An Open Letter to My Girls: Here’s What to Look For When You Date

kids

It seems like yesterday I was welcoming you into the world. I thought you would always be in diapers, watching Sesame Street and learning your alphabet. I blinked and suddenly we’ve traded Cheerios and sippy cups for makeup and iphones. And now, much to your father’s dismay, your heads have begun to turn when a handsome boy gives you a wink and a smile.

Boyfriends will come and go. You’ll face heartbreak and joy, tears and laughter. As someone who is, ahem, a bit older than you, here is what I want you to know, so you’ll have the happiest and best life possible.

  1. Look for a guy who respects his parents.

vinicius-amano-145607If a boy doesn’t respect his parents, he won’t respect any authority figure. That includes God. (Newsflash: Neither will he respect you.)

  1. There is a big difference between a Christian “boy” and a Christian “man”.

I’m using “boy” and “man” in the spiritual sense here. A Christian boy is one who goes to church, who can stomp everybody in Bible trivia and may do all the right Christiany type of things. A Christian man is different. He doesn’t just know the Word. He puts it into action. He treats his family, his neighbors and his enemies with agape love. He’s not concerned with keeping a Christian checklist of “do” and “do nots”. His sole purpose in life is to grow closer to Jesus. There is a world of difference between the two.

  1. Tread carefully around the guy who “wants to make his mark in the world”.

This may sound like a good and noble thing, and it can be. It can also be a huge pitfall. As someone who spent ten years in the Christian music industry, I’ve seen horribly sad stories of souls who gave their lives away for the pursuit of fame, even though they slapped a Christian label on it and declared their desire would be so they could help others. Yet, when their ship never came in, they wallowed in bitterness, anger and despondency.

Dreams are wonderful things. The problem is they can become idols if we let them. If a guy is primarily focused on going pro with his athletic skills, being known for his musical talent or any other sort of fame, be careful. He’s probably got some growing to do.

  1. Look for someone who exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13.

anne-edgar-119383If a young man is seeking God, truly following after Him with all he is, these traits will be present: patience and kindness. He won’t be jealous, a braggart or prideful. He won’t try to make himself look good but will be focused on lifting up those around him. He’ll be sweet-tempered, not angry, nor will he keep a record of the times you were crabby. He’ll stay as far as he can from evil. He’ll protect you, always trust in God, always hope and always persevere.

I know what you’re thinking. “Uh, problem. No one can possibly measure up to this.” You’re right, and that’s kind of the point. No human can fulfill your needs. No one except Jesus.

Don’t look to boys to fill the longings in your heart. The only One who can fill it is the One who made it. Romantic love is a beautiful thing, a God-ordained thing, but I promise, there is no rush. Spend your time getting to know God. He is crazy about you. And then, as you seek His heart, He’ll bring along a guy who is doing the same. One day, you’ll realize this friend of yours is more than just a friend and BAM! It’s kismet.road

Whenever that niggling urge digs at you that says, “You need a boyfriend. You’re missing out. All your friends have one,” pray for your future husband. Keep a journal to give him one day. Tell him how much you’ve prayed for him. Write down verses. Tell him your dreams. More importantly, talk to God about him. Ask Him to reveal His perfect plan in your life.

Enjoy each moment and cover it all in prayer. You have plenty of time.

 

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Butterfingers: Interruptions & Learning How to Be a Servant

Back and forth I went.

Kitchen to bedroom, bedroom to living room. Every time I sat down to write, it seemed I heard yet another cry.

“Mom! I need you!”

nate and jace

“Mom! The dog just peed on the floor!”

“Hey, honey, have you seen my socks?”

“Momma! I want candy!”

Through the chaos of barking dogs, calling children, buzzing dryers and ringing phones, I couldn’t suppress the inner voice bearing down on me.

You have to get this book finished by the end of summer. You’re at the most critical part in the story too. The spiritual crux of the matter. Don’t lose focus!

“Focus, Tara. Focus.” I found myself muttering the phrase as I carried the Spot Shot and washrag into the laundry room. I discarded the mess, washed my hands and sighed my relief when the voices clambering for attention finally ceased. All was quiet. Now I could finally get back to the business of what I was called to do…write.

I strolled into the living room and froze. A four year old greeted me with a sheepish grin and sticky fingers.

“Hi, Mom.” He shrugged. “You says I can has candy.” He grinned. “It’s yummy.”

Butterfinger crumbs were scattered all over the floor. Everywhere. butterfingersButterfingers.

Another delay. My irritation flared.

“Nathan!” I stomped over the pantry and grabbed a broom and dust pan before stooping to sweep up the mess. “Son, I do not have time for this!”

With a start, I heard, really heard the words coming out of my mouth. I didn’t have time to clean up my family’s messes? Didn’t have time to be a mom? Didn’t have time to be a servant to the little guys hugging my knees because I was too busy being a servant to everyone else?

God forgive me.

Usually, we are only angered by interruptions when we value the thing we are doing more than the person interrupting us. Sad but true. Crushed cheerios, spilled apple juice and cleaning up Legos might be the most un-glamorous job on the planet but it’s the un-glamorous that reveals the hearts of true servants. The same servant-heart found in Christ.

gabriel-jimenez-241711

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” ~Philippians 2:3-8

Jesus showed us the path to doing anything with big impact is to lay aside our ‘want-tos’ and put others first. That is where unconditional love is displayed, where people witness hope and torn hearts are mended.

