March 3, 2020

Speak, Act, Guard

Some American parents hold the position that they have no right to “impose” their beliefs and values on their children. However, most parents feel that passing on their views, hoping their kids adopt them as their own, is part of what it means to be a parent. This idea generally holds true across racial, cultural, socioeconomic, political, and religious “divides.”

How, though, do we each go about teaching our children what we believe? And how can we maximize the potential that they will choose to adopt similar values? 

This is a complicated matter, of course. The Judeo-Christian principle laid out in Proverbs 22.6 tells us that taking time to consciously disciple our children will generally result in their choice to adopt good (godly) values.

However, the existence of free will means that the verse is a principle, not a promise. Some who are trained well still choose to go astray, and that reality can be disheartening and scary. However, despite the risk of a child deciding to reject his parents’ values, it’s still our responsibility to impart them; we can’t abdicate just because the desired result isn’t guaranteed. And we must do this directly and indirectly – in what we say and what we do.

It’s imperative that we actively teach our children – in ways that will resonate with them at different ages and through various phases – the precepts of our value system; kids must hear from us directly what we feel is important and why. In fact, Deuteronomy 6.7 challenges us to “teach [God’s ways] diligently to [our] children and speak of them when [we] sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up.” In other words, we’re commanded to directly and personally communicate truth to our kids during all of their waking hours.

But the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a dangerous lie. If we instruct our children to obey particular rules or follow certain beliefs, yet they see us consistently living contrary to our words, they’ll rightfully see us as hypocrites and likely conclude that our values aren’t worth embracing. Likewise, even if we personally obey everything we preach and hold our kids accountable to, but fail to build strong, intimate relationships with them, we will be to them like the clanging gong of 1 Corinthians 13.

And we’re also called to protect our kids from influences that will contradict the values we aim to teach and model (Matthew 18.6). This doesn’t mean raising kids in a bubble, isolated from the world. But neither does it mean throwing them into situations where their fledgling beliefs are apt to be regularly assaulted. As parents, we are accountable to God for what (and whom) we allow to impact our kids’ minds and hearts.

Living up to all of this is a very tall order! Continually watching what we say, what we do, and the influences we allow into our kids’ lives is surely overwhelming – and we definitely won’t be perfect. But the more we’re consciously aware of our responsibility and calling, the more intentional we can be, and the more success we’ll have.


Painting by Auguste Renoir

February 18, 2020

Abiding is the Guide

In my first piece in this series, I addressed the fact that we can and should take responsibility for how we participate in social media – that we must choose to share evidenced-based ideas in a logical, mature, respectful manner rather than spouting off from an emotions-driven position. And last time I challenged you to know what you know and why you know it – by taking the time to fully understand the foundations of your particular worldview position. For example, Christians must purpose to study the Bible and know how to apply its precepts in order to accurately represent Christian principles in the marketplace of ideas. 

Even with all of that background, though, we might still wonder what to do on social media in the “heat of the moment” – i.e., when some contentious or controversial issue comes to the fore. As a Christian, I endeavor to look to Scripture as my guide in all things, and two passages came immediately to my mind in response to that question:

  • Ecclesiastes 3.1, 7b - "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” Sometimes God will call us to speak up (whether we really want to or not); other times He will challenge us to remain quiet. Both are biblical responses, contingent upon God’s leading in the moment. The key is to be abiding with Christ (John 15) so we’ll be able to discern His will one way or the other. And when we’re supposed to keep our fingers off the keyboard, we can (should) decide to take a matter to prayer instead, so we can feel that we’re still “doing something;
  • Luke 10.27 – "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If we believe we should say something, we must then consider how to both glorify God and demonstrate care for any who will read our words. And in doing so, we can remember how John tells us (John 1.17) that Jesus – our example in all things – is full of “grace and truth.” In other words, true love (as we represent God as His image-bearers and as we interact with other fallen humans) contains a balance between the softness (not spinelessness) of grace and the firmness (not harshness) of truth. We should seek for that balance, too, and need – once again – to be abiding with Christ in order to discern the right mix of the two in any given situation.

Did you notice the common thread there? As with everything else in life, how we interact on social media comes down to a choice – day after day and moment by moment – to abide in Jesus or not. That sounds too simplistic, I know; most of us would prefer a detailed, definitive rulebook. But in all things – including how we use social media – God wants our dependence on Him, not our own (fallible, incomplete) human understanding. If you choose to submit yourself to Him – i.e., by devoting time to studying His Word – you can trust that He will guide you even in the messiness of social media, step by step as you walk along the way each day.


Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

February 4, 2020

Know What You Know

In response to the exponential increase in cultural and moral relativism he observed, mid-20th century Christian theologian and philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer once said, “…[W]e should note this curious mark of our age: The only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.”

Schaeffer died in 1984. But any cultural observer understands implicitly that the curiosity he observed has metastasized even more in the last 35 years. Indeed, we’ve reached a point in some quarters where positing simple, self-evident, scientifically verifiable facts (i.e., carrying XY chromosomes makes one male and possessing an XX pair renders one female) causes relativists to react with extreme vitriol and even violence, and sometimes costs people their livelihoods and reputations.

The ironic “absolutist relativists” – those who insist that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes and who ostracize those with other views of truth – preach “tolerance” but are actually among the most intolerant people on the planet. And they’ve caused no small number who do still espouse belief in moral absolutes to shrink back and keep quiet for the sake of self-preservation. But at what cost? 

We’ve already endured more than 100 years of relativism’s reign. And with each passing generation, it leads more and more people astray with its illogical non-truth truths. We see its damage all around us – especially in our kids, who, though they know deep inside themselves (Romans 1) that absolute truth does exist, are berated by the bully of relativism day in and day out.

Relativism is but a worldview perspective – one idea of how the world operates. Even if it’s the current prevailing idea, it’s not the only view, nor the most progressive one, nor the “best.” The biggest, loudest kid on the block is rarely the wisest. And, for the sake of our kids, those of us with different ideas must confront the bully.

In other words, if you’re not a relativist – if, for example, you profess instead to be a Christian – it’s imperative that you know the philosophical underpinnings of your faith and that you actively teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6.7). You are allowed – relativists’ rants notwithstanding – to hold a worldview that believes in the existence of absolute truth as presented to us by the God of the Bible, and to train up your children in that truth. But you must take responsibility – by studying Scripture and supporting documents such as a solid catechism – to know what you know and why you know it. It’s foolish – and irresponsible – to coast along without doing so.

When you take the time to ground your beliefs in facts and evidence, you’ll have the confidence to openly share them with firm but quiet grace in the marketplace of ideas populated by angry relativists and those who espouse any number of other worldviews. Even more importantly, you’ll be able to train up your children as you see fit, which is your God-given right and responsibility as a parent.

It all starts with figuring out how to know what you know. Where will you begin?


Photo Credit: Ekta Chawla

January 21, 2020

Be a Current Changer

If you spend any time at all on social media, I have no doubt that you regularly see opinion-spouting – i.e., people feeling entitled to publicly spew what they think and believe, usually absent evidence to support their claims and accompanied by ugly, thoughtless dehumanization of those who think differently. Our culture has – for well over a decade now – been inundated with the phenomenon.

Of course, sharing one’s views isn’t a bad thing. In fact, feeling free to speak one’s mind has been ingrained in the American psyche since the Founders penned the First Amendment. But with any right comes responsibility – in this case to handle the “weapon” of words properly – and acting irresponsibly carries dire consequences. Tragically, our society’s new knee-jerk habit of reflexively spouting off is anything but responsible. And it’s hurting us, individually and collectively, in many ways.

As with any other behavior, the remedy comes down to a personal choice to change – an individual’s conscious commitment to stop spouting off and begin, instead, to speak responsibly, sharing logical, evidenced-based ideas in a mature, respectful manner. It matters not what “everyone else” is doing. The direction of a river is changed little by little over time as rocks are placed – one by one – in the current’s path. If we want the tenor of our cultural discourse to change – and who doesn’t long for today’s ugliness to cease? – we can’t wait for “everyone else.” Each of us must, instead, decide to take personal responsibility and commit to planting current-altering pebbles, rocks, and boulders.

If that thought irks you – “Why should I have to watch my words when [name your personal nemesis] never does?” – purpose to look forward for motivation. Without a commitment to actively redirect ourselves, human behavior always degenerates over time (see Romans 1); in fact, that truth mirrors the natural law of entropy which God has built into the creation as a whole. This means that the social environment our kids will face as they grow up and then become adults will – without a change in current – be even worse than it is today. Can you imagine?

I hope you can. And I pray the thought of it chills you to the bone and then motivates you to be among those who aim to change the current. If you want your kids to live in and contribute to civil society when they grow up, it’s imperative that they see and hear you doing the same now.


