April 16, 2019

Step Out in Faith

I didn’t grow up going to church. And the churches I’ve attended as an adult have, by and large, not given much attention to “Holy Week.” Some have marked Palm Sunday in a special way – but some have not. And none has encouraged its members to commemorate the Scriptural events that occurred on Monday through Thursday before Good Friday, nor to do anything significant with Saturday. And for a long time, I didn’t give that a second thought.

But several years ago, I started wondering about that Saturday – i.e., how I should treat the day in between remembering Jesus’ death on Friday and resurrection on Sunday. On the one hand, it seemed we should be quiet and circumspect since Jesus’ original followers were mourning what they believed to be the insurmountable death of their leader. On the other, we know now, even as we attend somber Good Friday services, that Jesus overcame the grave. So, is it really necessary to attempt to imitate the disciples’ grief all through Saturday?

I actually think the answer to that question may be different for different families – and in different seasons of life. I am certain, though, that it’s important to help our children understand that there is far more to “the Easter story” than the events we remember during the week’s church services. And, in fact, we as parents – not our kids’ Sunday school teachers or even our pastors – are the ones called by God to fully train up our own children in the faith (Deuteronomy 6.7).

In regards to “Holy Week” when my kids were young, my husband and I used a few specific learning tools, including Resurrection Eggs, videos from NEST Entertainment, and some beautiful Easter-oriented picture books, to walk them through the historical events that occurred daily between Palm Sunday and Easter. And one year we read Amon’s Adventures, a marvelous multi-week devotional by Arnold Ytreeide. The goal each year has been to remind them – and ourselves – that important, prophetic events occurred on each day of that special week

As you read this, we’re in the midst of “Holy Week.” And perhaps you’re now feeling guilty because, though your kids marched down the church aisle waving palm branches last Sunday and will come with you to church on Friday and this coming Sunday, you hadn’t given any thought to any other sort of remembrance before now. But don’t despair! You don’t need fancy resources to disciple your children; you just need the desire, a Bible, and the Holy Spirit who lives within you!

So, take a bit of time as a family each day this week to read in Matthew as listed below, backtracking as necessary depending on when you start. Then discuss your thoughts together afterward. You lead your children spiritually by stepping out in faith, no matter how tentatively. And what better week to start than this?

  • Palm Sunday: Matthew 21.1-11
  • Monday: Matthew 21.12-17
  • Tuesday: Matthew 21.23-25
  • Wednesday: Matthew 26.1-5
  • Thursday: Matthew 26.17-30
  • Good Friday: Matthew 27.1-61
  • Saturday: Matthew 27.62-66
  • Easter Sunday: Matthew 28.1-10

April 2, 2019

The Soft Place

What if you knew that today was the last day you’d ever have with your child?

I know that’s an awful thought – and I pray God that all the children of every person reading this sentence outlive us by decades, and that we, too, live to a ripe old age. But life is but a mist and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring (Psalm 39.5, Psalm 144.4, James 4.14). So…what if?

You would surely want your child to know in his dying breath that he has been loved unconditionally by you. Or you’d want her to rest in the knowledge of your unfailing love as she received the news of your passing. And the only way to guarantee that outcome in death is to live it.

I’ve interacted with too many parents who feel it’s their job to “toughen up” their kids. I even once met a dad who questioned my decision to homeschool, believing I was depriving my children the “opportunity” to be bullied. We all know that our fallen world is messed up and that our kids will inevitably experience pain and loss “out there.” But, rather than mimic the cruelty of the world, wouldn’t it be better to maintain home – the arms of mom and dad – as their soft place to land?

That’s not to say we shouldn’t provide discipline and discipling as they grow and mature; indeed, setting logical boundaries and holding to them with consistency is one of our main parental responsibilities. And, in fact, doing so provides security for kids that enables them to know they are loved. But the manner in which we do so makes all the difference.

We can yell or we can coach. We can scold or we can guide. We can accuse or listen. We can presume the worst or seek redemption. We can tear down or build up. We can bemoan the child we don’t have or accept the one we do. We can offer malice or mercy.

We will not be perfect, of course. We will have moments when we scream at our kids. In our fallenness, we will make unfounded accusations. But if the overall “tone” we set within our homes is one of grace, our children will forgive our lapses – indeed, they’ll most likely forget them – and they’ll know they can trust and rely on their parents to speak truth in love.

You will never have this day with your children again;
tomorrow they’ll be a little bit older than they are today.
Today is a gift. Breathe and notice. Smell and hold them,
study their faces and little feet, and pay attention.
Enjoy today; it will be over before you know it.
Relish the charms of the present.

