Childhood

Why Target Taking Down a Few Signs Doesn't Bother Me

In all this hullabaloo over Target taking down a few signs, we seem to have forgotten one thing: God made each one of us. He made us with different interests and talents. And He did that so we could fulfill a purpose in His plan.

I wasn't going to write this post. I usually like to stay away from controversial subjects in this space. But I found that after thinking about it for a while and praying about it that I feel the need to write about it. What is it, you ask? It's Target's announcement that they are moving away from gender-based labeling in toys and bedding in their stores.

It appears that this business decision by Target has set off a firestorm of criticism and praise from all different corners. And my take on this might surprise some of you.

My first thought was actually, why is this such a big deal? Most kids I know don't care where they buy the toys they like. They don't care if it's bought off a shelf with green paper or pink paper. They simply want the toy they want. It's us parents who care. It's us parents who are using the gender labeling as a validation that we are raising our kids "right."

You see, I have a daughter, and I have hardly ever shopped for a toy for her in the girls' toy section. We've about outgrown toys now, but my daughter loved Legos (not the pink and purple Friends sets, the hard-to-build Star Wars and City themed ones), light sabers, Nerf guns and Matchbox cars (oh, how she loved Matchbox cars). One year for Christmas all she wanted was a scale replica of Mark Martin's NASCAR truck that she could play with. She has never owned a Barbie doll. She never liked to play dress-up. She would rather get muddy, shoot Nerf guns and play street hockey on the driveway than pick out new outfits for her American Girl doll.

So I bought her toys in the "boys'" section of the toy department. And I never once thought that I was doing my daughter a disservice. I never once thought she would be confused about what gender she is. I was simply trying to cater to my daughter's interests. She didn't like dolls, so I didn't buy them. She didn't care about princesses and fairies, so we didn't buy those either.

The idea that the toys we buy our children are going to shape their gender identity is quite simply silly. It is a bunch of hoopla about nothing. My daughter is 12 now. She likes to look cute when she goes to school. She identifies as a girl. But she still plays hockey. She still likes video games and sports. It doesn't make her less of a girl. It just makes her a girl with some less than typical interests. And that's OK. Because in all this hullabaloo over Target taking down a few signs, we seem to have forgotten one thing: God made each one of us. He made us with different interests and talents. And He did that so we could fulfill a purpose in His plan.

I don't mind that Target is taking down those signs. If it makes some girl (or boy) feel more comfortable shopping for a toy that isn't a "typical" girl or boy toy, then that's good. Because instead of making a child feel awkward about focusing on their God-given interests, we should be celebrating them. We should be encouraging them to be who God made them to be. My little girl who played with Matchbox cars might grow up to be a race-car driver. Your little boy who played with dishes and play kitchens might grow up to be a chef. Why would we want to try to mold those interests into something else?

They're just toys. It's just a sign. There are real problems in this world -- children are starving, wars are raging, children are sold every day into slavery. Maybe we should focus some of our outrage on those things and just let our kids play with their toys.

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.

Appreciating the Now

appreciate My older daughter is wearing a walking cast on her left foot. She's had it for two weeks, and she's ready for it to come off. Unfortunately for her, her foot isn't quite ready to bear her weight all day.

If you follow my blog at all, you know that both of my girls are very active. My older daughter plays soccer competitively, and this spring she was going to run track. She's not taking this forced inactivity well. It seems it takes a long time for a small fracture to heal. She's ready to get moving, play soccer, run track and just generally be active. But her foot is not.

As I've watched her chafe at her forced period of rest, I have been struck by just how much waiting for her foot to heal resembles childhood. Our kids are always so ready to move onto the next stage of life, so ready to grow up, that they don't want to wait for the right time. They want to be able to do all the things the older kids and the adults get to do -- even though they aren't ready for those things yet.

My daughter's foot isn't ready for the pummeling it will take on the soccer field, yet my daughter wants to get right back out there. Having the walking boot on her foot is forcing her to rest, to stay in the moment instead of charging ahead.

In the same way, we have to help our kids appreciate the moment they are in. We need to help them appreciate all the joys of being 3 or 10 or 15. We need to help them know that the time for more grown-up things is coming, but there are joys to be found in the stage they are currently in. They don't have to be in such a hurry to grow up.

God said in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." God has set aside time for everything -- time to be 3, time to be 10, time to be 15, time to be 85. When we spend all our time looking forward to what's next, we miss what's right now. We miss what God has for us in the present when we spend all our time focused on the future.

So, the next time your kids yearn to be older, sit them down, hand them a piece of paper and help them list out all the great things about being right where they are. Help them to see the plans God has for them and how He can use them right there in the midst of today.

Because tomorrow will be here soon enough.

Let Them Play in the Mud

Innocence We spent the weekend at a hockey tournament and are enjoying a little extra rest this morning. Enjoy this post from the archives.

When  my older daughter was nearly 11, she informed me that two kids in her class were “dating.” I asked her what she thought of that. She replied that she didn’t “get it.”

“We’ve got plenty of time for that stuff later. I just want to be a kid and play in the mud. In a couple of years, I won’t be able to do that.”

Where or where did my child gain such wisdom? And why does it seem like the rest of the world has forgotten it?

We live in a world where our kids are expected to grow up in a hurry. Our world pretends to value childhood, but then pushes our kids to act like teenagers before they’re ready. We expect our kids to choose a lifelong sport or activity by the time they’re 4. Stores offer clothing that encourages our kids to look like mini adults. We overschedule our kids from the time they are in preschool, leaving them with little time for creative play.

And, many times, we are complicit in expecting our kids to begin looking at the opposite sex in a sexual way. Oh, we don’t mean to do it, but every time we make a comment about a kindergarten child’s “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” we encourage our kids not to see the opposite gender as a friend, but as a sexual object. This is how we end up with kids “dating” at 11.

