February 5, 2019

More Than Worth It

There’s no doubt that parenting kids to maturity is exhausting and stressful; I’ve walked most of the journey with my children and now teeter on the cusp of being “done.” In other words, I’ve been-there-done-that, so to speak, and know the angst firsthand.

Along the way, I’ve had my share of feeling at my wit’s end. For example, about eight years ago, one of my daughters went through a long bout with insomnia-induced anxiety. Every night for several months, she struggled to get to sleep at a “normal” time, and the longer she remained awake – while also seeing her sister fall asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow – the more anxious she grew. Unsurprisingly, her increasing anxiety as the hours wore on fed her insomnia, pulling her into a terrible emotional vortex every single night. She even started to get anxious each evening after dinner, anticipating the stress bedtime would bring.

Hearkening back to my childhood – in which, unfortunately, my fears and anxieties were ignored with a “just suck it up” attitude – I determined to break that chain and committed to being physically and emotionally present for my daughter in her struggle. So, I began laying with her each night at bedtime, during which we had some of the best conversations imaginable. Then I prayed over her, reminded her to breathe deeply and relax, and stayed with her until she was asleep. Sometimes I fell asleep too and stayed there most or all of the night!

For a few days – or even if it had been a couple of weeks – this was fine. However, as the issue extended into multiple months, it took its toll. My daughter was less stressed…but that transferred to me as I felt I was being held “prisoner” by my nine-year old’s anxiety. Of course, I also struggled with wondering about the balance between helping and enabling, concerned that my nightly routine might be harming my daughter, even as I also knew I could not in good conscience abandon her to deal with it entirely on her own.

To make a long story short, I began earnestly praying for discernment even as I continued asking the Lord to heal my girl’s mind and heart. Some nights, He clearly told me to stay with her; other nights, I felt led to coach her a little and then give her space to work it out. And over time – as she learned to accept that God had designed her to need less sleep than her sister and to lean on Him when she was afraid – she got better.

As I look back at that time, I feared my child’s anxiety would never end, and I wrestled with plenty of frustration. It was good that I stepped back incrementally once I’d given my daughter some tools to use on her own. But I don’t regret for a minute the nights I “lost” in taking care of her. I see now that God used my choice to be fully present for her to strengthen her security in me and in Him, and no one who knows her now would ever guess at the anxiety that once plagued her. “Being there” for her – hard as it was some nights – was more than worth it.


January 22, 2019

We Must Have Moments

My two teen daughters now work and volunteer, taking them away from home during the late afternoon and evening several days a week. My husband and I eat dinner while they’re gone, and they each grab something when they get back, often retreating to their bedrooms for some mental and emotional downtime. In many ways, we miss our routine from years past – we ate together every night, played and talked together afterward, and had family read-aloud time before bed – but we’re purposing to adjust to current realities by prioritizing family time whenever we can.

Many parents I know feel horribly guilty about not having continuous family time. And that’s a shame. My husband and I could demand that the girls not have jobs or serve others so they’d be home every night. But we’re seeking to help them launch into life as productive young adults so insisting they remain insular would defeat that purpose. The daughter of a friend is an extremely gifted dancer – she’ll likely attend a fine arts high school in another state beginning this coming fall – and in order to hone her craft, she must attend long rehearsals several nights a week. They could forbid her from being away from home so much, but to what end? Parents sometimes have church or work meetings during typical family time.

It is, of course, vitally important that we prioritize our outside-the-home activities and not over-schedule ourselves or our kids. We absolutely need time together to grow and maintain strong family bonds, and we should carve out as much time as possible. But we need balance as well, realizing that our time together will sometimes be justifiably more limited than we might prefer.

The key to remaining unified is to be fully present when we are together.

When we go to a restaurant as a family, phones should remain silenced and put away so that real-life conversation can flow. We should keep the radio off and earbuds out during car rides together, when many significant conversations might develop. When a child comes to us hurting, we must put him – not a Facebook status update – first. It’s imperative that we sit down with our kids to build with Legos, play with dolls, play board games, and assemble puzzles; handing them devices loaded with educational apps is no substitute for our full presence with them whenever possible. Our kids – and our spouses – must, of course, have our physical presence, but they need our full attention along with our bodies.

