God

What I Want Most for My Kids

My older daughter got home at 11:30 last night. It was 12:15 before she got to bed. And it was a school night. It's a rare night that I let my daughter stay up past midnight on a school night. She was exhausted this morning, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

Winter Jam

This photo was taken by a friend of mine last night at Winter Jam -- a huge Christian concert. That's my daughter (the one with the long hair next to the guy in the Blackhawks cap). She's in between two really good friends, and she's got arms raised worshiping God together with them.

That picture sums up so much of what I want for my kids -- to know and worship a great God and to have great friends who also know and worship that great God.

So much of our kids' lives from middle school on is focused on goals. It's about getting good grades, playing well in whatever sport they play, deciding where to go to college and what to do with their lives. And in that mix, relationships can get lost. Our kids can form surface relationships with their peers that never really get to the heart of what's important in life.

Those three kids in that picture are busy. My daughter plays really competitive soccer. The guy on the left plays hockey at an elite level. The girl on the right is a talented ballerina. They commit hours and hours to schoolwork and activities. It would be easy for them to miss out on the gift of friendship with anyone outside their chosen sport or activity.

But these kids and the others on that row that you can't see have learned that it's important to have friends who understand not just who you are, but whose you are. They know that when the going gets tough, you need friends who have your back, who will pray for you, who will understand you.

That girl on the right doesn't know much about soccer, but she knows my daughter. She knows how to make her laugh. She knows how to just be comfortable with her. She knows about my daughter's heart.

That guy on the left may not play soccer, but he knows all about how difficult it is to play a sport at a high level. He knows how hard it is to be injured and how sometimes you just need a little bit of encouragement when you've had a bad practice. He also knows how to make my daughter laugh and sometimes roll her eyes.

There's another girl just to the right who's not in the picture that has been my daughter's friend literally since birth. Even though they've changed and grown apart a bit, she still knows more about my daughter than just about anyone else. She knows when it's OK to push and tease and when she should back off. She knows my daughters favorite things and her fears.

You see, I don't really care if my daughter ever plays another soccer game. I'm not really concerned about what she's going to do with her life when she grows up. All those things will take care of themselves in time.

What I am concerned about is that my daughter grows in her relationship with God and that she is surrounded by people who love her and are pursuing that same relationship. Because those are the lessons that are going to stick with her for the rest of her life. Those relationships she forms today -- the ones that are based on a mutual love and passion for the things of God -- are teaching her how to forge those relationships with others in the future.

And if there's one thing I want for my kids, it's that they are learning now how to create meaningful relationships in the future. I want them to have friendships that go beyond the surface and dive into the things that are important. Because grades and sports and plans for the future are important, but having a relationship with God and great friends to support you in that relationship are the most important.

Winter jam2

5 Things I Want My Kids to Know About God

5 things

My girls are 11 and 13. They are both in the midst of trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be and how God fits into the mix.

My older daughter has a giant faith. She believes with her whole heart that God can do anything. She has no trouble believing that He has a plan -- even when things are tough.

My younger daughter, though, is much more analytical, much more easily hung up on the tough questions. She's my kid who wants to know why God lets bad things happen, why God gave us free will, why if the world is so messed up God doesn't just fix it.

Being the mom to both of them is tough when it comes to matters of faith. You see, my older daughter's faith is so much bigger, stronger and more resilient than my own. There are days when I'm in awe of how much faith she has.

My younger daughter, on the other hand, challenges me daily. She makes me think about the answers to those big questions. She forces me to think about my faith in ways I never would if she wasn't asking the questions. She makes me pray for wisdom because I don't have anything for her on my own.

Regardless of their different approaches to understanding God, though, there are certain absolutes that I want my girls to know and understand. There are certain things that they need to know about Him no matter whether they have the faith to move mountains or more questions than I can answer. So, here's the things I want my girls to know about God as they work to make their faith their own.

1. You are loved. You are loved more than you can imagine. God's love is so big, you can't even begin to fathom it. His love is so amazing that He chose to have His Son die in your place. He wanted to have a relationship with you so badly that He made the greatest sacrifice.

2. God is always there. Even when God seems silent, even when you can't hear Him, even when it seems your prayers are going no farther than the ceiling, God is there. He will never leave you. In the darkest moments when you can't see any light at all, God is there. He's love and life and hope. And He will never, ever let you down.

3. We are never going to understand everything about God. God is so much bigger than us. He is so much more amazing than we can imagine. We can never possibly wrap our brains around everything He can do. And we wouldn't want to. If we could figure God out, then He wouldn't be much of a God. He'd just be something else we can understand and quantify. For Him to truly be who He says He is, He has to be someone that we can't completely understand.

4. God created you. He gave you unique gifts and talents. He gave you a sense of humor, and He made your brain. You don't have to be like anyone else because you were created to be you. God wants you to be the person He created you to be. He doesn't want you to be like anyone else. Because He thinks you're magnificent just the way you are.