My younger daughter has lots of boys who are friends. She probably spends more time with boys than she does with girls. I can’t count how many times someone has commented to me about my daughter’s “boyfriends.” And I always think, “Don’t do that to them. Let them just be friends. Don’t take the innocence of childhood and turn it into something adult.”

As parents, we need to be careful how we talk about our children’s friends of the opposite gender. We need to help our kids hang onto the innocence of childhood for as long as possible. No matter how hard we try, the world is going to force them to grow up faster than they need to. As parents, we need to encourage them to “play in the mud” for as long as they want to.

To do that, we need to take a long, hard look at our own actions and words toward our kids. Children are a heritage and reward from God (Psalm 127:3), and we need to treat them as such. We need to make a conscious effort to not sexualize our kids friendships. We need to be a good judge of what we let them wear. We need to be aware of what TV shows our kids are watching, what movies they are seeing and what books they are reading.

Childhood is precious, and innocence is priceless. Let your kids be little. Let them play in the mud, splash in the puddles and sing in the rain for as long as they can. Because the world will force them to grow up soon enough.

First Friday: Remember When You Were Awesome

Awesome The longer I live, the more I realize why Jesus thinks little kids are the bee’s knees.

In a world that is cynical, cold and obsessed with junk, it’s our kids that rock the norm.

Not only do these tiny peeps live on the brighter side of life. But warmth also spews out of them. Fighting the cold and telling whoever will hear, “Hey, I’ll share everything and anything---even my boogers!!!”

God bless them.

(And the mamas and papas who must be better than Kleenex.)

Kids sing in the middle of grocery stores. They dance down hospital hallways.  They travel to Africa and back IN THEIR HEADS.

THEY. ARE. FANTASTIC.

And they know it.

Not in an arrogant or pious kind of way.

But in a “If God says I rock, then clearly I do.”

I feel it every day as my son jumps out of the car and shouts back at me, “I’m gonna go be awesome today, mom.  Now you go be awesome, too!”

I see it every time we go to the grocery store and my 3-year-old rocks an Ariel dress, two different sparkly shoes (one that is her sister’s and flops when she walks) and a big giant red bow that only barely covers her syrup-matted hair.

I hear it in the enthusiastic projection of my 8-year-old as she belts out “Let It Go” for the (bless me) 902nd time.  It all screams, “Broadway, I’m fabulous.  And if you haven’t heard me sing yet, watch the hoot out.”

It is an unabashed confidence that  says, “Listen up, y’all. I am fearfully and wonderfully made!!! And if you doubt it for a moment, let me show you what makes me special.  ”

They are the best of us, uncomplicated and without baggage.

And even though they still have moments where even we as parents realize they need Jesus, our kids model daily how to take the truth of our “made in God’s image” selves and rock it.

That is if we learn.

Now the world will work very hard at wearing down that confidence.

It will call them what I often call myself.

Too flabby. Too scattered.  Too slow.

Too against the grain.

But as much as I have accepted those labels for myself, when I see how my kids view themselves and the world God created, I want to fight against those negative monikers.

I want to cast off every piece of nasty baggage and see myself the way my Creator sees me.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

And it’s why I am keeping three pictures for my babies.  Tucking them close to my heart.  And waiting for the day I hear, “I’m too flabby.  I’m too scattered.  I’m too slow.”

Because when those days come, I will break them out and say, “See this...”

Graces note

“Grace?”

Drew Bowtie

“Drew?”

sophie pink

“Sophie?”

“These are words or this is the look of someone who thinks that if God thinks she’s awesome, then it must be so. Chase that. Want that. Wear that. And no matter what happens, don’t let it go.”

Then I’ll hug her and kiss him and pray crazily over all three, eventually tucking the pictures close to my heart once again.

But before I do, I’ll take one long last look at each and remind myself again of a little boy’s drop-off farewell…

““I’m gonna go be awesome today, mom.  Now you go be awesome, too!”

Sara Cormany guest posts on the first Friday of each month. Sara is mommy to six-year-old Grace, four-year-old Drew and one-year-old Sophie.  When she is not wiping noses, changing diapers or chasing her kids, she is a sometimes writer and a sometimes teacher to teenagers.  But her most cherished role is that of one who is perfectly held by Jesus. She loves watching Him take the broken, the messy and the seemingly mundane of her everyday and turn it into something beautiful. She recently began her own blog called Where Feet May Fail. Be sure to check it out.

 

Use Your Platform

Message to My Kids

I stayed up and watched the Oscars Sunday night. I don't know why, but I love the glitz and glamour of Hollywood's awards night. I usually haven't seen many of the movies nominated (this year I'd seen Frozen and Gravity), but I enjoy watching. I love the pageantry and beauty of a life so far from my own.

As I watched this year's show, I was wowed by the composers of Frozen who won for Best Original Song for "Let It Go." Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez gave a fairly typical speech until they got to the end. Then, this is what they said: "Our girls, Katie and Annie, our song is inspired by our love for you in the hope that you never let fear and shame keep you from celebrating the unique people that you are. Thank you, we love you."

This couple were on the biggest stage of their careers. They will probably never again have as many people watching and listening to them as they did on Sunday night. And they used that moment to send a message to their kids. They used that platform to tell their kids one of the most important things any kid can ever hear -- you are unique, and you should celebrate it.

As I watched them and applauded their choice, I was struck by the fact that we all have a platform -- some are big like the Oscar stage, others are smaller like being a mom. No matter the size of our platform, though, we can use it to send our kids a message. We can use it to encourage our kids to be themselves. We can us it to remind our kids that God created them in His image (Genesis 1:27) and that makes them unique. It makes them special. It makes them beautiful.

So, today, on my little platform here, I want to say this to my kids:

You are beautiful.

You are strong.

You are two of the best things in my life.

You are loved by both God and your parents.

You are hand-picked by the King to fill a role in His plan.

You have skills and talents that no one else has.

You have a personality that makes you uniquely you.

