School

Reflections on the First Day of School

 photo credit:  designblossoms.com

photo credit: designblossoms.com

It's just me, my computer, my water bottle and the Olympics this morning. It's quiet for the first time in three months. The dogs are taking some well-deserved naps. I'm catching up on some neglected tasks.

It's the first day of school here, and for the first time since the end of May, I'm looking at a calendar filled with days without my kids. I have lots of projects to work on, a house that really needs a good cleaning and work that needs to be done. But right now, for this moment, I find myself doing a bit of reflection.

This morning, I sent an eighth grader and a high school sophomore off for their first day of school. The morning was a whirlwind. Hair to be done, lunches to be made, advice to be given. But now, in these first quiet moments in months, I realize that I only have five more first days of school.

I am incredibly proud of the young women my girls are becoming, but we have left childhood behind in this house. For the first time, I sent two teenagers to school. My child who would only wear graphic T-shirts and comfy shorts has graduated to a skirt and vest. My daughter who has never liked change faced her first day of school with confidence and a smile.

So much has changed since that first day of kindergarten 10 years ago. And as we face the few years we have left with our girls, I find I treasure the time I have with them more. Don't get me wrong, there were days this summer that I pulled out the calendar and counted the days until school started. But, mostly, this year, I found myself enjoying the days of summer without the distraction of school or sports. And, so, I find myself a bit sad to see school start this year.

As I reflect on our summer and this first day of school, though, I wanted to share this: Whether it's your first first day of school or your last, take a long look at your kids and savor who they are in this moment. Because who they are in this moment may be part of who they are in the future, but they will never be this particular person again.

Whether you're in an easy season with your kids or a difficult one, take a moment today to thank God for who they are today. Identify the traits that your kids have that are positive and thank God for each one.

And, dear mommas, savor this moment here at the beginning of the school year. Because these moments fly by, and as excited as we are to see our kids becoming who God wants them to be, we can't recapture the moments once they're gone.

5 Things Your Middle-Schooler Needs

middle school I have two daughters in middle school, and I have to tell you, this middle school thing is tough. From the social to the academic to swimming in PE, there's more drama in one day than I need in a lifetime.

As my daughters work their way through middle school, I'm reminded that while so many things in this world have changed, middle school has not. In fact, I think the addition of social media and constant text interaction have made it even more difficult.

Middle school is a tough time for kids. Bodies are changing. Hormones are raging. Teachers expect more. Parents expect more. Friendships are harder. It can be tough to fit in.

So, what is it our kids need as they traverse the trails of middle school? It can be tempting to try to step in and right all the wrongs for them. It can be even more tempting to constantly nag them into doing their chores and homework. It can be tough not to constantly argue with them. But what our kids need most in these years of change is to know that some things are constant.

So, here are five things your middle-schooler needs from you.

1. They need to know that they are loved unconditionally. They need to be reminded often that you love them no matter what their grades are, who their friends are or how well they clean their room. They need to know that your love is constant and unchanging. They need to be reminded frequently that God made them and loves them just as they are. They need a living, breathing reminder of Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love."

So much of middle school social life is based on doing the right thing with the right people. Your place in the social hierarchy is determined by the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with, the grades you get and the activities you participate in. Our kids need to know that our love and God's love don't depend on those things. We love them simply for who they are.

2. They need a safe place. Our kids spend so much of their time at school trying to be who they think other people want them to be that they need a safe place where they can just be themselves. Middle school is an in-between age. These kids are caught in the neverland between childhood and being a teenager. They often aren't sure if they want to be a kid who plays with toys or a teenager interested in clothes and movies. They need us to create an environment at home where it's OK for them to be either one. They need one place in their lives where it's safe to just be who they are in that moment.

3. They need wisdom. The problems of a middle-schooler can seem trivial in the light of our adult world, but we have to remember that 40 years of perspective is a lot more than 11 or 13. It's important for us to remember that our kids' problems are big to them. Whether it's struggling with homework or a difficult relationship with a friend, those problems loom large in their lives. We need to be there to offer wisdom and encouragement. We need to help them find solutions to what may seem like trivial problems. We need to teach them to seek out God's wisdom to help them solve their problems. The problem-solving skills they learn today on what may seem like small problems are the same skills they'll use to solve the big ones later in life.

4. They need fun. Kids today are often living lives that are so scheduled and regimented that there's little time for fun. Our kids need us to make time to have fun. Whether it's a spontaneous trip to the movies, an impromptu sleepover with a friend, or a Saturday hike through the woods, we need to remember what it's like to laugh and have fun together. As our kids learn about themselves and start looking for more independence, we often find ourselves at loggerheads with them. To counteract those moments, we have to be deliberate in creating some fun moments with our kids as well.

5. They need to be pushed. Often our preteens don't like to step outside their own comfort zone. However, sometimes, they need a little push to try something new or to make a new friend. It's not easy to try something new or to do something on your own. Our kids need to know that we want them to have new experiences and that it's OK to try something and fail. Sometimes the experience is worth it even if you're not very good at it. When we give our kids a push, though, they also need to know that we're going to be there to catch them if they fall.

Parenting tweens and teens, especially middle-schoolers is hard. It's tough to find a balance that works for everyone. It can often seem like we spend more time at odds with our kids than we do enjoying them. But that's OK. As long as we remember that our kids are simply trying to figure out who they want to be and are trying desperately to navigate the murky waters of these years, we can provide the things they need.

Let Grace Be Their Strength

Grace3 So, I wrote about offering our kids grace yesterday. Funny thing. Apparently, God was talking to me.

My younger daughter made the transition to middle school this year. After five years in elementary school and a year of homeschool, she walked into the doors of our local middle school.

She's made the transition remarkably well. She's had the usual middle school issues of finding her classes and dealing with a finicky locker, but she's been mostly organized and managed her assignments well. Until yesterday.

Last night, she discovered she did not know where her social studies homework was. Hopefully, it's in her locker. If it's not, she'll have to take the late work penalty.

