of their mouths, they truly appreciate one another's differences and they always see themselves and others as masterpieces made in God's image.

But I can't.

The truth is that these six girls are like the rest of us.They still struggle to control their tongues, appreciate each others' differences and put the needs of others before their own.

The goal for the summer was not to end the summer with perfect children. The goal for the summer was to have the girls gain some perspective on their differences and begin to think about how they treat each other. And, in that respect, it was a success.

I've seen each of these girls take a minute to think before they act. I've seen them encourage one another. I've seen them begin to appreciate each other. And that's really what the purpose of our adventure was -- to begin to truly understand the importance of viewing each other as God's masterpieces.

Too often, I think, we expect big things when we're teaching our kids little lessons. We get frustrated when they don't immediately apply what we're teaching them. But raising kids is a process. We don't change our own behaviors overnight and neither will our kids. Yet every lesson we teach that is rooted in God's word plants a seed in our children's hearts. The time we invest is worth it even if we can't see any tangible results.

Isaiah 55:10-11 says "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

When we take the time to use God's word to teach our kids, it makes a difference in their hearts. God's word is never wasted. It always achieves His purpose. While we may not see immediate results, God's word is at work in the hearts of our kids. It may be years down the road or it may be tomorrow when we see the fruit that springs from that seed, but God's word bears fruit.

As we head into the school year, don't be discouraged if your kids fail to apply everything you're teaching. Simply know that God is using His word in their hearts. The seeds you plant today will bear fruit in their lives. It's a promise.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Small Area Practice

Our hockey player has had some upheaval in her little hockey universe. USA Hockey, the governing body for youth hockey in the United States, has mandated that all under 8 hockey programs move to a cross-ice format for games.

Last year, my daughter played full-ice hockey, just like the pros in the NHL. Through a bunch of research much too complicated for an 8-year-old to understand, USA Hockey has determined that a smaller ice area at a young age makes for better players as they get older.

Small area practices and games force the kids to move quickly, keep their heads up and improve their stick-handling, footwork and passing skills. As they get older and move to full ice, they are better hockey players because they have the fundamentals down.

None of this matters to my daughter. All she can see is that last year she got to play full-ice hockey, and this year she has to play "baby hockey." While I sympathize with the sentiment, it's my job to help her understand the benefits of this style of play for the next six months until she moves up to the next level when she'll go back to playing full ice.

As I've been pondering how to best help her approach the season, I realized that a lot of times, God gives us some small area practice before sticking us in the big game. Often, God will give us opportunities to learn and practice skills in small ways. He knows that we'll need those skills down the road for the bigger plans He has for us.

We often make plans and then get upset when those plans are thwarted. But our plans are never as good as God's plans. We can't even conceive of the things that God can plan for us. Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails."

Just like USA Hockey, God looks at the big picture. This year is going to be tough for my little hockey player and all her 8-year-old friends because they simply aren't old enough to grasp the big picture. Ten years from now, they may look back at this year and realize that it made them better hockey players, but right now it simply seems like a whole season full of unfairness.

The same is true for us. Too often, we can't see the big picture. We don't understand why we're being put to the test in the areas of patience, perseverance and faithfulness. God can see down the road. He's preparing us to do big things for Him, but many times He allows us to have some small area practice first. We may not enjoy that practice because we're busy looking at the big game and wondering when we're going to get in it. We may not appreciate the lessons we're mastering because they don't seem important.

But down the road, we're going to appreciate what we've learned. When we get a chance to participate in the big game of God's plan, we'll look back on those moments of small area practice and realize God was getting us ready. He was improving our fundamentals so we would be effective for Him in the long run.

Helping our kids understand this idea is important, too. So many times during those pre-teen and teen years, it can seem like all we're doing is marking time, waiting to be old enough to drive, old enough to date or old enough to leave home. Talking with your kids about how life is sometimes like a sport -- we have to practice before we get into the game -- can help alleviate some of those feelings of frustration. Knowing that those times are simply practice for something bigger gives our kids a sense of purpose and perspective that will see them through the waiting.

So, the next time you're faced with a moment where God is asking you to take what appears to be a step backward, remember that He may just be offering you some small area practice before asking you to take center ice in His plan.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

39 Clues to You: Week 7

I'm sure it seems like I've forgotten to update all of you on our summer's quest to help my girls and their friends recognize and appreciate their differences. We finished up our summer adventure last week, but since we were in the middle of our series on money, I decided to hold off on sharing it with you until today.