You are unique and should never hide who you are just because someone else doesn't like it.

You are the daughter of a King.

You are created in God's image.

You bring joy to my life.

You are amazing.

Our kids need to hear encouraging words from us. They need to know that we think they are unique and special. They need to know that we have their backs. They need to know that standing out from the crowd is OK. They need to know that being the unique creation that God made them to be is way more important than fitting in with the crowd.

And they need us to shout these words from whatever platform we have. So use the printable (click on the picture above) of these words to share with your kids. Post it around your house. Shout it from your platform. Let your kids know how you feel. Because we can never spend too much time encouraging our kids to simply be who God created them to be.

Do you like what you read here? Check out my book Everyday Truth: Teaching your kids about God in life's everyday moments. You'll find practical ways to grab those everyday moments and turn them into teachable ones.

Investing in Children Matters

Invest The spring soccer and hockey schedules came out this weekend. It's always a puzzle to try to figure out how all the pieces are going to fit together to get everyone where they need to be. Sometimes it means splitting up our family for the weekend. Sometimes it means enlisting help from the grandparents or teammates. To complicate it all, my husband and I each lead a middle school small group in our student ministry on Sunday mornings. We try hard to make sure at least one of us is there to lead every Sunday.

That extra commitment on Sunday mornings makes our already busy schedules a whole lot tougher to coordinate. There are days when I wonder if that commitment is worth it. There are days when I wonder if we should even try to lead in middle school during this season of our lives. But then there are days like yesterday.

Yesterday morning, I watched two of the girls from my middle school small group get baptized, and I was reminded there's no greater reward than to invest in the life of a child, whether it's your own child or someone else's. There's no greater gift we can give to a child than to spend time with them and share the love of Jesus with them.

When we invest in kids, we make an investment for eternity. We can change the course of a life just because we care. My Sunday morning commitment means I spend an hour each week with these girls. It means I check in with them during the week. It means I pray for them. It means they know I care.

In the grand scheme of things it's not a huge time commitment, but it makes a huge difference. It means that those girls have someone other than their parents who are encouraging them and teaching them how to grow spiritually and emotionally. It means they have another safe adult to turn to when things are rough. It means they have someone other than their parents speaking God's word and wisdom into their lives.

No matter how difficult it is to squeeze that time into our schedules, it's all worth it. There is nothing I can do in a week that is more important than the time I invest in these girls. The angels rejoiced yesterday when those two girls were baptized. Shepherding these young ladies' hearts is a huge privilege and a weighty responsibility.

Today, I want to encourage you to invest in the kids around you. Whether you do it formally through helping in your church's children's or student ministry or you do it informally by investing in your kids' friends, make the time to be a mentor to a kid. Jesus said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). When we choose to invest in kids, whether our own or someone else's, we help them come to Jesus. We help them understand the love and grace found only in the arms of Jesus.

No matter how busy your schedule, there's time to invest in the kids around you. Decide today how you can do that. You won't regret it, and you may change a life -- forever.

5 Ways to Encourage Sibling Love

Sibling love My girls started the day yesterday sniping at each other. That's become a fairly frequent occurrence lately.

It has been a long, cold, snowy winter. We're in for another blast of cold weather this weekend. I'm so ready for spring. And so are my kids. We've spent way too much time cooped up together this winter. And it's beginning to show in our behaviors.

My girls are 22 months apart in age. It's great to have them so close together when they get along, but when they're not being friendly with each other, it's miserable.

If you have more than one kid, it's fair to expect a certain amount of griping and fighting with each other. No one gets along with another person all the time, and our kids are just beginning to learn to solve their own problems. But when that griping and fighting reaches epic proportions, it's probably time to sit down with your kids and remind them of how families act.

If you're struggling to put the lid on sibling rivalry, consider doing these five things:

1. Limit the electronics. Our kids live in an age where they spend a lot of time communicating through electronic devices. When they get so tied to electronics, they forget how to communicate in person. We have a rule that you can't use electronic devices in the car if there's someone else in the car with you. No texting someone who isn't there when there's someone to talk to right next to you. (We ease this one for long car rides but for trips around town, this is a firm rule.) We also don't allow electronics at the dinner table or when we're at a restaurant. Those are perfect opportunities for our kids to learn to converse and form relationships with the people in their own families.

2. Make time for family. Set aside some time to spend time together as a family. Have a movie night. Play games. Go for a walk. Cook a meal together. We try to do one of these things once a week. When you set aside time for family, you're telling your kids that family is important. You're letting them know that they should value each other and the relationships within the four walls of your home.

3. Set up intentional ways to encourage each other. Teach your kids to be encouragers. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up." Encouraging each other is a great way to build loving relationships in your family. If one child has a game, take the other one with you to cheer the first child on. If one child has a test, remind the other one to wish him good luck. Start a system of encouraging notes. Create mailbox or pail of some kind for each member of your family. Mount it on their doors or hang it on their doorknobs. Encourage each member of your family to leave encouraging notes in the other family member's mailboxes.

4. Work together. Create tasks that force your kids to work together. This is a great way to help your kids appreciate each others' abilities and to force them to learn to work through any issues that arise. Have one chore a week that your kids have to do together. When you're working on a big household project, get your kids working together. When they learn they can accomplish more together, it builds their relationship.

5. Pray for each other. Teach your kids to pray for their siblings. Nothing softens hearts and changes attitudes like prayer. It's almost impossible to stay angry with someone while sincerely praying for them. Create a prayer list in your house where everyone can add things they want prayed for. Encourage your kids to pray for their siblings' requests.

Our homes don't have to be filled with bickering and strife. We can teach our kids how to love and respect their siblings. It just takes some time and patience on our part.

The Danger of Labels

labels Middle school. Those two words may be the most anxiety-producing words in the English language. Say them out loud to a group of adults and you'll get story after story of how awful those years were. Say them to a group of elementary-school kids, and you'll get questions about whether they're going to get stuffed in a locker and how they'll ever manage to find their classes. Say them to a group of middle-schoolers, and you'll hear all about how they can't wait to get to high school.