I have to admit that I was frustrated with her. Late work in the first couple weeks of school is not a good way to make an impression on your teacher. I really wanted to lecture and let her know how frustrated I was.

But then I remembered yesterday's blog post. I remembered that this is a huge transition for my daughter. I remembered that she had traveled all weekend to play in a hockey tournament. I remembered that we all make mistakes. And I remembered that sometimes making a mistake is the best way to learn.

You see, this is my daughter who when she was little had to touch the hot pan to believe that it was hot. This is my daughter who has always taken the hard way. This is my daughter who needs the pain of the consequences to appreciate the magnitude of the mistake.

So instead of lecturing last night, I helped her problem solve. We tried to find the worksheet in the online system the school has for assignments. Not there. We tried calling some friends she has in the class to get the questions. No one home. We tried emailing her teacher. No response.

I sent a very frustrated young lady to bed knowing that she would have to take the point deduction for late work. But, you know what? I bet tonight she comes home with all her homework. I bet that she's super careful about writing down her homework and making sure it's in her binder in the future.

Because this one experience has taught her more than all the lecturing in the world could teach her. Offering grace from the parent point of view, offering a hug and encouragement, instead of heaping lectures on top of her already hurting heart didn't take away the consequences of her mistake. That grace, though, gave her the courage to get out of the car this morning and head into the school to face her mistakes.

Because grace doesn't wipe out our mistakes. It doesn't do away with the earthly consequences. But grace and love on the magnitude that God provides, gives us the strength to get up in the morning and face the day. When we pour just a small portion of that grace out onto our kids, it does the same for them. They get bolstered not just by God's grace but by God's grace given through their parents. And sometimes that's all they need to have the courage to put one foot in front of the other.

So, the next time our kids make a mistake, we need to let experience be their teacher and let grace be their strength.

Grace for the Changes

Grace1 There's not been a lot happening in this space the past two weeks. School started. Schedules shifted, and we've all been trying to adjust to the new normal that is the school year. Despite having more time alone, it's been difficult to slot blogging into the new schedule.

When the school year rolls around, it can be tough to get back into the swing of things. It can be difficult to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there. In the past two weeks, I've taken a child to practice at the wrong time, forgotten a breakfast date with a friend and struggled to get my kids out the door on time most mornings. Each time I forgot something or got the time wrong, I felt bad.

Switching from a relaxed summer schedule to the school year one is hard. It takes a while for everyone to get used to the new routine -- including us moms. It takes a few weeks to settle into the new normal, and we need to give ourselves and everyone around us some grace until the new normal simply becomes normal.

However, our tendency is often to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake in the schedule. We get impatient when our children or spouses don't immediately jump on the bandwagon of new practice times, new school times and new dinner times. We get frustrated when our kids don't remember everything they should from the last school year. We get annoyed when our new schedule doesn't work like we think it should.

Especially when making the switch from summer to school year, we need grace -- for our families and for ourselves. Grace is a wonderful and amazing thing. It overlooks the shortcomings of others. It lets us love each other despite our failings. It makes us feel whole even when we screw up. But to offer grace to ourselves and our families, we have to be filled up with God's grace -- every day.

God offers His grace to us all the time. He never runs out. It's always available. All we have to do is accept it. All we have to do is let it fill us up until we're overflowing with it. Because I don't have enough grace to give for all the mistakes and frustrations found in the switch to the school-year schedule. But God does. All I have to do is tap into it.

So, as you make the switch from summertime to school days, remember to include grace in that switch. Remember it takes time to get it all figured out. Remember that God gives you grace every day so that you can offer it to others.

A First Day of School Prayer

School 2014

I dropped both my girls off at middle school this morning for their first full day of school. I'm having a little trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I have a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader. I love the fact that they are growing up into beautiful, compassionate young ladies, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I miss the little girls they once were.

As they head off to school this year, here's what I'm praying for them.

A First Day of School Prayer

My precious children,

You're growing up so quickly. I look at you standing there proud and tall in your carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfit, and I see the little girls that just yesterday I dropped off at kindergarten for the first time. Now, we're starting and finishing middle school. I love you both so much and can't wait to see what God has in store for you. Here's what I'm praying for you this year.

I pray:

That your locker would open on the first try.

That you would find and foster true friendships.

That you would be yourself.

That you would always know that you are never alone and God is walking the hallways with you.

That you would learn new things and have new adventures.

That you would make wise choices based on the things God thinks are important, not the things your friends think are important.

That you would laugh often.

That you would have teachers who inspire you to work harder and dream bigger.

That you would love others and show kindness and compassion to everyone you meet.

That you would encourage those around you.

That you would find a subject that sparks the imagination and challenges you.

That you would be a light in the darkness of this imperfect world.

That you would never be afraid to stand up for what's right.

That you would be a champion of those who are weaker than you.

That you would live fully and enjoy the abundant life that God promises you.

That no matter how tough the day, how harsh the words, that you would know you are loved.

Encouraging Our Kids to Be Themselves

be yourself I took my younger daughter shopping for school clothes yesterday. It's always a process to take her shopping. She's so petite that it's difficult to find clothes that she likes that fit.

Up to this point, she's been a T-shirt kind of girl, but she's headed off to middle school this year. At one point yesterday, she asked me "Is this what everyone is wearing?" And my heart broke just a little bit.

You see, this is my child who has always marched to the beat of her own drum. This is my child who has never really cared what those around her think. This is my child who has always dared to be different.

But she suffers from the same thoughts that plague us all. Am I going to fit in? Will people like me? What if I'm different?

A little bit of fitting in is fine. We all need to fit in to some degree, but if we let those questions become the guiding light of our lives and our kids' lives, then we lose a little something of ourselves. We lose little something of who God made us and our kids to be.

Because the truth is that God didn't make our kids so they would "fit in." He made each one of them to be fantastically and uniquely them. He made each one of them in His image, but He did it in such a way that they are made in the image of no other person on earth.

