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The America That I Know

america
america

It’s election season, and I have been listening to the candidates talk. What I hear, makes me sad. Every candidate seems to point out the flaws and the terrible things about our country. It sounds like America is a terrible place to live.

I know much of it is rhetoric, and I know that we, as a country, have our flaws. But I also know that there’s a reason people are willing to risk crossing an ocean on a raft to come here. I know that even now with all our flaws and problems, we’re still a land of opportunity.

Between the TV commercials, the debates and the soundbites on the morning news, I wonder what country it is that these candidates are talking about. Because I don’t think they live in the America I know.

In the America that I know, in times of trouble, friends and neighbors lend a helping hand.

In the America that I know, the neighborhood kids make sure the elderly neighbor has a driveway and walkway clean from snow.

In the America that I know, strangers stop to help a young mom when she drops her coupons in the grocery store aisle.

In the America that I know, my daughter sits at a lunch table filled with her friends – a girl from Ethiopia, a girl from Malaysia, and a girl from India.

In the America that I know, there are people who make racist remarks. And there are more people who point out the injustice and wrongness of those remarks.

In the America that I know, there is human trafficking. And there are ordinary men and women fighting to stop it.

In the America that I know, people open their wallets to help others in need – whether it’s ringing a bell at Christmastime or funding relief efforts in Haiti.

In the America that I know, people volunteer their time to help kids learn to read, to help adults learn English, to help the homeless learn an employable skill.

In the America that I know, people can exercise their freedom of speech (although we could all learn to do so a bit more gently).

 photo credit: designblossoms.com

photo credit: designblossoms.com

In the America that I know, little girls can grow up to be anything they want, including president of the United States.

In the America that I know, the biggest kid on my daughter’s hockey team stands up for the smaller guys (and girl).

In the America that I know, people are generally decent and hard-working.

In the America that I know, the older couple on the street keeps dog biscuits on hand for the neighborhood dogs (and the dogs come knock on the door to ask for them).

In the America that I know, most peoplee are all just trying to get along, live in community and build a better life for themselves and their families.

Nothing about our country is perfect, but the America I know is much different from the one our candidates for president seem to live in. In this election season of turmoil and discord, let’s remember that for every one thing our country could improve on, there’s another that we do well. Let’s remember that it’s not our politicians that make America; it’s the people. We are America. Let’s find the good things in the America that we know.

What does the America that you know look like?

Making Sense of the Senseless

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
— Romans 15:13

For the past two days, I've sat at my computer wanting to write, but not knowing what to say. I'm a writer. That's what I do. That's how I process things. That's how I make sense of the world.

But how do you make sense of the senseless? How do you explain it to your kids when you don't understand it yourself?

A guy walks into a bar... Sounds like the beginning of a good joke. Except what happened in Orlando when a guy walked into a bar was no joke. It was a slaughter. It was senseless. It was horrifying. It was evil.

My kids are teenagers. They have grown up in a post-9/11 world. Unfortunately, the idea of someone walking into a bar and shooting 100 people is not as unusual to them as it should be. Their perception of the world has never been free of the threat of terrorism. They don't remember a time when you could visit the pilots of an airplane in the cockpit. They don't know what it's like to be at an event with a large crowd of people and not at least have the passing thought that it might make a good target for terrorists.

Because that's the world we live in today. And that makes me sad. It makes me sad for my kids and sad for all of us. Because our world is one where hate thrives. It is a place where one person's hatred of another person's beliefs or choices or religion can result in the slaughter of innocent people.

So how do we help our kids process the senselessness and the hopelessness inherent in these acts of terror? How do we help our kids find the hope in the situation?

We start by remembering the words of Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is the God of hope. This is a long game, and we know who wins in the end. Hope endures, light shines because God brings hope. Hope is found in a tiny baby in a manger. It's found in a young man nailed to a cross. Hope shines out of an empty tomb.

Make no mistake. Every single life that was taken in that bar in Orlando was precious to God. It doesn't matter what they believed, what they did or who they were. God loved them as part of his precious creation, just like He loves you and me. Their senseless massacre broke God's heart.

And it should break ours, too. While we help our kids focus on the hope that is found in knowing that God triumphs in the end, we also must be careful to help them grieve the tragedy of the moment. Because the biggest danger in this post-9/11 world is that we and our kids become immune to the immensity of these events. We can start to view them as just another attack. Just another death.

We want ourselves and our kids to never lose sight of the fact that whenever hate causes someone to take a life, it's an immense tragedy. It is Satan grabbing hold of this world and announcing that he has no intention of letting it go.

And it's our job to shine light into that darkness. It's our calling to help where we can. It's our responsibility to pray without ceasing for the victims, for the families, and, yes, even for the perpetrators. Because the only way we raise kids who can see the good through the evil, who can find hope in the hopeless, is to make sure that the things that break God's heart are still breaking ours.

So, today, talk with your kids. Remind them that God is still in control. Talk with them about the reality of evil in the world. Grieve the senseless tragedy of the moment with them. Then find a way to help. Pray for all those affected. Hold onto the hope. Because in this dark moment where it seems evil has triumphed, hope is the most important thing left.

The End of Me

The past six months have been tough. I'm beginning to feel a lot like Job. They have looked something like this: meningitis, throat abscess, tonsillectomy, broken hand, hyperthyroid diagnosis, liver issues, ER visit, father-in-law has a stroke, and the dog sprains his ankle (yes, that can happen). The last four happened last week.

And that's just the major stuff. We've also had school issues, relationships beginning and ending and the normal, everyday drama that comes from having a 12-year-old and 14-year-old daughter.

Several weeks ago, I started reading The End of Me by Kyle Idleman, which was sent to me by Family Christian, and it spoke to me. It spoke God right into the midst of this mess we call our lives right now. It stopped me in my tracks and made me realize that I truly have to get to the end of me before Jesus can truly use me in the way that He wants.

There are no easy answers in this book. My life didn't immediately become hunky-dory as evidenced by the nightmare that was last week. I am truly at the end of every bit of strength and sanity I possess to make it through tomorrow.