Don’t guilt yourself about time you legitimately cannot be all together. Be realistic about the fact that you’ll sometimes all be home but each doing his or her own thing. But choose to be mindful, aware, and intentional about making space to be fully present with your spouse and each child in some way every day. Oftentimes it’s the little moments that count most, but we need to have those moments in order to make them count.


January 8, 2019

Caring for Your Family by Caring for Yourself

I once knew a mom who rarely spent any time with her young daughter. She worked full-time, not out of financial necessity but simply because she wanted to feel “important” and “fulfilled” and made it clear that being “just a mom” didn’t fit that bill. She dropped her child off at the babysitter’s by 7AM and either went shopping or out for drinks with colleagues every night while her husband retrieved the child from daycare. She also took weekend “me-time” trips two or three times a month, leaving her daughter with her husband, mother, or in-laws. And she once “bragged” to me that her life had barely changed since the baby’s birth, smiling broadly as she said, “I hardly ever have to spend more than an hour with her on weekdays. I get home and then it’s pretty much her bedtime and I have four or five hours to myself again before I go to bed. Most of the time it’s like she’s not even here.” 

Sensitive moms – whether or not we also have paid jobs – obviously don’t want to be like that. We care deeply for our children and husbands, and we want to manage our homes well. Thus, we wrestle with finding time to take care of ourselves and feel guilty taking it when we do find it. We’d never dream of denying our kids or husband opportunities for spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and relational growth and development. But, because of “mom-guilt,” we squash our own needs for the same. Commendable as our commitment is in the midst of an entitlement-oriented, self-centered culture, we then too often find ourselves teetering on the edge of exhaustion and burnout.

That selfish woman I knew wanted her time for herself; she pursued her activities to make herself feel good. She never saw it while I knew her, but her underlying motivations were just wrong. However, if we purpose to carve out some time for ourselves with another goal in mind – i.e., so we’ll find refreshment for our bodies, minds, and souls that will enable us to then be better in our roles as mother and wife – we need not feel guilty at all. And, if we’re intentional as we plan our days, we can find and maintain balance so that we don’t go overboard and become self-centered in our self-care.

I really enjoy exercising, but in the last few years I’d allowed work demands and excuses to push regular trips to the gym off my schedule. Unfortunately, I paid the price, physically, emotionally, and even mentally. But shortly before the start of the new year, I got so sick of feeling sick and tired that I decided to prioritize working out again. For the first few days, trekking to the gym felt like a chore. But within a week my desire to stick to it kicked in, and now my husband and kids are benefitting because I have more energy, and I’m more content and peaceful. In other words, the hour I spend away from home each day enables me to be much more fully present when I return.

What’s one way you can commit to caring for your family by caring for yourself this year?


Photo Credit: Marko

December 22, 2018

It’s Your Choice

Even though a short study of the details described in Luke 1 show us with certainty that Jesus was actually born in the fall – during the Jewish month of Tishrei, which corresponds to September/October on the Gregorian calendar – celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 first occurred in 336AD by the decree of the Roman emperor Constantine, who had claimed a conversion to Christianity. And a few years later, Pope Julius I declared that December 25 would be the official day of celebration within the Church. Purposely or not, this timeframe coincided with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, an Italian harvest celebration dedicated to the Roman god Saturn. Without thinking much of it, new Gentile converts to Christianity carried many practices common to Saturnalia into their Christmas celebrations, and that ancient syncretism is the root of our culture’s odd mix of secular and sacred at this time of year.

Nearly 1700 years later, it’s highly unlikely that these two threads will be unwoven any time soon. Those who want a secular Christmas – which is, of course, an amusing oxymoron since Christmas means “Christ’s mass” – must wrangle with nativity scenes, religious carols, and invitations to Christmas Eve church services. And folks who want Jesus to be the reason for the season are stuck with the conspicuous consumption and rowdy parties prevalent during Saturnalia, as well as more modern secular manifestations like reindeer, snowmen, and fruitcake.

