Archive for Christian Parenting

Are You Accomplishing Anything For God?

Maybe you’re discouraged today, dear friend.

Maybe you’re wondering if what you’re doing matters in the long run.

Last week I wondered, too.

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I was reading over a list of New Year’s questions (meant for personal reflection and growth) from a sweet friend in a writing group. It was a wonderfully thorough list, meant to prompt confession, repentance, acceptance.  Questions like:

  • “If the last year could be summed up in a word, what would it be?”
  • “What are the two or three themes that kept occurring.”
  • “What are some major life lessons I learned this year.”
  • “What’s one thing I can do this year to increase my enjoyment of God?”

I breezed through them until I came to this one:

What did I accomplish this year that I am most proud of?”

I sat and thought. What one thing did I accomplish that I was most proud of?

Honestly, I couldn’t think of one. I sat on this for a few days, thinking about it. Still nothing. This really bothered me.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t done anything. We live a busy life. But to not be able to think of one thing? This bothered me enough to write a dear friend to see if she could think it through with me. (THIS is the benefit of having iron-sharpening-iron friends.) We hashed it out a little and she helped me gain perspective.

Some seasons of life cannot be measured by accomplishments.

There are times when life happens so fast and people need you so intensely that what you accomplished hardly makes the highlight reel. (Think sickness, death, new baby, foster child, new adoption, moving, etc…)

This Christmas I planted a lovely amaryllis bulb that a sweet reader, Becky, gave to me. I’ve been watching it grow and bloom against the backdrop of the grey bare trees outside my window. It started as a brown bulb, a stump really, not very pretty but full of potential. I planted it, put it on the windowsill, and gave it water. Things must have happened underground, because now it’s in full crimson bloom. The flower was alive and accomplishing its task underground before any of us had any clue it was accomplishing anything. The growing season was an accomplishment that allowed the flower to blossom.

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I believe our mundane days are the same–underground work, unseen, undetected, un-celebrated, but vital.

Maybe you are in a mundane season right now. Maybe all your hard work is unseen because it’s undone the very next day– the clean house dirtied, the once shiny sink now full of grimy water.

Moms, we feed hungry bellies. We wash clothes and remove stains. We wipe tears and console hurt feelings. We listen to little hearts. We make meals for others and host people in our home. We bake cakes to mark milestones for family parties and church fellowships. We bathe dirty bodies and change messy diapers. We stir stew and kneed bread. We watch our neighbor’s kids. We calm irrational fears and keep toddlers on our hip when they are whiny. We make sure our kids do their homework, get to their appointments, and make their beds. We sit with hurting women. We stay behind so that our husband can minister to others.

It’s not hollywood stuff and it may not be memorable, but it’s important. This is the stuff of life and it’s where God has called us to bloom. It may not feel like an accomplishment. Nobody’s going to celebrate that you made your bed and got tangles out of the two year old’s hair.

But it’s our sacred work. It’s our reasonable service.

My friend sent me this wonderful verse:

Ps. 37:3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

God doesn’t require accomplishments. God just wants us to be faithful right where we are. He wants us to take joy as we serve others in hidden ways that no one will ever know about except God.

My friend also sent me these lovely lines from Robert Louis Stevenson that I hope encourage you as much as they encouraged me!

“The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain common work as it comes certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things of life.”

and

“Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”

And from Elisabeth Elliot:

This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”

Teach Your Children Virtues, Not Just Rules


The internet is full of advice for mothers. Full.

Yes, motherhood is hard. It is. No denying it. Tough days, frustrations, exhausted nerves pushed to the limit of almost crazy. We all know this.

Yet, in all of these discussions, one topic is lacking: teaching virtue.

We focus on rules because we believe that rules get results.

Yes, rules are important, for sure. Boundaries should be clear, consistent, and enforced. But rule keeping is only one side of the coin.

The other side–the reason for law and order–the reason for the commandments is virtue that allows us to love God and others well.

Do most people know what virtue is? In a world that’s false and Photo-shopped and me-centered, where does virtue fit in?

What does the Bible mean when it says, “If there be any virtue…think on these things?”
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Virtue and Integrity go hand in hand. Virtue is the sense of what is noble, fair, right, just. It’s all that’s good. Integrity is the character that allows you to pursue virtue. It is the same in the light as in the dark. Integrity does the same in private as it does in public. When nobody else sees, a woman of integrity does what’s right.

A mom lamented that her child was sneaking food. The food is an issue. Chocolate before supper is naughty. But the real issue is a heart that was willing to deceive—to do something that they wouldn’t have done if mom was there.

Look for ways to teach virtue. More importantly, live virtuously.

So, for instance, a mom who yells at her kids but then answers her phone sweetly is not living a life of integrity.

The mom who screams at her child and then expects the child to respect her might as well forget it.

The mom who lies to her kids or exaggerates to others can’t expect her kids to trust her when they are older.

Bottom line: What will stop a child from lying? Is it your threatening? No. Only an elevation of the truth and the love of it.
What will stop selfishness and self-focus? Seeing the beauty of generosity and kindness against the backdrop of our own dark hearts.