Any ministry we have will only be as strong as the ministry we have within the walls of our home. Being a servant, working in ministry or whatever you’d like to call it should never be something we do. It should be an outpouring of who we are…a loved, redeemed child of God who can’t wait to show that love to others.

I’ve erased, “I don’t have time for this” from my vocabulary. We make time for whatever is important to us, and my messy little family is far more important than any book project I’ll ever write.

Although I confess, I may have stopped buying Butterfingers.

Raising a Wild Child Without Losing Your Mind

 

wild nate 3 (2)Wild child. Stubborn. Headstrong. Independent. Strong-willed. Although, having been one of those myself, I suppose I’ve always preferred the term “steadfastly-minded”. You know the type of kid I’m talking about. If you’re not sure, here’s a checklist.

You might have a wild child if…

-You’ve considered purchasing a taser as a disciplinary tool. Okay, not really. (But maybe.)

-The medical personnel at the ER know you and your kid by name. er

– Your kid can unlock any child-proof device invented in under 3.7 seconds. Sometimes less.

-Your eye twitches sporadically for no apparent reason, although you suspect it’s trauma-related.

-You have, not once, but twice caught your child coloring the family dog with a sharpie.

-Your child has a talent for stripping naked at the most inopportune times.

-Nothing strikes fear in your heart more than silence.

-You see his footprints on the hood and top of your car. (Kudos to Lori Miller for this one.)

-Things break so often in your house, you no longer cringe or jump at the sound of crashing or cracking glass.

I feel your pain. Not only was I a wild child, but I am now raising one. I mistakenly thought I had this whole Mommy gig figured out until I had Nate. Boy, was I in for a shock. nate and tp

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion. But getting them to that place? Well, that’s the hard part. So much patience. So much determination. So much….everything.

After my latest battle with my little fireball, I fell into my bed, too tired to think. Reaching for my Bible, I flipped through the pages, begging God to either give me some encouragement or come back right away and spare me from my current misery. Do you know what verse He led me to? 2 Peter 1:3.

” His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Did you catch that? Peter says God has already given us what we need. So why don’t we always feel like it? Especially on the hard days? I think it’s usually because we’re fixated on how we feel, or how the world tells us things should be, rather than on God’s promises and rest.

This subtle but profound shift in my thinking has made a big difference in how I interact with my little guy. Here are a few things I’m learning along the way.

  1. Set aside time to recharge. Stay close to God. Start each morning with Bible study and prayer. Will everything go perfectly in your day? No. Will kids still scream and Cheerios still spill? Yes, but the way you handle things will change. Life goes on, but your perspective will shift. Staying close to God will transform you.

this day is yours prayer 

  1. Refuse to join them in their chaos. Little people have big emotions. When Nate was only a few months old, I remember one instance where he screamed so hard he passed out. When kids of any age are overcome with out-of-control emotions, the worst thing we can do is yell back. Such behavior only causes the situation to escalate to volatile levels. It’s our job to help them learn to identify their feelings, manage them and not be dictated by them…a hard task if we can’t do the same.
  1. Give them choices within defined boundaries.

My son loves his Donkey Kong shirt. He wants to wear it every single day. The problem with wearing the same shirt every day is eventually it begins to smell.

Three days ago we were choosing clothes to wear for the day. When I asked what he’d like to wear, he immediately shouted, “Donkey Kong!” I told him, “Sorry, bud, but Donkey Kong had to take a bath.” His brows lowered into a scowl, and I could see the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm front. He grit his teeth. “Donkey Kong.”

I could have pulled another shirt from the closet and said, “This is what you’re wearing today. Deal with it.” Instead, I pulled two other shirts out and let him choose. “Here are your choices today, buddy. Captain America or Star Wars?”

i've got the power

Suddenly, Donkey Kong was forgotten. Why? Because I’d given him a measure of power. He got to decide. He had control. It was minimal and within boundaries but still, control is what my little man craved.

Pick your battles carefully. Does it matter if your kiddo wants to wear mismatching socks or their shirt inside out? Think about the goals you have for your child. The long-term goal determines how you handle the day to day stuff. Focus on the big picture and let the quirky things go.

  1. Don’t be too proud to apologize when you’re wrong.

Every parents messes up at some point. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yelled when I’ve meant to keep calm. I’ve eaten Nutella from the jar when I’d determined to have an egg-white omelet. I’ve shown my kids what not to do…emotionally, physically and spiritually. So when I scrape bottom, the best way to teach them how to handle failure is to model the next step…humility and seeking forgiveness.

They are going to make the mistakes I do. They’re human. What better way for them to learn to seek forgiveness from others than to see it sought and lovingly offered within our own home? And kids are so quick to forgive. They are marvelously, beautifully filled with sticky grace.

  1. Remember God put you and your child together. mom and nateEvery time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory.

It seems the key to raising a wild child is this: relationship trumps everything else. Children who know they are loved, even when they mess up, seem to handle life, setbacks, their imperfections, and everything else, much better than those who don’t. Rules without relationship fail.

Love as you want to be loved. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. And keep your sense of humor handy. You’re going to need it.

What have you learned raising a wild child? What tips would you give to a struggling parent? What would you add to the list “You Know You Have a Wild Child If…”? I would love to hear!

5 Tips for Handling Criticism While Raising Your Strong-Willed Child

by Tara Johnson

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked slowly, trying to understand what the older woman who had approached me had said, a task made difficult by my son’s screams of temper and my own strangled nerves. I felt frayed. Exhausted. The excursion into Walmart was not going well. strong-willed-child

I’d had high hopes for the grocery store run. After all, my son’s terrible two fits were getting better. I had been diligent with him at home. He seemed to comprehend life wasn’t just about him. We were making progress. Less screams of temper. A slight bending of that iron-strong will of his. Was he stubborn? Most definitely so, but learning. He was learning and improving.