But what this book made me realize is that I'm of no use to God when I'm trying to do everything myself. I can't be effective as a wife, a mom or in ministry if I'm doing it on my own.

  The FTC requires that I tell you that I received the book  The End of Me  for free in exchange for a review, and I was compensated with a gift certificate. The opinions in this blog are my own, and I would never recommend something to you that I don't love myself. With the formalities out of the way, let's get to the good stuff.

The FTC requires that I tell you that I received the book The End of Me for free in exchange for a review, and I was compensated with a gift certificate. The opinions in this blog are my own, and I would never recommend something to you that I don't love myself. With the formalities out of the way, let's get to the good stuff.

The End of Me made me realize that I have to truly mourn my sin and follow Jesus' example in humility if I want to have any effect in the kingdom of God. I also have to let God work even through my weaknesses. God requires authenticity, He wants us to lay our ragged, worn out, I-don't-know-what-to-do selves at the foot of the cross so He can showcase His strength through our weakness.

Kyle Idleman uses the Beattitudes to discuss the beauty of truly mourning our sin, the importance of humility, and why we need to be authentic. He shows that the upside-down logic of the Beattitudes has the power to change the way we see the world.

In the second half of the book, he uses Jesus' encounters with others as examples of how God can use us in our weakness and our imperfection. From the parable of the great banquet to Saul's encounter with Jesus, he vividly shows how when we get to the end our ourselves, God can then use us in a mighty way.

Reading this book didn't make my life perfect, but it offered perfect perspective on the idea that God can only truly use me when I come to the end of me.

When Sports Aren't Fun Anymore

Fun My older daughter's soccer team has had a rough start to the season. They have lost two games by a lot of goals. That's made for some pretty grumpy Sunday afternoons around here.

It's been a rough sports year in this house. Our hockey season was something of a mess with my younger daughter. My older daughter went through a coaching change back in the fall followed by about four months of nagging injury. The frustration level surrounding sports has been pretty high.

As we were driving home from practice the other day, my older daughter was talking about how much pressure she felt to do well in soccer, to do well in track and to keep her grades up at school. When we got home, I stopped the car and looked at her. "If this isn't fun, then let's not do it," I told her.

My daughter is 13. She has high hopes for playing soccer in high school and maybe college. But the reality is that she's a 13-year-old girl. She has a dream she's chasing, yes, but she also has a family and friends. She has school and church.

She loves soccer with a passion. I have no doubt that God gave her a talent and a passion for the sport, and I want her to follow that talent and passion as far as she wants to. But I also want it to be fun. At 13, if it isn't fun, you shouldn't be doing it.

We as a society have created this merry-go-round youth sports culture where there seems to be no in-between. You can either pour tons of money and time and stress into your kids playing sports or you can play at a level where the coaching isn't great and your child doesn't improve. And the parents at the first level are often pushing their kids hard to see a return on their "investment." When you have a kid who is driven to succeed, it seems there is no middle ground.

I can't change the culture where I live. I can't suddenly create a less stressful environment for my daughter. But I can remind her that this is a game, and it's supposed to be fun. When the game causes more tears than smiles, it's time to reevaluate. It's time to take a step back and look at the priority my daughter is placing on it. Because I want her to succeed at whatever it is she attempts. I want her to work hard and be the best she can be at whatever she sets her hand to. But I want her to do it for the right reasons, and I want her to do it with joy.

I want her to be striving to succeed because she's living out the words of Colossians 3:23-24, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." And I want her joy in using her God-given talents to shine through when she's playing. If that's not the priority, then we need to reorganize.

Because the reality is that someday my daughter's playing days will be over. When they are, I want her to have learned life lessons about winning and losing and doing your best. But I also want her to have memories of fun and joy and laughter. I want her to look back at these years and think it was worth it because of the friendships she's made and the fun she had.

Because in the end, this is a game, and it's supposed to be fun.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Kids

reward I sat down and played board games with my younger daughter yesterday afternoon. I had a ton of stuff to do to finish the laundry and get us packed for our trip this weekend. Board games were not on my to-do list.

But when she asked to play, I realized that as much time as I've spent with this younger child of mine this year, the past month or so has been lacking in time spent just playing. We've done school. We've run errands. We've even been on a field trip or two. But we haven't played and simply been silly. We haven't had many of those moments where we've done something just because it's fun.

So yesterday, I set aside the to-do list and played board games for an hour. We might leave a little bit later on our trip than I planned because I made that choice, but it was worth it.

You see, my younger daughter feels loved when you spend time with her doing the things that she likes to do. She enjoys the simple moments spent playing a board game or shooting hoops on the driveway. She'd rather spend 10 minutes taking a walk with me than watch TV by herself.

My girls are almost 13 and 11. I have five and seven years left with them at home. If this year is any indication, those years are going to fly by in the blink of an eye. When they leave home, I want them to remember home as a place where they were valued, a place where they were loved  and a place where laughter and fun were as much a part of the fabric of our home as discipline and learning.

Because our role as parents isn't just to teach our kids. It's to laugh with them. It's to steal moments to play with them. It's to enjoy them. While God calls us to constantly be teaching our kids about Him (Deuteronomy 6:6-9), He also tells us that they are a heritage and a reward (Psalm 127:3). I know that I can sometimes get so focused on the teaching and training piece that I forget the heritage and reward piece.

So, today, I want to encourage you to enjoy your children. Set aside the to-do list and play with them. Do something that they want to do. Get down on the floor and play Hot Wheels. Go outside and splash in the rain puddles. Play a board game. Have a tea party. Read a book together.

Because our kids aren't just a job to be done, another thing to check off our to-do list. They are a heritage and a reward from God. They are to be enjoyed.

When the Day Goes Bad

bad day Yesterday was a long day. It started with a frantic call from a neighbor needing some help, ended with being an hour early for hockey practice because I got the time wrong, and in the middle, I ended up with some smashed fingers from the front door blowing shut as I was trying to close it. Not the most successful day.