Too often, I do a terrible job of encouraging my kids to be themselves. I worry about whether they fit in instead of encouraging them to follow their own path. Instead of rejoicing in who they are, I see other kids and wonder why they can't be more like that other child.

God tells us that each person is "fearfully and wonderfully made" and "God's workmanship." He tells us He has plans for us. He tells us that we are loved. Yet so often we ignore those words and focus on how we're different from those around us. We focus on the moments where we don't fit in.

Here's the thing, though, when we try to fit in, when we try to fit into a mold that wasn't used to make us, we only find ourselves miserable. We hide who we truly are for the opinion or approval of people who don't matter. And I think that must make God sad.

Instead of trying to force ourselves or our kids into a copycat mold of what society says is acceptable, we need to be aware of what God says is acceptable. We need to be examples for our kids of people who care more about what God thinks than we do about what others think. And we need to encourage them to do the same.

We need to encourage our kids to make decisions based on who God made them to be and the path that God has asked them to walk. And we need to remember that those decisions might be different even from what we would choose. Because our kids aren't made in our image either. God's calling for them might be different than what we would choose for them. But it's not our job to choose for them; it's our job to guide them to make the choices that God has for them.

So as we embark on the new school year, put some focus on helping your kids become the people that God created them to be -- fearfully and wonderfully made creations who are the image of Him.

School Decisions

sharing We're on our last week of school here, and I know a lot of moms who are thinking about their school options for next year. I know homeschool moms who are struggling with whether to send their kids to public school next year, and I know public school moms who are thinking about homeschooling.

No matter the decision to be made, though, there's a common thread in all of these conversations -- guilt. As these moms struggle to decide what the best option for their kids is, each mom feels as if their decision might fail their child. Or they feel like the decision they made for this year finishing up has been a failure.

And you know what? Whatever community they are currently a part of generally isn't helping. Having one child in public school this year and one child doing school at home has given me a foot in both worlds. It's given me an opportunity to see both sides of the story and be a part of both communities. What I've discovered is that in both communities, public school and homeschool, there's very little tolerance for the other choice. Everyone is convinced that their choice is the best and when someone dares to suggest that they are thinking about a different option, that person is immediately flooded with opinions about why a change might be wrong.

Whether your child is in public school, private school or homeschool, it doesn't mean that your choice is the best for everyone. It simply means that the decisions that you've made are the ones that you think are best for your child. Sharing your story with someone else is helpful when trying to make a decision. Sharing your judgment of a different decision is not.

We're told over and over again in the Bible to not judge others. We haven't walked a mile in their shoes. We don't know what it's like. You might think someone else's child would benefit from being homeschooled, but you have no idea what the parent/child relationship looks like behind closed doors. You don't know the financial situation. You don't know whether that would cause hardship or frustration.

By the same token, you might think that someone else's child would do better in public school, but you don't know how that child learns. You may not know the reasons behind him being homeschooled in the first place. You may not know anything about the public school that child would attend.

Instead of dishing out judgment on other people's school choices, we need to be handing out encouragement and gratitude. We need to be thankful that we have these options available to us. We need to remember that not every kid and every family is the same. We need to build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

As parents make school decisions for next year, let's all be supportive of those choices. We don't have to understand all the reasons behind them. We do need to hold our judgment and offer our encouragement.

Finding Common Ground in the Homeschool vs. Public School Debate

homeschool This year, I have a foot firmly planted in two schooling worlds. My older daughter attends public school, and we're homeschooling my younger one. It's an adventure, and it's given me an interesting perspective on how the two sets of people involved in each choice view the other.

I've discovered there's a lot of judgment involved on both sides. Some public schoolers think that homeschoolers are raising awkward, sheltered kids who can't function in the real world. Some homeschoolers think that public schoolers are corrupted by the world and that public school is only full of horrible things.

But here's the thing: Why are we so busy judging someone else's choice, especially when it comes to school? I honestly think that Christ-followers are some of the worst offenders here. Instead of being thankful that we have options when it comes to schooling, we think that whatever we choose to do is the best option and are unable to see the benefits of the other option.

We chose to homeschool my younger daughter this year. It's the best thing we've ever done for her. She needed the one-on-one attention and the opportunity to build her character in ways we couldn't accomplish in public school. We chose to send my older daughter to public school. It's been a good year for her, too. She's grown socially and mastered some social skills that we simply couldn't have accomplished at home.

There's no one right way to educate your kids. The Bible doesn't say homeschool your kids. It also doesn't say to send your kids to public school. What it does say is "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). We can do that in the context of homeschooling or in the context of public school.

No matter what type of schooling we choose for our kids, it's important to understand that others have good reasons for choosing a different option. Your kids are not their kids. When we make snap judgments about someone else's school choices, we do ourselves and our kids a disservice. It's almost as if by judging others we're justifying our own decisions. And there's no need for that. If we've prayed about our decision and chosen the best option for our own kids, then we don't have to justify it to anyone else by denigrating someone else's choice. Our reasons can stand alone without comparing them to someone else's choices.

If we all focused on simply providing the best education we can for our kids, whether it's at home or at school, we would find that we all have a lot more common ground to stand on than when we focus on the differences in our choices.

10 Things I've Learned in the First Week of School

10 things

It's the end of the first full week of school. I don't know if my girls have learned anything, but I have learned a lot. Here's just a few things I've learned this week.

1. 5:30 is really early, but it's worth it to get up and have an hour to myself before anyone else gets up. I won't make it through the weeks ahead without starting my day with a little quiet time with God. Those silent, stolen moments with Him are the thing that help me hold onto my patience and frustration during a day gone bad. Those stolen moments of solitude are what keep me going when all I want to do is take a nap. I am, however, considering taking up coffee-drinking.

2. If you're home all day, every day, the dog will follow you around and nap wherever you are. And he snores.

3. I didn't know nearly as much about my younger daughter's learning style as I thought I did. A week of being her only teacher has me scrambling to truly understand the unique way my daughter learns. Getting a better understanding of how God made her has been a blessing of this first week but has left me redoing lesson plans left and right.