Photo Credit: FotoFloridian

December 10, 2019

It Might as Well Be You

Are you feeling the pressure of the Christmas Crazies yet?

For many, this sense of feeling constantly stressed and overwhelmed starts the week of Thanksgiving and carries all the way through December into New Year’s Eve. First, they fret over preparing the “perfect” Thanksgiving meal – and/or having to endure a long holiday weekend with particular stress-inducing relatives. Then they dive headlong into “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” bargain-hunting but still worry right up until Christmas Eve that they don’t have “enough” of the “right” gifts. In between, they hunt down the “perfect” Christmas tree, aim to fill their homes with “perfect” holiday d├ęcor, bake batches and batches of “perfect” Christmas cookies, draft a “perfect” family Christmas letter, pour over recipes to plan yet another multi-course holiday meal with the same unpleasant relatives, and try to squeeze in a visit for the children with a mall Santa. They might also haul reluctant kids to practices for the church Christmas program, scour clothing racks for “perfect” family Christmas outfits, and prepare “perfect” goodies for the school or homeschool co-op Christmas party. And as all of this is going on, they surround themselves with streaming Christmas carols and grumble each time they hear a refrain mentioning peace or joy. “If only,” they mutter while pulling gaudy wrapping paper over yet another present they hope against hope its recipient will actually enjoy.

When we stop and think about it, most of us can readily admit we hate the chaos. But we feel stuck. We muddle through because we’ve done it “forever” and because everyone around us is in the same boat. But is that really a good reason to stay on the hamster wheel?

I think not.

Habit, others’ expectations, and cultural norms are never good reasons to partake in activities that make us emotionally – and even physically – sick. It may feel odd to step out of the holiday vortex, and friends and family may question or criticize. But we can still decide to take a different path if we really want to. It’s simply a matter of personal choice and a commitment to follow through – with love and grace – despite possible detractors.

So…ponder what actually brings peace and joy to your home and heart at this time of year, and focus on that and that alone. If a long-standing tradition brings more angst than peace, set it aside this year. If a particular activity steals your joy, take a break or at least tweak it somehow. You can always go back to it next year, but you may find you don’t really miss it after all.

When a society’s behaviors become unhealthy for its individual members, someone has to step out and say, “Enough is enough.” It might as well be you…and me.


Photo Credit: Clipart Library

November 12, 2019

BE the Parent

Correcting requires careful observation and for you to use more words. It may also require an attitude change on your part. You must be interested in helping children improve rather than just pointing out what’s wrong and maybe getting some perverse power from putting them in their place. (Start with the Heart, p. 210)
Ouch. These are tough words from Kathy, but they’re spot-on.

It’s all-too-easy in the trenches – when we’re probably overextended in other areas of life as well – to lose sight of the kind of intentional parenting it takes to carefully observe our children, focus on helping them mature, and keep a check on our own attitudes. It’s easy to fall into an unhealthy routine of on-the-fly criticism to curtail some imminent bad behavior. But, of course, that causes most children to react with defensive antagonism, which then leads to more criticism by parents, and eventually sets up what seems like a never-ending cycle of angst in a home. This is why too many kids can’t wait to leave and why too many parents think (or even say), “Good riddance.”

What a tragedy!

I feel a bit like a broken record when I say this, but it’s truth. The way out of this sort of relational tailspin comes down to a parent’s conscious choice (day in and day out, moment by moment) to be the parent – i.e., a mature, responsible adult. It is not a child’s responsibility to “stop being a brat” so the parent “doesn’t have to” scold. It is not a teen’s role to “grow up already” so the parent can stop criticizing.

It’s actually just the opposite. As a parent chooses to stop scolding, a new relational pattern will develop such that the child will eventually stop acting out in “bratty” ways. As a parent chooses to move from criticism to correction, the teen will learn as time progresses to truly hear the parent’s words and then begin to self-regulate. Difficult as it is and as much as we dislike “adulting” some days, it is our job as parents to take the lead…because we are the parents.

Having peaceful homes and fulfilling familial relationships – both of which are wholly possible –starts with us as parents. Parents choosing their “better angels” over knee-jerk emotional responses. Parents deciding to watch their words and actions. Parents putting on the cloak of maturity no matter how unnatural it may feel at first. Parents faking it till they make it. Parents being parents.


Photo Credit: Kim Davies

October 29, 2019

They Will Not Depart

When I was a young college student sitting in Kathy’s education classes, I didn’t take compliments well. I was a perfectionist who didn’t see the point of a compliment unless I performed perfectly. Of course, I rarely reached that goal in my own estimation so I never felt worthy of praise.