5. God has a plan for you. No matter how insignificant you feel sometimes, God has great things for you. You're never too small, too young or too insignificant to do the things that God has created you to do. All those things that you're great at, all those things that only you can do, God made you that way. And He did it so you could be a part of His bigger plan. You're important. You fill a spot in God's plan that no one else can fill.

The Value of a New Game

game1 This post contains affiliate links.

We got a new game the other day. It's called Kan Jam Game Set. The game is played in teams of two. One person throws the Frisbee and that person's teammate tries to bat the Frisbee into a large can. It sounds simple, but it's a lot harder than it looks. Here's a picture to give you a visual:

We played a couple of rounds and had a great time. After we were done, I realized it's been a while since I simply played with my girls. It's been a while since we had days where we could take a few minutes just to play together.

My girls are past the age where they want me to have tea parties or play with toys with them. Most of their "playing" now comes in the form of the electronic devices that seem to be extension of their hands. As much as I try to keep up with the latest apps and the importance of selfies in the pre-teen and teen world, there's little interaction to be had in those games.

That's why when my daughter's soccer team gave me a gift card to a sporting goods store I knew I wanted to find a fun outdoor game we could play together this summer. I was looking for something to connect my family. I was looking for a way to cross the age gap between my girls and to give us an opportunity to have fun together as a family. I was also looking for something that would get the kids and their friends out of the house and into the yard.

As electronics seem to take over our world, it's important that we intentionally find ways to force our kids to connect with us and with their friends outside of the small screen on their phones. Whether it's walks after dinner with the family, a family board game night or a new yard game, we have to make the effort to pull our families away from the screens and into interactive activities. Because as much as technology connects us, it also can ruin personal relationships. We can rely so much on the technology that we lose the art of communicating in person.

With all the technology available to us today, it's easy for our kids to never learn the skills they need to communicate in person. It's easy for our kids to never understand how to communicate with God. You see, God doesn't text. He doesn't even have a phone line. He talks to us through the Bible (which we have to read). He listens to us when we talk to Him. By teaching our kids to create in-person human relationships, we're teaching them how to have a relationship with God as well.

As fabulous as all our technology gadgets are, we have to be intentional about not letting those gadgets steal the ability to create meaningful in-person relationships. We need to invest the time and the energy into modeling those relationships for our kids by making time to simply "play" with our kids.

When It's Time to Change

ministry It's Vacation Bible School week at our church, and it's a bittersweet time for me. This is the last year that I'll have a child participating in VBS.

I love VBS. I chose to follow Jesus during fifth-grade Vacation Bible School, and I've been teaching VBS since I was in high school. I've been involved with fifth-grade VBS at our church for almost 20 years.

But this year, I find that God is talking to me about maybe doing something different next year. For years, I struggled to make themed material that was written for churches with groups of no more than 20 relevant. We rewrote curriculum. We created team competitions. We prayed to keep the attention of these almost middle-schoolers.

Two years ago, God answered my prayers and our student ministry took over the fifth-grade portion of Vacation Bible School. They created an experience for our fifth-graders that is relevant, eases their transition to the middle-school ministry, and is a ton of fun (we're having a full-on food fight today). I've been thrilled to be a part of that process.

This year, my role in VBS has been in the background. I helped them with some of the curriculum. I've baked snacks. I've advised student leaders. I've watched as our staff does what they do so well in engaging our kids. And I've had fun. But I've also felt God telling me that it might be time for me to find a new role, a new way to minister during this week.

Life is like that. God calls us to certain places, certain ministries for a season. Even full-on parenting is just a season. My season as a fifth-grade VBS leader has lasted a lot longer than many seasons in my life. But it's still just a season. God allowed me to shepherd this particular ministry for a long time. But, now, it just might be time to move on to a different role.

When God calls us to change, when He calls us to minister to others in a different way than what we're used to, it can be scary. It can be frustrating. We often dig in our heels and say, "But I like it here." Because change might mean we have to step out of our comfort zone. Change means we might have to learn something new. Change means we might face new challenges.

As our kids grow, the way we minister to them has to change, just as our ministry to others sometimes has to change. We can't mentor our kids emotionally or spiritually if we don't change the way we parent as they grow. And that often means we have to step out of our comfort zone. It means we have to learn something new. It means we might face new challenges.

But allowing God to lead us to change the way we minister to our kids as they grow is one of the most important things we can do for them. We can't feed them spiritual baby food their whole lives. We have to move them on to solid food. We have to allow them to stretch their wings and see what God can do in their own lives. Instead of force-feeding them our relationship with God, we have to allow them to develop their own.

Any time God calls us to change something -- whether it's a ministry we've been a part of for 20 years or the way we parent our kids -- it takes faith. It takes trust. It takes an unwavering commitment to follow Him even though we don't know where He's leading or what the outcome will look like.

But God always has a plan. He always has our best interests in mind. He loves us more than we can ever comprehend. If He's asking us to take a new step in our parenting or our ministry to others, He knows what He's doing. So, while it may be scary, while it my take trust, taking that new step is always the right thing to do.

What Are You Feeding Your Kids?

solid food Yesterday at my moms' group, we were talking about how to teach your kids about God. Most of the girls at my table have younger children than mine, so the talk revolved around story Bibles and object lessons.