Until we arrived at Walmart.

My little man always wants to be held, a difficult task since his little two-year old body weighs in at a sturdy thirty-eight pounds. I had carried him far too much at church camp the week before and was still healing from a burst blood vessel in my arm as a result.

Instead, I planned. Nate can’t be trusted in a regular shopping cart. He stands up and nearly falls out when the momentum carries him past the frequent stops. His legs are too long for the front kiddie seat so that left one option: the hoss cart.

You know what I’m talking about? Those big blue carts that are the shopping cart equivalent to a monster truck? This hernia-inducing cart has a row of bench seats,  complete with seat belts and a regular cart attached to the end. My nine year old scooted into the bench next to Nate and my twelve year old walked beside me as I grunted that tank up and down aisles. For the first fifteen minutes things went well…until he discovered that when Mom is perusing products, the down time is a perfect opportunity to escape.

Maybe I can hold him. If we hurry, we can get through in fifteen more minutes, right?

Wrong. Nate began wiggling and squirming in my arms. Another ten minutes and my back was shot. With no other alternative, I plopped him back in his seat. “Sorry, little man, but Mommy’s back is hurting too badly. I need you to sit like a big boy until we’re done.”

In a flash, the demon of fury that resides in my toddler rose up with shocking force. He screamed. He slapped. He wailed. He hit himself. He tried to hit me. Wheeling the hoss cart into the shoe section with surprising speed, I grabbed his flailing body and gave him several swift swats to his rear, followed by a stern admonition to straighten up and fly right.

He was having none of it. I needed his crib, a place for time-out where he could escape until he calmed down. For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a time-out fort from shoe boxes but decided against it. Stores don’t seem to like it when you do that.

Seeing no other options, I seat-belted him into the cart as his screams reached ear shattering levels. I shouted to the girls, “Okay, here’s the game plan: get only the necessities like milk and bread and we’ll hightail it out of here.”

My sweet girls nodded and did their level best to help me do my Indy 500 shopping. Nate never calmed down though. He slapped, he kicked, he wailed, he shrieked. With every spine-jerking scream, my nerves stretched tighter and tighter.screaming

Absently grabbing a loaf of bread, I thought, Am I a terrible mother? Why do all of our trips to town end like this? I spank. I do time-outs. I talk. I reason. I reward. I punish. I’m consistent. I don’t give in. I don’t back down. I cuddle him. I love on him. I do everything I know to do and still, this is what happens. I thought I had this whole mothering thing figured out. The girls are sweet as pie. Where did I go wrong?

Then the nosy, albeit well-intentioned lady approached me as I grabbed for some eggs.

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked, trying to formulate a reply. “Yes, ma’am. Actually I did wear him out. This is the aftermath.”

She shook her head, giving me a sweet yet somehow condescending smile. “No, honey, I mean you should take him to the bathroom and spank his bottom and don’t let him out until he’s stopped.”

I nearly laughed in disbelief. Keep Nate in the Walmart bathroom until he stopped screaming? I really didn’t have the time to keep him in lock down for seven hours. Trust me, that’s how long it would take before little man gave up. Plus I had two other kids to consider.

As a Christian mom, I never thought I would say this, especially since I’ve always been taught and read the admonition to “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but spankings make my son worse. Significantly so. He gets hysterical, beside himself and completely shuts down.

A strong-willed child would just as soon take the punishment and keep doing what they want to do.  I could spank my son all day long but what he wanted was to be held. I couldn’t cave in, hence the seat belt in the hoss cart until I could get him home.

I tried to explain all this but the stranger would have none of it.

Taking a step closer, she shook her head. “Listen, honey, I used to run a day care so I know. If you let him pitch this fit, he’ll never learn and will walk all over you.”

Let him pitch a fit? It took all of my self-control not to lash out in hurt and all my willpower to keep him in that seat. Every ounce of energy I expelled trying to stay firm with him was exhausting.

Then, she lowered the boom,  rubbing salt into the open wound. Lowering her voice, she looked over her shoulder. “Listen, hon, people are talking about what a bad mom you are. I just heard a lady over in jewelry say ‘What kind of a mom lets a kid who’s upset scream like that?'”

crying

I was speechless, too hurt and wounded to formulate a reply. Oh, I wanted to. I wanted to lash out in anger, to give vent to the volcano of emotions rolling inside of me. To tell this woman that she didn’t know my son at all. That she didn’t know me and that she had disrespected me in front of my own kids.

But my girls were watching. Observing. She was my elder and deserved respect, no matter how deeply she cut my Mommy-heart open.

Instead, I nodded and slowly wheeled my little ducks to the card section where I cried in front of the Hallmarks.

This is a day in the life of a mom raising a strong-willed child. I actually thought about titling this blog post “Apocalypse, Thy Name is Strong-Willed”. Sound a tad melodramatic? I would have thought so too…before I actually had a strong-willed child.

All this happened over a year ago. Since then, we have learned Nater Tater has been diagnosed with several issues that mean how he learns and the way he learns it is not the norm. And yes, that includes in the realm of discipline.