Because Kathy was the faculty advisor for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group to which I belonged and also attended the same church as I, we soon became friends. And she began to gently challenge my thinking as I deflected her compliments. I was a baby Christian so I was still trying to grasp even the basics of God’s infinite love for His children, but one thing Kathy said early-on has stuck with me ever since: “If we don’t graciously accept a compliment, we’re insulting God.” Why? Because by downplaying or rejecting a compliment, we’re essentially saying that the way in which God has wired and gifted us is junk.

I still didn’t believe anything I did was praiseworthy, but I sure didn’t want to hurt the God I’d just embraced as Savior and Lord. When I voiced this to Kathy, she encouraged me to essentially fake it till I made it. She suggested I stop trying to explain why I wasn’t worthy of a compliment and, instead, simply say, “Thank you,” no matter how strange that felt.

Fast forward quite a few years and my husband and I were raising two beautiful girls, then in their early teens. We’d raised them using Kathy’s precepts for complimenting and correcting, but there came a time when one of them – when she was about 14 – suddenly began to push back at every compliment, despite their being real and wholly appropriate. I regularly reminded her of what her “Aunt Kathy” had taught me, but she struggled to say even the fake-it-till-you-make-it thank you.

Fast forward two more years and this girl was finally emerging from what she now calls her “angst-y phase.” And one day she said, “Thank you, Mom, for always reminding me that not accepting a compliment is offensive to God. I know it didn’t seem like I was hearing that the last couple of years, but I was. I felt so bad about myself I didn’t believe anything nice you or anyone else said, but in my head I always kept saying, ‘Thanks, God, even though I think they’re wrong.’ And doing that is part of what got me through the angst.”

Applying the principles that Kathy teaches about complimenting and correcting from early-on imprints those ideas on our kids’ minds and hearts. And – as with all godly precepts – our children will not depart from them when they are “old” …even if they take an occasional detour or two along the way (Proverbs 22.6).


Photo Credit: Raj Vaishnaw

October 15, 2019

It’s about Relationship

A mom in a large homeschool group I moderate recently posted this anecdote:

Today, I am "that weird…mom." I didn't ground my son from video games or whatever normal people do. No, I banned him from paper for the day....

I [verbally] corrected him…about his chores while he was holding sheets of paper he was going to draw on, so he angrily threw them to the ground. I immediately told him to pick them up, so he [did]. [But then he] crumpled them up, which he also knew better than to do. So, I told him he was banned from paper for the rest of the day.

He whined, "But what if I need it for my schoolwork?"

I just replied, "You won't," and went back to what I was doing.

So, no paper...No drawing, making airplanes, or crafts of any kind with paper for him today. I feel kind of bad taking one of his favorite hobbies
from him for the day since he's so creative, but that's part of trying to raise good people, I suppose.

The story is a perfect illustration of what Kathy Koch advises in Chapter 6 of Start with the Heart: “When you think about what logical consequences, treats, and bribes might motivate and help your children, think about who they are.”

For many kids, banning the use of paper for a day would be silly and irrelevant. But for this boy – whose mom obviously knows him very well and understands the need for consequences even when issuing them makes us uncomfortable – losing the ability to have paper for the day was logical (and also somewhat natural, given that he’d crumpled up and essentially wasted at least a few sheets).

Over the years as I’ve parented, I’ve seen lots of “parenting systems” come and go. Generally speaking, these systems promote using the same techniques delivered in the same manner with every child, promising “well-trained” children if the parents dutifully comply with all of the system’s precepts. This view treats children as if they’re robots or, perhaps, products on an assembly line instead of uniquely-designed human beings. I get angry with those promoting such lies and grieve for parents who buy into them.

Consistency in parenting is important. However, that doesn’t mean subjecting our children to a sterile, inhumane “system.” Good parenting is much more complex than that. Good parenting means taking the time to know each of our kids so intimately that we’ll learn when to most effectively teach, when to coach, when to cheer, and when to referee. It means we’ll come to understand what motivates a particular child at different stages of his life and then be consistent in the application of what is logical for him in that season. And it means we adapt our parenting techniques as each child grows and matures. It’s not about a system; it’s about relationship.