We did a lot of those things when the girls were younger, and they made an impact. But as I listened to the conversation around me, I realized that most of those days are behind us. We've moved past the easy lessons about how God loves us and cares for us. Now, we're into those years where the questions get harder, and the answers aren't quite so easy either.

As our kids get older, we have to move from Bible stories and small lessons to conversations about the bigger stuff. We have to start helping our kids learn to apply what they know to their own lives. We have to encourage them to think for themselves and to ask questions. Because kids who don't have questions about God and His role in their lives are kids who never make their faith their own.

I wish it were as easy as it was when my kids were little, when their faith in what I had to say was unwavering. But as my kids grow, I find myself saying "I don't know; let's investigate that" a whole lot more. I often find myself praying for wisdom to grab the teachable moment and teach the right thing.

And those moments? They don't come nearly as frequently as they did when my girls were at my side 24/7. I find I have to seek out moments to talk with my older daughter because she's busy with sports and friends. Her time with me is a lot less than it once was. I love that she can now sit in the front seat because she's almost as tall as me (which I don't like nearly as much as I like having her in the front seat) because it means that we can have more conversations than trying to talk over the seat of the car.

As our kids grow, we have to be even more aware of the moments that we can use to teach them because those moments aren't quite as frequent as they used to be. We have to be careful not to get so caught up in the busyness of life that we miss the teachable moments. And we have to be willing to go deeper with our answers.

Our kids are smart. They have minds of their own. If our kids ask us a question, we need to be able to help them find the answers, especially if that question is about God. But we also need to teach them to study the Bible on their own. We need to teach them how to find their own answers. That can only happen if we're willing to stop when they have a question and show them how to find the answer.

We can't keep giving our kids milk as they get older when they're ready for solid food. It's like Paul says: "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14). We want our kids to be spiritually mature, so as they grow, we have to be willing to provide them with solid spiritual food.

What are you giving your kids? Are you still feeding your older kids simple Biblical truths when they're ready for something more? Evaluate what you're teaching your kids about God and whether it's appropriate for their spiritual maturity level. If it's not, make some changes to give your kids more solid spiritual food.

Focusing on True Love

Gods love Valentine's Day is coming. Take advantage of the moment to use some of these ideas from the archives to help your kids understand God's love.

We throw around the word “love” a lot. We love pizza. We love our sports teams. We love our families. We love God. I’m pretty sure most of us love our families and God more than we love pizza, yet the English language makes no distinction between the two. We use the same word for both. Because of that, I think we sometimes miss the boat on how much God loves us. We hear the words, “God loves you,” and we think, “That’s nice,” and go on with our day.

It’s not just “nice” that God loves us. It’s amazing. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s unbelievable. It’s humbling.

The God who created the universe loves us simply because we exist. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place. The Bible tells us that the punishment for sin (disobeying God) is death (being separated from God forever). God loves us and wants us to be near Him so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son to make that happen.

There’s no word in our language that can describe that kind of love. It’s nearly too big for us to wrap our little human brains around. Yet, too many times, we turn our backs on that love or we fail to appreciate it. God asks us to draw near to Him because He loves us, yet many times we choose to walk alone. He asks us to follow His commands because He loves us, but we often turn away to follow our own path. He asks us to join Him in His work, yet we get too caught up in our own work.

God’s love is a lot of things that human love is not. It is unfailing, never-ending, unconditional and all-encompassing. It fills us up and comforts us. It allows Him to rejoice with us and wrap us in His loving arms when things go wrong. Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” God is abounding in this love. That means He has more than enough to go around — enough for all of us.

We’re going to hear a  lot about love in the next week. Valentine’s Day is coming, and we will become persuaded that true love is expressed with candy and flowers. We’ll measure love by what we get and how it is expressed by others. Take advantage of these “Valentine’s moments” and help your kids understand the difference between God’s love and human love.

  • Ask your kids to give you a list of ways that we show love to each other. Read John 3:16 with your kids. Ask them how God showed His love for us. Compare that to how we show love to each other. Ask your kids which type of love they think is greater.
  • Make a list with your kids of things that they “love.” Talk about how the word “love” sometimes means “really like.” Explain that we don’t want to confuse our love for pizza with how God loves us. Talk about how God’s love is so much more than any words can describe. Use 1 Corinthians 13 as a guide for what God’s love looks like.
  • Place some candy hearts in a dish on the table. Have each child grab a handful. For each heart, your child chose, have him list one way he knows that God loves him.

It’s easy to forget that God’s love is so much bigger, so much stronger and so much better than any other kind of love. Use the next few days to remind your family that God’s love is everything we’ll ever need.

First Friday: Love in a Green Coffee Cup

green cup

When I think about the love of my father, I think of a green coffee cup.

I know it seems an odd thought.

That a silly little thing that found its way onto our wedding registry from Crate and Barrel years ago would reflect 36 years of father-daughter affection.

What is perhaps even odder is that there was a time where my husband and I actually thought we were Crate and Barrel people.   I assure you, we are not. We are mismatched, ever-loving messes.

