Stuck Between Seasons

IMG_0167.JPG

This morning, as I was homeschooling the last daughter and simultaneous trying to work out details for a women's conference I am coordinating, I found myself very frustrated. I was disappointed in myself because I wasn't able to post a blog last week.

Later, I was fulfilling an order from our store when I happened to glance up at the schedule for #Intentional Parenting 2015. March is supposed to focus on grace. Ok. Got that. Maybe I can write something on Wednesday, I thought.

As I put the packages in my mailbox, I passed a very interesting perspective in my flower bed--a daffodil trying its best to bloom in the middle of snow that hadn't yet melted. It is as if spring is trying to make an entrance, but winter's finale still continues. (We've had ice and about 12 inches of snow in the past two weeks and there is a potential of more snow for us later this week!)

My heart was stirred that in some ways I'm like that flower; I am stuck between seasons. I can see so many things ahead in the future and I'm working to see things move forward, but now is not the right season. God was saying that it's ok that I didn't post a blog. It isn't priority in this season. I need to keep my priorities in line with His perspective and finish my assignments for one season before I fully embrace the next. 

As I typed this blog, it was an ah-ha moment: Grace. God was giving me grace, favor I didn't deserve.  He wasn't judging me or condemning me so neither do I condemn myself. My takeaway from today: giving grace must begin with receiving grace. That's a great topic for a blog...some day.

Discreet Ways to Answer Difficult Questions

If your children are anything like mine, they ask a lot of questions. Questions that require factual answers are pretty easy, but questions about relationships and reproduction can be tricky. As parents, it is our role to guard our children’s hearts and to teach them a godly perspective in every area of life. Here are some suggestions for how to approach some tricky subjects until your child is ready for more details.

Answer only the question that is asked.

The story goes that a boy asked his mom, “Where did I come from?” His mother got very quiet, took a deep breath, and started into “the talk.” The boy listened patiently and his mother sighed deeply as she finished her last sentence. The boy quickly spoke up. “That’s not what I meant. Joshua said he came from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I just wondered where I came from.”

Sometimes we give our children more information than they need or they are ready for. Our family philosophy has been to answer the question asked. Sometimes the answer leads to more questions, but other times it satisfies the curious child until another day.

Keep discussions in a biblical context.

Please Note: I have substituted “socks”  for a similar sounding word, not because I am embarrassed to use the real word, but because I don’t want the article to be blocked by internet filtering software. 

Yes, it’s important to give your children the facts about “socks,” but it also important to put the information in the context of how God created it. Don’t just explain the details about the act, but give the context that when a man and woman are married, God created a way for them to have a baby that also gives the couple pleasure and causes them to grow closer emotionally. It’s also important for them to know that certain behaviors are 

Keep it simple.

Before you ever get to “the talk” you’ll probably get a lot of questions, especially if mom or someone close to your family is pregnant.  Here are some answers we’ve given to challenging questions. Yes, they are simplistic, but we had future discussions to expound upon the nuances of these topics. You can use anatomical terms, if you prefer.

Q. Where do babies come from? OR  How does the baby get in there?
A.  There is a seed inside the mommy that grows into a baby when God says it’s time.

Q. How do you get pregnant? (or some form of the question)
A. Several options: 
When a woman treats a man like her husband, there is a tiny seed in the mommy that begins to grow into a baby. 
Before I was ready to have “the talk”: Right now, your body can’t have a baby but when you can I will be sure to tell you.
Close to having “the talk”: That’s a great question. I’m not ready to have this conversation today, but let’s set up a time where we can talk about it real soon.  (And then schedule something, like a Lady Day, Purity Weekend for girls or Passport2Purity for boys or girls, and follow through.)

Q. How did she get pregnant if she isn’t married?
A. She treated a man like her husband.

Q. Is the baby in your stomach with all your food?
A. No, God made a special place like a bubble (or use anatomical term) where the baby can grow, and eat special food, and be protected.

Q. How do babies eat when they are in your tummy?
A. God made a special tube (called an umbilical cord) that connects from mommy’s tummy to the baby so the baby will have food to eat and grow.

Q. How does the baby get out?
A. God was so smart and made a special hole just for the baby to come out when it’s time. (Depending on the child and the specific situation, I may go on.) That works for most mommies, but sometimes it isn’t safe for the baby to come out of the hole so the doctor has to cut the mommy’s tummy and help the baby come out.  

