Monday, January 30, 2012

We've Moved

Looking for new Everyday Truth posts? Join us over at our new home at

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Introduction: A New Everyday Truth

Next week, I go to my first middle school parent meeting. My 10-year-old will be a middle-schooler next year. How did that happen?

The switch from elementary school to middle school is a big one -- for both her and her parents. While I'm proud of the lovely young lady my daughter is becoming, I'm a little wary of the change. My concerns range from, "How will she adapt to all the added responsibility and homework?" to "How will I adjust to giving her a bit more freedom that comes along with those responsibilities?"

Change, even good change, always comes with some bumps and concerns. But change also opens up a world of opportunities. My daughter will have the chance to try a whole bunch of new things and meet some new friends.

And through it all, God will be there leading her (and us) through the transition. Exodus 15:13 says "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed." If we are following Him, God is always there to lead us.

Like my daughter transitioning to middle school, Everyday Truth is growing and going through some changes. As this little blog has grown in the past year and a half, God has shown me some things He'd like for me to do in the future. This blog is hosted on a site called blogger. Unfortunately, blogger's capabilities are limited, so we're moving over to a new site built on a Wordpres platform. That means we have to switch our web address.

If you clicked through from Facebook, you're already there. If you get Everyday Truth in your email inbox, I'm hopeful that everything will transfer over smoothly on Monday morning. But if you wake up and are missing your Everyday Truth, head over to our new site,, and drop me a note telling me you didn't get it.

I'm really excited about our new site. It already allows me to offer you so much more than the current site. At, you'll find the daily blog, but you'll also find some free stuff, organized links to all of our Friday Introductions, a schedule of speaking engagements and some information on how to guest post on this site. You'll also find links to our Facebook page and Twitter along with a nifty little Everyday Truth button that you can use to link up to your own blog. In the next few months, look for a store where you can purchase Everyday Truth resources and an online Bible study.

So, head on over to our new home and take a look around. Leave me a comment on what you think and what you'd like to see Everyday Truth do in the future.

I'm so excited about where God is taking Everyday Truth, and I can't wait to see what God has in store for the future. I'm also thankful for all of you. Everyday Truth wouldn't be what it is today without all of you. As a thank you for reading, I've got a free gift for you today. Head over to and check out the Free Stuff area. You'll find a Valentine's Day download on 10 Ways to Use Valentine's Day to Teach Your Kids About God's Love. You can grab it for free until Feb. 1.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you at the new Everyday Truth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

4 Steps to Save the Day -- MacGyver-style

My youngest daughter got sent home from school sick on Tuesday. She stayed home again yesterday, but I had work that needed to be done. So, through the wonders of Netflix, I introduced my daughter to one of my favorite TV shows, MacGyver.

MacGyver was my favorite TV show when I was in junior high and high school. Besides having a cute lead actor, I loved how MacGyver could save the day with a stick of bubble gum and a Swiss army knife. Need to disarm a bomb? All you need is a safety pin. Need to stop a leak of sulfuric acid? Use a chocolate bar. MacGyver was a master at using what he had to save the day. Plus, he only used one name, thus upping his coolness factor.

As I watched this show with my daughter, I was reminded that sometimes life doesn't go as planned. While my kids don't often need to save the world from imminent disaster, they do often need to salvage a day gone wrong. They need to learn how to salvage what they can from a bad experience and move on.

My oldest isn't really happy with school right now. She's had a few issues with her teacher, and some of the girls haven't been very nice lately. She asked me yesterday how many days were left in the school year. A couple of bad days this week have her thinking the entire rest of the year is going to be like this.

We need to teach our kids how to perform a MacGyver-like rescue when things go wrong. It requires redirecting their perspective and using what they have to make the best of a tough situation. You see, God didn't promise us that we wouldn't have trouble in our lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). But the rest of that verse reminds us of one important fact: "But take heart! I have overcome the world."

When your kids have trouble, help them do their best MacGyver impersonation and follow these steps:
  1. Assess the situation. MacGyver was always looking around to make the best judgment of the reality of the situation. While things may seem dire at first, there's always a way out. That's not just a MacGyver principle, it's God's principle. God didn't leave the Israelites in captivity; He brought them out of Egypt. God didn't leave us separated from Him; He sent Jesus.
  2. Ask for help. MacGyver nearly always had help, whether it was someone he met along the way or back-up that he knew was coming. We have even better help than MacGyver. We have heavenly help. God wants us to ask Him for help, and He promises to answer. Teach your kids to ask God for wisdom in whatever their current situation is.
  3. Figure out what tools you have. In the first episode of MacGyver, someone says his bag isn't big enough to carry all the stuff he's going to need to solve the problem. MacGyver says, "This isn't for what I take with me; it's for what I find along the way." God provides us with all the tools we'll need for any situation. Some we may bring with us, like our faith and our attitude. Others, we may find while dealing with the situation, like wisdom and help from others.
  4. Use those tools to salvage the day. Using what he had, MacGyver always saves the day, usually just seconds before something is going to explode. Our kids need to use their tools to salvage a day gone bad. It might require an attitude change or dealing with the source of a problem, but by asking for help and using the tools they have, they can turn a bad day into a better one.
We're using these steps with my daughter to salvage the rest of her school year. We've assessed the situation and realized she can't get away from her teacher or the mean girls in her class. We've started praying about the situation every night, asking God to change it and to help her get through the day. We've helped her to realize that her key tool in this battle is her attitude. If she goes into the day thinking it's going to be terrible, it probably will be, but if she chooses joy in the morning, then it will probably be a better day. Last, we're helping her to realize that she can choose to walk away from the mean girls and she can choose to offer her teacher respect, even if my daughter doesn't feel she deserves it.

Rough days and weeks can be tough for our kids, but with some help from us and God, they can save the day -- MacGyver-style.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When You Miss the Moment

As I sat with my youngest daughter at the NHL game on Saturday night, I got a text message from my dad. It was an update on my older daughter's soccer game. It said, "Score is 4-3. E scored 2 goals."

I thought he was kidding, not because my daughter isn't a good player, but she plays defense. She rarely makes it across the midfield mark in a game, much less gets close enough to score a goal. She's scored one goal all season. And the one week neither of her parents are there, she scores two goals and apparently has the game of her life.

While we had a great time in St. Louis with our youngest (you can read about it here), I was disappointed to have missed my older daughter's stellar performance. It feels like I missed a special moment. And I hate that.

As parents, sometimes, we miss those moments. Oh, not just the goals being scored or the big events, sometimes we miss the teachable moments. We look back at our day and think, "Wow, I missed a great opportunity." And a lot of times, we beat ourselves up for missing it.