Middle school is a tough age. It's an in-between time. Bodies are changing. Opinions are forming. Things that were once your child's favorite are now relegated to a spot in the closet. Things you didn't even know they liked are now their favorites. Those years from 10 to 13 are a tough, confusing time.

And they're made even worse when our kids spend time comparing themselves to others. Whether it's grades or clothes or activities, our kids spend a lot of time comparing themselves to others. They place labels on themselves and each other. "She's smart. He's an athlete. She's a musician. He's a skater." Our kids pigeon-hole themselves and others by putting labels on each other after they've compared themselves.

That comparing and labeling is harmful because it gives our kids a one-dimensional view of themselves. It makes them see themselves as only capable of one thing. When our kids focus on only one of their abilities and talents, it makes them feel that all of their self-worth is tied up in that talent.

God didn't make athletes and musicians and smart people. He made every single one of us in His image. He made every single one of us to be a reflection of Him. That means that each of us, and each of our kids, is a complex person. We can't be boiled down to one label.

My older daughter often gets labeled as an athlete. "She's really good at sports," we hear. She is very athletic, but that's not all she is. She's also smart, funny, a great problem-solver, and someone who is full of perseverance. When someone labels her an athlete, it leaves out so much of who she is that it makes me cringe.

If our kids hear one label often enough, they will begin to believe that that's all they are capable of doing. They will lose the idea that they are "fearfully and wonderfully made" in all areas. They will begin to focus on just that one thing that everyone else thinks they are good at.

But what happens when that one thing fails them? What happens when the athlete gets hurt? What happens when the smart kid gets a C? What happens when the musician meets a piece of music she can't master? That's when our kids begin to question their value. That's when they begin to wonder at their worth.

When we talk to our kids and when we talk about other kids, we need to be careful not to label those children. We need to be careful to view them as well-rounded people, not just a single-talent person. We need to point out all of a person's qualities to our own kids. And we need to correct our kids when they start to label others. We need to remind them that there's more to a person than just one attribute.

And when our kids find themselves being labeled, we need to remind them that they are more than just one trait. We need to point out to them that they are a "masterpiece" created in God's image and just like a masterpiece has many colors, they have many talents and traits. We need to help our kids resist the need to fit into a single box -- because God didn't make them to fit in a box; He made them to fill a role in His plan.

Take a minute today to examine how you talk to and about your kids. Think about how your kids talk about themselves and their friends. If you find any of you tend to pigeon-hole others or yourselves, take steps to change the way you talk about yourself and others. Make it a point to look for other things to praise in your kids than the ones that fit the labels they've been stuck with. Because all a label does is limit your child's possibilities.

It's the Little Things

little moments Shirley Temple died yesterday. It wasn't a surprise; the curly-haired little girl who sang and danced her way into people's hearts was 85. What did surprise me was how sad it made me.

You see, my grandmother lived with us when I was growing up, and one of our favorite things to do together was to watch Shirley Temple movies when they were on TV. In the day and age before cable TV, Saturday afternoons were often a time for networks to broadcast old movies. Shirley Temple movies were a regular fixture. My grandmother and I would sit and watch them together, whether we had seen them before or not. Our favorite was "The Little Princess."

When I heard the news that Shirley Temple had died yesterday, a little piece of my heart broke for that piece of my childhood that was gone forever. And all day, I was struck by how important the little pieces of our childhoods are.

We took a lot of big vacations when I was growing up. We had a lot of really cool "experiences," but the things that I remember most, the things that I hold most dearly, are the little things. Shirley Temple movies on Saturday morning. Sneaking into my grandmother's room on Friday night to watch "Dallas." Waking up early in the morning to go on a family bike ride. Trips downtown to watch the Bruins play hockey. Family games of Dutch Blitz.

Those little moments that no one really thinks about are often the biggest memory-makers for our kids. Those are the things they're going to remember. Those are the things that remind them that they are loved. Those are the moments when they learn about God, faith, family, and character.

You can read book after book and blog after blog about how to make memories with your kids. You can plan big birthday parties, go on big vacations, travel with a sports team, or schedule a playdate for every day of the week, but it's the small, quiet moments that are going to matter. It's the hundreds of times you've played Pretty, Pretty Princess. It's the games of knee hockey. It's the quiet conversations in the car. It's the moments spent watching a movie. It's the short notes in their lunchboxes. Those are the things that tell our kids we love them. Those are the moments that create memories.

Don't stop making the big memories, going on the big vacations, planning the big events. Just keep in mind that the little moments are equally important in letting our kids know we love them. They are the ones that will be remembered.

A Message to My Daughters

I slept through my alarm this morning. It's our first day back to school after winter break and an additional snow day. I guess I'm not quite ready to go back to getting up early. So, since I have to get my daughter up in a few minutes, I'm going to let you enjoy one of my favorite posts from the archives. I'll be back with a new post tomorrow.

My 11-year-old daughter came home from school the other day sick at heart. For the first time in years, she had changed the way she wore her hair to school. Some girls promptly made fun of her. A couple of girls trying to be funny and "cool" had shattered my daughter's self-confidence and ruined her day. She cried most of the afternoon and evening. It broke my heart.

It also made me think about what I want my daughters to know about themselves, so I came up with this "Message to My Daughters." I thought I'd share it with you today.

A Message to My Daughters

You are a masterpiece. God says so. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

You are loved. I love you. Your dad loves you. Your grandparents love you. Your sister loves you (even though sometimes she doesn't act like it). Your friends love you. Most importantly, God loves you.

Be yourself. There's no one else in this world like you. No one who has exactly the same talents, likes and dislikes, or personality as you. No one can be you as well as you can. Don't be afraid to be yourself.