By the time I got home from hockey practice last night at 9:15, I was ready to throw in the towel. Except I still needed to check in with my older daughter to see how watching soccer practice went (her foot is still in a boot), and I had to get my younger one into bed.

All I really wanted to do was sit down for a few minutes, talk to my husband for five uninterrupted minutes, maybe read a little in the book I'm reading (Monuments Men is a great read, if you're interested), and go to bed. But the kids were calling.

It was one of those days when I would have enjoyed a vacation from being a mom. Actually, I would have enjoyed a vacation from life -- just for a few hours. So, by the time I got home last night, I really didn't want to sit down and listen to my older daughter tell me about her day. I really just wanted to pray with her, kiss her goodnight and leave the room.

But then I heard this still, small voice say, "She needs this. She needs you."

"But everyone needs me," I said.

"Then you just need Me," the voice said.

And, oh, isn't that the truth. In the midst of a day gone bad, there's nothing I need more than Jesus. Because I truly am not capable of listening to one more story, helping with one more homework problem, or driving to one more practice without losing my mind.

It's only by His grace and strength that I can make it through the days where the door slams on my fingers, the child has a temper tantrum, the grocery shopping doesn't get done, and I get the time for practice wrong. In a day gone bad, God's wisdom and grace are often the only thing left -- because my tank is empty.

We can't do this motherhood thing without God. When we try to do it all in our own strength, we won't sit down and listen to the story of soccer practice at 9:30 at night. We won't hold our tongues when a child gets on our last nerve. We won't offer wisdom and teaching in a moment when all we want to do is hand out punishment. We won't because we can't. We simply don't have that much patience, that much wisdom, that much love, that much mercy. But God does.

Last night after my no good, very bad, horrible day, I sat in my older daughter's room for nearly half an hour, listening to the story of her evening, talking about her foot injury, laughing at her jokes. When I left her room, I was still tired. I still would have rather been reading a book. But I knew that my daughter had gotten what she needed from me last night. And God had given me what I needed to be the mom she needed.

Refuse to Let Evil Win

Fear This post contains affiliate links.

I let my 12-year-old daughter go running by herself for the first time the other day. She ran around our neighborhood and returned successfully home. It was another step toward independence for her.

I was feeling pretty good about letting her jog around the neighborhood until yesterday when I heard the news about Hailey Owens. Hailey was 10. She was blocks from her house. And she was kidnapped and killed.

And my first instinct when I hear a story like that is to pull my kids close. It’s to keep them in a bubble. It’s to go everywhere with them and not let them out of my sight.

That might have worked when my girls were toddlers and preschoolers, but the truth is my older daughter is 12. She’s five years from graduating from high school. She has to learn to be independent. She has to learn how to navigate this world on her own.

And I have to give her that independence. It may be in baby steps like jogging around the neighborhood and going to the movies with her friends, but I have to start to let go. Even in the face of scary news like what came out of Springfield, Missouri, yesterday.

I can’t let my fears of the evil in this world hinder my girls’ ability to grow into the young women that God wants them to be. I don’t want to send my girls out into this world unprepared to stand on their own two feet. I don’t want them to always need me. And I don't want them to live in fear.

Letting go of our kids and sending them out into this big, bad, scary world may well be the hardest part about being a parent. It means we have to let go of our fears, turn our kids over to God and let them navigate the twists and turns of life.

Even when we're confronted with the evil in this world, we can't let fear rule our parenting. Because when we do, Satan wins. Fear that paralyzes us, fear that keeps us from letting our children become independent, isn't from God. 1 Timothy 1:7 says "For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline." When we let fear control our decisions, we let Satan win. We let evil have the last say.

Today, it's going to be hard to send my daughter out the door to school, it's going to be hard to let her walk home from the bus stop. My heart will be breaking all day for the tragedy the Owens family has suffered. I'll be flipping my porch light on tonight in honor of 10-year-old Hailey. I'll be having conversations with my kids about what to do if a stranger approaches them. I'll be hugging my girls just a little more today.

But I won't be letting fear push me into creating a cocoon around my kids. I won't let fear turn my girls into kids who are afraid to play outside or walk home from the bus stop. I won't let Satan use fear to paralyze my parenting. Because if I do, then evil wins, Satan triumphs.

God hasn't given us a spirit of fear -- even in the face of horrible, incomprehensible evil. We can live without fear today because we've read the end of the story, and we know that God triumphs. So, today, say a prayer for the Owens family, hug your kids tight, teach them how to be as safe as you know how, then let them be children. Let them play outside, walk home from the bus stop, and continue to become independent. Because that's how we triumph over evil -- by refusing to let fear win.

The best book I've ever read about the dangers that confront our children and how to combat them is The The Gift of Fear : Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker, and the best book I've ever read about protecting our kids is de Becker's Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). If you're concerned about keeping your kids safe, read these books.

This post contains affiliate links.

Is it Ever OK to Lie?

lying

My younger daughter is reading the book Shiloh as part of her schoolwork. Shiloh is about a little boy and a dog. The dog is being mistreated by its owner, so when the boy finds the dog wandering around one day, he takes the dog and hides him. Then the boy lies to his parents and the dog's owner, and he justifies it by saying that Jesus would want him to rescue the dog because He wouldn't want one of His animals to be mistreated.

This book has led to a few interesting discussions with my daughter about lying. We've been talking about whether it's OK for the boy in this story to tell lies to achieve a greater good. And we've been talking about his justification for lying. The question we've been trying to answer is "Is it ever OK to tell a lie? Do the ends sometimes justify the means?"

The truth is that the ends don't always justify the means. God says, "Do not lie." That's what He means. He doesn't say, "Don't lie unless it's a really good cause."

My daughter and I talked about lying yesterday, and we came to the conclusion that God always provides us with an answer to our problems that won't require us to break His commandments. Even when it seems there's no way out of a sticky situation that will honor God and solve the situation, there is. We just have to listen to what God has to say.