4. Getting back into the school and sports schedule is hard. I miss my summertime nights where the family sat down to dinner together almost every night, followed by games of horse or some shared TV time. The school year has its own rhythm, but we haven't found it yet.

5. Sending my older daughter to camp this summer was the best decision we ever made. She came back more confident in who she is and who God is. She's probably the best equipped she's ever been to handle the social challenges that come with school. We've been back to school for more than a week, and we haven't shed a single tear over school, yet.

6. I still don't like to cook dinner.

7. Lists and schedules can help order the day. I still hate making lists, but I've found that for this week, at least, they're the only thing making sure I don't forget something.

8. Not every day is going to be great -- some days don't even break the good mark -- but God is there even in the midst of the bad days.

9. Sometimes you just need to take a break. The back porch is my new refuge. Fifteen minutes with a book, a game on my phone, or in prayer in the middle of the day is enough to get me through the afternoon.

10. Some weeks your house is just going to be messy. Figuring out the work, school and sports schedules this week has been hard enough. Trying to add housecleaning to the mix would have sent me over the edge. I've done the bare minimum, but this weekend we'll be having a house-cleaning party. I know my kids will love it.

The first week of school has brought a lot of learning to our home, but I think I've learned the most. Here's hoping that next week, I can learn some more.

The Fourth Day of School

abandon

We're on our fourth day of school, and my older daughter is having a great year. My younger daughter and I are still trying to work out the kinks. Much as I would love to tell you that these first few days of homeschooling have been amazing, they haven't been. We've had tears two out of the three days. Yesterday left me wondering if I can do this for a whole year.

Four days into the school year, and I'm exhausted. I have a stack of work that needs to be done, the fish bowl needs to be cleaned, and I'm wondering if I'll ever get more than half an hour a day to myself ever again.

I knew this would be tough. I knew it would be a huge adjustment for both my daughter and me. I even expected the tears and the exhaustion. But I had hoped it would be different. I had hoped it would be an amazing time for both of us. Maybe that time is coming. And maybe it's not. It may be that this year will be a constant struggle for both of us. It may be that we'll struggle for a while to find a rhythm.

I would prefer that it not be that way. I would prefer that we both come out of this year with a newfound attitude and appreciation for what we can accomplish together. I would prefer not to be exhausted all year.

But, here's the thing. Some things that God calls us to do don't come easy. They don't come with the promise of an earthly reward. They don't come with a guarantee that everyone will be happy. The only promise those tough things come with is that God will be with us every step of the way, he will provide the strength to get us through.

I know that if God has called us to do something, then He's going to provide everything we need to get through the moment, the day, the week, the year. He's not going to call us to do something and then abandon us.

He didn't call the Israelites to leave Egypt and then leave them in the middle of the desert. He was there in a cloud of smoke every day and a pillar of fire every night. He didn't call Gideon to fight the Philistine army with 300 men, and then say, "You're on your own." He didn't call Paul to spread the gospel far and wide and then leave him to rot in jail by himself. God went with those men every step of the way, even when Paul's life ended in persecution.

Some of Jesus' last words were to tell us that we would never be alone. Matthew 28:20 says "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." That applies to us today just as much as it applied to the disciples more than 2,000 years ago.

So, if today you find yourself in a situation that is tough, if you're walking a rocky path that you know God has called you to, remember that God is with you. He didn't call you here to abandon you. And if your kids are walking a tough road, one you know God called them to walk, remind them that God is walking there with them.

Things might not always go as we planned, but if we are following God's direction, then we don't have to face it alone.

5 Ways to Help Your Kids Deal with Change

change

I took my older daughter shopping yesterday for school clothes. She's an in-and-out kind of shopper. She knows what she wants, and if the store doesn't have it, she wants to move on. We did a lot of moving on yesterday. After three hours of shopping, we had exactly two pairs of shorts and two shirts. Lucky for my daughter, this week is only a two-day school week.

My daughter has grown nearly three inches since the spring. Very little in her closet that's appropriate for school still fits. Shorts that worked in the spring are too short now. Several of the T-shirts in her drawer barely cover her belly button. She has to have new school clothes.

Shopping for her was so difficult because not only does she strongly dislike glitter and rhinestones (which seem to be on EVERYTHING this fall), she's stuck in that place where she's too big for kids' clothes but too small for juniors, which leaves an extremely limited selection of items from which to choose. For a kid who dislikes shopping, having to try on everything just to find a piece or two that fits is torture.

Our shopping trip reminded me that though my daughters are growing up quickly, there are going to be moments when they're stuck in the awkward places, mired in the muck of transition. Whether it's middle school, starting school, or simply moving from one grade to the next, every transition has its difficult moments.

So, with school starting for most of us in the next month, let's focus on how we can make those difficult moments of transition a little bit easier for our kids.

  1. Prepare your kids for change. The worst thing I can do for either of my daughters is to not warn them that change is coming. When your child is faced with a transition, get them ready. Do what you can to make them comfortable. If that means you take them to school a day early to check the place out, then do that. If it means you learn everything you can about a new place, do that. If it means you have them talk to someone who has done what they are going to do, then do that.
  2. Cover the change in prayer. Nothing we do for our kids is as effective as praying for them as they make transitions. While we can't see every pitfall, every worry, and every triumph, God can. He can lead our kids through a transition -- even a difficult one -- much better than we can. James 5:16 says "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
  3. Hold onto your perspective. It's easy for us to get emotional when our kids are faced with change. As our kids grow, it's easy to let our emotions overrun the situation. But when our kids are already emotional, throwing our emotions into the mix simply makes the situation more volatile. When your child is struggling with a transition, try to keep your emotions on an even keel -- at least in front of your child -- so that they feel like you think this transition is going to go well.
  4. Find something good in the situation. Change is scary. Not knowing what lies around the curve can cause anxiety. Help your kids find something to look forward to during the time of transition. If they're moving to a new school, help your child focus on an activity or sport that the new school offers that the old one didn't. Giving your child something good to focus on helps to alleviate a lot of the stress of the situation because you've already helped him decide that the situation isn't all bad.
  5. Send your kids into a transition with a smile. Whether it's a funny note in their lunch or a joke you told as they walked out the door, help your kids start their day with laughter. Nothing sends worry running like a smile or a laugh.