Whatever our personal preferences, we can each choose to let this unavoidable tension make us angry and combative…or not. The cultural reality is what it is, and it’s not going to change. But how we respond is up to each of us, individually. It’s a choice.

And knowing history can help us to choose peace and grace. In truth, it’s inaccurate to say that secularism has “ruined” Christmas because, in reality, early Christians co-opted and overtook what was originally a secular holiday. But – just as He promised – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has been the single-most influential set of events in human history, and its effects have rippled far and wide across time and around the globe. Thus, there is no real “Christmas war.” December 25 – and the days and weeks surrounding it on either side – are not just secular and not only sacred. This is truly a case of both-and, not either-or.

So, think through your worldview perspective in a very conscious way, and then intentionally choose which cultural traditions you want to employ to support your values. Do teach them to your children “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6.7). But then choose to ignore – without malice – other traditions. Your non-Christian neighbor is celebrating in the tradition of the end-of-year pagan Saturnalia festival. You’re wanting to mark Jesus’ nativity, albeit about three months too late. Pray, of course, for your neighbor to come to Christ, but give grace no matter what, knowing that, in reality, you’re both participating in long-held cultural traditions and no one has “stolen” anything from anyone else.

You can stress and fret, or you can enjoy a merry Christmas as you see fit. It’s your choice.


November 27, 2018

But Jesus...

My friend Bobbie lives in Paradise, California – or at least she did until nearly the entire town burned to the ground earlier this month. Two weeks after the fire started, she and her husband were allowed back in and discovered that their home – though heavily smoke-damaged – still stands, as does her father-in-law’s. But her daughter’s home, her father-in-law’s business, and her church have been reduced to ashes. Her entire extended family escaped with their lives, but many of her friends and neighbors have lost loved ones.

My friend and one-time homeschool mentor, Wendy, had brain surgery a couple of weeks ago. The doctors removed most of a tumor that was blessedly benign. However, they couldn’t get it all because part of it is entwined with blood vessels, and they’re not sure if she’ll regain full vision in her left eye. Even if clear sight returns, she faces months of physical and neurological healing.
My friend and surrogate father, Jerry, has been wrestling with Stage 4 prostate cancer for over two years. It remained mostly at bay for a long time, but earlier this fall he took a serious turn for the worse.  Through a series of miraculous circumstances, he was able to travel to an alternative treatment facility in Mexico, where he miraculously bounced back. And now he’s home, following the clinic’s protocols, hoping for news of healing in a few weeks.

My brother Tom had minor surgery in September that somehow unleased what has become a virulent bacterial infection into his system. He was hospitalized twice since the initial procedure, and then endured a 30-day course of strong antibiotics delivered daily via PICC line. The specialists with whom he and his wife have consulted don’t expect the infection to return again but, as I write, Tom is in a holding pattern, hoping to avoid having any symptoms indicating that “the little buggers” have somehow survived the IV treatment.

My loved ones’ responses to their struggles both chastise and encourage me. Wendy’s vision may not be fully restored, but she – ever the optimist – jokes about her new hairdo and makes tumor jokes with her adoring husband and five sweet kids, focusing on the joy of being alive. Bobbie isn’t sure how they’ll rebuild Paradise, but she’s committing to stay and be Jesus’ hands and feet amidst the rubble. The bacteria plaguing Tom might return, but he’s living each day on faith that it won’t. Jerry’s long-term prognosis is uncertain at best, yet he smiles and laughs and appreciates the little things, just as he always has.

