Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Fun: Jello Fight

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 are currently on vacation with my extended family. For the first time, all the kids are sleeping together in one room. We have six kids ranging in age from nine to two. Of course, lots of talking and giggling ensue after everyone gets in bed. The other night, we went in and told them to be quiet. We had to go back several times to persuade the kids to be quiet. The next morning, my youngest daughter explained to me that it wasn't her fault that the kids were talking and got in trouble because the other kids in the room made her talk. We had a long discussion about being responsible for your own actions, but that reminded me so much of the way all of us look at sin. We all want to blame someone else for making us sin.

The truth is everyone sins, and that's an important concept for our kids to understand. If we didn't need someone to wipe away our sins, then Jesus didn't need to die on the cross, and we wouldn't need God. If we could just pass the blame and the consequences off on someone or something else, there would be no need for grace. These are big concepts that might be tough for your kids to wrap their brains around. One great way to point out how sin can dirty up our lives and only God can wipe it away is to have a Jello fight.

I'm sure some of you are thinking "Is she crazy?" Well, probably, but I guarantee they won't forget the fight or the lesson behind it, so let go of your reservations, find some old clothes and let the kids have a great time and learn something in the process.

Dress your kids in old clothes and make up a big batch of Jello. Give each child a different color of Jello to throw. Take them out in the yard and let them throw Jello at each other until they run out. They will be covered in it when they are done. The thing about Jello is that it's sticky and hard to get off of you and your clothes.

Explain to your kids that sin is kind of like Jello. It sticks to us and covers us up. It separates us from God, just like the Jello separates them from other people, because who is going to let a Jello-covered kid into their house? No one would probably take a hug from a kid who's just been in a Jello fight. God can't get close to us when we're covered in sin.

Now, turn on the hose and hose your kids down until all the Jello is off their skin and hair. Explain to them that Jesus's death and resurrection allow God to wipe away our sin, just like the water from the hose wipes away the Jello. God offers to wipe away our sin for free, just like you didn't charge your kids for the water to clean up. All we have to do is recognize that we are sinners and ask for forgiveness, and God separates our sin from us.

Here are some great verses to use while talking to your kids:

  • Psalm 51:7 -- Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
  • John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Romans 6:23 -- For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
  • Romans 3:23 -- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

 When you've finished your Jello fight, take your clean kids inside for a Jello snack. I promise, they'll love it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memory Monday: Finding Your Compass (1 Peter 4:11)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Accepting "No" for an Answer

My oldest daughter's birthday is coming up next week. We asked her what she wanted, and she said "Nothing."

How unusual is that? My almost 10-year-old daughter wants nothing. I thought, "Either we've spoiled her to the extreme or she's simply learning to be content." Ah, but that was not the case. A little bit later, she informed us that it wasn't that she didn't want anything, she just didn't want anything that she knew we would give her.

You see, our daughter is deprived. We won't buy her a cell phone, a TV for her room or her own computer. She's so accident-prone that we refuse to buy her a skateboard. (We're afraid the skateboard would become very expensive once you add in all the emergency room visits.) We also said no to an iPad or an iPod touch.

When you're 10, it's hard to understand why mom and dad won't go along with what "all the other parents" are doing. And, 10-year-olds often don't care what the reason is behind  mom and dad's "no." They simply want what they want. I find many kids live in an attitude of discontent because they can't have exactly what they want.

Yet, are we any different from our kids? So often, we ask God for something and get upset when He doesn't deliver exactly what we want. We're not interested in God's reasons for not giving us what we asked for. Sometimes we lash out at God because we can't see how what is happening fits into His plan for good. Sometimes we simply don't want to go the direction God wants us to go.

Yet, how often I've found that that thing that I asked for would have kept me from an even greater blessing that God had for me. I would have missed out on knowing God's grace and strength if He had fulfilled my request.

The Bible tells us to pray about everything. Philippians 4:6 says "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." God wants to know the desires of our heart, but He also knows what is best for us. He sees the whole picture while we see only a small piece. God wants us to grow and rely on Him for guidance and strength.

Even when He doesn't give us what we want, we need to recognize that He gives us what is best.

The next time your child expresses disappointment because God answered their request with a "no," remind them that sometimes God has an even better thing in mind than the one for which we asked. Remind your child of a time that you said no to something in order to protect him from harm or so you could give him something else that was better. Explain that God does the same thing with our requests.

Help your kids stay focused on the fact that God loves them and wants what is best for them -- even when He says "no" to our requests.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Even the Professionals Fall Down

As most of you know, my youngest daughter plays ice hockey. She doesn't just play ice hockey, she's passionate about all things hockey. If there's a game on TV, we watch it. If there's a stick and a tennis ball available, we play it. If there's an opportunity to strap on skates, she takes it.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are going on right now. Just about every night for the past month, we've watched at least some part of a hockey game. This is the first year I've watched hockey on TV from the vantage point of being a hockey mom. I know a whole lot more about the game and about how hard it really is to play.

Those guys in the NHL make it look easy, but if you've ever watched a hockey game, you'll notice that even the guys in the NHL fall down sometimes. When you're chasing a small piece of frozen rubber while skating on a sheet of ice, even the professionals can fall down.

Did you know that one of the first things they teach kids in learn-to-skate classes is how to fall down and how to get back up? When you're learning to play hockey, it's inevitable that you will fall down. Knowing how to get back up puts you back in the game faster.

Life is a lot like a hockey game. I don't know anyone who doesn't fall down on occasion. We fail at something at which we really wanted to succeed. We make a mistake in dealing with our kids. We miss an opportunity that God gave us to share His love and compassion with someone.

Our kids fall down, too. They fight with their siblings. They say the wrong thing to a friend. They don't make the cut to make the team or the school play. They are disrespectful to mom and dad.

All of these scenarios lead to pain and disappointment in varying degrees. But, if we learn and we teach our kids how to get back up and get back in the game, we are much more useful to God than if we wallow in our mistakes and failures.

God doesn't remember our mistakes and failures. Psalm 103:12 says "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." And Paul reminds us not to dwell on our past mistakes in Philippians 3:13-14 when he says "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Getting back up and into the game isn't always easy. When you fall down hard, when you fail at something, it would be so much easier to just give up and walk away. But, God has a plan for your life and your children's lives, so it's important to know how to get back in the game and let God use you and what you've learned from your failures to help you fill your role in His plan.