Change isn't easy for anyone. For whatever reason, we're hard wired to resist change. But change isn't always bad. Growing up is a good thing. It's not always easy for our kids to recognize that, though, which is why it's so important for us to help our kids through the difficult moments of transition.

As you embark on your school year, remember that even if your child is caught in a season of transition, learning to deal with change helps them to grow. Keep them covered with your prayers and help them through this season. They'll come out on the other side stronger and wiser.

Don't forget to enter the Back to Homeschool giveaway. Don't miss your chance to win more than $1,000 in prizes. Enter here.

When Mom Struggles

darkness

My older daughter played her last soccer game of the season yesterday, and school is out on Thursday.

It has been a long, long year for my older daughter. School struggles, raging hormones, soccer frustrations, injury and troubled friendship waters have all been a part of her year.

To be honest, I've struggled to help her. It's possible that I've shed as many tears for her as she has shed this year. Usually in this space, I try to give all of you a small glimpse into our lives with the intent of helping you teach your kids about God using the everyday moments in your lives. Today, I simply want to share with you some of my struggle this year in the hopes that some other mom who is struggling with her child will not feel quite so alone.

You see, as the year winds down, I find that in many ways this year, I failed my sixth-grader. Sometimes, we didn't make the right decisions. Other times, we didn't help her make the right decisions. Sometimes, we didn't push hard enough. Other times we pushed too hard. Sometimes we brushed aside things that were important. Other times we focused too much on things that weren't important.

It wasn't until the past month that I really understood how much my daughter's self-confidence had been battered this year. Thoughts of "I can do this" turned into a sobbing "I'm so stupid." Confidence on the soccer field turned into "I'm the worst player out there." Her perception of her own value as a friend went from "people like me" to "if the social ladder was a food chain, I'd be a bug."

Honestly, some of the responsibility for that rests on me. I got so caught up in the busyness of our schedule and in some issues we were having with our other daughter that I missed the shattering of her self-confidence. I missed the cues she was sending me until the school year was winding down.

And, truly, sometimes I feel alone as a parent. People tell me that middle school is tough, but that's just the way it is.  And I struggle with that answer because those people aren't where we are. What if it's more than just a tough transition? Most of my friends' daughters adjusted to middle school well. They haven't struggled to make friends or to find their spot.

Honestly, I look around, and I'm jealous of those moms and daughters. I'm envious that their daughters are doing so well while mine is struggling mightily. And I wonder, what did we do wrong? Where did we make the decisions that landed us here?

These days, I cling to Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" I know that God has a plan for my daughter. I know that He can use the difficult year she's had for His purpose. I know that she's going to come out the other side of this stronger, and we'll come out of it wiser.

I don't have any quick fix answers. I don't really have any wisdom for the situation. What I do have is the knowledge that no matter how dark the tunnel or how deep the pit, God is there. He's a light in that pit or at the end of that tunnel. He heals the broken-hearted and offers rest to the weary. He can make all things work together for His purpose.

So, today, sweet mom, if you're walking a dimly lit path with your child. If the tears that flow aren't just your child's but your own as well. If you're looking at the decisions you've made and wondering whether they were the right ones. If you're holding a broken child in your arms and your heart. Know this. Know that God has not left you or your child. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you.

Hold tight to that knowledge because there is light at the end of the tunnel even if it's hidden around a curve. Keep doing the best you can do. Keep relying on God for strength and wisdom. Because He loves your child more than you ever could, and He has an amazing plan for that child.

Evaluating the School Year

Evaluate

We're 6 1/2 days away from the end of the school year, and there's not a person in this house who is not ready for the school year to end. I think even the dog is ready for summer.

It's been a long school year around here. With my older daughter in middle school and my younger one struggling with a crowded classroom of challenging kids, we've spent a lot of time this year soothing worries, drying tears and simply giving our girls enough encouragement to get through the day. Some days we were successful; some days we weren't. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's just around the corner.

As we get ready for summer, I'm spending some time evaluating our school year, wondering what we could have changed and what we want to do the same next year. The end of the school year is a great time to sit down with your kids and talk with them about the things they have learned this year -- not just academically but socially, emotionally and spiritually as well. Talk with them about what they felt worked this year and what they felt they want to change for next year.

Evaluating the year is important for two reasons. 1) It creates some closure on the school year, and 2) it gives you a starting point for next year. I already know that we'll be making some changes in how we address things with both girls -- and they may not be the same changes for each kid. Each child is different, so our approach needs to be different.

I want to encourage you to take some time to take a look back on the school year. Focus on things your kids did well. Talk about places where they can improve. Give them some encouragement and feedback on how you think their year went. Encourage them to give you feedback on how the things you did during the school year affected them.

We can only get better at parenting our kids if we take some time to evaluate what we're doing and why we're doing it. Check in with your kids, and check in with God. Spend some time praying about your school year. Ask God to point out areas where you need to rely on Him more or change the way your interacting with your kids. God cares about you, and He cares about your kids. He's available to offer you wisdom and strength to make some changes if you need to. Trust Him to show you the path you need to take next year.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." That includes submitting our school year to Him. He will guide us to make good choices for our kids. We just have to trust Him -- even if when we evaluate the year we find drastic changes need to be made.

Before you dive into summer, take some time to evaluate your year. Your next school year will be better for it.

What's the Measure of Success?

Success

We went to my 6th-grade daughter's middle school awards ceremony last night, and I was left wondering what we're teaching our kids about success.