As they tell their stories, they recount reality without sugar-coating. But then each consciously chooses to make a mental shift and say, “But Jesus…” because they know Romans 8.28: “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

As one of my pastors used to say, if you’re not in the midst of a struggle at the moment, you’re either coming out of one or getting ready to enter one. That’s just reality in our beautiful but still fallen world. If you’re like me, you might not respond to that as well as my loved ones. But I’m trying to remind myself that having gratitude and faith is a choice. No matter what each of us faces day by day, we can always decide to say, “But Jesus…”

UPDATE: Jerry went Home to be with Jesus on December 7. He'd come to terms a few days before his passing that it was the Lord's will to heal him in Heaven, not here. And now he is fully healed. Those of us who love him are heartbroken for our loss even as we rejoice that he is whole again in the presence of the Savior he served for so many years.


November 13, 2018

Front-Loading Focus

 My husband and I have just wrapped up six months of focused training with our two daughters. Specifically, we helped them learn to become proficient drivers by allowing one or the other to get behind the wheel anytime they were in the car with either of us. In the process, each one ended up logging well over 50 hours of drive-time and both recently passed their road tests.

This season of life caused me to hone in on the concept of focus, starting when I quickly realized how much I operate on auto-pilot when I drive. In fact, most of us who’ve been driving for a while do this; we become so comfortable with the process that we stop thinking in a fully conscious way about particular steps required to accomplish specific tasks. But, of course, when we must teach another how to parallel park or navigate a roundabout, we’re forced to think again about each little part of a maneuver so we can communicate clearly to the student. It’s not enough to say, “Look somewhere behind you and back up until you’re done.” Instead, we must focus on each small element of the process in question and then help the novice driver to do the same by providing clear, detailed, sequential instructions.

The need for such explicit direction becomes readily apparent when one is sitting in a 2,000-pound motor vehicle in the passenger seat next to a wide-eyed teenager. But the reality is that our kids need our specific input and feedback at every age each and every day.

As with driving ourselves, though, we often slip into auto-pilot mode. Thus, we direct a child to clean her room but neglect taking the time to clean it with her the first few times, narrating our expectations as we go. Or we tell a group of kids to write an essay without ever providing explicit instructions about how to do so effectively. And then we scold her for doing it wrong and downgrade them for communicating poorly without realizing that it’s actually we who have failed.

It takes time and concerted effort to provide specific feedback on a consistent basis. It’s hard, exhausting work. But if we’re willing to put in the hard work at the beginning, we’ll save ourselves and our kids much time and needless frustration later on. During the first few weeks of our daughters’ behind-the-wheel practice, we all – parents and teens alike – came home mentally spent more often than not. But front-loading our efforts paid off as I realized a couple of months into the process that I was narrating and guiding less and less in favor of simply “passengering” more and more. And the same is true with any endeavor our kids undertake; if we commit to providing specific input at the beginning, we’ll exponentially increase the likelihood of their ultimate success.


October 30, 2018

Your Kids Are Worth It

Saying no is easy.

That one short syllable rolls readily off the tongue in response to so much of what our kids say and do. No, you can’t have cake for breakfast. No, you can’t go outside without a coat. No, you can’t go to your friend’s house today. No, you can’t have a Facebook account. No, no, no.

Obviously, it’s our responsibility to provide healthy boundaries for our kids. And, of course, children and teens – by virtue of their inexperience and immaturity – often want to do or say things that are unwise and sometimes even dangerous. It’s our job to stop them from hurting themselves or others and to correct and guide them as they move toward maturity. However, saying nothing but no doesn’t help much.

For one thing, if it’s all we say, the word loses its punch. When we only say no – without an explanation or a positive alternative – kids tune us out. We become to them like the boy who cried wolf, and they’ll ignore a no when it really and truly matters. If, on the other hand, we reserve our use of the word as a stand-alone for serious situations – i.e., when a toddler runs toward the street, when a teen driver initiates a left turn into oncoming traffic – our kids will respond because they won’t have become impervious to it.