~ Author Unknown


Photo Credit: Sai De Silva on Unsplash

March 19, 2019

Put on Your Coaching Hat

“He just keeps crying and crying!”
“Every day it’s another temper tantrum!”
“All she does is roll her eyes and slam doors.”

I regularly hear comments like this from parents in regards to their children and teens. Parents become exasperated with their kids’ behavioral issues and, because they’re fallible human beings, they respond in kind and sometimes even rant about their kids to friends and family members or in online forums.

Parenting is hard. It requires consistent, concerted effort, and we often fear that our feeble attempts will never bear fruit. But we won’t make things better by yelling at our kids to, “Just shape up!” And, while seeking wise counsel is one thing, it certainly won’t help to air their dirty laundry on the internet.

One thing that can make a difference is choosing to coach them in how to specifically express their needs.

A crying baby is actually doing just that as best he can. Because he’s pre-verbal, his mom or dad must take time to discover the cause of his angst. But he will stop crying when we’ve figured it out. And we can begin the process of teaching him to express his needs by talking to him as we aim to sooth him: “Jimmy, are you wet? Let’s see about that. Oh, honey, no, it’s not that, is it? Do you think you’re hungry? I know you just ate but maybe you’re starting a growth spurt. What do you think?” Babies learn to speak by being spoken to, and they will learn to express their specific needs by hearing us acknowledge them as we understand them.

As babies grow into toddlerhood and beyond, we need to continue and expand upon the coaching process. Instead of scolding a three-year old for having a tantrum, we must discover ways to keep her safe in the midst of it – that may mean letting her cry it out on the living room floor or it might mean holding her tight as she sobs – and then, when the storm has passed, comfort her while talking her through the situation – i.e., by asking specific questions and helping her to find the words she needs. 

If we commit to this process from early-on – such that our children know we are a safe refuge as they navigate their life experiences and feelings – we probably won’t ever get to the eye rolls and door slams. But we can ameliorate that behavior as well, if we are willing to take the time our teens need. An angry teen may need some time alone, but we mustn’t let her stay there. In many ways, teens are simply toddlers in bigger bodies, and we must comfort them, listen to them, and actively coach them in using specific language to express themselves just as we did when they were younger.

Kids don’t come to us all put together. When they “freak out,” it’s because they’re hurt and confused. And – as the people on earth who should love them best – they need our intentional, invested help. When we incrementally coach them, they will grow into the healthy, motivated adults we want them to be.


Photo Credit: 365psd

February 19, 2019

The Trick

When I was teaching teens who were learning English as a second language in local public schools, I learned that, for some of them, making direct eye contact ran counter to the cultural norms with which they’d grown up prior to arriving in the States. Thus, I walked a sort of tightrope with them. On the one hand, I had to be mindful of their cultural background and also remember that – as refugees – they’d already endured quite a lot in their young lives and were overwhelmed with the acculturation process at every turn. But it was also part of my job to help them learn American norms, and I’d have been remiss if I’d failed to teach and encourage them toward adopting our expectations regarding eye contact. Sometimes it was best that I nudge them toward looking me in the eye; at other times, it was okay to let them rest in their comfort zone. The trick for me was learning when to do what.

Now as a mom, I’ve learned the same delicate balance exists with my own kids. Though I see a bit of a shift since so many – kids and adults alike – have become (sadly) dependent on constantly looking down at their phones, our culture still places high value on making direct eye contact during conversation. As parents, we often say things like, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” because we see that as a demonstration of a child’s respect for our authority. We also want to look our kids in the eye to measure whether or not they’re telling the truth. And we know that – in American culture – making good eye contact is a sign of confidence, which we want for our kids.

For their long-term benefit, we should teach and model this norm (and, as an aside, get our own eyes unglued from our phone screens!). But if we want to build deep and abiding relationship with them, there’s also a time and a place for giving them space to look down or away. Sometimes it was simply too overwhelming for my students to make direct eye contact, and the same is true of our kids. But if we create opportunities to interact with them when eye contact isn’t required – i.e., before bedtime in a dark room, while we’re driving with them next to us or in the backseat – they’ll very often pour out important stuff they need and want to tell us.

Finding the right balance for every child is hard, and we won’t always get it right; I know I sure haven’t. But if we purpose to correctly discern when to require eye contact and when to orchestrate less threatening opportunities for our kids to share, we’ll figure it out more often than not. The key is remembering that making direct eye contact and having permission to sometimes avoid it both serve important purposes in a child’s life as we seek to maintain and grow our relationships with them and also facilitate the development of good character in them. The trick for us is learning when to do what.


Photo Credit: pxhere

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.

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