Besides the fact that it seemed we were rewarding every small achievement a child could accomplish, the teachers chose one student from each grade to be the recipients of a special award. The award was given to the child who best represented the ideals of what it means to be a student at my daughter's school. All three winners were girls. All three were pretty. All three were outgoing, excellent students and popular with their peers.

Don't get me wrong. All of those things are great qualities to have, and each girl chosen was certainly deserving of the award. But it made me stop and wonder what we are teaching our kids about success. Is a child who is less outgoing any less successful? Is a child who excels in shop class or home ec any less successful than a child who excels in more traditional subjects? Is the child who is a fabulous musician but struggles in math less successful than a child with a 4.0 grade point? Is the child who spent all semester pulling a D to a B in an honors class less successful than a child who easily made the honor roll all four quarters in easier classes?

It made me stop and wonder what I'm teaching my kids about success. My older daughter is painfully shy in a crowd. She definitely needs to overcome some of that in order to function in this world, but I wonder if my efforts to help her move out of her shell are motivated by what's best for her or by a need to have her "fit in." My younger daughter makes some unconventional choices about the things she likes to do. I wonder if some of my efforts to sometimes steer her choices toward the mainstream are motivated by a need for her to be like other girls or by true concern for her.

Am I sending the message to my girls that the way God made them isn't enough? Society sends that message so often. If you don't fit in the carefully constructed image of success, then you can get left by the wayside, especially in those pre-teen years. And I wonder if I'm contributing to that.

Because, you see, God doesn't measure success by how smart we are, how popular we are or how good we are at sports. He measures success by whether we're following hard after Jesus. He measures success by how much we love His Son. He measures success by how well we love each other. And that's not measurable on any human scale.

I want to send my girls the message that while academic and social success are good things, they aren't the most important thing. I want them to know that God doesn't base success on how high their grades are, how many friends they have or how well they succeed on the sports field. I want them to know that God uses a different measure of success, and I want them to seek His success, not the world's.

So, while we'll still be cheering on our girls' accomplishments at school and on the field, while we'll still be encouraging them to make decisions that lead to having good friends, we'll also be focusing on raising girls who go hard after God and seek His measure of success even when it doesn't match up with the rest of the world's.

Snow Day

We're buried under a foot of snow, and my kids are out of school for their second snow day. Snow days can be a great day to talk with your kids about Psalm 51:7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” I wrote most of this post on a snow day several years ago, but I thought it was worth pulling out again. If you've got snow on the ground, spend a few minutes talking about how God makes us whiter than snow today.

As I look out my window today, I see a blanket of pristine white. We’re havinga snow day. Since I don’t have to go anywhere today, I’m enjoying the beauty of the winter wonderland.

I have to admit when I considered the possibility of another snow day today, I wasn’t all that excited. I work from home, so any day the kids are home makes it difficult for me to work.  But, as I gaze out at the beauty created by the blanket of snow, I find myself looking forward to a day of children who look mummified in their snow gear, snowball fights and snowman building.

The picture out my window reminds me of Psalm 51:7, which says “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” When God forgives my sin, he makes my life as clean as the snow. When God looks at me, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He sees a soul as pure as the snow on the ground outside my front door.

When you have a snow day, take advantage of the moment to memorize Psalm 51:7 with your kids and to talk about what it means to be washed “whiter than snow.”

  • Before anyone tromps through your yard, have your kids look out the window. Talk about how a sinless life looks like an untouched field of snow.
  • After your kids have played in the yard, take another look at the snow. It will be churned up and dirty in places. Talk about how when we sin, our life looks like the churned up snow. Ask your kids what happens when new snow falls. The yard will look beautiful again. Jesus’ death on the cross allows God to see our lives as if they were that untouched, sinless field of snow. He forgives our sins and wipes away the dirt and holes left in our lives by that sin.
  • Build a snowman with your kids. As you do, talk about how Jesus' sacrifice cleared away our sin and made us whiter than snow. God then uses those lives to build something new, just like you're building a snowman.
  • Have a snowball fight. When you're done and everyone is covered in snow, talk with your kids about how Jesus' sacrifice covers us and makes us look like we're whiter than snow (without sin) to God.
  • If you live somewhere where it doesn’t snow, buy some of the fake snow, and demonstrate the same lesson with your kids.

As you enjoy your next snow day, remember to look at the time with your kids as a gift. Take advantage of the opportunity to spend some unexpected time together and use the opportunity to provide an object lesson about how God makes us “whiter than snow.”

Friday Introductions: Khan Academy

My older daughter is taking pre-algebra this year. Now, it's been a really long time since I've worked an algebra program of any kind --like 25 years. When she brings home algebra problems that she needs help with, I have to dig deep into the recesses of my brain to figure out how to help her. And sometimes I'm wrong, which doesn't make her very happy.

That's why when I stumbled across Khan Academy's website, I was thrilled. This free website offers video tutorials on a whole bunch of subjects, including algebra. They cover history, economics, math, science and even computer science. The videos are easy to understand, and each one includes practice problems. We used it over the summer as a refresher to keep the kids up to speed on their math.

It can be tough to admit to our kids we don't know everything. We don't want to appear stupid in front of our kids. When your sixth-grader is doing math problems that you don't remember how to do, you can feel like an inadequate parent. But an important part of parenting is to admit when we don't know something and find a way to help our kids anyway.

When my girls first started playing sports, I didn't know a whole lot about either sport. When they needed help with a move, I was pretty useless. So, I watched YouTube videos and talked to their coaches until I understood what my kids needed. Helping them with their schoolwork or to understand difficult things in the Bible is no different. I need to find ways to help them, not pretend I know everything. Proverbs 16:18 says "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." When we choose to pretend we know everything, we're setting ourselves up for a fall -- and our kids might get crushed in the process.

So, if you're struggling for answers to your kids' homework or if you're just looking for a different way for your kids to practice their math facts or study for their science test, swallow your pride and check out Khan Academy. They might have the answers you don't.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint -- and a Giveaway

To finish off our The Best School Year Ever series, we have a great giveaway. Don't miss your chance to win a 31 Gifts Organizing Utility Tote in Black Parisian Pop. If you need to organize your stuff this school year, this is a great way to get started. Enter the drawing below.