My adorable little boy’s stubborn, fiery will took me by surprise since we’d already had two sweet girls. My husband and I mistakenly thought we had this kid-raising thing somewhat down. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I’m strong willed and my husband is as well. (Although I prefer the term ‘steadfastly minded’.) And although some days it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a good thing we are the ones raising a bull-headed little boy. He won’t be able to run roughshod over us. I’ve told him many times and will likely say it a million more, “You’re not gonna win this one, kiddo. I’m more stubborn than you. So settle in and bring it on.” stubbornness

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion.

On the days I’m ready to throw in the towel, I remind myself of this truth. When I feel my Mommy toolbox is depleted, I remind myself God has a plan for this little guy. Honestly, rather than the day to day challenges of parenting, I tend to hurt more from the hastily flung barbs of my critics.

So how does an exhausted mom handle those who are happy to dole out unsolicited advice?

  1. Be respectful. As tempting as it might be, don’t respond in anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20) How you react to criticism teaches your children how to react to criticism. Don’t let your emotions choose for you. Knee-jerk reactions have eternal consequences. Breathe in, breathe out.
  1. Be teachable. prideful-peopleOften times people give advice because they have a trick or technique that worked for them or their child. It’s okay to listen. You aren’t obligated to put it into practice. As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, your stubborn kiddo might be trying to play by a different rule book. Trying something new could be extremely helpful. Or it could backfire big time. Scrap the diva mentality either way. It’s hard to have your pride nicked if it’s not inflated.
  1. Remind yourself that this phase won’t always last. Every time I’m tempted to think that my life will be a never-ending stream of crushed Cheerios, sleepless nights and temper tantrums, I remind myself that this phase of life will pass. Change. Yes, other phases will come and go. Some delightful. Some infuriating. That’s okay. This too shall pass…sometimes like a kidney stone but it will pass.
  1. Don’t try to cram your child into a mold that other people declare to be acceptable. moldTrying to force your child to be something he or she is not is crippling, both for you and them. God has a unique plan for their little lives and His plan does not include having them pretend to be someone else. Think about your goals in raising your little one. Is it to please people, to win their approval as being a great parent, or do you want your child to grow up to be a person who follows God with their whole heart and can live a happy, independent and productive life? The goal determines how you handle the little stuff…and consequently, how deeply you let that irritating know-it-all get under your skin.
  1. Remember God put you and your child together. Every time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory. And really, if I’m trying to do things in my own strength, I’m going to fall flat on my face anyways. But when I surrender each moment to Him, each decision and each of my unique little ones to Him, His strength will be made perfect in my weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s okay, exhausted parent of a stubbornly stubborn kiddo. Breathe in, breathe out. Love your child. Correct them. Stand strong. Don’t cave under pressure. And remember, when this life is over, you won’t stand before a jury of your peers. Just God. Living to please Him is all that matters.

I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle criticism? Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What is the best or worst advice you’ve ever received? 

When Your Kid is…Different

Sometimes, Moms just know.

They know when all isn’t as it should be. When the other three year olds are able to count to ten but their child can’t articulate “one”, “two” or “three”. Moms know when it’s strange that their three old son can’t ask for a specific food when he’s hungry, but instead opens his mouth and yells, “Eat!”

She knows that something is wrong when her adorable little boy is three and she’s still not heard him say his own name. She knows.

I knew. nate-for-blog

Well meaning people told me not to worry about it. After all, my fun-loving bundle of energy had two big sisters who could speak for him. Why did he need to talk? He just hadn’t found the need to that often. Others told me to chill. He’s a boy. They don’t mature as quickly as girls. Girls are counting early, learning the alphabet, solving world peace and knitting blankets for their future husbands, while boys play in dirt and pick their noses. Nothing to worry about. Right?

I knew, but I didn’t say much. He’s healthy and extremely happy. A handsome boy with mischievous brown eyes, heart-melting dimples and chestnut curls. He makes friends easily and is always smiling. But still, there was something…

The speech delay could no longer be ignored and we had him tested just before Christmas of last year. The results came back for our little guy…severe cognitive delay paired with a severe speech delay. what-if

As I sat at the tiny elementary school table, my legs tucked up under the too-small chair, I listened to the therapists lay out all the options for my little guy. I was calm. I knew God had gone before us and I knew none of this had taken Him by surprise. The therapists told me from what they’d observed, they believed Nate could catch up over time. I listened and nodded and drove away from the school with a heart that was too jumbled for examination. Heavy, sad, overwhelmed, relieved in an odd way that my concern was validated, a thousand ‘what-ifs’ tumbling through my mind, another wash of sadness, and then—

“Hi!”

I looked in the rear view mirror and Nate was grinning that big toothy grin at me, his brown eyes sparkling, one chubby hand waving. “Hi, Monny.” He blew a big, wet sloppy kiss my direction and it happened. That tight bubble of gloom burst in my chest and was instantly replaced with laughter. Joy. Love.

Because in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing has changed. Nate is exactly the same awesome bundle of energy and joy he’s always been, both before the diagnosis and after. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective.

Going through this journey with Nate has been incredibly rewarding. He works so hard to master new skills and concepts each week but here’s the thing…he’s not worried about trying to make anybody happy or do things the ‘right’ way. He just loves life, learning and people. nate-and-susan

And Nate has taught me how to celebrate the small things. After his very first speech session, his amazing speech therapist, Susan Jumper (pictured right), or “Miss Su-Su” as he calls her, led him out of the room with a big smile on her face.

“Nate, do you want to show Mommy what we learned today?”

He nodded and smiled.

Susan asked, “What’s your name?”

He moved his fingers down his arm and tapped his wrist as he said, “Nate!” Perfect enunciation. Perfect smile. Perfect joy.