In hockey, they teach kids to pull their knees up underneath them, and then put one knee up and push themselves to a standing position and go hard to get back in the game. That's a pretty good model for getting back up in life, too. Rarely do we just hop back up, straight to our feet. Teach your kids these steps for getting past failure. Equate it getting up when we fall down. You can't go from laying down straight to your feet, but you can take steps to get yourself upright again.
  • Get to your knees: When you fail, pray and ask God to forgive any sin that may have played a role in your failure. Ask Him to show you how to go forward.
  • Get one foot under you: Take a step toward getting back into the game of life. Take another stab at whatever knocked you down or go in a different direction.
  • Push to a standing position: In hockey, many kids will use their stick to push themselves all the way to their feet. Consider God to be your hockey stick. Lean on His strength and guidance to show you how to go on in the face of failure. Let Him fill you up with the strength you need to face the day and to show you which way to go from here.
  • Get your feet under you and go full speed: God's got a plan for your life. He wants you to get back in the game as quickly as possible. He needs your heart fully engaged with Him. Only when you are seeking Him -- spending time with Him and asking for His guidance -- can you go full speed ahead in the game of life.
Falling down is part of life. Knowing how to get back up after we fall gets us back in the game so God can use us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer Fun: The 39 Clues to You

Today is the first day of our summer vacation. It means a new schedule and a lot more time with my kids. It also means it's time to begin our summer "camp."

Many of you know that every summer, my girls and four of their friends gather in my kitchen to spend time having fun and learning about God. This summer, our little group is going to embark on the "39 Clues to You" adventure. Despite a doctor's visit for a severe ear infection in my youngest, which has caused us to rearrange the schedule a bit, we are going to get our adventure under way today.

Each week, I'll be sharing with you what we've done. And the great news is that this year, I'm writing up the curriculum as I go and hope to have it available to you in the fall, so you can use it with your own kids next summer.

I'm almost as excited as the girls. This summer's adventure focuses on the idea that God made every person unique so they can fill a spot in His plan. Every one of us is God's masterpiece -- the very best thing that He can make. Because of that, I want the girls to know that not only did God make them unique and special, but He made others to be unique and special, too. That means that we need to place value on others and treat them with the same care and respect that we would use with a Renoir painting.

Each week will focus on a different girl in our group. At the beginning of the day, the girls will receive six clues and they'll have to figure out which girl we are going to focus on that day. We'll learn to do something that she excels at. Eat some food that she enjoys. Read part of a book that she really likes and find out some of the things that she is passionate about.

At the end of the summer, we're going to have a challenge that will force all the girls to work together and use their specific talents to complete the challenge.

Today is our kick-off day. The girls will get three clues that focus on how each person is loved by and special to God. The answer to the clues is "You." After that, they will receive their T-shirts and their totes. While they decorate their totes, we'll talk about the plan for the summer.

After they decorate their totes, they will each have to choose from an assortment of snacks. Each girl will have to explain why she chooses the snack she does. We'll talk about how each person has different likes and dislikes and how that's important because it keeps us from all being the same. If we all only ate tomatoes, then it would be hard to feed all of us.

Our big project for the day will focus on Ephesians 2:10, which says "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." We will look at pictures of art and architectural masterpieces and talk about how a masterpiece is the best that we can achieve.

We'll discuss how God says that we are His masterpiece, so we are the best thing that He can create. We'll also talk about how art masterpieces are treated -- with care and respect. We'll learn that God wants us to treat other people as if they are masterpieces -- with care and respect.

Each girl will get an artist's canvas, so she can create her own masterpiece with paint. We'll write Ephesians 2:10 on them. They will get to take them home and hang them in a place where they will remember that they are God's masterpiece.

As they leave, they will receive a challenge for the week that encourages them to treat their siblings as if their siblings are a masterpiece. When they come back next week, they'll need to know their memory verse and have written down one way that they treated their siblings like masterpieces to receive their prize.

I can't wait to see how God works in the hearts of these girls this summer. I just know that we're going to face August with a new respect for how God has created other people. And my prayer is that we'll have changed hearts in the way that we deal with others.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's Our Anniversary

Today is Everyday Truth's anniversary. A year ago today, I started the Everyday Truth blog with this post. I was reluctant to start a blog and post my triumphs and failures in parenting for everyone to see. I was most worried about the pressure it would put on my kids. I didn't want people to expect them to be perfect children or me to be a perfect mom.

My prayer has always been that God would protect my girls from criticism and judgment rendered just because their mom writes about parenting. You've probably noticed that I don't use their names in the blog. I know it's more impersonal for you to read, but it gives my girls a layer of protection. However, my fears of critique and judgment have generally been unfounded. God has protected my girls from all hurtful comments and judgment.

Once I pushed past that fear and began writing, I discovered something. I love this little community. Those of you who read, comment, press the "Like" button on the Facebook page and send me emails are the reason I get up at 6 a.m., five mornings a week to write what God puts on my heart. You are a group of the most encouraging, thoughtful readers. I love hearing suggestions, triumphs and concerns from you.

In the past year, I've learned a lot about how to write a good blog, a little about search engine optimization and to ask my children before I post anything potentially embarrassing to them. But the most important thing I've learned is that if God asks you to do something, He's going to show up and help you do it.

On this day last year, when I finally said "OK, God, let's go," I made a commitment to God that I would show up in my recliner ready to write every morning if He would show up as well. I've missed a few mornings, but God has never missed one.

In Philippians 1:4-6, Paul said "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." God's good work in us begins with our salvation, but it continues on in the way that we serve Him.

Sometimes God asks us to do something that pushes us outside our comfort zone. We may be hesitant to step out and begin, but God is faithful to walk every step of the road with us. He is faithful to complete the good work He began.

A year ago, I really didn't think I had much to say on the topic of raising kids. I mean, really, what do I know? My kids are only halfway to being raised. Yet, God wasn't impressed with that argument. He knows a lot about raising kids. All I have to do is listen to Him.

And every morning, He has shown up and given me something to say. I know that He will continue to do so.

So, this morning, if you have been touched by something that appeared in this blog in the past year, take a minute and thank God for His faithfulness in providing something to say each morning. And if you have used one or more of the ideas in the blog in the past year, comment here or on the Facebook page and let us know how it worked.

I look forward to spending another year sharing God's wisdom with you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives for the past year. I can't wait to see what God has in store in the next 250 blog posts. Thanks for sharing the adventure with me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Memory Monday: Finding Refreshment (Isaiah 50:4)

If this weekend was any example of what the summer is going to be like, then I think it could be a long summer. My girls seemed to be constantly picking at each other and arguing over things. On Saturday, my oldest told me she didn't have anything to do. All I could think was "Summer hasn't even started yet, and they're bickering and bored."

It took me another 20 minutes to figure out that they weren't actually bored or argumentative. They were exhausted. You know that moment, when you look at your child and you realize you're trying to rationalize with a child who is incapable of rational thought at that moment? We had one of those this weekend.

The best response to a child who is irrational due to exhaustion is a nap -- no matter the age. Refreshing their bodies always makes a huge difference in their attitudes. After our irrational moment this weekend, I pulled my kids inside, sent the irrational one to the shower and strongly suggested she lay down. An hour later, she came to the dinner table refreshed and ready to deal with the world. She was even able to laugh at how irrational she had been.