What will stop a teen from gossiping or laughing behind someone else’s back? A love for justice and for protecting people.

What will stop any sinful behavior? Nothing–absolutely nothing, until you behold the humility and perfection of the Savior and want it for yourself. Seeing the virtue in our Savior shows us our lack and inspires us towards goodness and godliness.

Behold the Lovely

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Virtue is a forgotten tool in the mothering toolbox.

Highlighting virtue in our daily lives inspires our kids to be noble. When we see goodness, we want to be good.

When we experience grace, we want to be grace-givers.

And then when we see injustice or are the recipient of hurtful behavior like prejudice or gossip, we should abhor the behavior, and it should propel us to love virtue even more.

2 Peter 1–

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might be caught in the “no” cycle–saying no for wrong behavior more than you highlight noble behavior.

Have you praised the generous child who shared a cookie, or the unselfish one who offered a better spot on the couch during movie time, or the compassionate one who offered a hug when someone was sad?

I remember the hard days of parenting, but the good news is that children can grow into lovely, compassionate, virtue-loving adults. (Why don’t more people write blog posts about that!)

I have three adult child and three younger ones in the home, and I have been on both sides of the “hard parenting” stage. Can I just tell you how much of a blessing older children are when they exhibit the virtue of scripture?

My daughter Emily is sitting out for a semester. While she’s home she’s been clipping coupons for me and writing out the local deals. She takes initiative to straighten out the house. She’s generous with her money and loves buying gifts for people. She plays with our foster child. She offers her clothes to her younger sisters. All these things are not part of the rule following, but are part of the virtues growing in her.

Rebekah is a dorm counselor at Bob Jones University and she has a coffee ministry in her room. She offers French pressed Starbucks and treats to anyone who needs to talk. Last week I sent her fall napkins in a care package and she was so excited to be able to give her girls a cookie on a “pretty napkin.” She’s concerned with the needs around her and when she comes home, she jumps in with the needs here.

  
Matthew is generous almost to a fault. He texts to ask how our foster boy is doing because he misses him. He’s always on the look out for his sisters safety and even, occasionally, for mine. There’s nothing more attractive than kindness and gentleness in a man.

Although I love to brag on them, (ahem) I’m not using them as an example to say what a great parent I have been. On the contrary. I’ve stumbled along the way and had to learn on the fly.

I’m saying that the tough days do pay off. You’ll wake up one day to these wonderful adults and, like the pain of childbirth, you forget the trauma. 😉 Well, almost forget.

If you are in the trenches of the early years, make your child obey the rules, yes. Be consistent, certainly. But train them to love virtue and give them plenty of good examples to follow.

Praise them when they are good, and make virtue something to be pursued and emulated.

Don’t let “first time obedience” be your end all. Who wants to raise a rule keeper who is heartless?

After your child’s faith in Jesus Christ, mind 2 Peter 1 and “add virtue.” Don’t skip this.

Need parenting inspiration? Get into God’s word and look at the life of Jesus and talk about it. When you read with a heart to imitate the goodness, it highlights the virtue instead of always focusing on the forbidden.

Does that make sense? Let me know if I’m not clear in the comments or tell me what you’ve done to instill virtue in your kids.

Have a great day!

RESOURCES FOR TEACHING VIRTUE:

God’s Wisdom for Little Girls: Virtues and Fun from Proverbs 31
The Book of Virtues
Loving God with All Your Mind

*post contains affiliate links. thanks for supporting joyfilleddays.com

Five Ways Teens Are Like Toddlers

I’m caring for a 16-month-old a few days a week, (the sweetest little guy ever!) and I’ve been ushered back to the world of sippy cups, toys, nap times, cutting up food into small pieces, answering “what’s that” questions, exploring, and the “everything-is-new-and-wonderful” stage that the toddler years bring. “Little B” already knows the ropes around the house and has pretty much used it to lasso our hearts.

 

My children are mostly teens and adults (ages 12 to 21) and somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten a few basic truths that should inform everything I do in this house. Caring for Little B has reminded me of several of these things.

1. Children watch everything. They’re learning by their environment. Little B watches Holly and Hope to see their facial expressions and he responds. When they clap, he is elated. When they do their school work, he observes. When I fold my hands to thank God for the food, he folds his. It’s true of toddlers and it’s true of teens–they learn how to do life from watching you. God help us if we lead these kids astray.

2. Children want to please. Kids are easily motivated by praise. I see it so clearly with this little guy. He flashes the most adorable smile whenever we clap or say “Good boy!!” He gives me a toy because he knows I’ll give him a huge “Thank you!!” and it becomes a game to see how many times I’ll smile and say it.

Teens want to please you as well. Somewhere along the line, maybe they stopped trying because they got more negative feedback than positive or could never make their parent happy. Maybe you criticized more than praised. Maybe you used your words to injure instead of build up, causing the teen to conclude that building walls and keeping you out was safest and most peaceful route. If so, make that right and ask forgiveness. Teens are almost adults and just like all of us they want love and acceptance.