Q. Where is the hole?
A.  The hole is close to the hole in the mommy where the urine comes out.

Q. What’s circumcision?
A. God asked the Israelite men to mark themselves in a way that mean that they belonged to God.

Q. Where is the mark?
A. On the man’s private parts.

Q. What is adultery? 
A. When a married woman treats another man like her husband, even though she isn’t married to him or when a married man treats another woman like his wife. The Bible says that the people who do that won’t go to heaven. 

Q. What is fornication?
A. When a woman who isn’t married treats a man like she would if he was her husband or a man who isn’t married treats a woman like he would if she were his wife. The Bible says that the people who do that won’t go to heaven.

Wait for the right time.

Obviously, the answers above are simplistic responses most suitable for the younger set. In time, there was “full disclosure” and complete explanations, including any scriptural references that applied. 

Our girls were all pretty curious, but one was exceptionally so. At the age of nine, she asked me directly, “What is ‘socks’?” I must admit that it caught me off guard. I’m sure I took a long pause, made a plan and then responded, “Oh, you mean on the standardized tests where it says, ‘“Socks”: Male or Female’?”  She told me, no, that wasn’t what she meant.  I told her that I didn’t think she was ready to have this conversation. (I was sure I wasn’t ready either!) I also promised that we would have the conversation in the future but that if she couldn’t wait, she should come back and ask me again instead of asking someone else. We went through this scenario twice before we finally had our Purity Weekend and I was able to answer all of her questions.

Later, I asked my sweet daughter what had caused her to ask about “socks.” She said that when someone mentioned the word, everyone seemed to react in a panic and she wondered why. I thought I had acted nonchalantly when the word unexpectedly popped up, but evidently my concern and fear were greater than my acting ability. It certainly made me more aware of my own responses to unexpected situations.

Remember, you are the parent. Don’t let anyone else’s time frame or fear that your child will find out from another source become the determining factor for your family. God can protect your children from hearing things they aren’t ready for and He will stir your heart when it is just the perfect time to tell them about the birds and the bees. I know, because that’s what He did with every one of mine. Trust God to direct you. He is faithful.  

Purity Is about More Than a 3-Letter Word

Pure: without any extraneous and unnecessary elements, free of any contamination

In a culture saturated with sensuality, it is a gargantuan challenge to raise children who are pure yet are also “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). There are many scriptures that call all believers, no matter what age, to live a life of physical purity, but there are also scriptures that call believers to have a pure heart and to think about that things that are pure.* 

Nothing Ever Changes

You may feel that purity is an impossible goal in the current world we live in, but truly our culture is not so different from the culture New Testament describes. Galatians 5:19-21 provides a warning to the believers in Galatia who engage in certain behaviors, a list that sounds very much like the challenges for Christians in our 21st century. Satan’s schemes haven’t changed, but neither has God’s call for us to live free from the contamination of sin.

In the scriptures it is clear that God calls His children to be physically pure, but there are also many scriptures that call us to be pure in heart—in our thoughts, intentions, and attitudes. God’s idea of purity includes being free from contamination like jealousy, anger, rivalry, envy, and anything else that doesn’t reflect who He is. Raising pure children in a pleasure-driven culture isn’t easy; it requires intentional parenting. 

Set a Standard

When God entrusts us with His precious little ones, He is asking us to be His agent, one empowered to act for or represent another, to raise His child as He would. Since Satan masquerades as an angel of light and children are not born with the wisdom and experience to recognize evil, it is our responsibility as parents to establish boundaries that reflect God’s standards. 

Setting a standard is important, but it is equally important to explain why the standard is important and to connect it to God’s expectations so that someday they will be able to set their own wise guidelines. It is our responsibility to educate and maintain standards in areas such as  interactions with friends, management of money, and use of media, just to name a few, but it also means that we need to hold our children accountable for impure actions or attitudes by confronting the sin and bringing correction—an infinitely more challenging role than merely enforcing rules.

Set an Example

When I was studying to be a teacher, I learned the saying, “More is caught than taught.” I believe there is some truth to that. Our children are observing us every day and learning about acceptable behavior for adults. If we have one set of guidelines for our children and another set for ourselves, it makes us hypocrites but it also demonstrates to our children that standards of purity don’t matter as much or at all when you’re an adult.  