Perfect tears on this Mommy’s part. Those small victories have turned into big victories for our little guy.

I’m incredibly thankful for his incredible therapists and teachers…people like Miss Diana (pictured below), his cognitive therapist, Miss Su-Su, and Miss Roxie, Miss Stephanie and others who pour endless love and patience into these little guys who have so much to give. And I’m so thankful for a Savior Who sees every need…even before we know we have one. He has provided help every step of the journey.

nate-and-diana

Any more, when people ask me how Nate is doing, I smile and say, “Just fine.” He’s thriving. God has seen to it. If you’re reading this and your child has just received an unexpected diagnosis, a test that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, or is struggling in some other way, take heart. Love fills the gaps where our strength crumbles. There will be days when you’ll have ugly cries in the shower so no one can see. Times when you’ll wonder, “Why?” But there will be victories too. Laughter, love, and joy that will be all the sweeter because of the journey you took to arrive at the place of celebration.

Your child is a great big bundle of love and potential. Tests can’t measure their worth. Focus on what matters. Focus on what will last.

“And the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

I would love to hear from you. Are you the parent of a child going through a similar situation? Are you battling some scary emotions? What have you learned along the journey? Would you like me to pray for you and your family? Drop me a few lines!

A Father’s Love: Monster Chasers and Hallway Protectors

Our little family was recently reminiscing over funny memories from way back when. You know, when the girls were three and six, instead of the mature ten and thirteen year olds they are now. Especially in light of this coming Father’s Day weekend, my oldest daughter remembered something very sweet about her daddy. scared

“Dad, remember how I was never scared of monsters in my closet, but I was always terrified of monsters coming down the hall?”

He laughed. “I remember.”

She grinned. “But instead of getting mad at me for worrying about monsters coming through my bedroom door, you would grab a toy rifle and march up and down the hallway every night before I fell asleep. Remember that? And you would chant silly soldier rhymes like, ‘Hut, two, three, four, no monsters gettin’ past my girl’s front door!’

super dad

My heart melted hearing the treasured memory she had stored away. Why had that particular remnant from her childhood held fast when so many others had siphoned away? Because protection is powerful. It shows the measure of true love and the lengths it will go to save the one it loves.

Real men, real fathers protect. Whether the fear is real or imagined, good fathers fight away the dragons while their princesses clutch their battered teddy bears until those quivering shadows melt into sweet slumber. And even now as a thirteen year old, I frequently have to remind my daughter that Dad’s rules about modesty that seem so outdated to her, or the rules about technology that seem so rigid, are born from the same protective heart that marched up and down the hallway for hours chasing away the monsters…his goal is ever and always to protect her.

dad daughter

Maybe you’ve never known the love of a father like this, a man who would give his very life to save yours. Earthly fathers and husbands, even the good ones, will fail us but there is One who is desperately yearning to call you His daughter. He’s waiting with open arms. Best of all? He will never fail you. Ever. His specialty is unconditional love and it’s best seen in the way He protects His children.

“To You, O [God] my strength, I will sing praises; For God is my stronghold [my refuge, my protector, my high tower], the God who shows me [steadfast] loving kindness.” ~Psalm 59:17 AMP

“A father of the fatherless and a judge and protector of the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.” ~Psalm 68:5

If you’ve spent your lifetime searching for the love of a man, whether that be a father, a husband or a boyfriend, and you’ve been hurt over and over again, broken and left more empty than before, run to the One who wants to be the Father you’ve dreamed of. He’ll be your comfort, Protector, Friend and Savior. He’ll be the Daddy willing to march up and down the hallway chasing away the monsters that leave you trembling in fear…whether they are real or not. What is important to you is important to Him. He sees you. He loves you. He’s waiting. daddy daughter

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From where shall my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber [briefly] nor sleep [soundly]
.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun will not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your life.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in [everything that you do]
From this time forth and forever.” ~Psalm 121

I would love to hear from you. Do you have fond memories of ways your father made you feel loved? In what ways has God been the Father you’ve always longed for? How often do you think of God as your Protector?

 

When Mother’s Day is Painful

baby feetMother’s Day is a day I both cherish and dread. Cherish, because of the sweet bond my three living children and I share. We giggle and play, worship and love. Yet, I also dread this holiday too. Why? Because I have two babies in heaven.

I wouldn’t wish them back for anything. (I often tell my audiences that I have five children. Two are with Jesus and the other three are stuck with me.)  But Mother’s Day is a sharp reminder of their absence in my arms. It fuels my longing for little Taylor and Morgan and resurrects memories of the heart-rending moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe from the pain of loss.

I doubt I’m alone.

Anyone who has battled infertility, anyone who has lost their own precious mother or has suffered the death of a child, anyone who has a mother in prison or is estranged from their children, or anyone who had an outright abusive relationship with their mother might feel the same.

Do you know what makes this day doubly hard? The Mother’s Day themed services in church.

Please don’t get me wrong. I adore my fun-loving mother dearly, as well as my sweet mother-in-law. They deserve all the praise and love my heart can offer. But I think many church leaders forget something in all their planning. No, make that two things. One, not everyone had a loving, kind, June Cleaver type of mom. Two, we go to church to worship Jesus, not women.

Having every song resolve around our ‘dearly departed mother’, or ‘the faith of mom’ or the irreplaceable love of a mother can feel like a slap in the face to those whose loss is fresh, or worse yet, is desperately longing for a baby to fill their arms.