Our dinnerware.  Our sock drawers.  Our linen closets.

We matched once upon a time and then life took over.

Plates broke.  Washers ate socks.  And beach towels became bath towels.

But somehow, even in our mismatchiness, the mugs have made it.

I suspect it is because they are never used save for the days my Daddy comes to visit.

The tradition began nearly eight years ago when my Grace was very young.  Every time Pops would come to dote on his grandgirl or babysit, I would find a green mug sitting on my counter.  At some point during his visit, it had been pulled out of the cupboard and filled with water to wet Pop's whistle.

And every time I would find it, I would smile.

I mean, who uses a coffee cup for water?

My Daddy, that’s who.

It was shortly after I realized how much it warmed my heart that I made it a point to tell him,

“Dad, promise me you won’t ever stop using those green cups…each time I see one on my counter top, it reminds me you were here.”

In his quiet way, he smiled, laughed a bit and nodded.

And every time since, even if he hasn’t needed a drink, just before he leaves, my Daddy pulls a green cup down from the shelf, fills it with water, takes a sip and says,

“Just so you know that I was here!”

Makes. My. Life.

Sometimes, I rinse it out right away, smiling as it goes into the dishwasher.  Other times, I leave it next to the sink so that when things get rough, I see it.  And I am reminded just how much I am loved.

But no matter how long it stays, the sight of it strikes me to my core.

Because a father’s love can change everything.

Especially when you are in the nitty, gritty throes of mamahood.

Yes, this gig is rewarding and fleeting and precious. But it is also tough and daily and sometimes, thankless. And what will often keep us moving one foot in front of the other are the tangible reminders that our Father is with us, loving us, holding us.

It may come from a friend bringing you that life-giving cup of coffee.  Or the kind words of a stranger that lift your heart in the precise moment you’d given up.  Or the little note your baby leaves you that says, “Mom, you rock!” two days after she said she didn’t like you anymore.

Those are God’s green coffee cups.

So don’t miss them, girls.

Because as simple and unsurprising as they may seem, every blessed one will remind you just how much your Daddy loves you. How specifically He has heard your heart’s cry.  And how closely He will bend down to salve a need.

Be it in big ways, in small ways or in silly ways.

For in every remembrance, we are reminded just “how great is the love our Father has lavished on us…”

In coffee. In kind words. In love notes.

All that comes as an answer to anguished and exhausted prayers.

Our Daddy purposefully pulls down a cup from the cupboard, fills it with water, takes a sip and says,

“Just so you know, sweet girl of mine, that in every minute, every moment and every mismatched mess, I was here.”

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.

Weighing in on the Evolution/Creation Debate

faith Last night Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, and Bill Nye of "Bill Nye the Science Guy" fame faced each other in a creation vs. evolution debate. I'll be honest I didn't watch all of the 2 1/2 hour debate.

What I did watch, I found interesting on an intellectual level, but I didn't watch all of it because I think that kind of debate really misses the point. You see, following Christ -- and believing that God created the world -- isn't about science. It's about faith. I absolutely believe that science backs up that faith, but when you get right down to the root of it, to believe that God created the world, you have to believe in God. You have to have faith that He exists, and that He's capable of creating something from nothing.

If you don't have faith, no debate in the world is going to persuade you that God created the world.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for having an intelligent conversation with someone who thinks differently than me on a certain topic -- from evolution to the merits of strawberry vs. chocolate ice cream -- but a public debate like this one doesn't seem to me to do anything other than continue to polarize the issue. Bill Nye was not going to be swayed by the arguments of Ken Ham, and Ken Ham was not going to be swayed by the arguments of Bill Nye. And I don't think very many people in the audience were going to be swayed either.

As Christ-followers, we should absolutely hold firm to our belief that the Bible is true. We should hold firmly to the truth that God created the world. But I think when we let that one issue become such a large focus of our time and energy, we lose the opportunity to allow God to be as big as He is. When we want to force God down into a list of reasons He could have created the world, we take away His mystery, we take away His awesomeness.

When we talk with our kids about creation vs. evolution, we need to be very careful not to simply boil it down to a list of facts on each side. We need to be cautious about matching the evolutionists fact for fact. Because when we do that, we take God and we make Him no bigger than the facts on the paper.

What we need to do when we talk to our kids about anything to do with God is to put faith first. There's historical evidence for many things in the Bible, but the basic tenet of following Jesus is faith. We have to believe that the reason He came to earth, died on a cross and rose again is to bridge the gap between us and God that was created by our sin. No matter the historical record or the scientific record, this Christ-following thing takes faith.

So, while I think the debate last night was interesting, I also think it did very little to persuade people either way. I think it did very little to show people the amazing power of God. I think it did very little to point people to Jesus. Because both those men were "preaching to the choir," making points that firmed up their position that were only believable to those who already believed that position.

I think that we, as parents, need to remember that we can't boil faith down to facts. We can't make God fit in a box our minds can understand. He's too great, too awesome, too amazing for that.