Too often, we're no different than our kids. Exhaustion -- both in body and soul -- can make us irrational. Everything looks worse and more difficult when you're physically, mentally or emotionally exhausted. We don't make good decisions, and we often take out our frustrations on those nearest to us. I hate to admit that if I'm tired, you really don't want to be around me. I'm grumpy and , yes, often irrational.

Sometimes, I just need a nap. But, you know what? I hate taking naps. I feel like they are a waste of time. There are so many other things I could be doing with that time. Never mind that I feel better after I take one.

When we're weary of all that the world has thrown at us, God offers to give us rest and strength. Yet, too often, we try to deal with everything on our own. If we'd just stop and spend a few minutes with Him, God would fill us with the strength to sustain us through whatever comes our way. Isaiah 50:4 says "The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary."

God's word offers us strength in times when we are weak. It offers refreshment in moments when we don't think we can take another step. Yet, too often, we skip our time with God because there are other things that need to be done. We choose not to be refreshed by His word just like I often choose not to take a nap.

We need God's sustaining power, and the only way to get it is to spend time reading His word. As you memorize this verse this week, emphasize with your kids that God's word is like a nap. It refreshes us and gives us strength, especially in moments when we are tired and don't think we can take another step. God's word builds us up so we can face whatever comes our way.

Figure out how you're going to fit reading God's word into your day and help your kids find a time in their day to set aside to read God's word. If your children are small, find a time in the day when you read God's word together. Even the youngest children can be refreshed by hearing God's word. Make it a priority to find refreshment and sustenance in God's word every day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mark the Moment

My kids get out of school on Tuesday. Soon, I'll be the mom of a 3rd grader and a 5th grader. I'm not sure how they've grown up so fast, but they have.

My girls have grown from tiny, fragile babies to strong, resiliant girls who will soon be beautiful young ladies. The days fly by and I find I'm not quite ready for this change. This time next year, my oldest will be waving goodbye to elementary school and be getting ready for the jump to middle school.

I sit here this morning and wonder where this school year went. It seems like just yesterday we were taking pictures and sending them off for the first day of school. Honestly, it seems like just yesterday that they were taking their first steps or saying their first words.

As the school year draws to a close, (I do know many of you have several weeks of school left. Come back and read this post when your school year is a few days from ending.) I find myself reflecting on the things my girls have learned this year and the ways they have grown. And I realize that the end of the school year is a milestone, one worth marking.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites marked significant events in their lives by building altars to God. The altars were a physical reminder of God's faithfulness. In Genesis 35:3, Jacob built an alter to remind him of how God had cared for him when he was at odds with his brother, Esau. He said "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."

Use the end of the school year as a time to "build" your own altar to mark the ways that God has taught your children this year. Point out the ways they have grown in their faith and their maturity. Write it down and give it to them. Make it a moment to reflect and remember before you let this school year pass into the pages of childhood memory.

On Tuesday, my girls have a half day of school. We'll come home and have a special lunch. Over lunch, we'll celebrate the things that they have learned this year and the things that God has taught them.

Here are a few of the things we'll be celebrating:
  • My oldest learned that watching injustice happen and doing nothing makes you a part of the problem. Standing up for someone else makes a difference.
  • My youngest learned that if you want something, you have to persevere and work at it -- even in the face of opposition.
  • Both girls learned that putting others' first is of primary importance to God.
  • My oldest learned that her body will be changing, and that's part of God's plan.
  • My youngest learned that even kids who have learning disabilities or physical disabilities have some amazing talents.
There are more things that we will celebrate, but these are the ones that will start the conversation. Make a list for your own kids, and take a moment out of the hustle and bustle of getting ready for vacation or making plans for the summer to celebrate the year that has passed. Mark the moment and thank God for it -- because it will never come again.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning from a Backyard Game

We're still waiting for spring weather to arrive here. The past week has been chilly and gloomy. Yesterday afternoon, we saw a sliver of sun, and my girls talked me into heading outside to play a game of Spud with them.

Spud is a simple game. Everyone gets a number. One person throws the ball up in the air and calls a number. That person chases the ball. Everyone else tries to get as far away from the ball as possible. When the person whose number was called has the ball in her hands, she yells Spud. She can then take three giant steps toward someone and throw the ball. If the ball hits the person she threw it at, that person gets a letter. If it misses, the person who threw the ball gets the letter. The person who gets the letter throws the ball the next time. When you have enough letters to spell SPUD, you're out. Last person standing wins.

By the time our game was over, we had one split and bruised knee, two girls who were mad at each other, several accusations of cheating and one child in tears because she got out. Probably not the most successful game I've ever played with my kids.

Life is like that game of Spud. Some days leave us battered and bruised and shaking our heads. Sometimes our kids do things that defy explanation, like the shouting match my youngest got into with one of the neighbor girls during our game. She knows better, but in the heat of the moment, she didn't care. Neither did her friend.

Sometimes life throws things into our path that knock us down -- like the rock one of the neighbor girls tripped over that caused her to split open her knee. We end up bloody and bruised and watching life from the sidelines because it hurts too much to play the game.

And sometimes life disappoints us, and all we want to do is sit in the corner and cry -- like my ultra-competitive older daughter when she got her last letter in the game. It's tough to find our smile and see the good in the situation. It's much easier to sit and sulk.

But, you know what? There's always something to be learned in the missed opportunity, the disappointment and the blood and bruises. My younger daughter and her friend were pulled aside and given the opportunity to think about their actions and how they want to be treated. The neighbor who hurt her knee got a chance to sit and watch the game and play referee, which gave her the opportunity to practice fairness. My older daughter got a lesson in sportsmanship to turn her pout about losing into a smile over playing the game.

If we take the time with our kids in the midst of the hurt and disappointments in life to help them find the lessons, we teach them to look for the good in the middle of the bad. We teach them that everything in life is an opportunity to learn something.

Jesus often did this with His disciples. In the midst of the soldiers coming to take Him to His death, He took a moment to teach. When one of his disciples cut off the ear of one of the soldiers, Jesus healed the ear and said to his disciples, "“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

Despite the horrible circumstances, Jesus didn't pass up one last chance to teach His disciples. He could have been focused on His fate. Instead He was focused on making sure His disciples understood what was happening.
We want to be like Jesus. No matter how big the hurt and disappointment of the day, the goal is to always be teaching and pointing our kids toward Jesus -- even when life beats us and our kids down.

The best thing about a day full of hurt and disappointment is that it has an end. Tomorrow is coming, and that day is a clean slate. It's a chance to try again and get it right. It's an opportunity to ask God to help us not stumble in the same places that we stumbled today.

So, take the time to teach your kids in the moments of hurt, anger and disappointment. The lessons they learn in those moments are some of the most valuable you can teach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Summer: Teaching Integrity

This post is the last one from the summer series last week, but because of some issues with the Blogger site, it didn't get posted. Enjoy it today.