If we want our children to be adults who live pure lives, then we must show them the way. If we want our children to grow to be adults who love God, then they need to see us loving God. If we want them to speak respectfully to us, then we need to speak respectfully to them and our own parents. If we want our children to be free from anger, rivalry and envy; then we must lead the way. When we set an example of godly character, we are saying, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). We need to be the kind of adult we want our children to become.

 

*For specific references, please see: http://www.openbible.info/topics/being_pure. Click on the scripture to change to a different version.

Why I Don't Want to Raise Religious Children

church pew.jpg

One of my 2015 goals is to read more but my love of reading is inversely proportional to the amount of time I have to read. (SAT study with our youngest is affecting my vocabulary!) I just finished Mimosa, by Amy Carmichael, and I am currently reading Thinking. Loving. Doing., a collection of writings by various authors which was an assignment for my teacher2b daughter at Regent University. 

Theology ≠ Religion

In the chapter I read today, the author recounted a story about a Christian University that had renamed the “Department of Theology” to the “Department of Religion.” He went on to define the difference between religion (the study of human beings and how they react with things they consider sacred) and theology (the study of God). It is an important distinction that is often not understood.

Religious ≠ Christian

As Christian parents, we want to pass our faith to our children and so we teach them to pray, to read their Bible, to go to church, maybe even to fast or tithe, based on Biblical mandates. These behaviors may inspire our children to become religious and devout, but being religious is not the same as being a Christian. 

Christian = Follower of Christ

Christians, “little Christs” as the word is translated, are followers and imitators of their Savior, Jesus Christ. They have a relational connection to the God of the universe who is the Lord of their lives. Their behavior isn’t based on completing a legalistic list of behaviors to avoid guilt, but a genuine motivation of love for the God who first loved them. Christians pray, not just at meals or in church, but to communicate with the Lover of their souls. Christians joyfully go to church to learn more about Christ and to serve and to worship God for who He is. Christians read their Bible throughout the week, not to check off an obligation, but because the Word is life, like refreshing water for a dry soul. 

Christian = Lover of Christ

And Christians love others extravagantly. John 13:25 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christians love. The only way we can truly love is to be filled with the One who IS love. Love is the key. When we fall in love with the God who created us and Jesus Christ who gave His life to pay for our freedom, I believe we will want to pray and read our Bibles to stay connected relationally, and to share God’s powerful love with others who have no hope. When our children see us live this way, they will follow in our footsteps and connect themselves to the God we love.

Lover of Christ = Light to the World

If we as parents only expect our children to do religious things and they obey, we have successfully raised religious children who may appear to be Christians on the outside. But if we set expectations by our example and encourage our children to develop a vibrant relationship with Christ, we will raise Christian men and women who will live like Jesus, pointing others to the Father through their extravagant love.

How Our Family Celebrates Valentine's Day

heart with hands.jpg

Our family likes to celebrate. We celebrate holidays and people and babies who haven’t yet seen the light of day. Valentine’s Day is no exception. In the course of homeschooling, we taught our young girls about St. Valentine and the historical basis for the celebration, but we also focused on Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate the love of God and the love of family. 

Love is Giving

Our sweet little ones grew up and somewhere along the line, our gift of miniature heart-shaped boxes of chocolates morphed into bags of Lindt truffles and Valentine’s cards carefully chosen by Dad and signed by both of us. But that’s not what my girls are looking forward to this Valentine’s Day. 

Love is Sharing

I’m not even sure when our tradition began, but I remember thinking that girls want valentines. They want to feel special and valued and loved. I figured that if they didn’t get that at home, they would search for it elsewhere. So 10-plus years ago I decided to share my valentine. 

Love is Faithful

Yes, I think it’s important that our girls know that their dad and I are in love and that I am his #1 woman, but celebrating Valentine’s Day with overpriced restaurant dinners and red roses isn’t the only way to show our love. The girls see how my husband honors and prefers me every day of the year, how we serve each other, how we have faithfully planned date nights every month for the past ten years, and how we want to be together. Just the two of us. As much as possible. So I don’t mind sharing for a few years, because after that he’ll be all mine.