It's so easy for our kids to get caught in the trap of walking outside of God's plan because they think they are making a choice that benefits either themselves or other people. But the truth is that the only good choices are the ones made inside of God's plan for us. When we make choices based on God's design, on His commandments, and on Jesus' example, we will find that God's plan is way better than anything we can come up with on our own.

As our kids grow, we need to be diligent in showing them how to find God's plan -- even in the sticky situations. Psalm 100:5 tells us that "his faithfulness continues through all generations." God is faithful to always provide us with a path to follow that leads to Him. He never leaves us. He never puts us in a situation with no way out. He is faithful.

Knowing that God is faithful allows us to follow His commandments without worrying that things will turn out badly if we do. God has a plan, and He doesn't need us to ignore His commands and His direction to make that plan work. No matter how bleak the situation looks, if we stick with God's plan, He will use it for good in the end.

Our kids need to know that even though they may face situations when lying or stealing or acting unkindly may seem like the only answer, God has a plan. He's got the situation under control. He's not going to ask them to go against His commands in any situation. God is faithful to provide us with everything we need to deal with a sticky situation -- even if what He provides is simply enough grace to get through the moment.

 

Lessons from the Kitchen Table

table

For a long time, our kitchen table was one of the few new pieces of furniture we owned. As kids straight out of college living on two journalist's salaries (read very little money), our furniture consisted mostly of a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs. A bedroom set straight out of the '70s and a couch and chair that was originally bought by my grandparents made up the bulk of our furniture.

I remember when we bought our kitchen table and chairs. It was originally bought to go in our dining room. We looked for just the perfect table, one with plenty of room to stretch for entertaining (it seats 14 with both leaves in) and simple styling. For years, it sat in our dining room, rarely used except for special occasions.

Then, we moved to a house that doesn't have a dining room, and it became our kitchen table where it was pressed into daily use. My kitchen table doesn't look nearly as pristine as it did in the days when it was only used a couple times a year. The finish is wearing off in places. There's a 3-inch-long scratch that it gained during the move. As I wiped it down the other day, I discovered someone's Sharpie marker had bled through their paper to the wood below.

As I cleaned up the other day before some friends came over for the evening, I took a good look at my kitchen table. It no longer resembles that beautiful piece of furniture we bought as young newlyweds. It's got a worn, well-used look to it. It has seen many dinners, birthday parties, craft projects and kids doing homework. It's been burned, scarred, marked and worn.

But as I looked at that table, I realized that all those imperfections don't matter because that table is where my family gathers. If our kitchen table could talk, it could tell you the story of our family. It could tell you about the moments of sorrow and the days when we shout for joy. It could tell you about the sillly dinnertime conversations and the serious talks we've had. It could tell you about moments of family crisis and moments where love won out over anger.

Because despite those marks and scars that our kitchen table carries, it serves it's purpose in our home well. It's not just a surface to set things on, it's a the heart of our home. It's a symbol of togetherness. Despite its less-than-pristine state, our kitchen table serves its purpose well.

And we're a lot like our kitchen tables. Every single one of us carries the marks and scars of the battles of life. We've all been shaped by moments of pain and tragedy and moments of triumph and joy. Like our tables, we have stories to tell; stories that serve a purpose. All those scratches and dents, all those moments of joy give us a purpose far beyond simply going through the motions of life. Every experience that has shaped us is one that God can use for His purpose. There's no scratch or dent that we've experienced that can't be used to further God's purpose. Romans 8:28 carries this promise: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose."

Our kids have scratches and dents, too. As they leave our homes, the world does its best to ding them up before they return home. Our job is to help our kids understand that when we get dinged up, it doesn't make us useless. It actually makes us more useful to God. He can use our hurts and our mistakes to help others. He can use our imperfect selves to do way more in this world than if we pretend we're perfect.

When my kitchen table was only used a couple of times a year, it was useful but it didn't get used much. I protected it. I wanted to keep it looking nice. Now that our table is used every day, I still protect it to some degree, but I let people use it for a whole lot more than I did when it was a special occasion piece. And we're just like that. God can use our less-than-perfect finish to make an impact on the world because it's only through our imperfections that others can see and understand the saving grace of our perfect God.

So, if you're feeling a bit dinged up today or your kids have picked up some scratches and dents along the way, take a look at your kitchen table. Run your hand lovingly over the scratches, the dents and the Sharpie marker remnants. Use it as a reminder that we don't have to be perfect to be useful to God. We don't have to offer up a pristine exterior to the world. God uses those scratches and dents in mighty ways when we let Him.

A One-Step-Back Kind of Day

impact

Parenting is a lot like tug-of-war. Every time you think you're making some progress, someone yanks on the rope and pulls you back the other direction. It's a two steps forward, one step back proposition.

My younger daughter and I had one of those one-step-back days yesterday. At one point, I found myself just looking at her wondering, "Who is this child?" On those days when it feels like we're being dragged across ground we've already covered, it's tempting to want to throw in the towel. It's tempting to want to throw up our hands and just give in to whatever it is that our kids want.

But that's not why God made us parents. It's not why He entrusted us with these precious lives to raise. Even on the days when it feels like we're going backwards, we need to keep our eyes on the goal. We need to remember that everything we do as parents makes an impact -- even when it seems like nothing is making a difference.

Whether we can see it or not, our kids are soaking up what we have to tell them. They are watching our every move, and what we do on those one-step-back days may be even more important than what we do on the two-steps-forward ones. Study after study tells us that parents are the biggest influence on their kids -- even in the teen years. And we need to be careful what we do with that influence.

Losing our patience or throwing in the towel on our kids isn't an option. Even though it may seem at times like we're making no progress with our kids, we have to persevere. And we have to do it in a way that points our kids to God.

That means relying on God to help us hold onto our temper. It means seeking His strength to hold onto our patience when we have to explain something for the tenth time. It means spending time with Him every day so that we can pour out His love onto our kids -- even when they aren't very lovable.