I wish I could have been at my daughter's game. I wish she hadn't picked the one game all season that neither of us were there to have the best game she's ever had. I wish I had gotten to share that moment. But would I have given up the memories we were making with our other daughter to do so? Probably not.

I could sit here and wallow in disappointment that I missed her game. But you know what? There will be other soccer games. I will never be able to go back and capture this particular moment in her soccer life again, but there will be others. There will be tournaments to win and games where she's terrible. She might even have another two-goal game, and I will be there for most of those.

Just like there will be other teachable moments. If I miss one today, then I'll just have to look for one tomorrow. It's easy to beat ourselves up over a lost moment with our kids. Sometimes we think, "If I were a better parent, I would have dealt with that better" or "If only I hadn't been so busy, I could have captured that moment."

We all miss the moment sometimes. And it's OK. Recognize that you missed it, ask God to provide you with another teachable moment, and move on. No parent is perfect. We all screw up. We get mad when we should be calm. We chastise when we should teach. We focus on rules when we should be looking at our kids' hearts.

God knows we screw up, and He loves us anyway. He loves us so much, He's always willing to give us another chance to do better. When we screw up, we need to acknowledge it, ask for forgiveness (from God and our kids), and ask God for help to do a better job next time. When we ask God for forgiveness, He gives it and forgets about it. Psalm 103:12 says, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." We're the ones that get stuck in remembering our failures, and it keeps us from moving on to the next moment.

Don't wallow in disappointment or compare yourself to another parent. God chose you to be the parent of your child. He's going to give you all the tools you need to do so. If you miss a teachable moment, He's going to give you another one. It won't be exactly the same as the first one, but you'll get another opportunity.

I won't get another shot to see the fantastic game my daughter played on Saturday. But I will see a lot more soccer games and a lot more goals. You might not get another shot at the teachable moment you let slide by yesterday, but you will see more teachable moments today. If you're not busy dwelling on what you've missed, you'll be ready when they come around.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 Things Moms Rarely Hear

I had myself a little pity party yesterday. Not 20 minutes after I put on my mommy hat (which comes after my blogger hat every morning), my husband had "suggested" (his words) that our room could use a little cleaning and my oldest daughter had not so gently reminded me that she needs a haircut.

Looking around my house as I did the piles of laundry, made lunches, combed hair and cleaned up after everyone, I had a classic pity party. It included tears, mumbles of "why don't they see how much I actually do around here?" and some not very charitable thoughts toward the other members of my household. In the midst of my mumbling and grumbling I started making a list of the things moms rarely hear.

1. "Thanks for making sure I have clean clothes." We're more likely to hear, "Why isn't my favorite sweatshirt clean?" or "I'm out of underwear."

2. "That was a great dinner. I especially enjoyed my vegetables." If you have more than one person at the table, you can almost be assured someone isn't going to like something you fixed. We're more likely to hear, "Eww. What is that?" or "Do we have to have this again?"

3. "Thanks for taking me to my practice." We're more likely to hear "Do I have to go to practice?"

4. "Thank you for teaching me responsibility by giving me chores to do." After nagging to get the chores done, we're more likely to hear, "I vacuumed last week. It's her turn."

5. "Thank you for keeping the house clean and picked up." We're more likely to hear, "I can't find my shoe. What did you do with it?"

We've all been there, haven't we? Sitting in a place where it seems everyone else's needs come before our own and no one, and I mean no one, appreciates what we are doing. Our tasks are no longer a labor of love but simply something we have to do instead of doing the things we really want to do. It's on those days when we want to throw up our hands, walk out the door and head for a beach in the Caribbean for a couple of weeks.

My pity party yesterday led me to this realization: Parenting requires sacrifice. It requires us to stay and do the laundry instead of walking out the door. It means we get up every morning, make the lunches, comb the hair, offer sage advice, help with the homework, change the diapers and wipe the snotty noses when we'd rather be doing just about anything else. Sacrifice means we give up late nights, evenings out and much of our own identity to nurture and love these little people who have come into our lives.

Lucky for us, God knows all about sacrifice as a parent. He gave up His Son for us. He did it willingly so that there would no longer be a barrier between us and Him. Hebrews 10:10 says "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." I'm not suggesting that we sacrifice our children for others, but I am suggesting that when God asks us to sacrifice for our kids, He knows what He's talking about. He's an expert when it comes to sacrifice as a parent.

I'm not going to tell you that this revelation on sacrifice suddenly made my day perfect. I was still a little disgruntled with my family when they came home. But it did offer some perspective. It made me realize that no matter how much I sacrifice for my family (my time, my energy, things I love to do), I can never match the sacrifice my heavenly Father made for me.

While I would love to hear those things on my list, I know that the sacrifices I'm making today will result in God-honoring kids in the future. When my kids are grown, I'll have plenty of meals at my table where no one complains. Someday, I won't be tripping over four pairs of shoes in the living room.

The next time you're making a list in your head of all the things you've sacrificed, remember those sacrifices now will pay dividends later. Even if no one else recognizes the sacrifice, God sees, and He's pleased. And when your kids have children, you'll be amazed at how much they appreciate all that you did.

Do you know a mom that could use some encouragement today? Take a minute to share this list with her to offer her a boost.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Memory Monday: One-on-One Time (Matthew 16:18)

We spent the weekend taking my youngest daughter to her first in-season National Hockey League game. We don't have a hockey team here, so we made the four-hour trek to St. Louis to see the Blues play. Her big Christmas present was three tickets to the game.

That's right, she got three tickets -- one for her, and one each for mom and dad. We left big sister at home with the grandparents. We didn't leave our older daughter at home because we don't like her or because she's a terrible traveler. We left her at home because we wanted this trip to be special, one-on-one time with our youngest. (Just so you know we're not leaving our oldest out, she got soccer tickets that don't include her sister.)

We made the trip with a hockey buddy of my daughter's and his family. And we had a fabulous time. When you have more than one child, it's easy to lump your children together as "the kids." We know that our kids have different personalities and different needs, but when life is moving at 100 miles per hour, we tend to think in terms of "the kids would like that" or "that would be tough to do with the kids." In our brains, we begin to think of them almost exclusively as a group.

That's why it's always good to take some time to hang out with your kids individually. I don't know about your kids, but mine often act differently when their sibling is not around. It's like they have two personalities -- the one that comes out when they're part of group and one that comes out when their alone. It's hard to really understand your child if you never get to spend time with him by himself.