Additionally, being a “Dr. No” is an authoritarian stance that damages our relationships with our kids. It is, of course, biblically right for children to respect and obey their parents (Ephesians 6.1). But the same passage (Ephesians 6.4) exhorts us against provoking our kids to anger, a command that runs counter to authoritarian parenting. In contrast, when we take the time to explain the reasons we must say no to a child’s desire – and, better yet, offer positive alternatives – we maintain our parental authority in a healthy way while concurrently strengthening and deepening our relationships for the long-haul.
“No, you can’t have a Facebook account. Remember when I showed you the Facebook policy? It says users must be at least 13 and you’re 11. Plus, remember that Dad and I have our list of expectations for getting social media accounts? I’ll definitely work with you on that and we’ll see where you’re at when you’re 13. But not yet.” 
“No, you can’t go to your friend’s house today. We’re going to Grandma’s tomorrow and need to get an early start. But let’s see if Sammy can come over here next Friday.” 
“No, you can’t go outside without a coat. I know it doesn’t look cold, but see the window thermometer? Twenty-eight degrees is even colder than the temperature in our freezer!” 
“Cake for breakfast? Okay, buddy, you know that’s not an everyday thing. But it is left over from your birthday yesterday…so why not – just this once! You just have to promise to remind me to brush my teeth really well after!”
Offering alternatives and explanations is definitely harder – it takes more time and effort – than a blanket no. But your kids – and your relationship with them – are worth it.

Photo Credit: skyseeker

October 16, 2018

“I’m Me!”

One of my teen daughters recently decided to “go natural.”

For the last few years, she’s enjoyed experimenting with her “look.” She’s tried different clothing styles, changed her hair length (via cuts on the one hand and extensions on the other) and color (several times!), and played around with different make-up looks. Nothing she’s tried has been inappropriate, so I felt at peace giving her that freedom.

Recently, though, she put away the extensions she’d been wearing daily for months and then asked me to help her get back to her natural hair color. She also stopped painting extended eyelashes onto her lower lids, switched from heavy, black false eyelashes to very lightweight, brown ones, and softened how she’s doing her eyebrows. When I asked why she was switching things around so noticeably, she said a friend had recently seen a picture of her as a little girl and couldn’t believe it was her because she looked so different. Then she said, “I like how I looked then, and I want people to know that I’m me!”

I know it’s common for most every teen – and many adults! – to go through periods of self-doubt, wondering if they’re “okay” just the way they are. I never really thought of my daughter’s experiments in that light – and for some people, playing around with how they look is just lighthearted fun – but I see now in hindsight that her pursuit of different looks may have been her way of working through such apprehension. If so, I’m beyond grateful that she seems to be coming back to a desire to look like herself – the way God naturally made her – and I’ll be aiming to help her stay there.

Unfortunately, many people never feel comfortable within their own skin and really struggle accepting that they were created (within the bounds of what is biblically right) just as they are – on purpose with a unique, individual purpose. Instead, they spend their whole lives doubting their worth and sometimes take their lives in response to their angst. Or they strive for decades to be what others say they should be rather than finding and resting in God’s real purpose for them.

One of the challenges parenting expert Kathy Koch gives in her seminars is, “Accept the child you have, not the one you wanted.”

That’s so spot-on! As parents, we – not classroom teachers, peers, or media – have the greatest influence over how our children feel about themselves. Of course, if our kids don’t sense acceptance from us, they’ll turn to other sources, but God has designed a child’s mind and heart such that, at root, he wants his parents’ acceptance most of all. And it’s our responsibility to help each child unwrap and develop the purposes for which God has designed him – not to attempt to mold him into what we’d like him to be.

Do your kids know today that they were created on purpose – that in God’s plan, they’re not accidents or mistakes? And do they know that He’s given each of them a specific purpose which no one else on the planet can accomplish in their place? Are you cooperating with His purposes for your child – or fighting against them? Can your child honestly and happily – without reservation – exclaim, “I’m me!”

Photo Credit: Bluesrose

October 2, 2018

Speaking Truth in Love

“Sorry, I can’t spell.”

Sometimes one of my teen daughters will grimace and make this declaration.