And if we try to match those who don't have faith with a list of facts, if we try to persuade based on what our minds can grasp, then we lose a huge part of the things that draw us to God in the first place. In our quest to raise godly kids, never forget that our focus must be on who God is, regardless of whether we can understand everything about Him. Faith is and always will be the key to knowing God.

Join Me on Pinterest

Pinterest I love Pinterest. You can find everything there from birthday party ideas to the best way to clean red fruit juice out of your carpet. I often find myself shaking my head in wonder at the amazing creativity of other people.

I've found, though, that Pinterest, like Facebook or even reading blogs can sometimes be demoralizing. I look at all of the amazing things that other people are posting, then I look around my cluttered desk and my less-than-organized house and I feel inadequate. I let the creativity and public face of others affect how I see myself.

The truth is that a lot of what we post on social media is what we want others to see. It's not often that you see posts about how people yelled at their husband and kids not five minutes into the day. You don't see posts about the Top 5 ways to get to go to the bathroom without having a child follow you.

But social media can also be an encouragement. It's a way to keep in touch with people you don't see very often. It can be a tool for encouragement and laughter. And it can be a great way to learn what others are doing and borrow an idea or too.

As many things as you can find on Pinterest these days, the one thing you couldn't find until now was Everyday Truth. I have a personal Pinterest page, but Everyday Truth did not have it's own page. That changes today. You can now follow Everyday Truth on Pinterest by clicking here or on that nifty Pinterest button up in the right-hand corner of the page.

I'll be posting things from the blog along with cool ideas I find around the Internet. My hope is that the Everyday Truth Pinterest page will be an encouragement to you. I hope that you'll find some great ideas to love and encourage your families. And I pray that you won't be discouraged by comparing yourself to others.

When you visit Pinterest or Facebook or any social media, remember that they are tools that we can use for encouragement, learning and entertainment. Don't compare yourself to others. What you see there is the best of that person. Simply take the ideas that work for you and use them. Leave everything else behind. And know that God doesn't see the public face you put on Pinterest or Facebook. He sees the real you, the less-than-perfect, sometimes struggling parent who relies daily on God's grace to get through the day. That person, the one behind the witty Facebook status or the perfect Pinterest picture is the one He loves.

What's in a Name? (Knowing God By Name Giveaway)

This post contains affiliate links.

Shakespeare once said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," meaning that a name doesn't really matter. If we called a rose a banana, it would still smell the same, right?

While that statement is true, it misses something important about names. You see, when it comes to our names and God's names, a name is how we are known. It's a piece of our identity. It's an important part of who we are.

God thought names were important. At Christmastime, we often focus on a passage in Isaiah that talks about Jesus' names. Isaiah 9:6 says "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Each one of those names tells us something important about who Jesus is and how He relates to us. Knowing His names helps us to know Him better.

We can use God's names to teach our kids about who He is. Kids are very concrete thinkers. God is very abstract, so sometimes it's hard for our kids to wrap their heads around who God is. When we introduce our children to God through His names, we make God more concrete for them because each of God's names identifies a part of His character.

The thing is, though, we can't teach our kids about who God is unless we know ourselves. That's why I'm so excited to offer up today's giveaway: Knowing God by Name: A Girlfriends in God Faith Adventure by Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith and Mary Southerland. This devotional journey takes you through 40 names of God. In the style of their popular Girlfriends in God devotions, each day contains a scripture passage, a short devotion, and a prayer. At the end of each chapter, you'll find a study guide over that week's devotions.

While this isn't a book you'll probably read with your kids, it is a book that will help you better understand God. It will help you draw closer to Him and gain a better understanding of who He is. And that understanding will be something that you can pass on to your children. From God the Creator to God the Living God, you'll uncover a little more of God's character every day.

Names are important. They often tell us a lot about someone. And names are especially important when it comes to God. Spend some time this Christmas season understanding God's names so you can better understand Him.

To enter the giveaway for Knowing God by Name: A Girlfriends in God Faith Adventure simply leave a comment either here or on the Everyday Truth Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links.

Letting God Work in Our Kids

desires

My older daughter had an abysmal school year last year. The transition to middle school was much harder than we thought it would be. The switch from one soccer team to another turned out to be a terrible decision. She lost her confidence and her spirit.

This summer, though, we made some changes. We switched to a different soccer club. We dropped her out of the accelerated math class that was just a bit out of her reach. We worked with her to take a different attitude toward school. And we sent her to a week of camp with our church's student ministry.

That week away was the best thing we could have done. God worked on her in ways that we couldn't. She came home with a renewed confidence and a renewed set of purpose. Instead of letting the school year attack her, she attacked it. She became confident that God was by her side every step of the way.

I went to parent-teacher conferences on Thursday morning, and every one of her teachers told me that while she was quiet, she did participate in class. They knew who she was, and more importantly, they knew something about her. It was a drastic difference from last fall's parent-teacher conferences where her teachers struggled to find something to say about her because she never spoke in class.

While I want my girls to try their hardest and receive good grades in school, I was more proud of this set of parent-teacher conferences than any I've attended before. Because those comments from her teachers meant that my daughter had recognized a problem and changed it. She had worked to overcome her innate shyness in a group setting. She had not let one bad year turn into another one. She had let God work on her to change her actions and her attitudes.