3. Children mimic. They say what you say and copy what you do. You see it more in toddlers, but it’s true of the teen years as well.

I’ve sat with mothers of teens who can’t figure out WHY on earth their teen is so sneaky, moody, rebellious, or just plain disrespectful and I honestly have to hold my tongue because it’s so obvious to me that the teen gets that behavior from one of the parents. We are often blind to our own sin, and yet we see it clearly in our kids.

Maybe the issue are different,

but if the parent lives their life as though they are above the rules

or they make exceptions or excuses–always the easy way for them– how can they complain when their kids break house rules like curfew, or sneak media, or plain disregard the instruction of the parent?

If the mom is moody (or mouthy!) saying whatever pops into her head without thought for righteousness, how can she be surprised when her child uses her mouth disrespectfully or cruelly?

A mom of a passively/outwardly rebellious child has to ask herself if she’s been joyfully submitting to the authorities in her life or if she’s taught her daughter unwittingly how to manipulate life to make it work for her.

The truth is that our kids tend to copy our own sins–the ones they grew up seeing us commit.

4. Children value what we value. When I make a big deal of going in the car, Little B catches that excitement. When my eyes light up and I ask “Do you want an ice cream?” he can’t get to the car fast enough. Our teens are the same way and learn what we value by our enthusiasm. They know when we expend energy, and know where we cut corners or make excuses. They hear it in our language about “getting to go” here or “having to go” there.

5. Children want to be loved. Toddlers come running for hugs or want to give kisses to the puppy. They snuggle when they are tired and want to sit on your lap to read a book. Closeness matters.

Teens may outgrow much of that but they still want to know that you love them more than anything else. Make sure they know it. If they doubt your love, they’ll go searching for it wherever they can get it.

The teen years are the letting go years, and independence is the goal, but one thing we should never let go of is the pursuit of our teens heart.

Do you have teens and toddlers? What similarities do you see?

2 Minute Ways to Feel Productive

If you are caring for young children, you know that your time is not your own. Many days you don’t have five minutes to yourself. You try to unload the dishwasher and someone needs you. You come back later to the job half done and it’s frustrating.

Instead of getting frustrated, settle for doing things in small chunks of time as you can. If you feel like you’re not accomplishing much, think of your days in small chunks of time and attempt life that way. The small chunks certainly can add up and you’ll find you are not as frustrated and are much more productive.

Something is better than nothing.

What can be done in two minutes? Here are a few ideas.

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  • Glance down at your Bible on the counter for a word of encouragement or instruction.
  • Write out a verse on a card for your fridge.
  • Text a friend, “I’m thinking of you.”
  • Rotate the laundry.
  • Write a thank you.
  • Water the plants.
  • Make a bed.
  • Clean a toilet.
  • Wipe down a counter or Windex an appliance.
  • Wash a glass door that is full of hand prints.
  • Braid your daughter’s hair.
  • Pull out meat from the freezer for dinner.
  • Straighten the pillows on a couch and fold a blanket artfully.
  • Sweep the porch or deck.
  • Check the mail.
  • Tidy up the shoes by the door.

What are some other ways you find to be productive with little snatches of time?

 

Straight Talk About Renewing Your Mind

Maybe you assume that because my blog is named Joy-Filled Days, that I am naturally a half-glass full, Pollyanna type who always sees the good in everyone and everything. That is not true. You know from reading here that choosing joy is a choice I have to make, and by God’s grace I have.

Maybe you didn’t know that I sometimes struggle with my thought life. Discouragement lurks in the corners of my heart, and I’m not alone in this struggle, and neither are you.

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We see many examples in scripture of godly men like Job and David who struggled with low thoughts as well, prompting Job to write “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” and David to write “”Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:2-3, 6). 

{This post is about temporary depression or discouragement, not clinical depression.}

I’ve had to learn to examine my thoughts, especially when it comes to my children. I can be washing the dishes, and in ten seconds in the theater of my mind I will have played out a worst case scenario: a child drowning or being abducted. I’ve parented from a place of fear because of these tendencies, believing the lie that I could somehow shield my kids from all evil if I were vigilant enough. Of course, this is a burden reserved for God alone and one that I was never meant to carry.

I’ve learned that what I dwell upon greatly helps or hinders my emotional and spiritual well-being.

God, in His mercy, has taught me a few things about the importance of renewing my mind and that’s what I intend to share with you today. I’ll warn you, I have to be hard with myself. It is a battle, so if these things seem harsh, I apologize. I’m usually hard on myself and easier on others and don’t intend to burden you at all. If this helps you, great. If it doesn’t, and maybe you’d benefit from another approach to renewing your mind, feel free to do what works for you! The end goal is renewing your mind, not following my steps  Whatever approach you take, the battle can only be won through the help of the Holy Spirit, Word-saturation, and prayer. And remember, God will daily give you the grace you need.

1. Transformation comes about by renewal.

This talk is hard because it’s about submission.