Those one-step-back days serve to remind us that we can't do this parenting thing on our own. It's those days that force us to turn to God and rely on His strength and love to get through a long day with a child that, at that moment, isn't very lovable. Those days encourage us to remember that we're not strong enough or smart enough to raise these kids -- but God is.

So if you're having a one-step-back kind of day or week, remember this: God is walking with you. He's got all the strength, love and patience you're going to need. Tap into it because you are influencing the hearts of your kids -- even if it seems like you're making no progress at all.

A Back to School Prayer

Back to School

Today is our first day of school. I didn't sleep well last night. Every time I woke up, I had just one thought: "Please, God, don't let this be a disaster."

Now, that might seem like a strange prayer for the first day of school, but, honestly, if we can avoid having this year be a disaster for both of our kids, then I'll consider it a success. Last year was tough for my older daughter. I'm praying that this year includes more friends, more joy and more learning than she had last year.

For my younger daughter, I'm praying that this year of homeschooling is the best thing that we ever did for her. I'm praying for some attitude change, some maturing and, honestly, that she and I won't kill each other.

It's important that our kids know that we're praying for them, especially as they start a new adventure. Knowing that mom and dad are praying for their day gives them an extra boost of confidence as they head to school -- in whatever form it takes in your family.

So, here's the prayer I'll be praying over my kids' days this year. Because I know that God is holding them in His hands, even if I'm not there.

A Back to School Prayer

As you head off to school today, this is what I'm praying for you:

I'm praying that your day will go smoothly -- that your locker will open, that you'll get to class on time, that you won't forget anything, that you'll find friends in your classes.

I'm praying that your teachers will know just how to teach you in a way that you will love to learn.

I'm praying that you will make friends who will have your back, make you laugh and will make you better.

I'm praying that you'll have the opportunity to be the light of Jesus to someone.

I'm praying that you will always be kind, even in the face of conflict or disagreement.

I'm praying that you will seek out the new person or the lonely person and help them find their place.

I'm praying that you'll learn to be a leader.

I'm praying that you will do everything to the best of your ability -- even when you don't want to.

I'm praying that you will be focused on the things your teachers are trying to teach you.

I'm praying that you'll have confidence from knowing you are a child of God.

I'm praying that if things go wrong, you'll always remember that God loves you and so do we.

I'm praying that you'll laugh a lot during your day.

I'm praying that you will follow in Jesus' footsteps and grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Most of all, I'm praying that this year will be filled with learning, growth, joy and fun.

Have a great year!

For a printable copy of this prayer, click on the picture at the top.

Don't forget to enter the Back to Homeschool giveaway with more than $1,000 in prizes. You can enter here.

Seeing Red: Using Anger for Good

I'm on vacation with my family this week. Enjoy this series from the archives. Most of the time, we consider anger to be a negative emotion. Out-of-control anger can lead to all kinds of terrible things — physical retaliation, hurtful words, reckless actions. Yet, controlled anger can be an impetus for change. God and Jesus get angry, so the emotion can’t be all bad. There has to be a useful purpose for it.

I’ve watched both my daughters get angry when they’re playing their respective sports. And I’ve watched them use that anger to play harder. When my oldest daughter gets beat in soccer and the other team scores, it makes her mad. That makes her go out on the next play more determined not to get beat. In that way, her anger is a useful tool.

Many organizations that help others were founded out of a profound anger at the injustice in the world. Whether it’s a parent who’s child was murdered that channeled their anger into starting a foundation that provides free self-defense classes for women or a person who has been to India and was angered by the lack of clean water available and took the initiative to begin providing clean water, anger has it’s purpose.

You see, when we get angry about the things that make God angry, then we can use that anger to create something good. Jesus used his anger to drive the money lenders out of the temple. God used His anger to defeat the enemies of the Israelites. We can use our anger for good as well.

Learn to channel your anger into something constructive. When you’re angry about something, ask yourself the question “What can I do about it?” If the answer is nothing, then decide whether what you’re angry about is deserving of your anger. If the answer is something, decide what that something is and get moving.

Teach your kids to channel their anger into something constructive as well. When your kids get angry, use that energy to constructively solve whatever problem they are having. Talk with your kids about how they can use the energy their anger creates to make a difference. Let your kids take the lead in figuring out how to use their anger for good. Maybe it’s standing up to a bully. Maybe it’s making a new friend. Maybe it’s helping to feed the hungry. Whatever it is, help your kids learn to take their anger and use it in a way that’s pleasing to God.

Anger doesn’t have to always cause harm. Our anger can be the thing that spurs us to change the world — even if it is just in our own back yard. You don’t have to start a big organization, either. If your kids’ disobedience makes you angry, create a plan to teach your kids first-time obedience. If your child is angry about the way the mean girls in class treat her, channel that anger into an understanding of bullying and how to stand up to a bully.

Take control of your anger and use it to foster change today.

If you missed the rest of the Seeing Red: Learning to Control Your Anger series, you can find the first post here.

Seeing Red: Words and Anger

I'm on vacation with my family this week. Enjoy this series from the archives. “Don’t say it unless you mean it.” Those words have come out of my mouth no less than a dozen times in the past three days. After spending five days with my parents, including close to 30 hours in the car, my girls came home to snipe at one another. Apparently they’ve had a little too much togetherness.

Too often, we’re like my girls, we say things we don’t mean. And when anger rules our tongues, the words that roll off of them often aren’t true, aren’t uplifting and aren’t kind. Anger makes us say things we don’t mean. It makes us wish we could take back words after they have spilled out. I can’t count how many times I’ve said something to one of my kids in anger that has crushed their spirits, and I wish I could take it back. But I can’t.

The danger with speaking in anger is that we do damage that is unforgettable and irrepairable. So we must learn to control our tongues — even in the midst of being angry. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” See that little word “any?” It means we have to control our words all the time — not just when we’re calm. There are no exceptions in that command for words spoken in anger.