Don't let others define you. People will say mean things. They will want you to be like them. They will try to take away your self-confidence. Don't let them. Be who God created you to be, not who someone else tells you to be.

Stand up for what's right, even when it's hard. Most of the time the easy road is the one that follows the crowd, even if it's wrong. Be strong and courageous. Don't be afraid to choose the right thing, even when your friends are choosing the wrong one.

Know how to recognize the truth. The world is going to feed you all sorts of lies about beauty, money, self-worth and relationships. Don't believe them. Seek God, who is the source of truth.

You will make mistakes, and it's OK. No one is perfect. When you mess up, pick yourself up and get back in the game. Learn from your mistakes and move forward.

We have your back. No matter how bad the day, how mean other people are to you, or how hard the choice you have to make, we're behind you. We are always praying for you. Home will always be a safe place where you can heal your wounds and be encouraged.

You are a gift. Our lives would not be complete without you. We thank God every day that He gave us you.

For a printable copy of this "Message to My Daughters," click here or on the picture above.

 

 

 

Growing Up

Calling She went to a sleepover, and she left them at home. The blanket she's slept with practically since birth and the small stuffed bee that have gone everywhere with her if she's sleeping away from home were still in her bed. She told me before she left that she was leaving them at home. In that moment, a little piece of childhood fell away, and a little piece of my heart was sad.

I've known for a while now that my girls are growing up. My 12-year-old is closer to leaving home than she is to kindergarten. I've been able to comfort myself with the fact that my 10-year-old is still more little girl than young woman. But when she left those comfort items at home, I realized that she's growing up quickly, too.

I'll be honest. I don't miss the days of being woken in the middle of the night and having to work my schedule around feedings and naps. But I do miss the days of watching faces light up with wonder when a butterfly flew by or an airplane appeared in the sky. I do miss giggles for no reason and the belief that everyone is your friend.

Growing up isn't a bad thing. Our goal as parents is to raise kids who are ready to leave home and live on their own. The end game is to move our kids from dependence on us to dependence on God. But that doesn't mean we won't miss some of those more precious, innocent moments as our kids grow.

That blanket and bee that were left behind, though, reminded me to savor the moments we have left with our girls at home. They reminded me that while there's plenty of work for me to do, plenty of ministry for me to be involved in, and plenty of activities for my girls to do, we have to make time together as a family a priority. We have to treasure the moments we have left until they leave home.

God may call us to minister to others outside our homes, but His first calling to us is to be ministers to our families, missionaries to our kids. If we aren't using the teachable moments at home, then we can't expect to find joy and peace in ministry outside of our homes. If we aren't loving our families well, we can't expect to be blessed as we love those outside our family.

A small stuffed bee and a tattered blanket have reminded me that my first ministry, my first calling is to love and teach my family. I need to enjoy my kids and focus on teaching them the things they need to know to be able to follow Jesus as they leave home. I need to make loving my husband a priority. Everything else is secondary, and if it needs to, it will wait.

Because someday in the not-too-distant future, the well-loved bee and blanket will be in a box, and the laughter of little girls will no longer ring through my house. I don't want to be so focused on other things that I miss enjoying these moments while they last.

Some Day You'll Thank Me

parent

My older daughter got in the car last night after soccer practice with a disgruntled look on her face. At first, I thought she was just hot. She did just practice for an hour and 15 minutes in near-100-degree heat. But, alas, that was not the only issue.

She turns to me and says, "Did you know I'm the only girl on my team without an Instagram account?"

Turns out her coach had asked all the girls for their social media account names so he could follow them or friend them. My daughter was the only one without at least an Instagram account. (I'm not going to get into the reasons why she doesn't have any social media accounts. You can read about that here in a post I wrote a few weeks ago.)

"Some day you'll thank me," I told my daughter.

"Today is not that day," she said.

When she said those words, I laughed because isn't that the truth about parenting? We make the best decisions we can for our kids -- some of which are overwhelmingly unpopular -- then we get to face their displeasure over those decisions.

That's a hard role to have. It's not easy being the person who always has to say "no" when everyone else is getting a "yes." It's not easy being the one to bring disappointment and frustration into our kids' lives.

And the truth is, our kids may not thank us later. They may always think that the decisions we made for them are wrong. They may never make the same decisions for their own kids. And that's OK.

Our job as parents is to make the best decisions we can for our kids with the information and the wisdom that we have at the time. We may not always make a perfect decision. We might even make the wrong one, but we can't back off from making decisions that might be unpopular with our kids simply because we don't think our kids will like the decision -- or us.

No matter the age of our kids, they need us to make decisions in their best interest. They need the wisdom and perspective that our longer lives and increased experience bring. They need us to offer advice, make rules, and keep them from harm. They need us to be their parents, not their friends -- even if the thanks for those decisions never comes.

So much of the advice on the parenting pendulum has swung toward being your child's friend. So many of us are worried about our kids not liking us that it keeps us from making decisions based on what's best for our kids.

The harsh truth is that your kids don't need another friend. They need a parent. They need someone who will set boundaries and hold them accountable. They need someone they can look up to and recognize their authority. They need someone who is going to show them how to make good decisions based on God's plan, not the world's, even if it makes them unpopular.

Our kids need parents who love them enough to make the hard decisions. They need parents who love them enough to listen to what God has to say instead of what the latest parenting book offers up as wisdom. They need parents who are looking out for their children's best interests. They need parents who are willing to hear groans and complaints instead of thank yous.

When we make it a point to follow God's plan for parenting, when we choose to be our kids' parents instead of their friends, we make an important decision to be the people who mold our kids' characters, who teach them right from wrong, and who offer discipline and instruction.

While today may not be the day, some day down the road, for that, our kids will thank us.

Finding Perspective

perspective

My older daughter is 12. That's an age when perspective is sorely lacking. Everything that happens to her is a big deal. It's hard for her to see past the end of the day, much less to the many years ahead of her.