This week has been our first full week of school, and to tell you the truth, I'm ready to throw up my hands and go back to summer. It hasn't really started off as the best school year ever. I think I've had a child in tears every afternoon.

My younger daughter is discovering that she just can't breeze through school this year. She's actually being challenged by some of her work. My older daughter is struggling to make all the adjustments needed for middle school. And everyone is still trying to adjust to the new morning wake-up and bedtime schedules. The end result is that we're all tired and my patience is running short. Thank goodness it's Friday.

Everything we've talked about in the last three weeks will make this a better school year for our families. The trick is persevering when the going gets tough. It's easy to sit back before the school year starts, read all this great information and think, "This is the year I'm going to have it all together." Then the school year starts, reality sets in and it all goes out the window. We fall back into our old, familiar habits -- papers pile up on the counter, calendar boxes are full to bursting, family time and dinner time go out the window, taking time to be intentional with our kids becomes the last thing we want to do.

Remember that the school year is an endurance race, not a sprint. If things don't start off well, take a step back, reevaluate what's working and what's not and jump back in the race. Hebrews 12:1-2 says "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." If you're starting out or getting ready for school this year, then the race marked out for you right now is to be the best parent you can be -- and that takes perseverance and endurance. And it means we keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and what He wants for our families.

Keep these things in mind as you run the school year race, jump the hurdles of tired, cranky kids and head for the finish line.

Pray, pray, pray. We started with this, and we'll end with it. Cover everything in prayer. When your patience is stretched thin, pray. When your schedule is overwhelming, pray. When your kids are struggling, pray. When you have a quiet moment to yourself, pray. Prayer strengthens us and our kids. It's our most important weapon in the battle. If you do nothing else for your kids this school year, pray for them.

Cut yourself some slack. If you have all sorts of changes you want to make this school year and it doesn't go exactly as planned, don't beat yourself up. Kids are unpredictable. Things we think will make our lives easier often end up blowing up in our faces. If something doesn't work in your house, change it. If your kids aren't responding to one thing, try something else. Remember, the important thing is not to follow some pre-prescribed system that works for someone else. The important thing is to find a system that works for your family.

Laugh. Find reasons to laugh. This week hasn't been a whole lot of fun around here. Homework battles, bedtime battles and general grumpiness have left this mom ready for the idle days of summer. Yet, we've still found reasons to laugh. As a matter of fact, we make it a point to laugh. I often ask my kids to tell me the funniest thing that happened at school. We tell jokes. We laugh at ourselves. Laughter is good medicine. It puts things in perspective, and it gives us a break from whatever difficulty we're dealing with at the moment.

When we remember that the school year is an endurance race, not a sprint, we gain the perspective that we need to make this the best school year ever.

Don't miss our 31 Gifts drawing. Thanks to my 31 Gifts consultant friend, Amanda Thompson, we're giving away an Organizing Utility Tote in Black Parisian Pop. Don't miss your chance to enter.

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Linking up today with Beholding Glory.

Making Time For Family

We spend a lot of time together as a family unit in the summer. Whether it's vacation or just a walk around the block, we find time to be together. Sometimes it can even seem like we spend too much time together.

But then the school year rolls around and it can seem like we barely see one another. This week, we won't all be home together in the evening any night. Between deacon's meeting, soccer practice, youth worker training and a conference that I'm speaking at, finding any family time has been tough. This is an atypical week for us, but I've noticed that the older my kids get the more weeks like this we tend to have.

Family time is important. When we hang out together as a family, whether it's and evening of watching America's Got Talent or a weeklong vacation, it creates memories and strengthens the bonds between family members. And that's why we have to be intentional in making time for our families to spend time together.

When we have family times that are fun and memorable, we foster the sense that we are available to our kids. We also create bonds between siblings. Romans 12:10 says "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." Now, devoted is not generally the word that comes to mind when I think of how my girls view each other. But when we make time to create memories as a family, we come closer to that goal.

So, on a week when no one is home together, when homework takes two hours out of the afternoon, when your calendar squares are full enough to burst, how do you make time for your family? How do you create memories that are lasting?

Schedule family time. We put everything else on our calendars from the school lunch menu to our haircut appointments, but if you're like me, you rarely schedule in family time. The only way spending time together is going to happen is if we intentionally make it happen. Find an open block of time on your calendar and schedule some family time -- whether it's a trip to the lake or a game of basketball on the driveway.

Make a list. Sit down with your entire family and make a list of things you'd like to do as a family. Start with things that are free and that you can do in an evening. Work your way up to things like vacations. When you're stumped for an activity, check out the list.

Protect your time. Make sure everyone understands that family time is just that, for family. Friends are great. I love my kids' friends, but the dynamic changes when we add in extra kids. It's no longer about our family. It's about our kids and their friends. Don't schedule over the top of family time. If you don't make it a priority, no one else in your family will either.

Start small. Have a family game night or a night where everyone watches a favorite TV show together. Let each family member have a turn picking the activity.

Be realistic. Family time does strengthen the bonds between you and your kids. It won't, however, always look like the Brady Bunch. Have realistic expectations about what your family time will look like. Your kids will probably argue every now and then. Someone is sure not to like the activity on some nights. There will be days when you've simply had enough of your family. Do your planned activity anyway. You might be surprised to find yourself laughing by the end of the night.

Do what works for you. Some families I know have a family game night every week. Other families will only be able to make intentional family time fit in their schedules once a month. There's no right or wrong way to do this. You may have a family of early risers so an early morning walk might be the best choice for your family. Do what works for you, and don't compare yourself to others.

Carving time out of our schedules to simply be together as a family is the best way to strengthen our family unit. It creates memories and helps relieve the stress of the new school year. Make it a point to sit down with your calendar and schedule some family time today.