Separating your kids and spending some alone time with each one reminds both you and them that you know they are individuals. It helps us focus on their individual personalities and character, and it reinforces the idea that we can't always treat our kids the same.

Jesus knew this. Check out how He treated His disciples. He didn't treat them all the same. There were times in the Gospels when He would speak to just one of them. One of the most notable examples comes in Matthew 16 when Jesus is talking to Peter. Now, Peter was a lot like my daughter in that he was strong-willed and could be difficult, but in this passage, he showed great insight. Peter answered Jesus' question about who He was by saying "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."(Matthew 16:16). Jesus then gave Peter words that He knew Peter would need a short time later. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)

Not too many days later, Peter would deny that He even knew Jesus. Jesus took the time to have a one-on-one conversation with Peter, so He would have Jesus' words in his brain when he realized what he'd done.

One-on-one time with our kids is a great time to follow Jesus' example and encourage them. When we get our kids by themselves, we can use that time to pour encouragement and love into them. That encouragement and love may hold them steady through a rocky time ahead.

Spending one-on-one time with each of your kids is also a good way to get them talking. Even though my daughter had a friend along this weekend, each family had its own hotel room. The window in our hotel room had a small ledge that perfectly fit my daughter's behind. She quickly decided her favorite place in the room was sitting in the window. She climbed up there and gave us a detailed description of what was going on outside. It was a glimpse into the things that fascinate her.

Spending time alone with each child also reminds us of all the things we love about each one. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that my youngest daughter can be strong-willed and difficult. This weekend we were reminded that she's also sweet, kind and fun. I needed that reminder to draw on for the days ahead when she will be stubborn, difficult and rude.

Make some time to spend individually with your kids. Remind yourself of all the reasons you love them. It will make your child feel special and the tough days easier.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Introduction: The Purposeful Mom

My kids are in the midst of studying for AWANA quiz, a competition between AWANA clubs that requires the kids to know the key concepts and scriptures they've been studying all year. The great thing about AWANA quiz is that it helps my kids memorize and retain scripture.

But a formal program like AWANA is just one way to get scripture into our kids' lives. We want to be teaching scripture to them at home, in those everyday moments of life. Sometimes, though it's tough to remember a scripture that applies to the topic.

We know that God intends for us to use scripture in teaching our kids because 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." As parents, we want to find ways to remind ourselves to use scripture as we teach our kids.

Jenn, over at The Purposeful Mom, has some great ideas about how to put scripture around your home, so it's not as difficult to remember those verses you want to use with your kids.

Jenn started blogging more than two years ago as a way to share what God was teaching her through His word. The goal of her blog is to "encourage women from a Biblical perspective in the spiritual, practical and financial areas of life. I want us to grow together 'in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ' as we nurture, disciple and love our children and families."

Jenn did an entire series on how to display scripture in your home so it's available to use with your kids. As she saiys, "Sometimes it's hard for me to think of a Bible verse off the top of my head (or at least an entire one with the correct reference). Having scripture displayed in my home makes it easier to encourage my kids with the truths of God's Word in simple conversation. All I have to do is look up at my "Wise Words for Moms" on the fridge or look at our caterpillar of verses down the hall and share it with them!"

When your kids are in the midst of a disagreement, it's not always easy to break out your Bible and find a scripture that applies, but if the scripture is on your wall or on the inside of your cabinet, it's easy to add it to the conversation.

Jenn also deals with other parenting issues on her blog, including some great tips on getting out of debt. If you're looking for some great parenting ideas, head on over to her blog or Facebook page and check it out. Be sure to let Jenn know you heard about her at Everyday Truth.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cleaning the Counters

My kitchen counters tend to be the receptacle for just about anything anyone wants to throw on them. Did you find something on the floor in the kitchen? Stick it on the counter. Did I ask you to clear off the table for dinner? Put all that stuff on the counter. Did you have something in your hands when you came in the kitchen to get a snack? Leave that on the counter, too.

It doesn't matter how clean my kitchen counter is at the beginning of the day, by the end of the day, it's usually heaped with stuff. If I let a few days go by, I can't even find my counter.

I'll admit, I'm mostly a clean it up every couple of days kind of girl. Cleaning off my kitchen counters is a never-ending chore like the laundry. As soon as I do it, I have to do it again. It seems pointless, so I put it off as long as possible, which just makes the chore that much more overwhelming when I finally get around to doing it.

This week, I started designating 15 minutes of my morning to cleaning off my counters, wiping them down and wiping off my table. I haven't mopped my kitchen floor this week, but my whole kitchen looks cleaner because the countertops are clear and clean. I no longer dread walking into the kitchen because of the clutter I know I'm going to find.

Yesterday, I was tempted not to clean them off. I had other things to do with that 15 minutes. However, I convinced myself that clearing the counters was important and spent the required 15 minutes doing that task. I was so glad I did when my youngest daughter came home with a mountain of papers from school. Instead of just adding to the clutter on my counter, I was able to go through those papers and keep them in a neat stack at the corner of the counter for her dad to look at when he got home.

Spending time with God is a lot like cleaning the counters. It's something we need to do every day, so our stress and sin don't accumulate. When we spend time with Him every day, we have a chance to wipe the slate clean -- every day. We get a chance to fill up with His love and grace so we can deal with everything that goes on that day. When we spend time with God each day, we clean out the old frustrations and sin, so they don't build up in our lives, making it harder to unroot them.

Hebrews 10:19-23 encourages us to draw near to God. "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Spending time with God, drawing near to Him, is a cleansing process just like wiping off the counters. Our time with Him cleanses our hearts and fills us up with the beauty of His love and grace, wiping away the ugliness of the things the world flings at us.

But spending time with God is as much a habit as cleaning off my counters each morning. It requires making a conscious choice to spend time with Him. Creating that habit is much easier if we learn it when we are young. Help your kids learn the importance of spending time with God.
  • Be an example. Let your kids see you spending time with God. Give them opportunities to see you studying God's word and praying. You might want to save the bulk of your quiet time for when the kids aren't around, but do a short devotional or read a few verses of the Bible when your kids can see you.
  • Make it part of the routine. Set aside a time in the day, every day, for your kids to spend some time with God. Even a 2-year-old can sit down for five minutes with a picture Bible to begin instilling the habit of spending time with God.
  • Make a plan for your kids' quiet time. Buy them an age-ppropriate devotional. Give them a Bible reading plan aimed at their age group. Give older kids a prayer journal to write down their prayer requests in. Giving your kids structure to their quiet time helps them understand what they should be doing during that time.
  • Talk with your kids about what they're learning during their quiet time. Ask them to share with you the verses they read or the insight they gained.
Spending time with God helps clean the counters of our lives. It allows us to refill, recharge and sets up our day to focus on Him. Teaching your kids this habit now will help them keep cleaning the counters of their lives as they grow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Turning Drudgery Into Love

My husband got up yesterday morning and reminded me he had to leave early for work as he walked out the door for his run. His reminder was so I wouldn't forget to make his lunch first. "Why can't he make his own lunch?" I thought, as I hurried through writing my blog so I could get done in time to make his lunch.