Have you ever asked your child to do something and had them promise that they will do it in a minute? If your kids are anything like mine, many times you have to ask again because your child forgot or simply chose not to obey. Besides being frustrating for parents, not following through on things your child has said he will do is an integrity issue.

Integrity is a big-sounding word that simply boils down to following through and doing what you say you will do. Learning to have integrity is so much easier when you’re young than it is when you’re grown. The consequences for lapses in integrity are much smaller at 8 years old than they are at 28 years old.

Unfortunately, integrity is sorely lacking in much of our world. We expect politicians to lie to us to get our votes. Some kids have parents who consistently tell them one thing and do another. We are sometimes surprised when a public figure actually follows through on a promise. All of these things are working against us as we try to teach our children to be girls and boys of integrity.

Wrapped up in integrity are the concepts of truthfulness, loyalty and hard work, so when you focus on integrity, you get a lot of bang for your buck. God wants us to have integrity. James 5:12 says “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” God doesn’t want us to spend our time talking about what we’re going to do, He wants us to do what we say. When we say “Yes” to something, He wants that to stand by itself because people will know that we will follow through.

Integrity is a great topic to spend some time on this summer, even if it’s not something with which you see your kids struggling. It’s never a bad idea to reinforce the idea that we need to follow through on the things that we say.

• Take a look at your own life. Are you displaying integrity to your kids? Do you follow through on what you say, even in the area of discipline? If you’re going to focus on integrity with your kids, then you have to be living a life of integrity yourself. If your kids hear you telling them to always follow through on their promises, yet you don’t, your kids will not believe the importance of integrity in their own lives.

• Talk with your kids about what integrity means. With younger kids, simply focus on the fact that integrity means doing what you say you will do. With older kids, talk with them about how integrity also means living our lives so that they follow God’s plan. Once we decide to become a Christ-follower, part of being a person of integrity means that we live our lives according to God’s truths and commands.

• Make this your family’s summer of integrity. Create integrity tickets. When you catch your kids following through on things they said they would do, give them a ticket. If they don’t follow through on something, make them pay you a ticket. On whatever schedule works for you, set a time to claim rewards with your tickets. You can make the tickets pay for TV or video game time or you can let your kids “purchase” some small treats or toys. Include any adults in the house in the system, so your kids can hold you accountable as well.

• Create a 3-second rule. If your kids are asked to do something, tell them they should take 3 seconds to think about their response, then give the most truthful response. You can even have them count it out loud or hold up their fingers as they count. Teaching your kids to think about their answers before they open their mouths allows them to think about how their answer will affect their integrity. Remember if you institute this rule, you’ll need to wait for your kids to respond to your requests and commands. Don’t get impatient until after you’ve counted to three.

• Make attitude a part of the lesson. If we grudgingly do what we said we were going to do, then we’re not really displaying Godly integrity. Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” If we’re working for God and not for man, then our hearts need to be joyful in serving the Lord. Create a joy reward for when you find your kids joyfully doing a task they normally find distasteful. If you’re using the ticket system, you can hand out extra tickets. If not, then come up with some other type of reward – extra TV time, a later bedtime, some special time with mom or dad.

Keeping the focus on integrity all summer long will hold your children accountable for doing what they say they are going to do. The three-month focus will help change attitudes and habits and will help your kids become children of integrity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Waiting is Hard

We were sitting at a stoplight on the way to my older daughter's soccer game the other day when my oldest daughter said, "Is this light ever going to change? We've been waiting for 10 minutes." Having arrived at the light just as it was turning red, we had to wait for the lights to run all the way through their cycle. We'd been sitting at the light about a minute. It just seemed longer.

I don't know anyone who likes to wait. We're a society of movers. No one likes just sitting still. It doesn't matter what we're waiting for -- a vacation, the return of someone we love or payday -- we always want it to come sooner than it does.

And while we're waiting, it's sometimes really easy to lose sight of the value of what we're waiting for. It's always easier to focus on what's right in front of us than it is to see the value in what seems so far away.

My youngest daughter got some money for her birthday last month. We promised to take her to the hockey store in St. Louis when we go on vacation this summer because we don't have hockey stores here. It's been really hard for her not to spend that money now and wait for our trip.

Whenever we go to the store, she sees things she would like to buy. We have to keep reminding her that she's saving that money to spend at the hockey store. When we go to the store, she loses her focus on saving for the hockey store and is ready to sacrifice the long-term gain for short-term fulfillment. She needs help to keep her eyes focused on the better thing to come.

Sometimes God asks us to wait, and it's never easy when He does. The hardest moments in my life were waiting for the doctors to figure out what was wrong with my youngest daughter when she was born. We waited five days for answers, and every minute seemed to tick by incredibly slowly.

Yet, it is in those moments of waiting that we can find ourselves drawing nearer to God. Psalm 27:14 says "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." When we are forced to wait, it gives us time to reflect and time to lean on God for our strength. Waiting can sap your strength if you let it. It can drive you crazy with worry.

Yet God is there in the waiting. He's ready to lift you up and fill you with strength if you let Him. He's simply waiting for us to turn to Him and spend our time waiting covered in His love and grace.

And there are things to be learned in the waiting. We learn patience. We learn to give grace to others who are waiting. We learn to keep our eyes focused on something that may not be just around the corner. We learn to rely on God.

When your kids have to wait for something important, come alongside them and help them keep their eyes focused on what is important. Be their accountability person -- the one who helps them survive the waiting by helping them make good decisions in the waiting time.
  • Create a calendar for your child that helps them count down the days to whatever they are waiting for. Put a scripture to read together on each day of the calendar that deals with waiting or staying focused. This gives them a tangible reminder of the days ticking by and an encouragement to lean on God's strength every day.
  • When your child loses focus on the thing for which he is waiting, help him bring his attention back to that thing. Post a picture on the wall if it's something tangible. Talk about the benefits of the thing you're waiting for.
  • When the waiting seems interminable, pray with your child. Ask God to help your child rely on His strength to make it through the waiting period.
Waiting is rarely fun or easy, but those waiting times can draw us closer to God and teach us patience. And those are lessons worth learning.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Memory Monday: Lessons from the Hockey Season (2 Timothy 4:7)

We had our end-of-season hockey party yesterday on a cool, overcast Sunday. It was supposed to be a cookout, but we moved all the food inside because it was so chilly. The kids weren't bothered by the weather, however. They spent the entire party playing street hockey on the driveway.

The end of the season is bittersweet. I'm excited not to have to run around as much getting everyone to practice, but we've spent almost the entire school year playing with most of these kids. As I watched the kids play, I realized that this hockey season that we started with a bit of trepidation about how well our girl was going to fit in with this team of boys ended with her being just one of the gang. I know that she will miss skating with her friends over the summer, and I will miss hanging out with the moms and dads.