The key to controlling our words when we’re angry is God. We absolutely cannot control our words on our own. So, when we’re angry, we need to stop and pray. Before we open our mouths, our first words need to be to directed toward God. We need to ask Him to control our tongues. Think of the damage that could be contained if we let God be the one in charge of our words. Harsh words would go unsaid and little spirits would stay intact.

If you or your kids struggle with controlling your words in anger, try this exercise to drive home the point of how words spoken in anger can leave permanent damage. Tack up a blank piece of a paper to a bulletin board. Every time your child gets angry, have him stick a tack in the paper. Explain that that tack is his words spoken in anger. They are sharp, and they hurt the person they are directed at.

When the paper is full of tacks, start having your child take a tack out each day. Explain that taking the tack out is like offering an apology. When all the tacks are gone, ask your child what he sees on the paper. It’s still filled with holes. That’s because no matter how much we apologize, our words can leave lasting wounds, just like the tacks left holes in that paper.

Our words are a powerful tool. They can be used to persuade and to share love or they can be used to poke holes in others’ souls. We choose. When we let anger rule, we choose to hurt others. When we let God rule we choose to share love. It’s that simple. Remember to stop and pray when you get angry because we want to stop leaving holes in others’ souls.

Seeing Red: We Can Control Our Anger

I'm on vacation with my family this week. Enjoy this series from the archives. I looked at the multiple pairs of shoes on the floor in my living room. I had asked for them to be put away numerous times. And still they sat on the floor. They were no longer just shoes. They became a symbol of all the times I asked my kids to do something that day and they had ignored it or gotten distracted. I saw red, called my kids to the room and lit into them. Both looked at me with wide eyes, unsure why a simple pair of shoes had turned their mom into a screaming meanie.

Was I correct in being angry? Absolutely. Disobedience is one of the things that makes God angry. Did I choose to deal with my anger correctly? Absolutely not. Neither my kids nor I took anything away from that situation that was constructive or helpful. I wasn’t disciplining my kids. I was simply taking my anger out on them.

Controlling our anger is a choice. Even when we’re angry about something that we should be angry about, we have to make a conscious choice to control our anger. We can’t just pass off those moments as part of our personality. Erupting, either verbally or physically, isn’t ever an appropriate way to deal with our anger.

Proverbs 29:8 says “Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.” If we are wise, we will defuse our anger. We will control it. We won’t let it control us. But how do we do that? How do we hang on to our temper and not let it control our actions? We follow a few simple steps that put us back in control.

Stop. When you feel yourself getting angry, stop what you’re doing. If you need to, remove yourself from the situation or simply take a minute to be silent before you speak.

Identify. Identify what you are truly angry about. Finish this sentence: I’m angry because… Too often our anger doesn’t stem from the current situation but from the build up of a number of things, and the thing that sets us off is not the thing we’re really angry about. Knowing the root of our anger makes it easier to control it.

Decide. Decide if what you’re angry about is really worth pursuing. If you’re angry because you’re hot and tired, then it’s probably best to hold your tongue. If you’re angry about disobedience or injustice, then you’re anger is probably not misplaced.

Plan. Don’t just fly off the handle. Create a simple plan for dealing with your anger. Maybe you need to speak to the person who made you angry. Plan what you’re going to say. Maybe you need to work off your anger doing something physical. Plan how you can do that.

Pray. Ask God to help you control your anger. Ask Him to help you refrain from sin while you’re angry. Ask Him to show you what action you need to take based on the situation.

Act. If there’s a situation that needs to be dealt with, then it’s time to act. If the kids need to be disciplined or you need to talk to the person who made you mad, the time to act is only after you’ve taken a few minutes to Stop, Identify, Decide, Plan and Pray.

Anger is an explosive emotion, and we get into trouble when we act on it without analyzing it. Use this system to teach your kids how to control their anger as well. You can even use the printable Stop! Why Am I Angry? worksheet to help them work through their anger.

Seeing Red: It's OK to Get Angry

I'm on vacation with my family this week. Enjoy this series from the archives. I’ve lost it with my kids numerous times, turning from a calm, gentle mommy into what must seem like a raging lunatic. It may be the 18th sock I’ve picked up off the floor or a chore that went undone after I asked numerous times for it to be done that sets me off. Or it may be the 15th round of bickering for the day that pushes my buttons.

When I lose my temper, it affects everyone in the house. I often say things that I don’t really mean. I hurt my kids’ feelings. I blow things out of proportion. And I usually end up apologizing.

Being angry generally results in some ugly consequences. But anger is a very misunderstood concept among Christ-followers. Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that we should never get angry. And that’s just simply not true. Jesus got angry. God gets angry. So it can’t be wrong to be angry.

So, what’s the difference between God’s anger and mine? God’s anger is righteous anger. It’s anger for the right reasons. God got angry at the Israelites when they turned their backs on Him. He got angry at the sin in the world during the time of Noah. He got angry enough to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Too often, my anger stems from the wrong reasons. I don’t like the circumstances I’m in. I’m tired or hungry. I simply don’t want to deal with my kids’ problems.

And our kids have the same problem. Too often their anger stems from selfishness. They didn’t get what they wanted. They didn’t win the game. They didn’t get to go on an outing. They didn’t get the sugary cereal they wanted at the grocery. Most of our kids’ anger stems from selfishness. And to be truthful, so does most of mine.

It’s not wrong to be angry, but the things that make us angry should be the things that make God angry — disobedience, mistreatment of others, sin. The Bible never admonishes us not to get angry. But it does say, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). It’s not anger that gets us into trouble. It’s our actions while we are angry. And when we hold onto our anger and let it lead us into trouble, we give Satan an easy entry into our lives.

So, how do we change? How do we stop letting selfish desires make us angry? We follow God’s example.

Sit down with your kids and talk about anger. Talk about how sometimes God gets angry. Make a list of the things that make God angry. Read Matthew 21:12-13 and talk about why Jesus got angry. Discuss the difference between the things that make God angry and the things that make us angry. Talk about how selfish desires tend to be the root of our anger while God’s anger stems from seeing injustice and sin.