Our culture hates the idea of submission to any person, group, religion or organization, and if I am honest, my flesh hates it as well, because my flesh loves to do what it wants to with no consequences.

But as a believer,  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20 This means that my “flesh” is in a casket somewhere and that God is living within me helping me to believe and live by faith.

“Biblical” thinking is scorned by society, and submission to biblical teachings is deemed primitive, backwards, enslavement, or akin to having rocks in your head.

Culture teaches that I am the greatest god, and if it’s right for me, then that’s all that matters. There’s no higher authority than self.

But no matter what our culture says, as women who are bought with a price and want to serve God, we line our lives up under His Word. (Or at least we try!) God is our authority and we voluntarily and happily submit to God’s word as revealed in the Bible. When culture contradicts scripture, God’s word is what we follow. And when our flesh rises up against scripture, it’s time to “put off” the old man, “put on” the new man, both of which take effort and will on our part.

Romans 12:2 teaches us that instead of conformity to the world, what we really need is transformation through renewing our minds.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In Christ, we are new creatures. I’m not how I used to be.  So when my thoughts start returning to the old way of thinking, I need help. It comes by renewing my mind by knowing God, His glory, and His word. The word transformed in this verse means metamorphosis.

How does this happen? Where do you turn?

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Cor. 3:18

 

The triune God is the only thing large enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of glory, and ultimately worship. Anything else will break your heart…We were created by God and for God and until we understand that, we are restless, brokenhearted glory chaser, always seeking something more.

Matt Papa

2. We are not alone. He have a Helper.

The Holy Spirit prompts you to change as you behold God’s glory.

Your job is respond.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is always with us to encourage us to pursue godliness and to remind us of all we have and are in Christ Jesus. He reminds us that we are one with God, and that our ultimate happiness comes when we live in that place of oneness.

3. The Bible encourages us to check our thoughts.

Just because we think it, doesn’t mean it is true, and just because we dwell on it, doesn’t make it right.

One of the most valuable actions you can take when a thought comes to your mind is to evaluate it before you believe it.

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 

2 Cor. 10:5

Think of a toy-sieve that your child uses at the beach. They pour all the sand through the plastic grid, and as it slides through, the rocks, seaweed, glass, and sticks are more clearly seen and separated. Little hands pull out the junk and unwanted pieces and toss them aside.

Although hard to swallow, our thought life is our responsibility. We are responsible to discard the junk, and the Bible is our sieve.

As thoughts come in, think:

  • Where did this thought come from?
  • Where will it lead me if I follow it?
  • Does this thought agree with scripture?
  • Is is true, honest, just?
  • It is pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praise worthy?
  • It is judgmental, proud, expedient?
  • Does it promote unity?
  • Does this thought show the character of Christ?
  • Does it lead me to love this person or despise them?
  • Does it lead me to hope in God or believe that He has abandoned me?
  • Is this thought self-centered and therefore proud?

Our emotions are like smoke from the fire of the alter of the true god we worship. ~Matt Papa

 

4. We reap what we sow in our thought life. We get what we plant and our thoughts have consequences.

When we think too much about ourselves and how all the people around us are not living up to our expectations, when we dwell on our problems and make big of them, or we indulge in self-condemning thoughts about how we’ve messed up our lives and how nothing will ever turn out right, we are planting a crop that will grow and bear fruit. 

When you plant unloving thoughts about another person, you will reap broken relationships and hate in your own heart.

When you second guess everyone’s motives, you’ll reap walls built up by your lack of love.

When you dwell in self-condemnation {when in Christ you have no condemnation!}, you’ll surely end up discouraged or depressed.

When you think too much about how others relate to you, or too much how others have wronged you, or too much how you’ve let everyone around you down including yourself, you have thought too much about SELF.

Self focus sends me spiraling, friends.

When I make big of problems, or dream up the worst, and think too little about God, and forget His glory and goodness, or neglect my Bible, I’m setting a course and choosing a path.

I need truth to wash over me and renew my mind so I can see truth as it really is and arm myself against Satan’s lies.

This is the truth right now:

  • God loves me and took extreme measures to have a relationship with me.
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God–not a wayward child, a financial crisis, a broken marriage, nothing.
  • God gave me His Holy Spirit so I wouldn’t be bogged down by the broken thoughts of this world. Although I am in a broken world, I don’t lose hope because God is greater.
  • Hard truth:: I deserved hell for my sin, not only in my future when I die, but I deserved hell today, but I didn’t get what I deserved. This is all due to God’s goodness. That means that no matter how hard today may seem, it is FAR better than what I deserve and with eyes of gratitude I can thank God for the day before me.

5. Fight back.

I’ve learned that renewing my mind means putting scripture before me in an intentional way.

I post verses because I need to see them.

I post Bible based art because it’s beneficial for my mind and soul.

I fight back because I sometimes desire social media over my bible reading.

I keep an open Bible on my counter because I need every little glance on the days when my phone is ringing off the hook and problems are piling and kids are in chaos and my soul is crumbling under the weight of it all.