I once mentioned to my own mother that someone had asked me to sing a Mother’s Day song that went along the lines of, “I remember when Momma used to read to us from the Bible, but she died and now she’s sitting with Jesus…” Mom scowled. “I’m not dead yet! Sitting with Jesus would be wonderful but don’t kick me out of here before He says I’m ready!” I want to enjoy and celebrate the time we have together now…not wallow in the sadness I’ll feel when she’s gone.

HPIM1336.JPG

Along those same lines, focusing every song, every word, every moment on mothers doesn’t leave much room for Jesus. He’s the reason we come, after all. (Or should be.) When my focus is on Him, my own pain doesn’t seem so deep. Motherhood is wonderful but we ought not let it push Christ from the center of our worship. I’d much rather kneel at the feet of the One who made us than be put on a pedestal from which I’ll surely fall.

So what am I saying? Just this: be sensitive. Be aware. Mother’s Day is not a wholly delightful day for some. It’s a mixed bag. And sadly, there are others who find it to be pure emotional distress. (I’ve known a number of women who choose to stay home on Mother’s Day Sunday because they cannot deal with the distress it stirs up.) The last thing I want to do is inflict more hurt on those battling through the hard things.

Be thoughtful. Be sensitive. Honor your mother. Worship Jesus. If we can do that, it will be a blessed day indeed.

shepherd staffFor those of you in the middle of a difficult Mother’s Day, you are loved by God. He sees. He knows and He’s holding you in the palm of His hand. You are not alone.

What about you? Do you struggle on Mother’s Day? Are there things you wish churches would do differently on holidays? What is the best way you’ve found to honor your Mom? 

 

5 Ways to Bust Up Homeschool Blues

Some days, homeschooling is a total joy. Other days are pure hair-pulling frustration. Tears. Giggles. Broken pencils. 100s. Red marks. Some days I feel like supermom. Most of the time, though, I feel like I’m groping my way through a fog, praying I’m not scarring my children for life. (By the way, have you ever wondered why there aren’t many home schooling atheists? My theory for this anomaly is because after a few weeks of home schooling, most of us are crying out to God for deliverance.)

homeschool comic

After closing in on our second full year of taking the plunge, we have finally found our sweet spot. My kids and I have discovered our individual learning and teaching styles. I know my children’s fears, their dreams, what motivates them, and they, in turn, know me. Despite the ups and downs, it’s a rewarding endeavor. Incredibly rewarding, even if we had to learn some things the hard way. Homeschooling, just like anything else, is a cycle of successes and failures until you learn what techniques work best for each individual child.

Something that has been crucial for my own children is this: they need variety.

Routine is very important for success, but there are a number of things we’ve employed within our schedule that keeps each week exciting, our days more vibrant than sitting in front of a computer or writing in yet another workbook.

We started off with the normal routine breakers: taking our lessons outside on pleasant days, planning fun field trips to science museums, caverns and plays. We scheduled pottery classes, and my kiddos favorite—I enrolled them one day a week at the 4-H center’s all day science class for homeschoolers called SEEK.

The problem is, these big activities only account for a handful of days within our school year. What about the rest of the year? What about things we can do within our daily schedule to mix up the monotony?

Here are five of my kids’ favorite boredom-busters.

  1. Attitude of Gratitude Board attitude of gratitude board

Every month, I pick a theme for our large dry-erase board. Sometimes the month’s theme is “Things that Make Me Giggle”. Other times, it’s “I feel loved when…”. We’ve done “What makes me afraid…”, “Today I’m thankful for…”, and “Today I will pray for…”. Each day, the girls write their answers on a post it note and stick it to the board. After we have collected thirty answers, they get to pull a card from the reward jar.

Our reward jar is full cards that say, “Trip to Menchie’s frozen yogurt”, “Mom will buy you a new book”, “shopping trip”, “movie night”, etc. My kids love it, and it’s a great way to have them identify both their blessings and their own emotional make up.

  1. Cooking Night

Every other month, I give my girls twenty dollars and they know what to do…cooking night! They must work together to plan a healthy meal menu that covers the basic food groups (and a meal they can personally prepare). I drive them to Walmart and they purchase all the needed items to create their fabulous meal. kids cooking

That night, they are in charge of the meal creation and clean up. They love it! Then, their Dad gives them a grade based on taste, staying within their budget, and nutritional value. (For a job well done, we reward them with frozen yogurt.) It teaches them how to plan and prepare healthy meals, how to stay within a budget, how to cook, and more importantly, they have  to work together. (A significant feat for any siblings.)

Raising children is all about teaching them how to be independent, functioning, loving, God-fearing adults, right? What better way than an exercise in practical living.

  1. Random Act of Kindness day

Once a month, we pick a random act of kindness for some unsuspecting person. We’ve done things like visiting someone at the hospital, or decorating and mailing cards to shut-ins. I’m excited about this coming month’s act of kindness: the girls are going to meet our mailman and trash pick-ups workers outside and give them candy and thank you notes for their service.

Here’s the most important rule: they are not allowed to tell anyone about it. No self exultation allowed. (And each time, I remind them of Proverbs 27:2. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”)

  1. Surprise Pick

Every Friday I announce a “surprise pick” for the day. Some Fridays they get to skip a dreaded subject and trade it out to play mine craft. Other days we make cookies, or the girls receive a much desired computer game or book. Sometimes it’s something as simple as renting a Redbox movie they’ve been dying to see. It’s their reward for a week of hard work.