My youngest daughter announced in the grocery store yesterday that she no longer liked the lunch I had been fixing her, and she wanted something else. "Really?" I thought. "Isn't it enough that I make your lunch every day?"

My oldest daughter was unhappy from the moment she woke up yesterday after a restless night. She woke up in tears and went to bed in tears. "Why are you crying now?" I thought as I tucked her in last night.

By the time everyone went to bed, all I wanted to do was sit in a quiet corner. Two overtired children had made for a difficult evening. One was bouncing off the walls; the other was weeping at the drop of a hat.

I really didn't feel like serving my family yesterday. I wanted someone else to make lunches, make dinner, file papers and clean up the kitchen. Just once, I wanted to go through the day without having to pick up a mess that someone else had made. Just once, I'd like to walk through the family room without tripping over someone else's shoes.

It's the little things, like those shoes, that trip us up when it comes to taking care of our families. While it's not wrong to want our families to help out around the house, having a me-first attitude isn't what God has in mind for us.

Jesus gave us an example of how to be a servant leader when He washed His disciples' feet, a job usually reserved for the lowliest servant in the household. Washing other people's feet is a disgusting job, especially when those people either went barefoot all the time or wore sandals. I think it's way more disgusting than cleaning the toilets or picking up dirty underwear off the floor.

After He was done washing their feet, He said "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet" (John 13:14). Jesus set an example of how to serve, by taking on the lowliest task of the day, then asked us to follow His example.

We don't always enjoy serving our families. Many parents work full- or part-time, then come home to deal with everything that goes into keeping a family on track -- homework, housework, activities. The grind can become old, and we can start to resent our families, especially when they're acting less than grateful for our effort.

But God sees our service, and He smiles. He looks down on you every time you encourage a child when you would rather throw up our hands and walk away. He sees the lunches you make and the bathrooms you scrub. He sees the piles of laundry you fold and the miles you drive to take your kids places.

When we look at all of these things as acts of service to our families, we gain a different perspective. They're no longer chores. They become acts of love.

The day in-day out grind of life can wear us down. Ask God before you get out of bed each morning to show you how to best serve your family each day. Ask Him to help you view those distasteful or tedious chores as an opportunity to show your family you love them through your service to them.

Serving our families follows Jesus' example, and it shows our kids that service and love go hand in hand. By serving one another out of love, we give our kids a visual picture of what Jesus did when He washed His disciples' feet. And that picture is worth more than any words you can speak on the subject.

How can you serve your family today?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Empty Praise

I read an article the other day about how teachers are changing the way they praise children in the classroom. For the past decade or so, the prevailing theory has been that children need praise even if they haven't earned it. Schools started giving out awards and praising kids for things that required no effort or learning, all in an attempt to boost a child's self-image. The theory was that if kids had a better sense of self-esteem, then they would work harder in school.

All that empty praise has led to, well, nothing. Test scores haven't risen, and studies now show that kids who are given meaningless praise are actually afraid to try difficult things. Those kids are afraid that if they try something difficult and fail, they would ruin the image their teachers' had of them. Failure would mean that they are no longer as smart as their teachers had been telling them they were.

Researchers have discovered that kids who receive praise that is earned -- even if it meant trying something three or four times -- will try harder the next time they're faced with a problem. When the praise is based on their actual performance, it means something, and kids are less afraid of failing the next time.

God knew this long before these researchers figured it out. He gave us directives against lying and empty words. One of the first commands He gave the Israelites was "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). In other words, "Don't lie."

In Matthew 5:37, Jesus admonishes us to let our word stand by itself. He encourages us not to embellish our promises with oaths but to simply mean what we say, "All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

Our words mean something, especially when it comes to our kids. We need to avoid the trap of empty praise and instead use our words to encourage our kids to live a life that's pleasing to God. Constantly praising them for things over which they have no control (like appearance) or giving them praise they didn't earn makes our words meaningless when we praise them for something they did do well.

Try praising your kids in one of these ways:
  • Praise them for character qualities. If you catch your child being kind to another child or patient when patience isn't his strong suit, praise your child for it.
  • Be specific in your praise. Don't just praise your child for a job well-done, praise them for something specific that they did.
  • Praise your child in a way that encourages them to try something difficult the next time. If your child has attempted a difficult task, praise them not for the task but for having the courage to try something hard.
  • Only give praise if it has been earned. Don't give your child empty praise. Kids are smart. They know when they didn't earn the praise. Praise your kids often, but make sure your words are true and meaningful when you do.
Praise is important in a child's life. They need to hear words of praise and encouragement. They just need to know that those words are true -- not empty.

Monday, January 16, 2012

3 Easy Ways to Talk With Your Kids on MLK Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's easy to let this day slip by without acknowledging the significance of the man we're celebrating. It's the first day off from school since the holidays, and it's a day that not everyone gets off from work. It's easy to view it as a day we can sleep in and let the kids hang out in their pajamas until noon and never really focus on the importance of what Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished.

Prejudice is an ugly thing. It breeds hatred for no reason other than someone looks or acts differently than us. No child is born with prejudice in their hearts. It is a learned attitude. Whether kids learn if from their parents, their grandparents or someone else in their lives, kids who express prejudice toward others learned it from someone.

God isn't real happy when we judge others based on their looks. He made every person in the world, and He made each one of them in His image (Genesis 1:27). When we choose to judge someone based on the way they look, we're judging God. God never looks at the out trappings of beauty or skin color. He looks at our hearts.

1 Samuel 16:7 says "The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." God is concerned with the content of our hearts, not whether our skin is black, white or purple or whether our hair is straight curly or spiked.

Prejudice causes us to view others as less important and less valuable than ourselves. Prejudice has led to slavery. It was behind the massacre of 8 million Jews in World War II. It has been the reason for the slaughter of ethnic groups in Rwanda and Kosovo. It comes in all forms, against all sorts of people.