I put God’s word on my fridge and my mirrors, smack dab in front our faces because as John Piper said, “I wake up in the morning with Satan sitting on my face.”

The struggle is real, and I want you to know you are not alone. I hope this helps you and encourages you to be intentional to renew your mind, read God’s word, fight to see Him in a world where everything is vying for your attention.

What do you do to renew your mind? Share your helps in the comments or on FB. Thanks, friends.

The symptoms of a dissatisfied soul

My youngest daughter loves making bubbles. Not the blow-through-the-wand variety–those are too mainstream. She makes huge bubbles with her hands and some dish washing foam. She calls me over, “Quick! Look how big this one is!” It’s fun to see them expand, until POP– they are gone. Nothing left.

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Vanity. Vapor. Really big for a moment and then gone. All form and no substance.

That’s what I was reminded of today in my reading of Ecclesiastes. And Hope’s bubbles remind me that our life cannot be lived for things that don’t last.

We all chase and blow bubbles that we believe will give us fulfillment. They’re oh so big and captivating at the moment.

The bubbles we chase vary: entertainment, experiences, prestige, acceptance, recognition, understanding, excess, power, success, control.

We carefully craft life to make it work according to our desires.

Some try to find fulfillment in ministry or social work.

Sometimes we work for the wrong reasons and to the detriment of those we love.

Some seek happiness by law keeping and others by law breaking.

Some seek elicit s*x, mind numbing drugs or anything else that will fill the void that is DISSATISFACTION.

Dissatisfaction.

It’s that aching sense that you’re missing out, that there’s got to be something more. It’s looking for wholeness in broken things that can only ever deliver brokenness and were never meant to hold any real place in our hearts.

As I look around at our culture, we’re seeking a personalized happiness and will do whatever it takes to get it. Nobody will stand in our way. We’re self sufficient people. My happiness trumps yours. Happiness and self are twin gods that we idolize, worship, and recklessly chase. 

In this pursuit, we chase the “latest and greatest.” We are enthralled by electronic gadgets. We spend much of our discretionary money on the here and now as if the Kingdom of Heaven did not exist.

We spend hours scouring social media. We’re like the Athenians in Acts 17 who were always seeking some new teaching or philosophy and  “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” Dissatisfied, distracted, and seeking the next new.

The Bible calls the pursuit of things that won’t last vanity.

And Ecclesiastes tells us why none of these fillers will satisfy:”He has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Eccl. 3:11)

Solomon was the wisest and richest King to ever live and he tried it all and wrote about it for our instruction in Ecclesiastes.

By his own words, he says that he tried pleasure, laughter, escapism, wine, women, work, making a name for himself by building the grandest of buildings and vineyards, entertainment, wealth, seeking power over people so much so that he had become “so great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.” He “kept his heart from no pleasure.” And yet, he comes to the conclusion that life that is lived outside of the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ is worthless.

If you remember English Grammar in elementary school, you remember prepositions. They tell you where something is in relationship to something else.

Solomon tells us that there is something above man, this God of the Bible who controls all things. And that this knowledge of God and eternity is within the man. He also reminds us that death is ahead of each of us and that dying is one of the realities of living.

We were not made for the here and now, we were created as eternal souls and nothing on this earth will bring us fulfillment until we are fulfilled in Christ. It is madness to live as though this life is all there is.

As Christians, we know this, but do we live it?

How much time did we spend last week in our Bibles getting to know the only One who can bring us satisfaction?

Or how many times did we live like self was of supreme importance last week?

Seeking satisfaction in self-stuff or in Christ. Those are the options.

Obviously, selfishness is the antithesis of Christianity. We know this and we know better.

And yet, we continue to blow bubble for ourselves, then cry when they pop. We get mad when they disappear or irritated when people bump into our bubbles and pop them. We pout when people don’t appreciate our bubbles like we think they should. We get offended when our bubbles are not recognized or applauded, or become discouraged or discontent when others have more bubbles than we do.

We need to see through our bubbles for clarity. And we need to pop them if they are idols. See, bubbles can be good things that become bad things when we love them too much.

God does give us good things, but they were never meant to replace Him in our hearts.

God does lavish us with gifts, but we can not live for them and forget the Giver.

When we see through the gifts to the Giver, on the outside our life may not look like it has changed, but we have changed inside.

We find fulfillment in whatever work we do, whether private or public, whether praised or criticized.  The work will no longer be about you. If the work is taken away or given to someone else, we won’t despair.

Our entertainment will no longer be about us, but about God’s will and ways even as we enjoy it. We’ll seek to build godly character in our entertainment and free time activities.

We’ll begin to live “mindful of God.”

We’ll work “as unto the Lord.”

We’ll serve “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

It’s amazing how perspective changes everything and informs and changes our motives.

It’s amazing how the bubbles that we once chased and demanded can pop into oblivion and we’re okay with that when our trust and hope are in the Lord. It’s exciting that the things that once allured us have no control over us any longer and we can just enjoy the creation BECAUSE of the Creator, reflecting back praise to Him who gives us all good gifts.