Love is Honoring

Since my birthday falls during the week of Valentine’s Day, we have a date to celebrate both occasions and then we celebrate Valentine’s Day as a family. We try to honor the girls as we would someday expect their husbands to, by making it a special evening with dinner served in the dining room on china or our nicer plates. The menu usually includes a new recipe of something elegant, sometimes several courses, and always concludes with a delicious dessert. Sometimes the girls dressed up, sometimes dad cooked, and sometimes we moved a table into the family room. But the best is what happened after dinner. 

Love is Belonging

Every year Harold turns on the same CD, one that he and I often listened to while we were engaged, and then he takes a turn dancing with each daughter—yes, I get a turn, too! I love to watch the whispers, the giggles and the smiles as they each have their moment feeling special, and treasured, and loved. Sometimes the daughters went back for a second dance, sometimes they dressed up in my old bridesmaid gowns, sometimes sisters danced with sisters since our family is sorely lacking other male dance partners. But at the end of the night, each girl knew that they belonged to a family who loved them dearly.  

Love is Preferring

This year we were honored to be invited to participate in a special dinner event at our church on Valentine’s night. Of the two daughters at home, one was working late and we considered having the other join us at the event, but we realized that our youngest would probably only have two more Valentine’s Days with us. She was overjoyed to learn that we had chosen to stay home and that we will be continuing our Valentine Family Celebration tradition.  

Love is Timeless

Life changes so quickly but we never outgrow love.  Last year we celebrated with only the youngest. The other daughter living at home had chosen to be a part of an amazing regional event of Christian young people who were gathering for prayer and worship, another daughter was settled in Dallas, and another was serving as a missionary in Mexico. In April, our missionary daughter returned and that night, her Dad put on the “dancing CD,” held out his hand and said, “We missed our Valentine dance.” As I type this, I am still teary-eyed as I remember the love in his eyes and the tears on her face as she was once again reminded that she was special and treasured and loved by our family. Some would say that it was a little late, but love is always on time.

29 Reasons to Pray as a Family

Some earlier blogs mentioned praying at meals and before bed, but truly that is just the tip of the iceberg! Prayer is less about a memorized schedule and more about a lifestyle. Our children learn about when to pray by the examples we set.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.       Philippians 4:6-7

God wants us to bring all of our cares and concerns to Him--any time, any place--no matter how trivial they may seem in comparison to a world full of great need. If it matters to us then it matters to God. No matter what your situation is, pray. Pray alone, but also pray as a family in the everyday moments of life and watch God do amazing things.  

Pray

Pray in the morning;
Pray at meals.
Pray when your child gets a new set of wheels.

Pray when you plan;
Pray before bed.
Pray when you’re sorry for something you’ve said.

Pray when you’re worried;
Pray when you fear.
Pray when the next step isn’t so clear.

Pray when you’re lost;
Pray when you’re confused.
Pray when you’re about to do something brand new.

Pray when you disagree; 
Pray when there’s division.
Pray when you need to make a big life decision.

Pray when you’re angry;
Pray when you’re hurt.
Pray when you’re searching for a lost shirt.

Pray when you celebrate;
Pray when you’re sad.
Pray with your child when they’ve done something bad.

Pray when you’re lonely;
Pray when you’re grieving.
Pray when someone you know needs healing.

Pray when you’re shopping;
Pray when you lack.
Pray when you’re tempted to regret and look back.

Pray when you’re together;
Pray when you’re apart.
Prayer is a bond that connects you by heart.

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far

apple

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s funny how true that is. Many days I walk past a mirror and think, “I have become my mother.”  It’s true for our physical appearance, but it is even more true of who we are on the inside. The things I value like God, church, family, cleanliness, organization, and creativity are all things that my parent’s valued. No one ever said, “This is what we value.” Their behavior showed me every day what was important and what was not accepted or tolerated.

Our children will most likely become who we are.  

This is a sobering thought for some of us. We can so easily see our weaknesses and hope that our children don’t fall into the same patterns. But if those are the patterns our children see day after day and year after year, they are the easiest for our children to replicate. 

Do what I say, not what I do.

That doesn’t work. If we want our children to value prayer, we need to make it a regular part of our family life. If we want them to value serving, they need to see us serving others. If we want our children to guard their hearts and minds when it comes to entertainment, we need to guard ourselves and set an example. Kids, especially teens, quickly lose respect for parents who have one standard for the children and another for themselves.

Yeah, team! Hallelujah!