The older my girls get, the less able I am to "fix" things for them, the more they have to change things themselves. I can't change attitudes. I can't change behaviors. I can't change how they approach a situation.

But I can offer advice. I can pray for them. I can help them seek wise counsel from someone other than me. And the amount of time I spent on my knees last year praying over this child is proof positive that God hears our prayers, He knows the desires of our hearts, and He loves our kids more than we ever could. And sometimes we simply have to get out of the way and let Him work on our kids.

Because sometimes no amount of talking on our part, no amount of trying to solve the problem from our perspective, no amount of pushing our kids to do something differently can get results. Sometimes it takes them deciding to change. Sometimes it takes God working on our kids to change their perspectives, their hearts and their actions.

And I'm good with that because I know that God is much more effective at changing hearts than I am. I know that God's plan for my child is much greater than my own. And I know that God loves my kids much more than I ever could.

Is there a place in your child's life where you need to step back and let God work?

 

The Fourth Day of School

abandon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on the Week

We've seen a lot this week -- as a nation, as a family, as individuals. We've encountered situations I never wanted to have to explain to my kids. We've felt sorrow to the depths of our souls.

Yet, in the midst of those heart-shattering moments, we've seen joy. We've felt hope. We've seen the best that people have to offer.

We saw bombs planted by evil men destroy the lives of so many. We also saw ordinary men and women run toward the blast to help those injured.

We saw soldiers march for 26 miles with loaded backpacks in honor of their fallen comrades only to arrive at the finish line minutes before the blasts went off. We saw those same soldiers minutes later lifting barricades off of injured people.

We saw runners stranded on the streets of a city in which they were strangers. We also saw the residents of that city offer food and open up their homes by the thousands to those same strangers.

We saw a sporting event ruined by tragedy. Then we heard nearly 18,000 voices lifted in song together in an emotional statement of unity at the next sporting event in that city.

We've seen it all this week, the worst -- and the best -- of people. And we've learned that even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, good shines through. God is there.

Psalm 30:5 says, "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Healing will take time -- for the people involved, for the city of Boston and for our nation. Morning may seem a long time coming. But it will come. We will slowly take the steps back to the road of normalcy. We will be changed for the experience. Our children will be changed. They will never be able to step back into a time where they didn't know that terror can hit near their own homes.

But we will heal. We will go on. There will be a Boston Marathon next year. This morning, we will step outside our doors and go about our lives. And we will be stronger because of it.

We will never forget the horror and sadness of the past week. But neither will we forget the kindness of strangers, the heroism of ordinary people and the unity found in pulling together after a shared pain.

Remember the events of this week, but remember, too, that healing is coming -- and joy comes with it.

I Need This

The girls are off to school, and I sit in my chair, a cup of tea beside me and my Bible open in my lap.

My soul heaves a sigh of relief. My heart longs for a quiet moment of peace in this chaos we call our morning routine.

I need this. I need this stolen moment with God where I offer up my hopes, my fears, my weariness, and the dire need for assurance that I'm doing this mom thing correctly.

I need this moment of peaceful surrender where I lay the crying child I sent out the door because she dislikes school, the overwhelming mountain of freelance work, the child caught in the in-between of child and young woman, the husband who works hard only to come home to a stressed out wife, and the broken furnace at God's feet. My weary soul lays down the burdens it carries at the feet of the One who can carry them all.

As I read and pray and listen, yes, listen, I find my soul refreshed. The burdens haven't changed, but they have lifted. The problems haven't disappeared, but they have become less dire. These moments spent with God have changed my perspective, lessened the load I carry.

And I wonder, why do I miss this time? Why do I choose to skip these precious moments with God on days when life is busy? Why do I not make the time to spend at the feet of the One who can handle it all? Why do I choose busyness over peace?

The truth is, more than anything else in my day, I need these moments of being still before my Heavenly Father. I need Him to lighten my burdens and give me rest. I need Him to whisper to my soul. I need Him to direct my days.

My kids need me to spend these moments with God. They need me to draw on God's love, patience, goodness and gentleness, so I can pour those things out on them. They need me to spend time covering them with prayer. They need me to seek God's wisdom, so I can be wise for them.

Too often I trade these precious moments of my day -- the ones spent in silence at the feet of the Father -- for a phone call with a friend, a few extra minutes of work, or one more load of laundry. Yet none of those things bring rest and peace. Only these moments, with a Bible open on my lap and a soul open to God, can provide the rest and peace my soul needs. I need this.

So, today, I want to challenge you to join with me to find those moments to spend with the Father. Find time to rest your weary soul. Sit at your Father's feet and let Him fill you up. They will be the best-spent moments of your day. Because we all need this.

Teaching Surrender

"It's my life. I can do what I want," said my youngest daughter yesterday as she tried to persuade me that she didn't need to go to school.

"The state of Kansas and your mother say you have to go to school," I replied.

"But I don't want to," she said.