Make a new list of the things that it’s OK to get angry about. Base your list on the things that make God angry. For example, my younger daughter tends to get angry when she loses a game. That anger stems from her selfish desire to be better than others. A righteous anger in that situation might stem from being angry that she didn’t do her best. Being angry about losing a game is selfish. Being angry that you didn’t do your best is acknowledging that you didn’t follow God’s directive to do everything with your whole heart. See the difference? When we redirect our anger from selfish desires to righteous ones, we make our anger useful and not sinful, which we’ll talk more about on Friday.

Read Ephesians 4:26-27 with your kids. Talk about what it means to be angry and not sin. Make a list of the ways we sin when we’re angry. Make another list of alternative ways of dealing with and expressing our anger that don’t lead to sin. Make a copy of the appropriate ways to deal with anger and post it in your home. Some ideas include: taking a timeout, being conscious of our words, channeling the energy into something productive.

Pray. We can’t change ingrained patterns in our lives on our own. We have to have help. Ask God to help you change the patterns of your anger. Ask Him to help you stop getting angry when your selfish desires are thwarted and start getting angry about the things that anger Him.

Anger is not sin. It’s what we do when we’re angry that is sin. When we work to change the things we get angry about, it’s easier not to sin when we are angry. Ask God to help you as you embark on this journey to change the way anger appears in your life and the lives of your kids.

When Mom is Wrong

wrong

The other day, my younger daughter brought home a math paper that didn't have a passing grade on it. It was pretty out of character for her as she's usually pretty good in math. When I asked her about it, the conversation went something like this.

"I don't think you understand this concept. Please bring your math book home tomorrow, and we'll work on it over the weekend."

"I understand how to do that stuff."

"The grade on this paper says you don't."

"But I do."

"I have evidence in my hand that you don't."

"I don't need help. I understand it."

This particular conversation continued way longer than it should have. My husband walked in the door in the middle of it, and I'm sure was super impressed with my ability to carry on a prolonged conversation with an irrational 10-year-old. By the time I finally got smart and simply told her we were done talking about it, she was in tears and I was ready to pull out my hair.

The math book did come home the next day, and we looked at the material. Unfortunately it was math that required some special tiles that they only had at school. I stuck a note to her teacher asking her teacher to go over the material with her again since she clearly didn't understand it.

When my daughter got home that day from school, I asked her if her teacher had explained the math to her. My daughter looked at me and simply said, "It wasn't my paper." Someone else's paper had gotten put in her mailbox. She had gotten a 100 percent on that particular paper.

As my younger daughter was telling her father this story at the dinner table, my older daughter looked at me, and said, "I think you owe her an apology."

And I did. I was wrong. I didn't know it at the time, but I was 100 percent in the wrong. And I did owe her an apology.

As parents, it's hard to be wrong. It's hard to admit that we blew it. It's hard to tell our kids we're sorry when we lose our temper or jump to the wrong conclusion. How we handle being wrong, though, teaches our kids more about humility and how to restore a relationship than any object lesson or discussion we can have with them. Our kids are watching how we act. They're learning how to handle situations from watching us.

When we're wrong, especially when we're wrong about something that involves our kids, we have to admit it. We have to give our kids a picture of humility and apology. We have to show them that we respect them enough to apologize to them. We have to give them an example to follow.

Proverbs 11:2 says "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." When we're wrong, and we admit it to our kids, we show them a picture of humility. Not only do we gain wisdom from situations where we have to admit that we're wrong, our kids gain wisdom as well. They learn what humility looks like. They learn that it's OK to be wrong. They learn that it's important to apologize for any hurt they have caused.

So, don't be afraid to admit to your kids when you're wrong. Don't be afraid to apologize. It doesn't make you a weak person. It doesn't weaken your authority as a parent. It simply makes you human and gives you an opportunity to give your kids an example of humility.

Don't Overlook Joseph

I’m taking a few blogging days off as we celebrate the life of my grandma who died this week. Enjoy this post from last year, and I’ll be back next week. My youngest daughter grabs attention wherever she goes. First, she looks like a pixie with blond, curly hair and a petite body. Second, her personality far exceeds her body size. Most people don’t even realize she’s small because her personality overwhelms them. If she has an opinion, you’ll know it. When she walks in the room, she’s the life of the party. She’s a natural-born leader and has no trouble getting others to follow where she wants them to go.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is much more subdued. She doesn’t like to be the center of attention in public. She’s generally thoughtful and studious. She has a dry sense of humor. She would prefer not to be the center of attention — ever. She’s beautiful, too, but in a quiet, understated way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s quiet (she chatters like a magpie), but she’s only talkative in situations where she feels comfortable. She tends to have lots of acquaintances and a few friends. It’s not hard to overlook her in a crowd, but many times she is the one who has the profound answers.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth, Mary tends to get all of the attention. She’s like my youngest. It seems all the important stuff happened to her, which is fitting. She was, after all, the one who was pregnant.

But, there’s another equally important person in this account — Joseph. We don’t know much about Joseph. We know he was a carpenter and clearly a man of integrity, as evidenced by his refusal to have Mary publicly humiliated. But Joseph is the quiet person in the account of Jesus’ birth. Like my older daughter, he is the one who can be overlooked. But if we overlook Joseph, we miss the opportunity to learn from him.

Joseph obeyed. Imagine how Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant with the son of God. Can you imagine his disbelief? I imagine him sitting there, thinking Mary had not only broken her vows but lost her mind as well. The Bible tells us he didn’t believe her because he made plans to end their engagement quietly.

Then an angel shows up in his dreams and tells Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary. The angel confirms what Mary told him. Joseph could have ignored the dream. He was well within his rights to cast Mary off. Yet, when God spoke, Joseph listened. Matthew 1:24 says “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Joseph provided. In Luke 2, we find Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem. What an inconvenient time for a census to take place. Can you imagine traveling on a dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem when you were nine months pregnant? We have an image in our heads of Mary riding on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem, but we don’t know that she didn’t walk the distance. Can you imagine how scared Joseph was that Mary wouldn’t be able to make the journey or that something would happen to her along the way?