Why the Internet Seems Silent about Raising Christian Teens

There have been quite a few articles floating around about the lack of articles and support for middle aged moms who are raising teens. Information for young moms is abundant, but for the mom raising Christian teens? *crickets*crickets*

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The vacuum is real.

I think I know why.

Parents of teens realize they don’t know it all. Parenting check lists are out the window. Parents of teens have been there, done that. We listen with patient tolerance as younger moms offer unwarranted “expertise.”

We’re holding on to grace and God’s promises with both hands.

We know what it means to have faith and to watch in anticipation as you take off the training wheels and let your kids ride away for themselves. It’s wobbly and hopeful and wonderful and frightening all at the same time.

Parents of teens know how to pray hard. We pray hard because we know we’ve made mistakes and haven’t been the perfect parent. We pray hard because we know how rough the world is and what our kids are up against. We know how sin messes up lives and how Satan would like to sift our kids like wheat.

By the time you have a teen you’ve grown up yourself. You wish you hadn’t felt so free to write off the mom that struggled here, or so quick to comment about the issues we saw over there. In short, humility begins to be a virtue in your own life and judgement takes a back seat.

By the time you have teens, the sanctification process is in full swing and you see yourself in your teen’s struggles.

You’re less apt to comment on the drama, apathy, tears, hormones, sin, and failures of your almost adult teen who is caught in the flux and flow of trying to get wisdom.

Our teens are not born wise. They are in and out of varying states (depending on the child, day, time of month, etc….) of what the Proverbs categorizes as wise, simple, foolish, and full blown scorners.

This should not be a shock to you because this is your story, too. Every day you wake up a sinner and go to bed a sinner. Hopefully you are fighting the spiritual battle and leaning in to God’s word every day a little more. Reliance and submissiveness are becoming the norms. Like mountain climbing, we go before them, and reach down with a helping hand to pull them up when needed. We point out the glorious scenery, give them support, tell them where the rocks are loose and where the ledges are. We encourage them to keep climbing.

This past week, my husband and I attended a conference where the topic was on discipleship. Discipleship was defined as “leveraging all that you are and have to help someone else become more like Christ.” Discipleship does life “as you go” and models how to live.

The truth is that our teens have been watching our “model” of life for years. They’ve picked up what we really believe by watching us.

Our kids watch us to learn how to live. Our teens already know how we live.

Hopefully, you’ve modeled a life of integrity. Hopefully you are the same person at home as you are in church. Hopefully you build others up in front of their faces and behind their backs as well. Hopefully you are magnifying Christ in the little choices, the secret choices. Hopefully our character is like Daniel who, when nobody else was watching, would not defile himself with the king’s meat. Daniel’s private choices, prepared him for the BIG stuff later on. Choosing death over false worship and facing the lion’s den was not a hard choice because he had made right choices all along.

But because we are not perfect, our kids need to see repentance modeled. They need to see repentance from a parent before they know how to repent themselves. Saving face with your teens or others by smoothing things over, blame shifting, quasi-telling someone you are “sorry they were hurt”, is not modeling Biblical repentance. Repentance is a turning away, an agreeing with God about your sin which you now see as wicked.

Raising teens means dealing with their sin with humility and grace, restoring ‘in the spirit of meekness, watching yourself, lest you be tempted.” There are no shortcuts and dealing with sin is a life long process. If you had a quick fix for sin, you would have ceased from being a sinner yourself.

Don’t condemn their brand of sin while excusing your own.

I once overheard a mom giving her daughter an angry verbal tongue lashing over her “sin.” In public. In front of her friends. She talked to this girl worse than she would talk to a dog. She was out of control but felt righteous in her judgement. This mom did more damage than good. She used her tongue inappropriately to point out the “sin” in her kid. This is blindness and madness.

Accusations close the heart. Angry words build walls. “The kindness of the Lord leads to repentance.” Romans 2:4

Our teens may be tempted to sin in ways that don’t tempt us. Younger people seem to be more tempted in the areas of immoral desires, pride, cravings for wealth or power, jealousy, envy, apathy, laziness, or an argumentative spirit.

Maybe our pet sins are different, but they are still an affront to the face of a good and holy God. The most important lesson we can teach a child is that God is good and wants us to repent when we mess up.

As Grace-receivers ourselves, we point to the Grace-Giver.

Dealing with the struggles of an adult child can really be like a mirror, reminding us of the idolatrous struggles we recognize in our own life every day.

Have you ever failed to love the Lord with all your heart? This is at the root of all our struggles. When we get this right, our vision changes, our heart aligns to what God wants and we go to Him for “rest.” We repent and turn back.

Christians who have received grace extend grace. Christians who have received forgiveness extend forgiveness.

The alternative to asking forgiveness and finding grace is to cover up our sin. We ignore it, excuse it, or justify it. This leads us away from the cross, deeper into isolation, away from help, and vulnerable to spiritual attack. The mom (or teen) who covers up their sin will not prosper.