When she first started playing hockey, I would lie awake at night worrying about how well she was fitting in and whether this was the right thing for our little girl to be doing. Yet, God has placed a passion for this game inside her. She would rather have a hockey stick in her hand than anything else. And, she's learned so much this year. All my concerns were for naught. She had great coaches who taught her and encouraged her. She had great teammates who helped her learn and accepted her. And she had a group of parents in the stands who were rooting for her to succeed.

And I learned something from my youngest as well. This hockey season has taught me that if God gives you a passion for something, you should follow it. No matter the obstacles or how uncomfortable you might feel, there's joy in doing the things God created you to do. Too often, we look at something -- a task, a dream -- that we would like to do, and we dismiss it as impossible or too far outside the norm to be done.

We've spent the past few weeks trying to figure out the mechanics of what her team calls a "peanut butter shot" -- a shot that goes in the top of the net (the top shelf where you keep the peanut butter). She and I have spent hours on the driveway trying to lift that puck into the air. She finally has figured it out, and in warm-ups for her last game, she got a puck to lift a couple of inches off the ground. It was quite the accomplishment, and it was fun to see all that determination beginning to pay off.

God wants us to follow our passions -- he gave them to us for a reason. He wants us to be determined to finish the things He's asked us to do. We want to be like Paul who tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Make that verse your goal this week -- to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith in whatever God asks you to do -- even if it's not easy.

This hockey season, I learned from one determined 8-year-old, that you can follow the dreams God has given you -- even in the face of a world that tells you that you've deviated from the norm. Even when it's harder than you thought it would be. And even when it would be easier to give up.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Summer: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It's inevitable. No matter how polite and respectful you teach your kids to be, they are going to encounter other children being disrespectful -- whether on TV, at school or even at the movie theaters. And they're going to wonder why other kids can talk that way to their parents, their siblings or their friends and they can't. So they will probably try it out on you.

I tend to find that the longer the school year goes on, the more my kids like to try out being disrespectful. They are around kids all day long that provoke the teacher or talk disrespectfully to other children, and that behavior inevitably rubs off on my kids.

Teaching our kids to respect others, especially those in authority is important. If our kids can't respect us or their teachers, then they won't find any reason to respect God's authority. God wants us to teach our children respect because it matters in their relationship with Him.

I love summer because it gives me an opportunity to remind my children that respect is important. My kids are home with me everyday in the summer, and I can teach and remind my kids that respect matters. It shows love for others, and it creates better relationships.

1 Peter 2:17 shows us that God thinks respect is important. It says: "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." We want our kids to show proper respect to everyone -- their parents, their peers, their teachers and anyone else they come across. Spend your summer reminding your kids why respect is important.
  • Determine what areas of respect your kids are struggling with most. It may be they struggle to respect those in authority or they may have trouble respecting their friends or siblings. Put your focus on the thing they struggle with most.
  • Explain to your kids that God wants us to be respectful of others. God created every person that we encounter, and He loves them. That makes them worthy of basic respect. Talk about how having respect for others means that we don't talk mean to each other or take things without asking.
  • Have a "respect race" over the summer. On a piece of posterboard, draw a race track or a graph. Put each child's name on a bar of the graph or a piece for the race track. Every time you catch them being respectful, color in part of the graph or move their piece on the race track. The first person to the finish line or to fill in their bar on the graph gets a reward like choosing a family activity or an extra helping of dessert. Have a larger reward for the end of the summer if every child makes it around the track so many times or fills their bar on the graph a certain number of times.
  • Set the rules for respect in your home and post them somewhere. Let your kids help set the rules. Talk about the actions that show respect. Make sure they cover things like speech, actions toward others and how to treat others' things. Hold every child that comes into your home to these same rules. Make sure that you are abiding by the rules as well.
  • Institute a fine of some sort for disrespectful speech. Controlling the tongue is one of the hardest things for anyone to learn. Most adults still struggle with this. Put a jar out on the counter. Every time anyone in your family gets caught using disrespectful speech (and this includes tone of voice), charge them a set fine. At the end of the summer, decide as a family where you want to donate the money that has accumulated in the respect jar.
Spending your summer focused on fostering an environment of respect will help remind your kids of the need to be respectful when they leave your house, too. While you'll need to reinforce these lessons throughout the school year, setting a firm foundation over the summer makes those school-year lessons easier to handle.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Summer: Making the Most of Money

Did you know that money can be one of the most destructive forces in the world? It can break up marriages, bring down powerful people and ruin lives. Yet, money also has the power to save lives, put people in a position to share the gospel and fulfill dreams.

Whether money will be a destructive or constructive force in our lives depends on how we view it and what  we think we are supposed to do with it. If we view gaining money as the goal, then we will become greedy and  will hold tight to our money. If the only goal is to get more money, then money becomes a controlling factor in our lives, and not a good one. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

On the other hand, if we view money as a tool, given to us by God, to provide for our needs and to further His plans, then money is not the primary goal. With this viewpoint, we aren't owners, we're stewards. Everything we do with our money is then tested against God's plan. We control the money. The money doesn't control us.

Our attitude toward money makes a difference in how our children will view money. If we let the pursuit of money become a primary force in our lives, then our children will put the pursuit of money ahead of other things. If we teach our kids that money is simply a way that God provides for us and that our spending and saving habits should resemble His plan for money, we teach them to control money, not let money control them.

Summer is a great time to spend teaching your kids about money and how God expects us to use it.
  • Take a few minutes to decide what you want to teach your kids about money. Where are they struggling? Do they struggle with generosity? Are they indiscriminate spenders? Do they understand the value of tithing? Do they save?
  • If you want to teach your kids the value of saving, set a goal at the beginning of the summer. Plan to do something at the end of the summer. It can be a fun activity or purchasing something that your family wants. Set a jar or a bowl on the kitchen counter or fireplace mantle. Explain that when the bowl has enough money in it, you'll do or buy the thing you are saving for. Discuss how much each person will save toward the goal each week. When your kids get their allowance each week, put that amount of money in the bowl. Let them see mom and dad saving for this as well. When you reach your goal, talk about how saving lets us enjoy activities together without worrying about how we're going to pay for them.
  • If you want to teach your kids the value of tithing, talk about how God provides us with everything we need. The Bible tells us that God is our Provider. He provides us with the money that we need to live. He simply asks that we give 10 percent to Him to help the church minister to people. Every time your kids get their allowance, help them figure out what 10 percent is and set it aside to give to God. Show your kids all the things that our tithes pay for, from the church building to the ministries that your church participates in that reach people in the community. Keep track of your child's tithe all summer. At the end of the summer, show your child how much money they tithed. Then talk about all the ways God has used that money.
  • If you have older kids, start teaching them to budget their money. Having a plan for our money is vital. Otherwise, we have no idea where it goes. Summer is a great time to get kids used to living on a budget. Decide what things your child will be responsible for buying. Sit down and explain to your child that you are giving them more responsibility. Create a budget for your child -- it can be weekly or monthly. Write it down so your child can see how much money goes in each category. Then, give your child an envelope with that amount in it for each category. Explain that when the money in the envelope runs out, they'll have to wait until the next "pay period" to get more. This is a simple way to get your kids started on being good stewards of God's money.
  • Work on your kids' attitude toward money this summer. If your child tends to lack generosity, spend the summer creating opportunities to give. Set a savings goal for purchasing an item that a local charity needs or to go on a mission trip. Show your kids how God can use our money for good if we are willing to give it to Him. While saving and spending wisely are important, being generous with what God has given us is an equally important lesson to learn.
Most of us will struggle with money and greed off and on all through our lives. Instilling the values of good stewardship, tithing and generosity into our kids early will give them a solid foundation from which to face those struggles. But, remember, no activity or object lesson is going to have nearly as much impact on your kids as your actions do. If you put your child on a budget but don't live on one yourself, the lesson won't have much impact. If you spend time talking about generosity, but your kids never see you give away any money, the lesson will be lost.