They get to Bethlehem and there’s no place to stay. It wasn’t like today. Joseph couldn’t call the local Holiday Inn to get reservations. It was first come, first serve at the inns, and clearly Mary and Joseph did not have relatives in Bethlehem. The only place offered to them was a dirty stable. Joseph could have turned away, thinking that a stable wasn’t the best place for them. Imagine how much humility it took to accept lodging for you and your pregnant wife in a stable. But Mary needed shelter, so Joseph set aside his pride to provide what she needed.

Joseph protected. After Jesus was born and all the visitors had come and gone, Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Herod was afraid when he heard that Jesus was to be a king. He thought Jesus had come to take his throne away, so he ordered killed all the boys under the age of 2.

God told Joseph to protect his family by taking them to Egypt. The Bible tells us that Joseph got up in the middle of the night and took his family away. He protected Jesus.

God knew that Jesus would need an earthly mother and father. He chose Joseph, who may not have been the most gregarious guy on the block, to provide for and protect Jesus. Joseph’s unquestioning obedience tends to make him the afterthought in most tellings of the Christmas story. But this quiet figure gives us a picture of how God provided for Jesus.

When you’re reading the account of the first Christmas with your kids this year, don’t just skip over the part about Joseph. Talk with your kids about the important role that he played in Jesus’ life. Encourage your kids to look at Joseph as God’s provision for Jesus. Help them understand all the things that Joseph did, so Jesus could grow up to do His ministry.

This year, look beyond the attention-grabbing people in the Christmas account to the quiet guy in the background. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from him.

Days 10-14: Life Interrupted

This was the year I was going to have it all together. This was the year we were going to get the focus of Christmas in the right place for the entire season. We were going to have great activities and great focus.

Then, life interrupted. My grandma died on Sunday morning. We're leaving today for the visitation and funeral. All the advent calendar boxes, the Christmas shopping, and the traditions are going to have to wait. We'll have a week less to focus on those things because this week we'll be focusing on celebrating the life of a woman who shared a birthday with Jesus.

For this week in this holiday season, we won't have to work hard to focus on God's gift to us because we'll be experiencing His comforting arms up close and personal. We'll be spending lots of time reminiscing about how my grandma loved to sing, how she loved to laugh, how she loved her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and how she loved Jesus. It's not going to take work to focus our family's thoughts on Jesus because we'll be busy thinking about how my grandma is hanging out with Him as we speak.

We're going to take a bag of candy on our trip with us and let the girls hand out candy to other kids when we stop along the way. We'll keep the spirit of giving going, but we won't have a new box to open every day until we get home. I'll share some of our adventures with you when we get back.

But for now, I'm going to leave you for the rest of this week with some posts from the past few Christmases, and I'm going to ask you to give something to us in the next few days. We'd love your prayers as we walk the road of this final goodbye to a lady who was so full of life until dementia stole those last few years from us. It's been a long, difficult goodbye and as we gather to celebrate my grandma's life, we'd love to know you're praying for us in our grief and celebrating with us as we know she's whole and happy once again.

Thank you, and I'll "see" you next week.

Be Thankful

Be-Thankful.jpg

If you got out of bed and walked across the room this morning without assistance ... be thankful.

If you have a table laden with food ... be thankful.

If someone you love is going to walk through your front door today ... be thankful.

If you had more than one outfit to choose from when you got dressed ... be thankful.

If your family is healthy ... be thankful.

If you have a job to return to ... be thankful.

If you have people who love you ... be thankful.

If you have a roof over your head and heat in your house ... be thankful.

If you have friends you can call for help at 1 a.m. ... be thankful.

If you have clean water to drink ... be thankful.

If you woke up this morning in a free country because other men and women are defending that freedom ... be thankful.

If you have loved ones around you ... be thankful.

If you know peace because you know Jesus ... be thankful.

Be thankful today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Don't Miss The Action Bible

My younger daughter has been reading her Bible without being prompted for almost an hour a day. She's already in Joshua. She's learning the stories of the Old Testament and eating it up like it's a novel. Thanks to The Action Bible. This Bible is one of the best investments I've ever made. We love it so much I wanted to share this post with you again. If you have a reluctant reader or a child who just loves graphic novels, check out this Bible. Its beautiful artwork will draw your kids in and hook them on reading the Bible.

The Bible is probably the world's most interesting book. It has everything -- murder, love, fighting, intrigue, spies. What kid wouldn't want to read that book?

Yet, the Bible is a pretty intimidating book for kids, and even for adults. It's not written in chronological order, it can be repetitive and it's often written in language that's far too difficult for kids. By the time our kids are old enough to read the Bible on their own, they often think it's a big book, full of boring stuff.

Yet, God tells us that the Bible is "a lamp for our feet and a light on our path" (Psalm 119:105). Digesting what's in the Bible is important for us to know how God wants us to live. We can't follow Jesus unless we know how He lived.

That's why I'm so excited to introduce you to The Action Bible. If you have a child who loves to read graphic novels (We called them comic books when we were kids), then your child will love The Action Bible. It's the Bible told in graphic novel form.

The Action Bible takes  many of the biblical accounts and turns them into a comic-book style rendering. Don't worry, the accounts are still correct. They're just rendered in a way that's exciting to kids and that gives kids easily digestible chunks of text.

My younger daughter got this Bible for Easter. She loves it. She's probably read more of the biblical accounts in this Bible than she's ever picked up her regular Bible.

While I don't recommend this Bible as the only Bible your child should own, it's a fantastic tool for getting your kids interested in reading the biblical accounts of events. It's really helpful in creating a picture of what happened in a fun, interesting way for kids. You can even use it as a companion to your child's regular Bible, reading a passage of scripture from your child's regular Bible, then reading the same account in The Action Bible.

If you're having trouble interesting your child in reading the Bible, check out The Action Bible. You just might find your child won't want to put it down.