The truth is, it doesn't matter what our kids' ages are, they are probably focused mostly on the here and now. Our toddlers throw tantrums when they don't get what they want immediately. Our elementary-school-aged kids stomp off in frustration when their gratification is delayed. Our middle-schoolers cry buckets of tears or sulk when things don't go their way. It's only as our kids become older teenagers that they begin to gain some perspective on the idea that today is simply one day. There are a whole lot more to come.

Part of our job as parents is to help our kids gain some perspective on their lives. It's our job to help our kids understand that while today might have been a bad day, tomorrow is probably going to be a better one. It's our job to remind them of the truth of Psalm 30:5, "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

No matter how tough the situation, no matter how bad our kids feel, they need to know that tomorrow has different things to offer. They need to know that in the grand scheme of their lives, this tough time is just a drop in the bucket.

My older daughter thinks middle school is going to last forever. All the tough moments of not knowing who exactly she wants to be and trying to fit in with a group seem like they're going to go on endlessly. But the truth is, middle school is three short years of her life. It's just tough for her to remember just how short those years are when she's in the middle of them.

My favorite visual illustration of this is to get 80 feet of something -- from paper to pipe cleaners, or even just mark off 80 feet. Explain to your kids that each foot represents a year of their life. Then, mark off the time period they are in right now. For us, it would be the three years of middle school. Ask your child to compare their season of life with how much of their life isn't in that period. Talk about how there are so many other days ahead of them and ask them to remember the things God has done for them in the days behind them. Make a list of the things God has already done for them in their lives and ask them if they think all those years ahead of them might contain some blessings from God as well.

When our kids are going through some rough moments, they need our love and compassion. They need us to create a refuge for them at home. But, sometimes, they also need us to remind them that this season is not forever. They need to know that while God is with them in the tough times, He's also got many more good things planned for them. Though it may be hard for our kids to look beyond their immediate situation, helping them find some perspective goes a long way toward getting them through the tough moments.

Always Kiss Me Goodnight

Loved

I didn't tuck her in. I was home. I could have climbed the stairs to give her a kiss, but I didn't realize she hadn't come down to tell me she was going to bed until it was time for me to go to bed. By that time she was asleep.

If I'm home, I always tuck my girls in at night. We pray together, I kiss them and tell them good night. I usually tuck them both in at the same time, then trust my older daughter to go to sleep when it's her bedtime.

But the other night, my daughter came home at 9:30 from soccer practice. She took a shower and went to bed. She didn't even tell me she was going to bed.

As I climbed the stairs to head to bed myself, I realized that I had missed those moments with her, and it made me sad. So, I stood silently by her bed that night, watched her sleep for a moment, then kissed her goodnight, wondering how many more nights she would even want mom to tuck her in. I thought maybe we were on the cusp of a new form of independence.

But the first words out of my daughter's mouth the next morning were: "You never came up to kiss me last night." And my mama's heart rejoiced.

You see, no matter how old our kids are, they need to know they are loved. Being tucked in at night still makes my daughter feel loved and secure. It's still important to her. But it may not always be the way she needs me to show her love, and that's OK. When that day comes, I will miss those quiet moments with her at bedtime, but I will find other ways to remind her that she's loved.

No matter the age of our kids, from babies to teens, we have to find ways to remind them they are loved -- no matter what the day brings. And we have to find ways to show them we love them that they will understand and appreciate.

My younger daughter loves to get a note with her lunch. I started putting notes in her lunch last year. When we switched to homeschooling this year, she asked me not to stop writing her notes -- even though we're together all day. Those notes make her feel loved. On Tuesday, she even complained that her note was too short.

If there's anything that our kids need in this day and age, it's to know that they are loved for who God made them to be -- not for anything they say or anything they do. Whether it's a kiss goodnight, a note in a lunchbox, attending an event they are participating in, or simply spending some time with them, we have to figure out the best way to show our kids love on a daily basis.

Those little things that you do for your kids are not going unnoticed by them. Your kids may not even recognize that those things make them feel loved, but they certainly notice when you don't do them.

I want to encourage you to live out the words of Jesus when it comes to loving your kids: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Love your kids the way Jesus loves us -- unreservedly and unconditionally. Let them see Jesus in you by loving them the way He does.

As you go through your day today, think of a new way to show your kids they are loved. Spend a little time examining what you already do to show love to your kids. Talk with your kids about the things that make them feel loved. Try to incorporate those things into your routine.

The world is a tough place. Knowing that you are loved makes it a little easier. Knowing that you are loved makes the long days shorter and the hard days a little less hard. Kiss your kids goodnight, send notes in their lunches, hug them when they need it. Because they need tangible moments that tell them they are loved.

 

Finding Their Spot

place

I rearranged our guest bedroom yesterday to make room for my new desk. We're turning that space into an office for me. With a child at home all day, I no longer have a big, quiet house in which to work, so my husband suggested I make our guest bedroom a bedroom/office.

I spent half the day last Saturday looking for the perfect desk. I love old things, and I really wanted an old writing desk or library table for my desk. My mom and I shopped antique stores for hours on Saturday. The last place we went to had an old library table. It has some wear (it is, after all, an antique), but I fell in love immediately. My mom thought I was crazy that I didn't even want to look at what else was in the store, but I knew it was mine as soon as I saw it.

I spent yesterday arranging things in my office so they suit me. The walls now have an eclectic mix of pictures -- from line drawings of Fenway Park to artwork my girls made. My desk holds some of my favorite books. And my favorite part is that my grandfather's old linotype setting tools will grace the shelf my husband is going to hang for me this weekend. It's my spot, and I love it.

As I was putting together my office, I was reminded of how tough it can be for our kids to find their spot in life. We've lived in this house for eight years, and I've never had my own space. Everyone else has a space to call their own, but I have always had to carve out a corner or use a shared space. I've tried several different times to create a space of my own, but nothing has ever worked. This space, though, is designated for me unless we have company.