My daughter is really unhappy at school these days. She doesn't want to get out of bed. It's a struggle to get her out the door. We're considering some different things for next year (which is another post for another day), but right now, she has to go to school. As her mom, I know the best thing for her in this moment is for her to go to school every day.

The conversation we had yesterday, though, reminded me of how I sometimes act when God tells me to do something. I stomp my feet and dig in my heels. "It's my life. I can do what I want," I cry. "I don't want to," I tell God. Sometimes, I'm simply a whiny child.

The truth is, our lives are not our own. When we decided to follow Jesus, we decided to put our lives in His hand, to live our lives the way He wants us to live. And that means surrendering our will to His. 2 Chronicles 30:8 says, "Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord."

As we parent our children, teaching them about God and how to live a life fully surrendered to Him, we have to keep in mind that our lives are not our own. Sometimes that means we walk down paths we never thought we'd walk. Sometimes that means we choose a different method of doing something. Sometimes it means we walk away from an opportunity that seems good but isn't the best.

Teaching our kids to follow God's plan for their lives starts with learning to follow God's plan for our own lives. Our children will learn what they see. If they see us seeking God when we make decisions, if they see us choosing God's way even when it's hard, if they see us saying no even to good things so we can have the better thing God has planned for us, then they will learn to do the same.

We all remember to seek God in the big decisions, but it's a lifestyle of seeking Him in the little decisions that truly teaches our kids to follow Him. Help your kids seek God in the big and the little decisions by teaching them to pray before making a decision. Let them hear you pray about the decisions in your life.

The truth is that we can talk to our kids about surrendering to God and His plan, but if they never see that in action in our lives, we're just giving them empty words. What do you need to surrender to God today so that you can be more effective in teaching your kids to surrender to Him?

It's Not About Rules

Like any household, we have rules. We have rules about how to treat other people. We have rules about how you behave at the table. We have rules about when you can and can't watch TV.

We don't make rules just because we think it's fun to make them. We make rules because doing so helps us to look out for the well-being of our kids. We have rules because they teach our kids obedience. We have rules because they make the household run more smoothly.

The thing about rules, though, is that you can follow the rules without ever changing your heart. My daughters can follow our rules about how to speak to other and how to treat others without ever really understanding that we treat others the way we want to be treated because we want to show them God's love.

The other day, my younger daughter was reading in the Bible about the early church and how they got caught up in a debate about the "rules" of being a Christ-follower. One faction of the early church thought everyone should follow the Law, including being circumcised and eating only clean foods. The other faction thought those rules shouldn't apply to Christ-followers, and they were right.

You see, following Jesus isn't about following a list of rules. It's about seeking Him with our hearts, which will change our behaviors. If we are truly seeking Jesus, then we will follow His example in how to live because we love Him, not because we're checking off another rule followed.

It's easy for our kids to get the impression that if they just follow God's "rules" then they're following Him. Too often, we ask our kids if they think God would like what they're doing. That's a legitimate question, but we have to be careful not to turn God into a big, bad boogeyman that's watching everything our kids do just waiting to show His disapproval. That's not who God is. He's not a God of rules. He's a God of love. He's a God of compassion. He's a God of mercy.

Help your kids to understand that we choose to live the way God wants us to live because we love Him -- not because we're afraid of getting into trouble for breaking His "rules." Jesus didn't come to die to restrict us to living a life of rules. He came to set us free from the need to worry about following a strict set of rules in order to make restitution for our sins. Galatians 5:1 says "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

As you teach your kids about God, make sure you put your focus on the importance of doing the right thing out of love for God instead of doing the right thing out of fear of breaking the rules. The difference is the difference between rote obedience and heart change.

 

What is Grace?

Grace. It's a term we throw around a lot. We talk about God's grace to us in sending Jesus. We describe God as gracious. We know it's one of the core principles of our faith. But do we know how to explain it to our kids?

Sometimes, we think our kids understand things but they don't. We think they've caught what we want them to know just because they've heard it said over and over again, but that's not always true.

My older daughter has to do vocabulary homework for her language arts class nearly every day when they're reading a novel. Some days, she asks me for help, and I'm often astonished to discover that she doesn't know the definition of words that I think she knows. When it comes to the idea of grace, we don't want our kids to miss out on understanding the awesome magnitude of what God has done.

Grace is unmerited favor, to which most kids would say, "What?" Grace simply means not getting what you deserve. We offer other people grace when we don't return a snide comment. We offer them grace when we forgive them for a wrong done against us. We offer grace when we choose to ignore a slight. In all of those situations, we don't give the other person what they deserve.

Grace is important because God offered us grace by sending Jesus. Sin separates us from God. We can never bridge the gulf between us and God created by our sin. Romans 6:23 tells us, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord." When we sin, we deserve an eternal death -- being separated from God forever. If God gave us what we deserve, we would never be able to bridge the gap between God and us. However, grace means that God sent Jesus to die in our place and rise again so that the gulf between us and God could be closed forever.

You can explain it to your kids like this: The next time your child does something wrong, offer to serve your child's consequence. Tell your child that you want to give him a tangible example of what grace looks like. Talk about how your child deserved that consequence just like we deserve death for our sins, but your grace means that he doesn't have to serve that consequence just like God's grace means that we don't have to be separated from God forever because Jesus took our place on the cross.