 Linking up today with Denise in Bloom.

The Afternoon Routine

In these blissful first days of school, the homework is minimal. We've only got one sport's practice to get a child to. It seems like we have plenty of time for everything. We even have time for evening Wii tournaments or walks around the block. Everyone's homework gets done with a minimum of fuss.

Yet, D-Day on our calendar is September 4. It seems everything starts on that day -- special chorus, afterschool math competition, hockey, a new mom's group that I'm leading. If we don't have our afternoon routine down by Sept. 4, it will be a disaster.

While getting everyone out the door in the morning can be difficult, getting everything done in the afternoon can be just as crazy. That's why it's so important to have a plan. If we just let everything come down to chance, then we'll be flustered and our kids will be frustrated. Proverbs 21:5 says "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty."

Now, having a plan for our after-school routine isn't going to make us rich, but it will keep us from having a poverty of time or patience. Use these tips to plan your own after-school routine.

Give your kids time to decompress. School can be stressful. Your child has been sitting still for several hours. Build some time in your schedule for them to grab a snack and relax for a few minutes before moving on to the next thing. Be available for them to talk with you about their day during that time. Whether it's five minutes or half an hour, our kids need a little time to rest their brains and bodies before rushing off to something else.

Have a set time and place for homework. My girls know that after they have their snack, it's homework time. Homework has to be done before practice or we don't go to practice. Usually we do homework at the kitchen table, but my older daughter will sometimes take hers to the desk in her room. Having a set time and place for homework means you're sure it gets done, and you're not trying to cram it in around everything else. Your set time and place may be different from ours. It may be that your kids do their homework in the evening after they have piano lessons. There's no right or wrong way to do it. It's simply important to have a time and a spot.

Work with your kids. We can make all the plans we want, but kids are unpredicatable. We may think we've created the perfect homework environment only to find out that one of our kids gets distracted sitting next to the window. Talk with your kids about what works best for them. Create an environment after school that works for your kids. And keep in mind that the routine doesn't have to be the same every day or for every kid in your family. Find what works best for your family, and do that.

Plan ahead. Tuesdays are crazy days around here. We have guitar lessons and soccer practice. The window for dinner on Tuesday nights is miniscule, so I have to plan ahead. Dinner has to be ready before we head off to guitar or my older daughter won't get to eat. Yesterday, we had dinner at four o'clock because my younger daughter had an hour-long lesson instead of half an hour. It takes some planning, but we manage to get everyone fed and out the door on those nights.

Be flexible. Don't let your schedule be so rigid that you can't be flexible. If you've had a stretch of horrible weather, and it's a sunny afternoon, bend the homework rule and send your kids out to play. Pick your kids up from school and take them out for ice cream every now and then. Our kids need to know what to expect when they get home, but that doesn't mean we can't switch up the routine every now and then.

Having an afternoon routine helps our kids know what to expect when they get home. It keeps chaos to a minimum and helps us keep our patience and tempers in check. Nagging about homework and getting ready for practice is kept to a minimum when everyone knows what to expect. An afternoon routine offers your household an opportunity for peace and fun and can help make this the best school year ever.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home and Word Filled Wednesday.

Getting Your Kids to Talk

She walks through the door head down, tears in her eyes. I know she's had a rough day. Yet, when I ask the question, "What's wrong?" I get a muttered "Nothing." As she heads to her room to do homework, I stare after her, wondering "How can I get her to talk to me?"

Does that scenariio sound familiar? It has played out in my home more times than I can count. There's little more frustrating for a parent than knowing there's something bothering your child but being unable to get to the root of the problem.

Getting our children to talk to us can be difficult. Both my girls can talk my ear off, but often they choose to clam up when it comes to telling me about their days. They give one-word answers or tell me only half the story. I have found, however, that there are things I can do to make them more willing to talk with me. Here's what works in our house.

Create a time to listen. Set aside a time in your day that's specifically for talking with your kids. Do whatever works best for you. It can be breakfast or bedtime or any time in between. In our house, when 3 p.m. rolls around, I set aside whatever I'm doing, set out a snack and sit on the front porch to wait for my middle schooler to get home. By the time she walks up the driveway, I'm ready to listen to her. We have 10 minutes before her sister gets home in which she gets my undivided attention.

Be ready to listen. Too often, the temptation is to solve our kids' problems. But what they really need is for us to listen to them without judgment and without interruption. When our kids know we are willing to listen, they're more likely to talk. Too often, we're ready to jump in with suggestions and help before we really listen to what our kids have to say. Proverbs 18:13 says "To answer before listening—that is folly and shame." We want to be able to offer what our kids need, whether its comfort or advice, and we can't do that well if we don't listen to what they have to say.

Ask questions. Some kids will spill everything that's in their hearts with little prompting from you. But some kids need to be encouraged to talk. I've found that asking my older daughter general questions like, "How was your day?" works just fine, but with my younger daughter, that question results in a one-word answer. With her, I usually ask very specific questions like "What did you do in math? Who did you sit with at lunch? What funny thing happened today? What are you reading in class?" Those questions generally lead her to tell me more about what went on in her day and will lead to the things that are on her heart.

Don't expect to hear everything. Some kids simply won't share things that are bothering them until they are ready. No amount of questioning or being ready to listen will change that. Unless it's a situation where you believe they are in danger of some kind of harm, let your child know you are available to listen, then leave it be. Generally, kids will come talk to us when they are ready.

Don't try to fix everything. Our kids need our love. They need our advice. They need our comfort. What they don't need is for us to solve all their problems. When your child has a problem, help them work it through. Give suggestions, but don't jump in and solve it. Show them how to reach their own solution. This gives them confidence to solve their own problems and also makes you a valuable resource for your child.

Listening to our kids may be the most important thing we can do to help them grow spiritually and emotionally. Encouraging them to talk with us means that we create time to listen to them and that we don't try to solve all their problems. Today, spend some time simply listening to the heart of your child.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife and A Heart Reflected.