It's often the same way with our kids. They don't always find their "spot" the first time they try. Knowing where you fit, knowing what your talents are, knowing how to make use of those talents in the best way is a process of trial and error. Sometimes our kids will try things that we think are going to be a perfect fit, and they turn out to not be. And that's OK. God uses each one of those experiences to help our kids grow into the person He wants them to be.

This growing up thing isn't easy. It's a process -- sometimes a painful one. Sometimes our kids have to struggle through a tough season before they find the place where they belong. Some kids know almost from the womb what their purpose in life is, but it takes other kids until they are adults to find their true calling in life. What matters is that our kids do find their spot, the place where they fit.

We can help our kids find their place, their purpose, by giving them the freedom to explore. Sometimes, as parents, we get an idea in our heads that our kids have to play a certain sport, take a certain class or go to a certain school. When we do that, we're deciding where our kids fit instead of letting them discover it for themselves. If your child never plays an instrument or takes an art class, you may never find out that they have some amazing talent for those things. If you insist that your child play soccer when what they really love is gymnastics, you're stifling a passion that your child has.

We want to help our kids find the place God has for them -- not try to force them into the place we want them to go. We want to give them the opportunity to try different things, even unusual ones, in an effort to help them find what clicks. And that place where they click will almost certainly be a different place than the one we may have envisioned.

God didn't make our kids to be carbon copies of us. He didn't make them so they could become who we want them to be. He made them to fill a specific spot in His plans. He made them with talents and passions that they can use for Him. It's our job to help our kids find their spot in life -- that place where they know they fit, that place that is just for them. Because when they find that place, they can become tools that God can use.

Nurturing Creativity: It's Not About the Mess

nurture

I made dinner with my 10-year-old daughter last night. She loves to cook, and she doesn't always like to follow a recipe. Not surprising since this is my daughter who doesn't always like to follow the rules.

Last night, she wanted to make a dish of her own creation -- pastry-wrapped meatballs. I had to make a few modifications to her recipe just to get them to stay together, but we managed to come up with a meal.

I have to admit, though, I was skeptical that they were going to be edible. I had the pizza order all ready to be placed. Turns out, her recipe wasn't half bad. We decided the filling was better than the pastry part, but it wasn't terrible. For a first attempt at creating a recipe, it was pretty good.

As we were working together in the kitchen, I realized that too often I'm the obstacle to my kids' creativity. I'm the one standing in the way, saying, "That's too messy" or "That takes too long" or even "You might get hurt." Now, I'm not interested in sacrificing my kids' safety in favor of creativity, but too often, those are just excuses because I don't want to help or clean up.

My younger daughter loves to cook, yet I don't let her in the kitchen all that often. It's a lot of work to cook with her -- and a lot of mess. When I refuse to be inconvenienced, though, I'm stifling a portion of her God-given personality. My older daughter likes to draw and paint. She can draw anytime she wants to, but painting is an opportunity that comes infrequently in our house because I don't like to clean up the mess.

Too often, we put our own comfort over indulging our kids' God-given interests and talents. The truth is, if we don't nurture the gifts and talents God gave our kids, then we stifle them. Our kids may even lose interest in those things, thereby losing an important piece of who God made them to be.

Romans 12:6 says "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." My kids' gifts aren't the same as mine, which means that I need to be flexible in allowing them to express their gifts even when those gifts aren't interesting or fun to me.

We don't have to spend every minute of the day focused on our kids. We don't have to let them make a mess every day, but we do need to offer our kids frequent opportunities to express their gifts and talents. We do need to encourage them to exercise their creativity. They can only mature into the person God wants them to be if we recognize and develop the gifts and talents He gave them.

Even if it means letting our kids make a mess. Even if it means eating a dinner that's OK instead of wonderful. Even if it means doing something that doesn't appeal to us.

Because if we don't nurture our kids' gifts and talents, no one else will.

Making the Most of Today

today

I'm going to a funeral today. Our 37-year-old neighbor, who was a husband and dad of two small children, died unexpectedly last week. Our neighborhood has been shaken by the news.

When I heard what had happened, my first instinct was to hug my family tight. It was a jolt, a reminder that we aren't promised tomorrow. We have no idea how many days we have on this earth, so we have to make each one of them count.

As I've prayed for our neighbor, who is now a widow at a young age, I am reminded that God has numbered our days. We don't know when the end will come. It could be today. It could be 50 years from now.

And I'm reminded that mostly it's the little things that matter. It's not the soccer tryouts, the report cards or the promotion at work that matter most.

It's the hugs we give, the stories we take the time to hear, the lessons we teach our kids about God, the laughter we share that matters.

It's the time we put down our work and did a silly jig in the kitchen with our kids that they'll remember. It's the moments we shared snuggling on the couch watching their favorite movie again -- even though we can recite every line in it backwards -- that will bring smiles to their faces. It's the trips to get ice cream after a hard-fought athletic competition or a music concert that will be cherished.

So many times, the things we focus our attention on, the things we put a lot of time and energy into, aren't the most important things. When we're gone, our kids aren't going to remember a lot of that. But they will remember whether they were loved. They will remember whether we took the time to listen to them. They will remember if they were a priority in our lives.

So, this week, I'm making it a point to hug my kids and my husband a little tighter. I'm setting aside the distractions of the computer and the phone a little more often. I'm grabbing the moments to spend with my family.

Because we're not promised tomorrow, so we have to make the most of today.

5 Ways to Foster Sibling Love

sibling

We just spent a week on vacation. We visited with some of my husband's family, saw some friends and attended the Indy 500, then spent nearly a week with my extended family.

Since Tuesday, 17 of us, ranging in age from 2 to 65 piled into a 4-bedroom cabin at Kentucky Lake. We were cozy, but we had fun. My girls look forward to this vacation with my extended family every year. They love hanging out with my cousins and their kids. This year, they went fishing, tubing, boating, and played a family kickball game. Meals were noisy affairs, complete with spills and laughter.