Take some time today to talk with your kids about prejudice and help them understand that God does not want us to judge others. Use these three quick ways to focus your kids' attention on the reason for the day of from school.
  • Give your kids a box of 64 crayons. Tell them to draw a picture. Then take the box away and give them just one crayon and ask them to draw a picture. Compare the two pictures. Talk about the variety of colors and how the colorful picture is more interesting than the one that has just one color. Explain that God created variety when it comes to people. Ask your kids to name the ways that people are different from each other. Explain that God wants us to love each other because He loves us and thinks we are all valuable, no matter the color of our skin, our hair or how we sound when we talk.
  • Take a walk outside. Ask your kids to find five different things God made while on your walk. Talk about how different all the things are that God made. Even trees and grass have different varieties, sizes and colors. Talk about how people are like that, too. God made all different varieties of people so we could all fill different roles in God's plan. He designed us for a reason, and He made each one of us a masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). When we choose to make fun of someone or dislike someone because of the way they look, we're telling God that what He made is no good.
  • Talk about Martin Luther King Jr. Find pictures on the Internet of "whites only" bathrooms and drinking fountains. Talk about what it would have been like to be a black person living in a society like that. Most of our kids don't comprehend how the world could have functioned like that. My youngest daughter probably has 10 different ethnicities in her classroom this year. She is always puzzled when I describe a world where black people couldn't do the same things as white people. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Talk about how difficult it would have been to stand up to the authorities. Talk with your kids about why it's important to speak up against injustice even when it is the unpopular thing to do.
God created a world with a huge variety of people. He didn't make one set of people more important than any other. He loves each and every one of us. Make sure you take some time today to focus on the beauty in all of the people God made.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Introductions: Chore Resources

Earlier this week, we talked about the value of chores. Today, I want to give you some resources to help you set up your own chore system for your kids.

We've had several chore systems in our house over the years. Some have worked well. Some have not. There's no one perfect chore system that works for every household. I know families who pay for chores in tickets and tokens. Those tickets or tokens can then be turned in to gain special privileges like watching TV or playing video games. I know other families who pay their kids for all of their chores and still others that pay for none. Whatever system works for you is the one you should use.

But how do you go about choosing that system? If you're just starting chores with your young kids, where do you start? If your system isn't working, how should you change it?

Setting up a chore system isn't difficult. Finding the right one for your family may take some trial and error. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources available to help.
  • Ask friends and family how they deal with chores in their homes. Someone you know may have a fantastic idea that you didn't know about. Sometimes the best advice comes from our own circle of influence.
  • Check out the list of age-appropriate chores at Focus on the Family. This list is a great starting point if you're trying to figure out what chores your kids are capable of doing.
  • Create a chore chart of some kind. Our chore chart right now is simply a dry-erase board with each girls' list of chores. This works especially well for us because I can create a new list every day. There are lots of chore chart resources available, but I like the variety of printable charts available at Free Chore Charts.
  • If you're looking for a system that's already set up and all you have to do is implement it, check out Accountable Kids. This is more than a chore system. It uses chores and privileges to create an accountability system for your kids. I have a friend who uses this system and loves it.
  • Use your system, and change it if it's not working. Your chore system is only useful if it's teaching your kids responsibility and you are able to manage it. Don't stick with something that's not working just because you've always done it that way. If it's not working, change it.
Chores are an important tool for teaching our kids responsibility. Use the start of the new year as a time to get a fresh start on getting the jobs done around your house because when everyone chips in, the work goes a lot faster. Like the Bible says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor" (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Use these resources to get your family working, and get a good return for your labor as you work together.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Process of Becoming

My oldest  daughter is in her last year of elementary school. She's been with the same group of kids since kindergarten. Her place in the fifth-grade social order is firmly fixed. She's the "sporty" girl -- the one who only wears jeans and T-shirts, puts her hair in a pony tail and can keep up with the boys at recess soccer.

The funny thing is that my daughter loves fashion. She loves to dress up at home and create unique outfits. Her favorite video game is one where she owns her own boutique and has to dress customers. She has a great eye for style, but you would never know it by the way she looks when she walks out the door for school.

Last night, she was messing around with her clothes before she went to bed. She tried out a couple of cute outfits and did her hair. I commented on how pretty she is and asked her why she liked to hide it at school. Apparently, she's worked hard at her playground soccer reputation and her clothing is part of her image.

We spent a little time talking about how middle school is an opportunity to change how others see her. It's a new school with lots of new kids who don't already know her. She can be whoever she wants to be.

These late elementary school and early middle school years are tough. It's the age at which our kids -- boys and girls -- are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. We call them "tweens" because they are in that stage "between" childhood and being a teenager. It's a time of discovery and learning. It can also be painful and heartbreaking.

No matter the age of our kids, they need to know they are loved -- both by us and by God. They also need to know that God is making them into all that He wants them to be, and every creation of God is beautiful. When your kids are frustrated with who they are or are so busy wanting to be older that they can't appreciate where they are, remind them that "becoming" is a process. It's one we can't speed up, and it's one that can sometimes be painful.
  • Find a picture of a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis. Talk with your kids about how a butterfly starts as a fuzzy caterpillar, then goes into its chrysalis and emerges a beautiful butterfly. Butterflies have to fight their way out of the chrysalis, but you should never help a butterfly to get out. Only the struggle to free themselves gives the butterfly enough strength in its wings to be able to fly. Talk with your kids about how growing up is sometimes like being a butterfly. It can be tough, but in the end, God creates a beautiful you.
  • Share Ecclesiastes 3:11 with your kids. " He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ask your kids to think of things that God has made that don't start out looking beautiful but end up pretty. Flowers are just green stalks when they sprout out of the ground, yet they provide beautiful color. Trees are barren in winter, yet they spring forth in bud and bloom when the weather warms. Talk about how this verse relates to us. Explain that God is always making us beautiful. Our beauty comes from letting God's love shine through us, not from some outer trappings.
  • The next time you see a rainbow or a beautiful sunset, point it out to your kids. Talk about its beauty, and talk about how the beauty just showed up. We couldn't see it earlier in the day, but all the things that happened weatherwise during the day combined to make the sunset or the rainbow. Explain that the same thing happens with people. God uses all of our experiences and personalities to create something beautiful.
No matter the age of your kids, help them recognize that they are becoming something beautiful. God wants them to be who He made them to be. Sometimes that process is confusing and can even be painful, but beauty is the result.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Different Perspective on Jesus

We're finishing our basement. Actually, we've been working on finishing our basement for about the past six years, but the past couple of months, my husband and I have been putting a lot more effort into it.

Last night, I needed to paint the drywall that's going on the ceiling, and my youngest daughter decided she wanted to help. Now, this is definitely one of those tasks that was going to take longer with her help than without. I was tired and just wanted to get it done, but I had been promising her she could help me paint for a while, so out to the garage we went.