Photo Credit: Valerie

October 1, 2019

Give Them a Gift

As Kathy describes in Chapter 6 of Start with the Heart, we can employ a number of different techniques to improve our kids’ motivation. All but one – natural consequences – involve us as parents making conscious choices about means and methods of punishment and reward. Natural consequences, though, occur…well, naturally. For example, the natural consequence of releasing your grip on a mug of coffee is that it will fall to the floor; the coffee will spill and the mug may even shatter. Because of gravity and other natural laws of physics, this is the expected (natural) consequence. You’re not surprised by it and, as you clean up the mess you’ve made, you process through what caused the accident (i.e., the handle was too hot) and consider ways to avoid a repeat performance (i.e., remembering to use a hot pad when grabbing a cup that’s likely to be too warm). 

Loving parents don’t want their kids to suffer. We would give our very lives for them and we would – if we could – take away all their pain. And we should, of course, do everything within our power to help them avoid serious injury. But we can’t wrap them in physical or mental bubble wrap; hurt of one sort or another will, unfortunately, come to each and every one of our kids. With that truth in mind, we can harness the power of appropriate natural consequences in little things to help our children learn lessons that may help them avoid serious issues down the line.

For example, one of my daughters wanted to quit guitar lessons about a year and a half after starting. However, rather than ask if she could give it up, she simply stopped practicing. I wasn’t aware of this for several weeks because she typically practiced in her room behind closed doors, and she actually told me more than once that she was practicing. When her lies to me became apparent, I obviously dealt with that via logical, negative consequences; I never take lying lightly. In addition, though, I let her suffer the natural consequences of her choice – i.e., she felt embarrassed at her lessons when she went unprepared and eventually had to confess her behavior and apologize to her guitar teacher. I hated to see her in pain; it would have been “easier” to make excuses for her. However, if I’d stepped in to save her some short-term angst, I’d have prevented her from learning some very important lessons that will apply all throughout her life. In case you’re wondering, I did allow her to stop taking lessons since her initial interest had waned – but only after she’d worked through all the consequences of her poor choice.

We obviously can’t let our kids suffer natural consequences all the time; it would be immoral, for example, to knowingly let a child touch the flame on a stovetop or to knowingly drop a teen off at a beer party. But it’s damaging in different ways – not to mention impossible – to try “protecting” them from every natural consequence. Instead, give them the gift of working through relatively harmless natural consequences with your guidance and support.


Photo Credit: SabrinaDan Photo

September 17, 2019

Do What’s Necessary

My “Irish Twin” daughters generally got along quite well as they were growing up. Being human, though, they’ve had their share of disagreements and fights, and when they were younger, one tended to rile her sister verbally with teasing while the other expressed her frustration physically, by knocking her sister down and sometimes biting. In either case, of course – as well as when one or the other did something inappropriate or sassy unrelated to her sister – it was my job to play referee and mete out discipline.

However, having grown up with parents who were not Christians and who both struggled with the effects of generational dysfunction in their families of origin, I was literally afraid of “discipline” for a long time. I didn’t want to yell the way my anxious, stressed-out mom had, and I certainly didn’t want to punch holes in furniture and walls like my father. In fact, my fear of repeating their mistakes led my husband and me to delay having children until I was in my early thirties.

I eventually grew in my faith enough to “risk” having kids, and my older daughter was a very laid-back baby. But I was grateful to learn of a church in my town that offered a Bible study in “biblical mothering” shortly after the older had turned one, when my younger daughter was just a few months old. With one child entering toddlerhood, the class came at the perfect time in my life, and the principles taught in the study provided a perfect balance between grace and truth, as it were, teaching me how to properly discipline as necessary while still maintaining a foundation of love.

For a long time, I thought I was alone in my fear of disciplining children. But from having interacted with many moms through the course of my kids’ lives, I’ve (sadly) learned that many wrestle with the same fear – i.e., of going overboard into abuse. As a result, I know many parents who don’t play referee for their kids at all, believing they can simply “talk things out” and that the children will somehow “absorb” self-control as they grow up. 

The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. Young kids whose parents don’t referee and set boundaries for them grow up to be angry and depressed or out-of-control teens and young adults. We see the fruit of that all around us every day.

I know firsthand that the idea of disciplining a child is petrifying for some; I truly understand that from the bottom of my heart. But kids need proper discipline in order to properly grow and mature. If you – like me – honestly don’t know how to be a healthy referee, don’t abdicate. Instead, find a reliable parenting class or a trustworthy mentor and allow yourself to be taught – even “re-parented” if necessary. God will hold you to account for refereeing your kids one way or the other; do what’s necessary so that He can one day say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Photo Credit:  YouTube
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