Be wise managers of your own money so your kids can be wise managers of theirs. Implement some of these ideas or create your own focus, but spend time this summer working on being good stewards of what God has given your family.

There's so much to say on this topic that I can't cover it all in one day. Look for a weeklong series of blogs on teaching your kids about money later this summer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Summer: Fighting the Entitlement Monster

Have you ever told your child that the world does not revolve around him? It probably came as shocking news to him. Kids are born thinking they are at the center of everything and everyone else's needs should be secondary to their own. And this idea is simply reinforced in the first year or so of their lives when they're unable to do much for themselves and the household really does revolve around their needs.

Imagine the shock it must be for a child to hear the word "No" for the first time. You've spent the past nine months catering to their needs and all of sudden, you're telling them they can't have something they want. It must be a shock to their selfish little system.

As our kids grow, it can become really easy for them to focus only on their own wants and needs. My family lives in the richest county in Kansas. We're located right next door to the poorest county in Kansas. The difference is striking, but many kids who live here have no idea of the poverty that exists just 20 miles away. They have no idea that there are kids going to bed hungry every night just minutes from their doorstep.

My kids and many of the kids I know begin to foster a sense of entitlement from a young age. They think the world owes them things. If they want something, they expect to have it handed to them, preferably on a silver platter. It's not a pretty sight to see.

If you are noticing a sense of entitlement in your own kids, summer is a great time to work on changing that attitude. With the extra time in the schedule, you can broaden your child's horizons and help them realize that there are children in the world who live with a lot less than what your kids have.

The best way to combat entitlement is to get your hands dirty and get your kids serving others who are less fortunate than they are. Make your summer a summer of service -- in big and small ways -- and by the time your kids go back to school, they'll have a different perspective on the world.
  • Battling the entitlement monster takes time and planning, so sit down with your calendar and find some open dates. Mark those off as days of service. Explain to your kids that you're going to spend some days this summer helping other people. Ask your kids what types of projects they would like to take on. The more involved they are in the planning, the more interested they will be in serving.
  • Take a proactive approach at home to not feed the entitlement monster. It's OK to treat your kids to something special every once in a while, but saying "No" is good for your child's character. Make your kids earn their own money to buy things that they want. Make sure your kids understand how much things cost and that things like playing sports and going to the movies are privileges, not rights.
  • Talk with your kids about how there are people not far from where you live that may not have enough food to eat or a place to sleep every night. Explain that God has called us to take care of the poor and even promises to bless us if we do. Proverbs 22:9 says "A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor."
  • Choose some ways you can serve others this summer and curb the sense of entitlement in your kids:
    • Organize a food drive in your neighborhood. Have your kids create fliers and talk to their friends about donating food. Then let your kids take the food to a local food pantry. Arrange ahead of time for the someone at the food pantry to talk with your kids about what the food pantry does.
    • Take cookies to a nursing home and visit with some of the residents. Let your kids know that focusing on others doesn't have to be expensive or take a lot of time. It's simply a matter of putting others' needs above their own.
    • Check with your local children's hospital to see if there's a way that your kids can volunteer or donate supplies. Seeing children their own age in tough situations always gives kids a different perspective.
    • Check with a local homeless shelter to see if there's something your family can do to help out. A great experience for older kids is to help serve a meal at a homeless shelter.
    • Have your kids organize a book drive for a school or charity. Last summer, my girls learned that just 20 minutes from our door there are kids growing up without a single book in their homes. Having books in the home is a huge predictor of how successful a child will be in school. Organizing a book drive is simple, and people usually have books just lying around that they're happy to pass on.
    • Get your kids looking for ways to serve other people in their everyday lives. Encourage them to look for simple ways to serve their friends and family. Give out an award each week for the best act of service during your everyday lives.
    • Create care packages for servicemen and women who are deployed. Ask around. Someone you know probably knows a deployed service person. Help your kids put together a box for that person and send it to them.
    • Be creative. You know where your kids are struggling with entitlement. Target those issues with your activities and discussions.
With a little planning, a lot of discussion and a determined focus, you can start fighting back against the entitlement monster this summer. Creating a heart for others that shows up in serving others can be your goal for the summer. By the time your kids head back to school, they'll have a new attitude.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Memory Monday: Training Pays Off (Proverbs 22:6)

My youngest daughter's team lost its hockey game this weekend by one goal. (Yes, we're still playing hockey in May). Her team outplayed the other team and really should have won. But they didn't because their goalie is just learning to play hockey.

I think hockey is one of the toughest sports to play. After all, you have to do everything on a sheet of ice. Just standing up and holding onto your stick is an accomplishment when you first start playing. Add pounds and pounds of goalie gear and the fact that everyone is aiming that frozen piece of rubber at you, and I have no idea why anyone signs up to play goalie. Learning to be a goalie is tough, and you're pretty much guaranteed that you will cost your team a few games as you learn.

That's what happened on Saturday. My daughter's team's goalie stopped some really tough shots, which was a huge accomplishment. And he let some easy ones into the goal. In the end, it was those easy shots that sunk her team.

You probably know by now that if there's one thing my youngest daughter hates, it's losing. I really think she would rather cheat than lose. (Yes, we're working on that.) She's also not known for holding her tongue when she's upset about losing.

I fully expected to have to shush her in the locker room and have to talk with her about being encouraging to others on her team, even when they lose. So, imagine my surprise (and joy) when the first thing out of her mouth after the game was "You know, mom, our goalie made some really good saves."

I was more proud of her in that moment than I was of any goal she's gotten this season or any great play she's made on the ice. Despite her disappointment in losing, she was able to see that her team's goalie was improving and to celebrate that fact. I watched her during one of her shifts on defense go over and congratulate her team's goalie after he made a good stop.

These aren't things that come naturally to her. They are qualities that are taught and nurtured. Two years ago, her first reaction would have been to get upset about losing on an easy goal. Saturday, she wasn't happy about losing, but she was able to offer grace to someone else and focus on what he was doing well. That's a big accomplishment for her.