I took up my paint pole and showed my daughter how to roll the paint onto the drywall. As I was doing that, she began to copy my motions and said "I'm imitating you." As she said that, into my mind popped the thought that we need to be imitators of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

You know, last night I was tired. My kids were tired. It had been a tough day. The last thing I really wanted to do was teach my child something. I almost didn't grab that teachable moment with my daughter. I almost let it pass. In my mind, I had already said, "Not now, God." But the Holy Spirit kept prompting me to talk with my daughter about being imitators of Christ. So, as I handed over my paint pole and tried not to get side-swiped with the paint roller, I asked my daughter who we should imitate.

Her answer was quick and simple -- God. As we talked about what that meant and how Jesus was a physical example for us to follow, I asked my daughter how Jesus treated others. We've been working a lot on controlling our words and being an encourager to others the past few weeks. I asked her how Jesus talked to other people. Her answer made me sit up and take notice.

"He used nice words," she said. "But sometimes he was kind of harsh."

Wow, I thought. Here my 8-year-old had noticed something that I had never really put a lot of thought into. When you look at the words of Jesus, He never uses discouraging language or puts others down. What He does do is call sin a sin. He doesn't mince words about the consequences of certain choices in life. And He was never afraid to call out the religious leaders of His day.

Too often, we have a tendency to paint Jesus as this kind, gentle man, which He was. But we want to gloss over the side of Jesus that overturned the money lenders' tables in the temple and who took on the religious hypocrites of His day.

I'm not really surprised that my daughter picked up on this aspect of who Jesus was. She's a tell-it-like-it-is personality. She also has a strong sense of justice. Reading about how Jesus stood up for what was right and told people exactly what He thought appeals to who she is.

We want to make sure we're giving our kids an accurate picture of who Jesus is. Jesus is both a kind and loving Savior, but He is also someone who stands up for what's right and doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to sin. We want our kids to emulate all of those qualities. If they're going to be imitators of Christ, then we want them to imitate all of Him.

Take a moment to think about what you're teaching your kids about Jesus. Are you giving them a one-dimensional view of who He is? Are you sharing with them the accounts of when Jesus stood up for what was right? Are you sharing the times when He got righteously angry? If not, start working those things into your child's impression of Jesus.

And don't ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit when God is asking you to grab a teachable moment with your child. God might want to teach you something in that moment, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Motherhood is Isolating

Last week, one of my friends posted on her Facebook status that she wished motherhood wasn't so isolating. She has three kids who are under the age of 6 and a teenager.

I've been pondering that post ever since. I never really thought about motherhood as isolating until I read that. I'm at a place in my career as a mother where I get out a lot. I chase my kids through three nights a week of practice, one day a week of Girl Scouts and guitar lessons and several games every weekend. I see lots of other parents.

But what I don't have a lot of time for is cups of coffee with a friend, a trip to the movies or lunch. Squeezing in time to meet with my accountability girls is difficult. It seems like we miss more often than we meet. Between working, blogging, speaking, writing and being a mom, those moments of refreshment with girlfriends are few and far between. There are weeks when I don't leave the house except to take a child somewhere or run the household errands.

I remember when my girls were little experiencing a different type of isolation. Having a toddler and an infant made getting out and about a challenge. Between competing naptimes and my own exhaustion there were a lot of days that it just wasn't worth it. Even though I was leading a Bible study, there would be months when it would seem like I never got to go because one child or the other was always sick. There were days that I would have given a lot of money just to be able to go out for an evening.

Here's the thing, though, God didn't create us to go on this parenthood journey alone. He didn't create us to walk through life alone. He created us to need one another. When we're feeling isolated, it's time to figure out a way to get out of our isolation, at least for a moment.

No one person in the Bible was more isolated than Paul. He spent a lot of years in prison, away from the churches he loved ministering to and the friends he had made. Yet, over and over again in his letters to the churches, he tells them how encouraged he is by hearing of their work. 2 Corinthians 7:4 says "I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds."

Despite his isolation, Paul was encouraged by the letters and emissaries sent by the churches. He loved hearing about their work. It kept him connected.

It's up to us to encourage one another. If you're in that stage of motherhood where you feel isolated, look for ways to stay connected with others, whether it's through the Internet, phone calls or even a once-a-month mom's group. Go to the trouble of planning an evening out every couple of months with some girlfriends. It takes a lot more work to stay connected when you have little ones at home than it does as they get older.

If you're in a place in your life where you have some extra hours in your day, encourage a mom who is feeling overwhelmed. Give them a few hours of your day. Watch her kids so she can go out with a friend. Send a note or pick up the phone and offer some encouragement.

Motherhood can be isolating, but we can break up that isolation by encouraging one another. That note or phone call to another mom can be the difference between a good day and a bad one. Take time today to follow the instructions of 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." Strip away some of the isolation of motherhood for another mom.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Memory Monday: The Value of Chores (Proverbs 14:23)

I had a conversation with a friend of mine last night about the helpfulness (or lack of helpfulness) of her daughters. She was having trouble getting them to help out around the house and do their chores. Her kids weren't motivated by money and had no innate desire to help mom and dad get stuff done around the house.

Chores always seem to be a battle with kids. From age 4 to 18, kids don't like to do work. As a parent it's incredibly frustrating to do everything it takes to keep a household running and then have to fight over things like putting your clothes in the dirty clothes and feeding the dog.

There are days when I think it would just be easier to do the chores myself. It would certainly be faster, and I wouldn't feel like an ogre. Yet, not giving our kids responsibilities around the house is a disservice to them. It deprives our kids of the opportunity to learn about the benefits of hard work and the consequences of not doing that work. I'd rather my children learn that not doing their work results in consequences at 8, when the punishment is no Nintendo DS for the day, than at 24, when the result is losing a job.

We need to teach our kids the importance of working hard and doing a good job, not because we want the praise of people, but because God calls us to it. When we put all of our effort into a task, we do it not to gain the accolades of others but to please God. God wants us to reap the benefits of our hard work. Proverbs 14:23 says "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty."

Over and over again in his letters, Paul commends those who have worked hard for the Lord. In Romans 16:6, he says "Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you." And in Romans 16:12, he says "Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord."

If our kids don't learn to put effort into the small tasks we ask them to do at home, then it will be difficult for them to "work hard in the Lord" when it comes to the big tasks God sets before them. Giving your kids chores to do helps prepare them for the work God has for them as they get older. It teaches them work ethic and encourages them to pull their own weight in a group setting. 