  1. Theme Days and Dance Parties

My kiddos love theme days. Just like spirit week at public and private schools, I let them schedule in themes. Sometimes it’s girly-girl day, crazy hair day, or their favorite…nerd day. And my kiddos stay in character. All. Day. Long.

beth nerd daycallie nerd day

And never underestimate the joy of an old-fashioned dance party. Drop everything and dance! Our family’s favorites are Toby Mac, Mandisa, Britt Nicole, LeCrae and Hollyn. dancingWhether we take five minutes to get out the wiggles, or spend an hour sweating through our jumps of joy, what better way to get refocused than praising our Savior?

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good plan for each and every day…homeschooling or not.

I would love to hear from you. Are you a homeschooling family? What tips or tricks have you applied to keep the homeschool routine fresh and fun?

Taking the Anger Out of Interruptions

“Mom, I need help.”

Hearing that plea several times a day is sweet. Endearing. After all, I’m Mom and that’s what I’m here for. I hesitantly confess when it becomes a continual, whiny plea of frustrated, disgruntled children, I begin to lose my cool.

I sit down to eat and my son spills his drink. I’m steadily typing away on a book project and my girls decide they cannot even fathom how to work their math problem without having me stand over their shoulder. A knock on the door during nap time. The jarring ring of the cell phone when the entire house is a tornado of barking dogs, screaming kids and burning dinner. Spills, arguments, needy people. do not disturb

I admit, some days the interruptions drive me crazy.

After a particularly trying day, I plopped down on the couch and contemplated running away, or, at least, hiding in the bathroom. I couldn’t focus on the work before me because of the continual stream of disturbances. I like having a plan. I’m a scheduled-oriented chick. I like spontaneity but only if I can scratch it into my calendar first. Despite my growing irritation, I felt a niggle of guilt at my escalating anger when I couldn’t accomplish what I’d set out to do. After all, it’s not my kids’ fault when they need help. That’s their job—learning through a process of failures.

Stretched out on that sagging couch and rubbing my aching temples, God revealed the reason for my guilt, piercing my heart in the process. Interruptions cause anger when I value the task more than the person doing the interrupting.

Yikes.

When I’m consumed with my plan, my work, my schedule and my check list, I leave no room or flexibility for God to shift me into His plans for the day.

detour

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” ~Proverbs 16:9

Every great hero of faith in God’s Word was faced with life-changing, fear-producing, bone-jarring interruptions. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Elisha, Job, Esther, Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul, the disciples and Mary—only to name a few. What if they had refused to change their schedule? What if they had stubbornly dug in their heels and rejected God’s call away from their well-ordered lives? I wince to think of the outcome.

Whenever I snap in anger to an interruption, every time I complain about the things I’m not getting done, I need to remember God has ordered my steps for that day. I might be under the illusion that I’m calling the shots, but really, He’s the one in control. I’m slowly learning to let go of my to-do lists and trade them in for a to-be list. Be like Jesus. Pour all my love and energy into those precious lives He’s entrusted to me for a season. Life is really about relationships anyway. Everything else is a bonus. interruptions

As I sit here in the airport, typing my thoughts, a crackling voice announces a message over the intercom.

“The American Airlines flight to Little Rock is now delayed.”

Irony.

Are you a planner? How do you handle interruptions? What is your reaction when life, or God, throws you an unexpected curve ball?

Homeschooling: The Good, the Bad & the Funny…5 Things No One Told Me

When we started on this home school journey two years ago, I was a nervous wreck but incredibly excited. I had visions of ripe little minds growing into mature little models of exemplary citizens. I envisioned smiles, serene contentment, and—okay, I’ll just say it—I pictured the school from Little House on the Prairie. You know, the one room school house where all the kids behaved and the teacher was always pretty and sweet.

little house

I’m currently teaching a twelve year old girl, a ten year old girl, and a very rambunctious three year old boy. Little House on the Prairie we’re not. If anything, our home school days resemble a show called Math Stinks, Mom is Spiraling and the Kids Have Taken Over in the Suburbs.

I second guess myself a lot. Daily. Multiple times a day. Some days are almost perfection. Others are like trying to dig fingernails through concrete. Most of them are exhausting. Quite a few of them are amusing. None of them are dull.

On a side note, I’ve learned that you can declare any odd task is part of Home Ec and your home schooled kids won’t question it.

“Vacuum the floors. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

“Make spaghetti. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

“Change your brother’s dirty diaper. Don’t even think of complaining. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

You’re welcome.

Before taking on the enormous task, I read every book I could get my hands on…how to pick curriculum, how to schedule your day, how to organize the house, how to teach multiplication tables, how to know your child’s learning style, etc. But there are a few things you can’t pick up in a book. Here is my list of five things no one told me about home schooling.

  1. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. stressed out 2

I’ve seen educational snobs who look down their noses at home schoolers. Annoying.

I’ve also seen home schoolers who look down their noses at traditional education. Also annoying.

I was chatting one afternoon with a die-hard home school mom. After lamenting the current problems plaguing a certain public school in our community, she shook her head sadly, disgusted with the state of affairs.

“It’s like these parents don’t even care about their kids. I don’t why everyone doesn’t home school.”

My response was, “Uh, because some people like to eat.”

Not everyone can afford the luxury of having a stay-at-home parent. Some families need both parents working, and even at that, still live pay check to pay check. Home schooling is a privilege and one we shouldn’t take for granted. Yes, there may be some sacrifice along the way (actually, a lot of sacrifice) but God forgive me if I ever look down on someone who doesn’t home school because they can’t afford it. Praise the Lord for good teachers and excellent public schools. We need them all.