It's moments like these that make all the teaching, all the discipline and all the effort that it takes to be a parent worth it. This week's verse talks about the importance of training our children. Proverbs 22:6 says "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." Training our children pays dividends in their actions.

When our children make a shift in their attitudes and actions, it's a much bigger accomplishment than if they score a goal or make a great play. Because their actions toward others are a reflection of what's in their hearts. It's those hearts that we want to touch. It's those hearts that we want our kids to let God fill up with His love and His grace, so they can pour that love and grace out on others. When that happens, it's worth celebrating.
Starting tomorrow, we're going to spend the rest of the week looking at ways to be intentional teaching your kids certain topics this summer. Last week, I asked for suggestions of topics. So far, I've got money, humility and respect. Shoot me an email, leave a comment on the blog or on the Facebook page if you have any other topics you'd like the blog to tackle.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer: Don't Lose Your Voice

As many of you know, we had a rough winter around here. My kids were sick more than they were well. We are a family happy to see the warmer days of spring and are looking forward to the even warmer, germ-free days of summer.

However, it seems that illness decided to take one last whack at our family. Both girls spent time at home in the past two weeks with head colds and ear infections. Amazingly, as much illness as has been in our home over the past five months, I have managed not to get sick. Until this week.

I have a miserable head cold. My head is stuffed up, my throat is sore, and I've lost my voice. There's a lot of "What did you say?" going on around here. I have to resort to a combination of whispering and hand motions to get my point across. I will be so glad to be well.

As summer rolls around and we begin focusing on what we want to teach our children with the extra time we have, it can be easy to lose your everday voice.  We can get so caught up in our plans for the summer that we miss the everyday moments to teach our kids. While having a plan for the summer is great, don't let that plan become the only focus of your summer.

We want to continue to take advantage of every opportunity to teach our kids in the style of Deuteronomy 6:6-9. We want to use the everyday moments of the summer to pass along God's truth. Look at the opportunities that God gives us to teach every day. Read those verses: "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Make this command your purpose for the summer. Talk about God at every opportunity.

If you're at the zoo, talk about how God created everything. If your child is going off to sports camp of some kind, talk about the importance of being a good sport and revealing a Godly character. If you're hanging out in the pool, talk about how God is like a lifeguard -- he saves us.

Have a plan for the summer, but use those everyday moments to bring God into your lives each day of the summer. Don't lose your everyday voice in the midst of your summer plans.

Next week, the blog is going to focus on ways to teach particular topics during the summer. I'd love to know what some of you are planning to focus on with your kids this summer, so I can get you started. Leave me a comment here on the blog or on the Facebook page letting me know what topic you'll be creating opportunities to teach your kids this summer.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Summer: Creating Opportunities to Teach

A couple of summers ago, my kids had a case of what the Berenstein Bears call the "gimmes." You've all run into the "gimmes." You walk into a store, and immediately your kids start saying "gimme this" or "gimme that." It seemed as if my kids had turned into greedy children almost overnight.

So, I decided we were going to spend the summer focusing on those less fortunate than we are. I created a summer "camp" around an Amazing Race theme. We called it "Passport to the World." Every week we "traveled" to a different country where we learned about the customs in that country and compared them to the way we live in the U.S. We also learned about a missionary in that country and the work they did.

By the time our summer was over, my girls and four of their friends had a good grasp on how people in the rest of the world live and how fortunate they were to be able to go to school, have enough to eat and not be limited in their options for life simply because of who their family is. They learned six Bible verses and ate some different foods.

Their attitudes had undergone a radical change as well. While we still get the occasional attack of the "gimmes" in our house, more often we find our girls looking for people in need and trying to meet those needs. We've continued to work with the girls and teach them about unselfishness, but the roots of what they learned came from that summer spent "traveling" around the world.

While most of the time, this blog is about finding moments to teach in your kids simply as you go about your life, summer is the perfect time to set aside some time to create an opportunity to teach your children. Great teaching takes place in the spur of the moment -- and we'll talk about that tomorrow -- but if you create an opportunity to put the spotlight on a character quality or other subject for the entire summer, you can take advantage of the time to really reinforce the concept.

Yesterday, I asked you to create a focus statement for your summer. Today, I'm going to walk you through the steps to create your own opportunity to teach your kids this summer. Your opportunity doesn't have to be as big as our "trip" around the world. You can take a half hour a week to get your point across, or you can do something every day. The amount of time you invest is up to you. The important thing is that you make the effort to provide your kids with a concentrated focus for the summer.

Begin by making a few decisions:
  • How much time do you have?
  • Do you want to work with just your kids or do you want to invite some of their friends?
  • How much money do you want to spend?
  • Do you want to do it all at your home or do you want to go elsewhere?
  • What resources do you need?
  • When will you meet?
After you've answered these questions, sit down and make a plan. Now, I'm not much of a planner. My plans for each week usually are just a simple outline, but you may be one of those people who need a detailed plan. Whatever works for you is what you should do. Your plan needs to include the Biblical basis for what you're teaching, any verses you want to share with your kids, whatever activities you're going to do and any resources you'll need.

You can create an entire summer of activity focused on your theme or you can plan to spend a few minutes each day simply talking with your kids about a topic. Whatever you do, make it fun and make it memorable. Let your knowledge of your kids be your guide in creating activities. If your kids love crafts, plan some craft activities around your theme. If they love sports, figure out a way to get some physical activity in your time together.

Make the most of your time together this summer by creating opportunities to teach your kids because the days will slip by quickly. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." In our house, we've found summer to be the season for creating opportunities to teach our kids, mold their character and have fun together. I hope this summer, you'll find that to be true, too.

Next week, the blog is going to focus on ways to teach particular topics during the summer. I'd love to know what some of you are planning to focus on with your kids this summer, so I can get you started. Leave me a comment here on the blog or on the Facebook page letting me know what topic you'll be creating opportunities to teach your kids this summer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Summer: Creating a Road Map

Have you ever taken a drive or a walk and just wandered aimlessly? You might see a lot of the countryside and you might even discover something new, but when you get home, you don't really get the sense that you have accomplished anything. The drive or walk was nice, but it didn't really take you anywhere you needed to go.

We can spend our summers with our kids wandering aimlessly. When the summer is over, we'll probably have some memories of some fun times and we might have managed to teach our kids a few things, but we won't be able to point to anything big that our kids have learned. If we start our summer without a direction, we'll end it without having gone anywhere.

The key to a successful summer with your kids is to create your own road map for your time together. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm definitely not telling you to overschedule your summer. You also don't need a day-by-day schedule. What you do need is a simple plan for the things you want to accomplish for the summer.

Look at it this way, if you were going to paint a room, you would make a list of the supplies you needed and set aside some time to get it done. You wouldn't just paint the room with a toothbrush and some children's watercolors. Having a plan for your summer -- a road map -- makes it easier for us to teach our kids the things God wants them to know.