Yet, finding the balance between giving your kids responsibilities and expecting them to do them and nagging them to do them is difficult. We've tried numerous chore systems around here. Some have worked really well but have taken too much time or energy on my part to adminstrate. Others have been abysmal failures all the way around. There's no one system that works for everyone, but here are some things to consider in setting up a chore system with your kids.
  • Set the expectations from the start. Let your kids know exactly what you expect of them in each chore you give them. Do the chore with them the first time and give them an example of what you want it to look like when they're done.
  • Decide if you're going to pay your kids for their chores. Our kids have chores they get paid for and chores they do just because they're part of the family.
  • Make chores a priority. Set a deadline for chores being done. My girls can't play anything until their chores are done.
  • Create some type of chore chart, then expect your kids to use it. My girls have a list of things that have to be done every day on a dry/erase board in the kitchen. When the tasks are done, they check off the box for the day. This lets me switch up their chores when I need to. I don't nag to get chores done. My kids know where the list is. If they ask to play electronics or watch TV, I check to see if their box is checked off. If it's not, then I simply say "No" and leave it to them to figure out why not.
  • Institute a no complaining rule. If kids are whining and complaining as they do their chores, they're not learning how to do a distasteful task with a good attitude. Institute a punishment for complaining about chores. Ours is that I don't pay for chores done with a bad attitude.
Most of us would never choose to do hard work, yet God often asks us to do things that are hard or that we would rather not do. Giving our kids the responsibility of chores is simply preparing them to work hard for God.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Introduction: The Power of a Positive Mom

We've been struggling with negative attitudes around here this month. I don't know if it's the onset of winter, the long Christmas break or a lack of sleep, but the complaining and always finding the negative in things is getting on my nerves.

The final straw was when the answer to the question "How was your day today?" was "Lame." This response came after my daughter had spent the entire day playing with her friends. After having kids in my house all day, I was ready to throw in the towel -- and throw it at my daughter.

That's when I decided it was time to tackle the negativity, and I discovered something important. Ending the negative attitudes in my house starts with my own. Like it or not, moms are generally the barometer of attitude in our homes. When our kids hear us complaining about things or being super critical, then they think it's OK to act the same way.

I realized that my kids are picking up their complaining and negative attitudes from me. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure they could manage to whine and complain all on their own, but they're getting the signal that it's OK to do that from me. How many times do I criticize the driving of someone else on the road? How often do I complain about having to do my chores? How often do my kids hear me complaining about something on the phone with a friend?

It's easy to have a negative attitude. There's a lot that's not right in this world. There are a lot of things on my to-do list today that I'd rather not do. There are a bunch of people that I'd rather not deal with. But that's not the attitude God wants us to have. No matter what we do or who we deal with, God wants us to be a picture of His loving, gracious attitude. Genesis 1:27 tells us "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." We are the image of God to others. If we portray a consistent negative attitude, then that's the image others are getting of God.

So, how do we change our attitude? We don't. We let God change our attitude. If your attitude is setting a negative tone in your home, then ask God to help you see things in a positive light. Ask Him to remind you that even those chores you hate can be an act of worship to Him. I love the song "Do Everything" by Steven Curtis Chapman. If you haven't heard it, check it out:

I love this song so much because that mom picking up toys 15 times a day is me, and it's way too easy for me to forget that doing so can be an act of worship to God. It's much easier to look at it as a form of drudgery.

The best resource I've found on boosting my positivity level as a mom is Karol Ladd's "The Power of a Positive Mom." This book doesn't just talk about the importance of having a positive attitude, it comes loaded with practical suggestions for keeping your attitude on the positive side. She reminds us of the importance of prayer in keeping our attitudes firmly planted in the positive, and she offers great insight into how our attitudes affect our kids.

There's a lot of negativity in this world. It's easy to get drawn into a cycle of negative thoughts and attitudes. Work to break that cycle today because we can't work on our kids' attitudes until ours are in the right place.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Untangling the Rat's Nest

My youngest daughter has curly hair. Now, I have stick straight hair so it has taken me most of her eight years of life to figure out what to do with her hair. We've finally reached a point where most days her hair looks pretty decent.

Yesterday morning, though, we ran into a snag, actually, it was more of a rat's nest. It took me a good 20 minutes to work the snarls out of the thick hair at the back of her neck. It was a test of my patience and the thickness of her scalp. Needless to say, the end result was a frustrated mom and a sobbing child.

That rat's nest in my daughter's hair shouldn't have degenerated into the sobfest it became. After nearly three weeks of Christmas break, my patience was wearing thin. My youngest daughter has struggled with maintaining a respectful attitude over the entire break. The rat's nest in her hair was the breaking point for both of us. She ended up in her room for 10 minutes while I took a little mommy break.

Neither of us reacted in the way we should have. I absolutely should not have yelled at her for fussing when I pulled her hair, but she definitely over-reacted to the hair pulling. Not my finest moment in motherhood, but not my daughter's finest moment either.

Our morning turned out to be something like that rat's nest in her hair -- a big mess. Frayed tempers and frustrated tears weren't solving the problem either. We needed an attitude change for both of us.

So we sat in our recliner, wiped the tears away and took a new approach. Instead of talking about changing our words or changing our attitude, we talked about what it takes to be a good leader. We talked about the natural leadership qualities that my daughter has. We talked about how a good leader needs to be an encourager, with words and actions. We also talked about how good leaders lead by example.

The tears dried up and we had a good conversation about how God wants us to be leaders for Him. We want our actions to reflect His priorities, and one of God's priorities is for us to treat others with respect. 1 Peter 2:17 says "Show proper respect to everyone." Words and actions are all about respect. When we choose to treat others with respect, we are following God's priorities.

It's too soon to tell if our little chat yesterday morning will have a direct effect on my daughter's actions and words, but when our mommy tempers fray and our children's frustration reaches a tipping point, it can never hurt try something different.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Creating Conversation

Our after-school conversations with my youngest daughter go something like this:

"What did you do at school today?"


"You sat in the corner all day and said nothing and did nothing?"

"Pretty much."

In contrast, the conversation with my oldest daughter generally goes something like this:

"How was school today?"

"OK. We did math and spelling. We're learning algebra in math. It's confusing. One of the boys got in trouble for talking during our reading time. I played soccer at recess and schooled the other team. We're reading this really interesting book for read aloud. Do you think we can get the rest of the books at the library? We had an assembly this afternoon."

As you can see, I have one child who tells me everything and another child who tells me virtually nothing. I'll be honest and tell you that it's much easier to figure out what's going on in my oldest daughter's world than it is to figure out what's happening in my youngest daughter's life.