And let’s be honest. Some parents aren’t designed to be academic teachers. They’re just not. God gifts each person individually. He leads each family according to what He has planned for them. I had some excellent teachers growing up. I also had some that shouldn’t have even been allowed to step inside the school. Children with special needs often need help beyond what a home school parent can provide.

The journey is different for everyone and God tells each family what is right and beneficial for their children. Finger pointing needs to stop on both sides of the educational spectrum.

  1. Home schooling your children does not ensure that they won’t rebelrebellious kids

I’ve seen it over and over again. A well-meaning mom or dad insists their children will be home schooled, stating the reason with stout conviction: they want their child to follow God and not have to learn the hard way.

Admirable. But homeschooling does not ensure a heart that pursues God.

Just as there are a wide spectrum of children in public schools, the same is true for home schooled children. Some are over-achievers. Some battle depression. Some are hyper creative. Some are class clowns. Some excel at math. Others shine when weaving stories that tug the heart. Some are leaders. Some are followers.

Here’s the deal: humans are humans. We mess up. Pain and adversity break some. In others, those same hurts mold them into someone stronger than they were before.

Do I believe homeschooling is important in helping my children be as strong and resilient as they can be in a broken, hurting world? Yes. I want them to be warriors for Jesus, rooted and grounded in truth. But I also know homeschooling doesn’t guarantee it.

Perhaps you’re reading this and are in the middle of a storm with your grown child. They may have rebelled fast and strong from what you’ve taught them, whether that be through home school, church, public school, private school or anything else. It’s easy to berate yourself as a parent and wonder “Where did I go wrong?” running from god

God is a perfect father and his kids rebel all the time. If you’ve done all you can to teach, guide and love, lay that child and his or her future at God’s feet. Pray and trust. Love and wait.

  1. The name of the game is consistent flexibility.

The greatest advantage of home schooling is being able to arrange things according to your child’s needs. Some take this to an unhealthy level and have no organization at all. Without goals, people tend to drift. You need both.

What my children need from me, from others, from their schooling will oscillate and change as they grow and change. Undisciplined kids need structure. Rigid children need to learn to release their need for control (unless it’s due to a condition like autism).

Personally, I’m a very routine oriented person. I like schedules and consistency. Home schooling has stretched me in this area. And although I’m loathe to admit it, part of my problem has to do with the need for control. Learning that I can’t always accomplish something in the way and manner I prefer has been good for me. It reminds me that I’m not the end all and be all. I’m learning the blessings of having a life interrupted…a lesson that’s incredible important if I want to embrace being interrupted by God and His ultimate plan.

  1. It’s normal to be afraid.

I’m constantly evaluating, wondering if my children are getting what they need. Are they too sheltered? Not sheltered enough? Too busy? Too much down-time? Are they having fun in their learning? Bored to tears? Are they ahead? Behind? More sports? Less sports?

Maybe I should just enroll them back in school. You know, more socialization and all that. Then I remember school attendance is forced socialization which works against the whole building-relationships thing. More tests? Less tests? What about the future? ACT/SAT readiness versus getting away from the teaching-to-test mentality.

It always comes back to What if I’m doing something wrong?

What if, what if, what if…stressed out

As I reach for my chocolate and a copy of anything by James Dobson to assuage my parenting guilt of not being enough, I think they would benefit from a better teacher and all these worries would be solved.

Then I realize most of these questions are the same ones asked over and over by public school and private school teachers too. Are my students learning? Is it fun for them or torture? Are they ready for those benchmark tests? Ahead? Behind? Why can’t I get little Johnny to focus? Why is little Susie so difficult to reach?

The worry, the what ifs, the feelings of inadequacy have very little to do with being a homeschooling mom and everything to do with being a teacher, no matter the venue.

Fear is normal. Embrace it, learn from it, give it your best effort and trust God with the outcome.

  1. My relationship with my kids is more solid than it’s ever been…despite the bad days.

Tears over calculating the volume of triangular prisms.

“I need help.”

Hormones.

Sibling squabbles.

“I need help.”

“Mom, I don’t get it.”

“Nate scribbled on my language work.”

“I don’t want to learn this today.”

“I need help.”

“Math is from the devil.”

“I write better with mechanical pencils.”

“I need help!”

“Nate just stole my Civil War test!”

“Mom, I need help!”

Some days I look for a dark closet where I can eat sugar in private and pray for Jesus to come back. It’s rough. My frustration has peaked, my kids woke up in the mood to argue and my toddler son has spiraled into a hyperactive state that gives me heart palpitations.

I sit in my, uh, ‘devotional time’ and wonder if it’s worth it. chocolate 2

Then I hear my girls giggling as they write some hilarious essay about their views on life, or see the gears of their little minds clicking when a difficult concept is finally grasped and a ribbon of satisfaction unfurls through me.

Teaching those memory verses that don’t want to stick is worth it. Teaching them to persevere through the hard subjects when they want to quit is worth it. Encouraging their individuality is worth it.

I know them so well now. I’m learning every day what their dreams are. How God has woven their personalities together. The best way each of them learn and what each of them fears. And I bet they would say the same of me.

Teaching is so much more than just solving for x or being able to quote the Gettysburg Address. It’s showing my kids how to function through the hard days. How to lean on God for strength when I’m exhausted. How to keep trying when I fail. How to find the creativity in my mistakes. How to love others even when it’s difficult.

Home school is more than learning reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s learning to live a life that pleases God.

And that is definitely worth it.

I want to hear from you! Are you a home schooling parent? What challenges have you faced? What frustrates you? What are the joys in teaching your children?