When your teen is sinful, bring them to the foot of the cross where they find forgiveness.

If we really believe that Jesus is the answer and that grace is for sinners, we won’t pretend that we don’t need help with our sin or grace and forgiveness. And we won’t isolate our kids when they come to us for help.

I told you it gets messy, and that is the very reason I believe that few people write about raising teens– which is a shame. The grace and hope that is available for sinful men and women is available for teens as well.

And as a mom of four teens, I’m thankful for grace and strength and for the Word of God that points us all to the cross and to the goodness of our God.

Your turn: What do you think? Do you agree? Why do you think the internet is quiet when it comes to raising teens?

 

What My Daughters Need to Know This Valentines Day

Ask your daughter this question: “Who are you? Describe you.”

I work with teen girls and I’ve asked this very question. They nervously and giggly begin telling me what they excel at and enjoy.

I’m so and so’s girl friend. I play the piano. I draw and paint. I write stories. I am a dreamer, runner, friend, singer, student, soccer player, Spanish speaker, etc.  

They describe attainments and roles.

What answers pop into your mind when you think about who you are? I find that we self-define in similar ways: I am a wife, mother, teacher, grandmother, speaker, artist, author, secretary, ministry wife. I homeschool, knit, grow organic food, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, etc.

Although we play many roles in life, but this is not who we are. We are first and foremost a PERSON in a personal relationship with Christ.

Why does knowing this matter?

Because it’s a fundamental. Knowing who I am in Christ keeps me grounded and secure in His love and Word no matter what happens to me in life.

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Ephesians is one of my favorite go-to Scriptures for spiritual identity. It tells us that in Christ we are

  • blessed (1:3)
  • chosen (1:3)
  • adopted into God’s family as a son/heir (1:5)
  • redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1:7)
  • forgiven of all my sin (1:7)
  • lavishly given God’s grace (1:8)
  • sealed and secure through the Holy Spirit (1:13, 14)

I am who God says I am in scripture. I am not the sum total of my roles.

  • My husband is a blessing, but if he leaves, I am not diminished or loved any less by God.
  • When my children leave home my job may change, but my purpose in life is the same: to live to the praise and glory of God no matter what I am doing.
  • If we lose our house, or friends, or ministry, we will not be shaken because our standing in Christ can never be taken away.

I fear that we confuse roles for true identity and look for significance in what we do and how others relate to us in our roles.

Girls, you are a person first and your God wants a personal relationship with you.

You may never have a husband. Or maybe you will and he will walk away. At your core, you are still a person living in the presence of God. He wants a personal relationship with you first, before all of your other relationships. He wants your satisfaction to come from Him alone, not in your roles, your abilities, or your achievements. Keeping Christ central is essential to fulfilling your other roles in a godly manner.

We live in a world that is no friend to my daughters. It screams and promotes worldliness which is contrary to Scripture. The world peddles its goods to my girls, promising them satisfaction in everything and anything apart from God.

You have to flaunt it to be noticed. You’ll never be anything if you don’t look like this. Follow your heart, forget the rest. To be popular, you need to _____, and the more popular you are the better. “Likes” matter. You need to be extraordinary. The pretty girls are the thin ones. You need Botox. You need this brand to be popular. You need, you need, you need.

At its root, of course, the world promotes worldliness. It’s usually a self-centered, grasping, covetousness message meant to make you unhappy with what you don’t have and ready to do what it takes to get it. Covetousness is the very essence of worldliness. (James 4:4)

James 4 tells us that we crave, and strive, and war because our worldly passions are driving us to seek satisfaction in all the wrong places. “You desire and do not have, so you…war.” (James 4:4)

War is one response. When we sin to get what we want, we know we are acting on covetous desires. What lengths will you go to get what you believe will satisfy you?

James also tells us that our satisfaction is elusive. “You covet and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” (4:2)

And mercifully, God is not willing to give you your covetous desires. “You ask and do not receive,  because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.” James 4:3 (envy, covetous motives.)

Why? Because God is jealous for your heart and wants to dwell in it exclusively. “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” James 4:5,

It all comes back to you and God. God wants your wholehearted devotion. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him or be great things for Him. He wants you to love Him.

That’s what I want my girls to know this Valentine’s Day, because all of life and love starts there. If Jesus Christ doesn’t satisfy you, nothing ever will. When you are satisfied in Christ, your circumstances almost don’t matter.

 

God-Mandated Curriculum for your Kids

Do you ever wonder what you are supposed to teach your kids?

With a market flooded with how-to manuals for parenting, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the latest, greatest manual for raising kids.

IMG_6862.JPGWhen you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit who guides your heart and mind and leads you to the help you need when you need it.

And in my experience with my five kids, what works for one doesn’t necessarily work with another, so we really need to depend on the Lord in our parenting. (Obviously–WHY do I even have to state such an obvious, but isn’t it true that we run to manuals more than the Lord?)

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Good news, today. I have a one size fits all parental concrete to share with you. A God-given mandatory.