We are all on the same team. We are all learning what it means to love and follow Christ in every area of life. My husband and I may be a little ahead of our children in the process, but we certainly don’t have it all figured out. As a tangible sign to our kids that our family was a team, we changed our bedtime prayers. Each prayer begins with the leader: “Thank you, God, for our team.” Family: “Yeah, team! Hallelujah!” It was just a small way to say, “We’re in this together.” The tradition continues to this day. 

THE PLAN isn’t just about kids; it’s about families who are choosing to focus on becoming a reflection of Christ as they come in contact with the world and as they interact with each other. It isn’t easy, but I’ll be cheering for you. Go, team, go!

Tomorrow we begin with the first trait--Prayer.

The Perspective that Changed My Parenting

   A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999   

A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999 

Once upon a time, I was a mom of four girls, ages six and under. My life goal had been to be a mom, and I wanted to be the best one ever. But no one told my girls that. They argued and fought and screamed and cried and complained to go to church and said unkind things to our adult friends—all things that normal children do to embarrass their parents. I read parenting books, prayed, cried, and disciplined—sometimes for the same repeated disobedience many times in one day. Their character wasn’t growing, but my anger sure was. I considered myself a failure before the oldest was even 10.

Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Sam. 16:7)

God showed me one day that I was trying to raise “trophy children” so everyone would see that I was a good mom. Truly, my primary goal was that their outward behavior would be socially acceptable and make me look successful. (That sounds so selfish and ugly, but it's the truth.) I repented, and God changed my perspective. This time my goal was not a temporary behavior change for a particular situation, but a forever heart change that would cause them to make godly choices for a lifetime.  

When I asked my girls to do something or to change their behavior, I tried to connect my request to a Bible verse which helped them understand that it was God’s request, not just mine. This perspective had some unexpected benefits. First, it caused me to carefully consider each request and align it with God’s Word. I also tried not to ask the girls to do something that I could do myself, like retrieving an item. I also realized that when the girls chose not to obey, I didn’t take it personally or get bent out of shape about it, because I realized that they were choosing not to obey God. That perspective disarmed my emotions of failure because their obedience was not about me personally.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason doesn’t make it right.

God calls us to “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (Prov. 22:6), but it isn’t so that we’ll look like successful parents. That would be all about us. He wants our children to have pure hearts so that they will “shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Phil. 2:15) Our goal is to train our children to love God and to make wise choices that honor Him when no immediate reward is involved and no one is watching, to be bright lights that lead the way for others to encounter Christ. That change in perspective of parenting has made all the difference in the world for me and my family. Tomorrow we PREPARE.

THE PLAN

THEPLAN.jpg

Do the next thing.

Elisabeth Elliot introduced me to this phrase that continues to give me direction in chaos and confusion. I don’t need to formulate a complete plan. I just need to do the next thing. One thing. And then, do the next thing.

This is not an easy concept for a slightly OCD person like myself who really wants to start EVERYTHING new in January. The idea of starting a new habit or routine in April just seems wrong to me. But I have found that I can only change so many things at the same time and maintain those changes over time. For me, small changes over time produce big results in the future. After all, raising children isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. 

You need a bite-sized plan for a God-sized goal. 

As Harold and I were setting goals for our young children many years ago, I ran across I Thessalonians 5:23-24: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. the One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” This one verse helped us to categorize the goals we set for our daughters’ lives: Spirit—how they related to God, Soul—how they related to others, and Body—how they guarded themselves. My husband and I talked about the behaviors and heart attitudes that we believed were critical in the godly character formation of the girls and then created a list of goals for each category. 

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. ~Tony Robbins 

Achieving a goal begins with putting it in writing and breaking it down into smaller action steps. THE PLAN outlines the character trait goals that we chose for our family. I wish I could say that the girls mastered every one in the span of a year. The truth is that we’re all still a work in progress, but we look more like Jesus that we did when we began this journey. 

There is more than one way to raise a godly child.

There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to raising children who love and honor God. THE PLAN is only one tool in the sea of many options that helps parents to be intentional about raising godly children. (Click here for a printable copy.) It is a simple chart that suggests one or two character traits to focus on throughout the month. I’ll be posting scriptures, activities and ideas from our family that focus on that particular trait. You may choose to focus on one or both of the traits for the month, or you may focus on one trait for several months. You’re the parent and God will give you wisdom about what is best for your family. The goal is not a number completed; the goal is a changed heart. 

The first change starts tomorrow—PERSPECTIVE.