It’s true that learning to spell correctly didn’t come easily for her. We began working on it when she was about six and, even as her sister mastered construction after construction, it remained difficult for her to remember many words with consistency. I encouraged her to persevere and kept working with her through an academically-sound spelling program.

After a couple of years, I did begin to wonder if she had a “problem,” but I determined to remain positive with her even as I began to research possible causes for her difficulty and potential solutions. And I concluded that the main issue – beyond the sheer craziness of English spelling itself! – involved her preferred learning modality. So, then I found some supplementary resources, and she began to make swifter progress, though her spelling still contained rather frequent errors.

And then one day when she was about 13, I swear she woke up one morning able to spell with 95% accuracy – just like that! That day she suddenly got most of her practice words correct, and I noticed over the next few weeks and months that she got most words right most days. Suddenly – due to what I’m now sure was simply a developmental shift as part of her natural maturing process – my “struggling speller” could correctly encode almost every word, and her few remaining errors could easily be attributed to the language’s inherent irregularities.

I happily shared my observations with her on a regular basis, which has helped her to become more confident over the past few years. In fact, she’s a gifted essayist and poet, finding great personal joy through the writing process and communicating profound truths in the most beautiful ways.

So, when she bemoans how she “can’t spell,” I have a responsibility to call her out, in love.

“Honey, that’s a lie. It’s true that it took a while for spelling to ‘make sense’ to you. But let’s look at this essay you wrote the other day. It’s got over 1,200 words and only a handful of misspellings, two of which are actually typos. In fact, most of your pieces only have a few misspellings, and most of the time when we edit together, you remember and rarely misspell the same word again. You’ve actually become very good at spelling, and you’ve developed strategies to check yourself when you’re not sure.”

I want both of my daughters to think and speak accurately about themselves. One of my jobs as a parent is to help them along on that journey. Thus, when I hear them voicing inaccuracies about themselves, it’s my responsibility to speak the truth in love.


September 18, 2018

“You’ve Earned…”

My “Irish Twin” daughters are each working through a driver education preparation program. Each of them began the process nine months ago by working through a 30-hour online course that required a specific level of mastery. Upon satisfactorily completing the course, they had to enroll in a verified driving school that offers state-certified behind-the wheel training and take an affidavit from the school to the DMV, where they had to pass a two-part written test in order to obtain an instruction permit. The permit allowed them to get behind the wheel of a car to practice, and they had to spend at least six months doing so, during which time they’ve had to accrue at least 30 hours of drive-time with a parent – 10 of which had to be at night – as well as six hours driving and six hours of observation with an instructor from the driving school. They currently have one more session with the instructor, after which we’ll schedule appointments for each of them to take a road test at the DMV. When they pass – whether on the first try or after multiple attempts – they’ll be granted probationary licenses, which carry restrictions on when and with whom they may drive for nine months. And, finally, at the end of the probationary period – and if they’ve maintained clean driving records – they’ll each have earned a regular license.

This is a rather long and cumbersome process, but it’s provided them with a very clear and concrete object lesson for the reality that one must earn certain privileges. They obviously knew they couldn’t waltz into the DMV on a whim and demand licenses without evidence of their competence to operate a motor vehicle. But the lengthy graduated licensing procedure in our state has served to show them that important activities require time and concerted effort. Thus, when they’re granted their licenses, my husband and I will be able to say with integrity, “Congratulations! You’ve earned this.”

Obviously, our kids shouldn’t feel as if they need to earn everything; for example, we must communicate in word and deed that we love them without any pre-conditions and that God’s gift of salvation through Jesus is offered to them freely. It’s also true that some situations where they’re required to “earn” something – i.e., being graded by a capricious teacher – aren’t always fair. We must acknowledge that reality to them and help them work through such unavoidable disappointments with grace. But there are many situations where it’s good and healthy for our kids to know that poor choices earn them negative consequences, and that working to earn something good is commendable. And by using the power word – “You’ve earned…” – on a regular basis as relevant, we’ll ingrain that truth in their minds and hearts.

Photo Credit: State Farm
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