We must share the mighty acts of God.

Ps 78: 4-8 (selected parts)

The things that we have seen and known, that our father’s have told us (oral, 1st hand history lesson)

We will not hide them from their children,

But tell to this coming generation, the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

That the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,

Here comes the why:

so that they should set their hope in God,

and not forget the works of God,

but keep his commandments,

and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

The Israelites were famous for forgetting God. They were famous for being in bondage because of their sin and idolatry. God is warning us NOT to be like the Israelites in this passage,  but to remember all of the blessings of God and to tell them to our children.

This means that we tell stories. Stories of how God intervened in our lives.

For me, on top of the Biblical stories of God’s faithfulness through the generations,  I’d tell my kids

  • about the time we broke down in the dead of winter in Vermont, and we prayed as a family and a man walked up the driveway of our cottage and asked if we needed help
  • about the time we couldn’t afford violin lessons and had to opt out of lessons for a semester, until a complete stranger paid the kids conservatory tuition bill
  • about the time when God brought a man to build a room for us as a ministry to us when we needed a bedroom for Matthew. He build a family room/ministry room to suit our hospitality needs
  • about how God IS providing money every month to pay college tuition for TWO kids
  • about how God restored my mother in laws health after a serious brain hemorrhage and how people all across the country prayed
  • about  the every day answered prayers, for little things like grocery money, shoes, gas money and so much more

Has God done something wonderful for you? Tell it to your kids. It’s part of their heritage. Their God has done this! Don’ t forget!

This is a really intentional practice. It’s easier to complain and pass along our poor me stories, isn’t it? If you tell about your trials, tell of the Redeemer who brought you through.

Charles Spurgeon once said that we are all to prone to engrave our trials in marble and our blessings in the sand. 

We don’t want this to be our legacy. We need to share our blessings.

 

How has God acted on your behalf? Share in the comments, then share with your kids!!

 

 

 

Hey, What Are You Looking At?

It’s that time of year.

We began our homeschool year this week and as I evaluate where each child is, the old tendency to compare surprises my heart yet again. Comparison is always a cruel tormentor:

Maybe we should have done that curriculum all along. Why is she struggling with these math facts? Did I use the wrong method? Did I not spend enough time with this child laying foundations? 

Panic creeps in as we compare our “right now” to some dreamed up version of what life must be like in the Joneses house.

The snare of compare. (pdf here)

Sometimes I wonder if the Lord feels like calling to me, HEY, What are you looking at?! Get your eyes back on Me!

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Where He Leads me, I will follow.

Do you ever feel this way? Maybe you don’t homeschool, but do you wonder if you should perhaps be feeding your kids all organic food, or decorating your home like so and so, or maybe you should try the child raising techniques that the Joneses seem so enthusiastic about?

It’s easier to follow other people’s methods than to follow the Lord.

It’s easier to take our cues from flesh and blood, from what can be seen and measured, from the confident homeschooling mom who seems to know just what she’s doing, than it is to walk by faith.

There are no glaring advertisements when you walk by faith. No printed confirmation tickets to where this ride is going to take you. No money back guarantees if you didn’t enjoy the ride.

But the just shall live by faith. Even in matters of child raising and education.

When we look to Him and set our gaze on His Word, peace ensues.

The comparison ceases as we step-step-step gently in the path He’s provided for us.

The glorious truth is that Jesus will lead us if we are willing to follow.

And although it’s fine to ask for help and wisdom from seasoned women who have had great results, we have the promise of generously, “liberally” given wisdom, to anyone who asks in faith.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

I know from experience that it’s easier to hop on Google than it is to sit and pray.

I know it’s easier to talk to a friend than to pray.

It’s easier to try to do more and be more in the pursuit of excellence, but what God wants is your faith, and with that faith, He’ll perform for you. Do you believe this? Do you believe that God can take your humble efforts offered up in faith and multiply them and make them powerful for His kingdom?

When our eyes are gazing on Jesus, we can be confident that He’ll guide us through prayer and His Word.

I will let you in on a little secret: Jesus can answer your child raising questions. I can testify to this many times over. I can remember needing practical life wisdom for several issues with our kids. I would pray and ask the Lord to make His will clear and let us know how to deal with this child. I remember kneeling by the side of my sleeping stubborn toddler’s bed. I was to the point of a near break down after a particularly bad day, and I begged God to send me answers. I can tell you that He always did either through a book, or wisdom from an older woman. And once I prayed about it and left it with the Lord, I was in “wait and see” mode. I was expecting answers, and He never disappointed. We have an open ended invitation to ask God for wisdom any time we lack it. It’s one of our BEST resources. God loves your kids more than you do, after all!

My encouragement for you is to follow God on the path He has prepared for you. Keep your eyes on Him. Your life, home, ministry, and family dynamics may look totally different than mine. God has made us all unique, and He’s leading us, by His grace, to the end He has planned for us. Our job is to trust Him, obey His word, live a life of holiness and FOLLOW.

Don’t try to make your path match the Joneses. Follow Jesus.