Yesterday, I asked you to pray over your kids and your schedules and ask God to reveal to you what He wants you to focus on with your kids this summer. Now, I want you to finish this statement: By the end of the summer, I want my kids to know ________________.

My statement for the summer is: By the end of the summer, I want my kids to know that God created each person with special gifts and talents to use for Him. Our summer is going to focus on the fact that God made each of them unique and not only should we be ourselves, but we should value others because God made them unique, too.

So, now that you have a focus for your summer, spend some time today asking God to show you how to teach that idea to your children. You might be saying, I'm not creative enough to do this or I don't know where to start. God is simply waiting for you to ask. He offers wisdom to everyone who asks for it. 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." Ask Him to point out everyday moments where you can teach your kids and to show you bigger, more planned events where you can create moments to teach your kids.

Tomorrow, we'll look at how to create some of those moments, and on Friday we'll make sure we aren't so focused on the big things we have planned that we miss the little, everyday moments that God provides. But, today, spend some more time in prayer about your summer. If God hasn't revealed a focus for your summer to you, keep praying about that, too.

Start creating your road map for the summer today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are You Ready For Summer?

I know it's hard to believe, but summer is just around the corner. As we flip the calendar page to May, my kids only have three weeks of school left. Then it's a seemingly endless stretch of lazy days until August.

I love summer. I love getting to spend lots of time with my kids. I love that there are a lot of days in the summer where we get up with nothing on the calendar. The hustle and bustle of the school year settles into a more restful pace.

Summer is a fantastic time to reconnect with your kids and focus on teaching them some things that they won't learn in school. It's a fabulous time to create some intentional moments with your kids to share with them God's truths.

But, that won't happen without a plan. For the next few weeks, the blog is going to focus on planning for summer. We'll look at how to get ready for an intentional summer and how to implement some of those ideas into your everyday life. This week, we're going to focus on planning for summer.

And that starts with prayer. I've found the key to a successful summer, like most anything else in life, begins with me on my knees.

Before you can plan anything, you need a direction for your summer. It's easier to be intentional about using the time in your summer if you have one or two things on which to focus your energies. Summer is a great time to work on attitudes and behaviors that indicate a godly character. With your kids out from under the daily influence of other kids at school, sports or activities, you can work one-on-one with your kids on those character qualities that you most want to see them develop.

Today, I want you to ask God what He wants you to do with your summer. Follow the guidance found in Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans."
  • Ask God to make this summer a special time for you and your kids. Ask Him to help you look forward to the long stretch of days with your kids with anticipation and not dread.
  • Pray over each of your children, asking God to show you the specific things He wants you to teach each of them this summer.
  • Lay your calendar before you and pray over it, letting God show you how to fill those days.
  • Ask God for patience and understanding for your kids as you all work back into a routine of spending more time together this summer.
  • Ask God to show you two or three truths that He wants you to share with your kids this summer. These are the things around which you want to build your summer activities.
  • Pray that your summer would be filled with fun and laughter for both you and your kids.
As you commit the days of your summer to God, really seek His will in choosing the things you will teach your kids this summer. You want to be ready to take any opportunity to teach your kids but having a plan for some of those moments means you won't get to the end of the summer and feel like you missed a golden opportunity.

Don't read this blog this morning and skip this step. I promise if you spend the time in prayer about how to best spend your summer, God will reveal exactly the things that your kids need to know. If we go on about our plans without submitting to God's plan, then we and our kids will miss out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Memory Monday: What to Do With Our Enemies? (Matthew 5:43-45)

I fully intended to start this week with the first blog in a series on getting ready for summer. However, I woke up this morning to scenes of people celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden. It reminds me much of the Munchkin celebration in the Wizard of Oz -- "Ding, Dong. The witch is dead."

As I watched, it struck me that this situation is incredibly confusing for our kids, many of whom weren't born or have no memories of Sept. 11. To them it's an historical event -- not one that changed their worlds.

I'll admit that when the news came out last night that bin Laden was dead, a part of me cheered. It's a natural human emotion to feel vindicated that this man who caused so much pain and chaos in our world finally reaped the consequences of his actions. Yet, another part of me felt sad that there are people in this world who are so deluded about their religious beliefs that they believe that killing other people is a part of their calling.

If I was in a dither about how to feel and what a Christ-like reaction to this news would be, how much more confusing is this situation to our children? Many of our kids don't remember 9-11. They don't remember the horror of watching those towers fall and knowing that thousands of people were still inside. They don't remember the heroism of the men and women on United 93. They don't have scenes of smoke rising from a gaping hole in the Pentagon etched in their minds. In short, they don't even have the context that we have for the events of this morning.

So, how do we explain the celebrations in the street over the death of a man who hated America? How do we reconcile that with Jesus' command to love our enemies?

Honestly, I'm not really sure. I can only tell you what I'll be telling my kids this morning and maybe that will help you with your kids.
  • If you have really young kids, keep the explanation simple. Tell them bin Laden had done some bad things and he was killed as part of a war. Remind your kids that God loves everyone, even those who do what we consider really bad things. But some sins have bigger earthly consequences, and in this case, that consequence was death.
  • For older kids, start with a short discussion of the events of 9-11. Your kids have probably been exposed to some of it at school. Give them some context for who Osama bin Laden was.
  • Talk with them about why some people would think his death is a cause for celebration. Explain how you feel about bin Laden's death -- whether it's relief or vindication or even joy. Let them know that it's tough to know how to feel about the situation.
  • Read and memorize Matthew 5:43-45: "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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Jesus calls us to love our enemies and even pray for them. Set an example of this for your kids by praying with them for bin Laden's followers. Pray that those people would have their hearts turned toward God and away from murder and destruction.
  • Explain to your kids that even though we are called to love our enemies, sin has its consequences. Bin Laden was the leader of a group that attacked the United States, with whom we are currently at war. The consequences of the choices that bin Laden made were that he would be a target of the U.S. as it fought this war.
  • Talk about how it's hard to reconcile the command to love your enemies with the need to capture bin Laden. Be sure to point out to your kids that by all accounts, our military gave bin Laden the chance to surrender before killing him. In that moment, he made another choice that had its consequences -- death. Bin Laden turned his heart away from God and made killing and destroying others his purpose. That purpose, which is opposed to God's commands, led to bin Laden's death.
  • Bring the conversation down to a level to which your kids can relate. Talk about how they should treat the people that they don't get along wiith. Remind them that God wants them to love and pray even for those who mistreat them. What a great thing it would have been if bin Laden had turned to God instead of creating destruction and mayhem. Praying for their enemies allows your kids to not be eaten up with hatred or yearning for vengeance.
As you deal with these tough issues with your kids, don't forget to ask God for wisdom. There are no easy answers for the questions your kids might ask about the situation. Let your kids lead the conversation and give them the wisdom they need to guide them through the tricky waters of this current event.