When our kids talk to us -- and they know we are listening -- we open up lines of communication with our kids that will, hopefully, stand the test of time. If we are modeling our parenting on God's relationship with us, then communication is key. God hears us -- no matter where we are or what we are doing. The communication line to God is always open. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says "pray continually." God wants to hear from us all the time, and we want to have an open communication line with our kids that lets us hear from them all the time, as well.

I have no fear that my oldest daughter will tell me what's going on in her life. She even tells me when she does something wrong. It's my youngest daughter that poses the communication challenge. To keep the lines of communication open with her, we have to get creative. If you have a reluctant communicator in your home, try some simple tactics to get your child to open up about the events of the day and his feelings.
  • Ask different questions. Instead of asking, "how was school?" ask, "What was the best thing that happened to you today?" or "What was the funniest thing that happened at school today?" Changing up the questions keeps your kids from giving you the same answers every time. It also makes them think about what really happened during their day.
  • Use a question jar. Write down a bunch of questions on slips of paper. They can be silly questions like, "If you were a dog for a day, what would be your favorite thing to do?" or serious questions like "What one thing would you change about today?" Use your question jar after school, at dinner or even in the car. If you can get your kids talking to you about one subject, it will often lead to a discussion about other things.
  • Ask your child to teach you something. If you know your son is learning how to do long division in school, ask him to teach it to you. If your daughter has just learned a new game, ask her to teach you how to play. When you let your kids teach you something they learned when they were not at home, it opens up opportunities to talk about what happened during their day while they were learning it.
Keeping the lines of communication open with our kids takes some effort on our part. It means we have to set aside a few minutes of our day to ask questions of our kids -- and really listen when they answer. If you have a reluctant communicator, it may seem like pulling teeth to get any information out of them, but getting your kids to talk to you about the things going on in their lives opens up opportunities to offer Godly wisdom and counsel. It's definitely worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hone Your Listening Skills

I got a new watch for Christmas. It's my favorite Christmas present. It's a girly Red Sox watch, with the Red Sox logo in the center, surrounded by fake diamonds.

While I love the Red Sox, that's not why my watch is my favorite present. My watch broke about two weeks before Christmas. My husband was standing in the room when it broke. I remember him asking me if it could be fixed, and I decided it would cost more to fix than it would to get a new watch. I hadn't gotten around to replacing it when Christmas rolled around.

My watch is my favorite Christmas present because it required my husband to pay attention to what was happening in my world. He had to know that my watch was broken, then he had to pick out something he knew I would like. I would have been happy with a regular new watch, but I love my Red Sox watch. It fits me to a T. When it comes to presents, this one is a home run. Every time I look at it, I feel loved.

Giving our kids what they need requires the same process as the one my husband went through when he bought me a watch for Christmas. We have to pay attention to what they are saying -- and sometimes to what they are not saying -- then choose to give them what they need in a the form that's most appropriate for that particular child.

It's easy to get so caught up in the daily to-dos of life that we stop listening to our kids. We can miss important cues and cries for help when we're focused on the next thing in the schedule instead of on what our kids are really saying.

As we leave the relaxed days of Christmas break behind and jump back into the daily grind of work, school, sports and activities, make it a point to make time to listen to your kids. Set aside a few minutes in your day to talk with your kids about what's going on in their lives. Whether it's at bedtime, the breakfast table or in the car on the way to soccer practice, get your kids talking and take the time to listen.

When our kids are talking to us, we need to listen. If we don't, our kids will stop talking. Listening to our kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. By listening, we let them know we think they are important and their thoughts are valuable.

It's easy to think that in the grand scheme of the world, our kids troubles with their friends or their worries about monsters in the closet aren't that important. We all know that those childhood worries and fears will disappear as they grow. But how our kids learn to deal with those thiings now will shape how they deal with larger troubles and fears in the future. When we jump in to offer advice and direction without really listening, we run the risk of teaching our kids bad habits in dealing with the tough issues in life. Proberbs 18:13 says "To answer before listening—that is folly and shame."

As we embark back into the routine of this new year, make it a point to listen to your kids. You won't be sorry you did.

Having trouble getting your kids to talk to you? Don't miss tomorrow's blog on creative ways to get your kids talking.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Memory Monday: A Lesson in Integrity (Proverbs 22:1)

My youngest daughter learned a lot this weekend. No, we didn't make her spend the holiday weekend studying history, English and geography. We let her play hockey, hockey and more hockey.

She played in her first ever hockey tournament on Friday and Saturday. Her team finished in sixth place out of seven teams with a 2-2 record. She had a hat trick and a couple of other goals. And she learned some important life lessons about fairness, losing and leadership.

The most important thing she learned this weekend, though, was that how you play the game matters more than the points on the scoreboard. She learned that when you walk off the ice, putting a W in the win column is nice, but being able to hold your head up and know that you played with integrity is even more important.

After a great game on Friday night where her team played well and won, they had to play a really tough team Saturday morning. While my daughter was playing with her regular house league team, the other team had been put together specifically for the tournament, with the goal of winning it. About midway through the first period, the other team started sending their best player out for double shifts. Neither of those things broke any rules, but double shifting in a house league tournament goes against the spirit of house league hockey, where it's all about letting the kids have an equal chance to play.

Our coaches had a choice: they could continue to play our kids evenly or they could put our best players on the ice more often. Our coaches switched up which kids played together, but they kept the playing time equal for all of our kids. We lost -- by a lot. The kids were disappointed, but it was a great opportunity for my youngest to learn that while others don't always play "fair," sticking with the high road is always better in the end.

Losing that game cost my daughter's team any chance for a place in the championship game. Yet every child on her team got to play. They played hard and they left their best effort on the ice -- and they did it within the spirit of the rules of the game.

Proverbs 22:1 tells us "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." A tournament championship would have been nice, but it would have come at the cost of a "good name." My daughter's coaches provided a perfect example of playing with integrity for my daughter. While she was less than happy with the score of the game, she learned a lesson much more valuable than any trophy she can set on a shelf.

We need to make sure we're surrounding our kids with adults who show integrity. We can't expect them to learn to make the right choices if all the adults in their lives are cutting corners and looking out only for themselves.

It's important for our kids to see adults making choices that show integrity. And it's equally important that we talk about those moments with our kids. They can happen in the grocery store, in the car or even at the ice rink. As parents, we need to take notice of those moments and use them to teach our children that the right choices are always right, even when the immediate result isn't what we want.

And, remember, all the teaching in the world does nothing if we aren't living up to those standards ourselves. Our kids need to see us making the right choice even when it's hard. It's the only way they can learn what integrity means.