This yearly family reunion is important to our family. It's important because our extended family is spread out with some in Kentucky and some in Kansas. The annual get-together reminds us of the common thread that binds us together. It reminds us of the importance of family.

As we traveled home yesterday after 10 days of very close togetherness with my girls, I listened to them in the backseat. Sometimes they conversed and enjoyed each other's company. Other times they bickered and fought. I began to think about the importance of intentionally creating family bonds -- not just with my extended family but between my girls.

We often remind our girls that when no one else in this world is pulling for them, their sister should always have their back. It doesn't always happen, but we're planting the seeds of the idea in their brains.

Siblings can be annoying. They know just which buttons to push to get your temper up. They know what you're good at and what you're not. They know you better than just about anyone in the world. That makes them your best friend and, at times, your worst enemy.

As parents, we want to intentionally foster the bonds in our family -- both with extended family and within our nuclear family units. We want our kids to fulfill the words Jesus said in John 15:12: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." We want our kids to love each other with an unconditional love, just like Jesus loves us.

To do that, we have to intentionally create opportunities for our kids to create bonds -- even if they're far apart in age. Here are some things that we do around here to create memories and bonding between our girls:

1. Create opportunities for them to work together. When you assign chores, assign some bigger ones that have to be done together. Planning and doing a job together fosters problem-solving and cooperation. It forces your kids to recognize the abilities of each other and use those abilities to get the job done.

2. Plan fun times just for your kids. Choose some activities that just your kids can do. Have a board game day on a rainy afternoon where your kids play games together. Have a campout night where they can sleep in a tent in the backyard or in sleeping bags in the living room together. Let your older kids go to a movie together that you pay for.

3. Make encouraging each other a natural part of the day. Get a pad of sticky notes and a pen for each child. Hang or set them by each child's door. Encourage your kids to write encouraging things to each other and stick them on the other child's door.

4. Ask your kids to help each other solve problems. When one child is struggling with something, ask another child to step in to see if he or she can help solve the problem. This gets your kids to look at their siblings as people who can help them. It sets brothers and sisters up as a viable source of help, thus creating an important bond.

5. Have meals together. As often as possible, have at least one meal a day together. Encourage your kids to talk about their days, their problems and their successes. This sharing time bonds not just siblings but your entire family. It gives everyone a time in the day that they know they will be heard and encouraged.

Family relationships are important. Too often, we think those relationships will naturally happen, but any relationship needs time and attention devoted to it. Be sure your kids are spending some time working on their relationships with their siblings -- because while brothers and sisters can, at times, be annoying, they can also be a source of strength when the rest of the world seems like it's against you.

Before I Had Kids

I'm taking some time off to spend with my family at our annual family reunion this week. Enjoy these posts from the archives, and I'll be back on Monday.

I walked home from dropping my kids off at school yesterday with a purple and orange turtle in my hand -- a child's forgotten artwork from the day before. As I walked, I reflected on just how much my life has changed in the past nearly 11 years since I became a mom. I really never thought I'd be walking down a public street with a dog leash in one hand and a purple and orange paper-mache turtle in the other. Here are a few of the things I discovered:

Before I had kids, I judged the success of my day by how much I got done. Now, I judge it by how patient I've been, how much I've taught my kids and how much laughter has filled my home.

Before I had kids, my house was usually clean. Now, my house is clean but not always picked up. If you arrive unexpectedly, you might find shoes in the family room, school papers on the counter and toys in my girls' rooms.

Before I had kids, dinner out meant a sit-down restaurant. Now, a sit-down restaurant is a rare treat. Counter service is quick and painless.

Before I had kids, I didn't appreciate silence. Now, I savor the rare quiet moment.

Before I had kids, I thought traveling was easy. Now, I know that a car trip with any child under the age of 5 is an adventure that requires a lot of planning. I also know that having a toddler kick your seat on an airplane is not the mom's fault.

Before I had kids, I had new clothes every season. Now, my kids have new clothes, and I wear mine until they fall apart.

Before I had kids, my purse contained a wallet, a pen, lipstick and a notepad. Now, my purse is like the Mary Poppins bag, containing everything from toys to gum to Band-Aids.

Before I had kids, I had plenty of free time in which to read a book uninterrupted or spend a quiet evening at home. Now, one of my primary jobs is chauffeur. Soccer practice, hockey practice and music lessons dominate our time.

Before I had kids, I would never have thought of splashing in the puddles, dancing in the rain, making mudpies, turning the living room into a pirate ship or having a Silly String war. Now, my imagination runs wild, thinking up new, fun things to do.

Before I had kids, I didn't know what it felt like to have my heart walk out the door every morning. Now, I know that while I love my kids, I can't shelter them from every hurt or unkind word. I can only offer comfort and love when they walk back through that door every afternoon.

Before I had kids, I thought I understood God's sacrifice of His Son. Now, I know that giving up His Son was the hardest thing He could have done. Allowing His only child to suffer when He had the power to step in and stop the suffering is a sign of how much He loves us. When John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world," I now have a better understanding of just what that means.

My life has changed a lot in the past 11 years. I now walk home with paper-mache turtles in my hand. Our schedule is often dictated by the activities of the two little people that live in our home. Time alone is a precious commodity. Time alone with my husband is even rarer.

But all of that is OK. Because this is a season, and it's all too short. In another 10 years, there will be no children in my home. Oh, I'll still be a mom, but this day-to-day involvement in their lives will end. They won't need me to direct their lives. They won't need me to make mud-pies. They won't need me to drive them places.

So, for now, I'll take the less-than-perfect home. I'll enjoy the rare moments of quiet. I'll eat at the counter service restaurants. I'll wear the old clothes. Because I've been given two daughters to love, guide and cherish. I don't want to spend time yearning for the pre-mommyhood life I left behind because what I've been given is so much more precious.