It's been an amazing summer with these girls. Each one of them has grown and learned something new about the others. I'd love to tell you that they treat each other with respect and never argue and fight anymore, but that would be a lie. They do, however, think a little bit more before they speak, understand how different doesn't mean bad and know that God gave each of them gifts and talents unique to them.

For our last week together, we returned to the topic of the tongue. Everyone has a tough time hanging onto their tongue. It seems as if our tongues have the fastest connection to our brains, and unfortunately, we too often speak before we're finished thinking.

Our verse for the week was James 3:5, "Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark."

To illustrate the permanence of words once they leave our mouths, we had a Silly String war. The girls shot Silly String at each other until their cans were empty. Then, we looked around at the mess. We talked about how our words are like the Silly String. Once they leave our mouths, we can't stuff them back in, just like we can't put the Silly String back in the can. We also talked about what a big mess our words can make, and that mess isn't as easily cleaned up as a bunch of Silly String on the ground.

After cleaning up the mess in the backyard, we came back inside to see how our words can be like a fire and leave others feeling burned. I put a piece of newspaper in a metal pan. I showed the kids the flame of a lighter. We talked about how that flame was under control. When the flame is under control, it doesn't hurt anyone -- just like a tongue that's under control. However, when that flame gets out of control, it burns things up -- just like our tongues can do if we don't control them. Then, I lit the piece of newspaper on fire. It flamed up and burned quickly. We were left with a charred mess of ash. I had the girls look at the ash, and we talked about how our tongue is like that fire. It can turn people to ash on the inside.

Our featured girl for the day was my youngest daughter's best friend. She does gymnastics and loves to play board games. So, we had her show us how to do a cartwheel and a handstand. Each of the girls tried both of those things, and we managed to avoid serious injury. Then, we went outside and tried our feet at the balance beam (which was the railroad tie border of our rock garden). We did dips and scales. Everyone learned that it's a whole lot harder than it looks to walk across a 4-inch wide beam.

After gymnastics, we came back inside and our friend taught us two of her favorite card games -- Spit and Snap. We discovered that some of the girls really loved the speed and strategy of Spit while others hated it. Snap was pretty much universally enjoyed.

We finished our day back where we started it, talking about our tongues and how we should think before we speak. The girls each took home a candle to remind them that we want our tongues to be like a flame that's under control, not one that's burning things up.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Memory Monday: Obedience and Love (Deuteronomy 11:1)

I have a child who struggles with obedience. I believe the politically correct term for this is "strong-willed." I think "stubborn" and "willful" also fit the bill.

On one of our trips this year, we stayed in a house that had a small beach that led to a dock on the lake. Because the beach had a steep dropoff into the water, we literally drew a line in the sand that we told the kids not to cross.

The first thing my daughter did was see how far across the line she could get before someone told her to get back. She had to know if she could touch the line, put her toes over the line or even get a foot over the line before she got in trouble. It wasn't enough for her to know that there was a rule. She had to know if the rule was going to be enforced.

I think we all struggle with obedience. How often does God tell us to do something or not to do something and we either ignore Him or see how far across the line we can get before we either get hurt or get our hand slapped?

God asks for our obedience to His commands, not because He loves setting up rules for us to follow but becuase obedience is a tangible sign of our love for Him. Even in the Old Testament, God wanted obedience to flow out of love, not just a rote following of the rules. Deuteronomy 11:1 says "Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always."

This verse tells us to love God first, then follow His commands. Our obedience to God is how we show we love Him.

Too often, being a Christ-follower can come across as a list of rules to follow. But Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate act of love. God asks for our love. When we give Him that, obedience will follow.

Our kids need to know that being a Christ-follower isn't just a list of rules to follow. It's a lifestyle based on love. Because we love God, we choose to follow His commands. And, we love God because He first loved us and sacrificed His son so that we would not spend eternity separated from God.

As you memorize Deuteronomy 11:1 this week, talk with your kids about obedience. Explain that obedience is an act of love, whether it's obedience to you or obedience to God. Love makes obedience easier, but it's still a choice we have to make.

God loves us enough that He sacrificed His son for us. All He asks of us is that we love Him and show that love through obedience. Love is the key.