Grace isn't a hard concept for kids to grasp. We just have to make sure that we've taken the time to explain it in a way that they can understand, and we don't just assume that our kids have figured it out on their own. As I've discovered with my older daughter's vocabulary homework, hearing a word isn't the same as understanding what it means. Take some time to make sure your kids understand grace. Its definition has eternal importance.

 

Friday Introductions: Case for Christ for Kids

It's a cold, blustery, drizzly day here. We probably won't spend much time outside. I really think the wind is strong enough to blow over my 65-pound 9-year-old.

Speaking of that 9-year-old, she's had a lot of questions lately. Questions about God, heaven and faith. She's really struggling to understand who God is, whether He's real and why it matters. Growing up in a home with Christian parents doesn't guarantee your kids will never have questions.

We want our kids to have real faith -- faith that gives them roots and holds them up in the tough times, faith that won't be blown away when the winds of life are howling around them.

For some kids, faith comes easy. It's not a big deal to believe in a God they can't see. They accept the Bible at face value. They have no trouble believing that God loves them and would send His Son to die for them.

Other kids have to dissect it all, make sure it makes sense, then make a decision to believe or not. Much as we would like, we can't force our faith on our kids. They have to choose to follow Jesus on their own.

If you have one of those questioning kids, one of those kids who has to dissect it all before he can believe it, don't overreact when they start asking questions. Pray hard for your child. Hit your knees and stay there for a while. But answer those questions the best that you can. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" or "I'll have to look that up." Don't make their questions out to be abnormal or frustrating for you. Let them know that everyone has questions.

My younger daughter and I are going to be working through "Case for Christ for Kids, Updated and Expanded (Case for... Series for Kids)" by Lee Strobel. If you have a child who is struggling to understand Jesus, then I encourage you to check out this book. Lee Strobel was a journalist who set out to disprove that Jesus was the Son of God. He actually discovered enough evidence for Jesus that he became a believer. His "The Case for Christ" for adults has been a classic of Christian apologetics for years. His book for kids brings that information down to their level.

Don't let your kids' need to question their faith send you over the edge. Keep the tone gentle and let them ask questions. If we hide from their questions, they might decide that Jesus won't stand up to intense scrutiny and turn away. Keep them talking and keep praying. It's the best thing you can do to keep their faith from being blown away with the first strong wind.

God's Not Real

"God's not real," announced my younger daughter not too long ago.

"What?" I asked. All the while thinking, "What have I done wrong with this child?"

"Well, He's not real. You can't see Him. You can't touch Him. He's not real like us."

Ahh. I began to see an inkling of what she was saying. I began to understand that we were dealing with a lack of vocabulary, not a lack of faith.

"Do you mean that He's not a solid person or thing?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said. "He's not real."

What followed was a conversation about how God is real; He's just not tangible. We can't see or touch Him. We have to look at all the evidence that He exists and decide to take it on faith that He exists and that He loves us.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Children are very concrete thinkers. Something either is or it isn't. This whole idea of a great big God that we can't see is a pretty abstract concept. To help them fully understand who God is and that He exists, we have to take Him out of the realm of the abstract and bring Him into the realm of the concrete.

Point out the evidence for God every chance you get. We were walking to the neighbor's house the other morning when we passed a yard filled with morning glories. I was explaining to my girls that these flowers only bloomed in the morning. My older daughter looked at me and said, "I wouldn't have thought of that." This is our catchphrase when we're awed by God's creation. God did some crazy things when He created the world. He made elephants, the largest land mammal in the world, walk almost completely silently. He made flowers that only bloom in the morning and other flowers that only bloom at night. He made a lizard that changes colors. These are all evidence for His existence, and I know that my little brain couldn't have thought up a tiny portion of the amazing things God made. When we point these things out to our kids, we are encouraging them to notice the evidence for God's existence.

Give credit where credit is due. Too often, we're willing to chalk up divine appointments to coincidence. Yet nothing happens by coincidence. God shows up in our lives every day. We need to acknowledge those times when He does. If your child tells you about something that happened at school -- they remembered the answers for a test just when they needed them or a friend said just the right thing to them -- remind your child that God had a hand in that. God knows what we need, and He gives it to us. We simply have to acknowledge that it's God who made it happen.

Don't put God in a box. Our finite brains have trouble with the concept of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-encompassing God. We want God to be a size that our brains can comprehend. But He's not. He's bigger and better and more awesome that we can even imagine. Avoid trying to bring God down to a size we can understand. When your kids have questions about God that you can't answer, simply tell them that we don't know. Make a list with them of questions they'd like to ask God. Then explain that God has plans that we can't even begin to know about. He does things for a reason, and because His ways are so much better than ours, we can trust that His plans are good.

In a sense, my younger daughter was right. God isn't real in the sense that we can touch Him and understand Him. He's so much more than that. Yet, despite the fact we can't see Him, we can help our kids understand that the evidence that He exists is overwhelming and the evidence that He loves us is even more so.

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