Strengthening the Bonds of Family

Relationships We're a busy household. Both girls have three practices a week. Throw in church activities and playing an instrument on top of that, and we don't have a lot of time left over. Some weeks, we struggle to have dinner together more than once or twice.

Monday nights are generally the exception. Usually, no one has anyplace they need to be. Since school started Monday nights had really become a night where we all went our own separate ways. We rarely sat down and did anything together. The girls might watch a TV program or play by themselves. My husband and I might finish up some work or some chores. Outside of dinner, our family wasn't spending much time together.

But a couple of weeks ago, one of the girls suggested we play a game. We had a great time. We laughed together. We heard stories about each others' days. We discovered that we enjoyed each others' company again.

It's so easy to get so caught up in our schedules, in running from place to place, that we lose the connection with the other members of our family. We work so hard to juggle the schedules that we forget to emphasize the relationships.

The truth is most of our kids aren't going to become professional athletes or musicians. They're most likely not going to dance with the Rockettes or become a famous actor. When our kids' time at home is over, it's the relationships they formed in childhood that will keep them connected to us and their siblings. It's the relationships that will keep them coming home.

There's nothing wrong with having our kids be in activities, but when those activities trump the family relationship, it's time to step back and examine what we're doing. It's time to make time in our schedules for our families. Whether it's a weekly game night, a family walk or just having dinner together as many nights as you can, make it a point to foster the relationships within your family. Because if we don't, then the bonds that hold us together just get looser and looser.

Jesus knew this. While he didn't have a wife and kids, his disciples often functioned as His earthly family. He often made an effort to spend time just with those 12 men. He taught them. He ate with them. He made time to foster those relationships.

Relationships take time. Nothing can replace that. It's the little moments, the unplanned snippets of time, that our kids will carry with them. It's those moments that create relationships.

So in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this busiest season of all, don't forget to take the time to foster the relationships within the four walls of your home. Spend time with your family. Enjoy your kids. Talk with your spouse. Make your family a priority. Because those are the relationships that matter most.

Who is Establishing Your Plans?


In about a week my well-ordered life (well, as well-ordered as it ever gets around here) is about to take a detour. For the first time in six years, I won't be sending both kids off to school. We'll be keeping my younger daughter home to homeschool her for a year.

As the end of summer draws near, I've been having some mixed emotions about the whole thing. While I know that this is what God has called us to do for this season, I'm loathe to give up this life I've created for myself. I enjoy working from home in the silence, having sometime for myself, being able to get things done with no interruptions.

As I struggled with these thoughts the other day, I came across this verse: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). It was followed up a few verses later by this one: "May the favorof the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17).

I had to stop when I read those verses. It was like a sledgehammer hit me up the side of the head. I've always read about God numbering our days but never realized that Psalm 90:12 says we are to learn to number our own days. We are to make careful use of the days God has given us because their number is limited. And that last verse. That one was the one that made my gut clench. How often do I let God establish the work of my hands? How often am I off on my own track while God is trying to get me to do something else? How often do I establish the work of my own hands?

So, as I face the changes in my life this fall, I find myself reordering my priorities and wondering what the work is that God wants to establish for my hands. I find myself wondering how I can number my days so I use them well. I look at my schedule and wonder how much of what's on it is what God has established and how much of it is what I have established. And I wonder what I'm teaching my kids about letting God be in charge.

I'm trying to place those coming days in God's hands. I'm asking Him to remind me on the days when I'm frustrated and wishing for my old life back that He has established this work for my hands. And I'm looking at each day with new eyes -- viewing it as a precious gift instead of another day to slog through.

Friends, is God establishing the work of your hands? Are you choosing to learn to number your days? Or are you so happy with your well-ordered life that you rebel when God wants to slip something in the mix?

Think about your days, and think about what you're teaching your kids about letting God establish your plans. Is that what you want to teach them?

The Power of a List


It may surprise you to know that I dislike making lists. I am not a check things off the list kind of girl. I find when I make a list, it inhibits my ability to be creative and spontaneous. Once that list is made, I feel like I have to follow it. And there's nothing more frustrating to me than to make a list and to have to go to bed with things still on it.

I pretty much live my life list-free. It drives the Type A personalities in my life nuts. I know there are those of you reading this who cringed as soon as you read the first line of this post. I know lots of people who live by the list. They make lists for everything. And it seems to work for them. It just doesn't work for me. Lists make me cranky.

But this summer, I've learned the value of making a list. I don't make them for myself, but I've discovered that one of my children functions much better with a list. She needs the detail found in a list, and it helps her to know exactly how much she has to do before she's free to do her own thing.

I started making lists for my girls at the beginning of summer break. Every morning they get up and find a list of chores that have to be done at their place at the table. When that list is done, they receive their pay for the day, then the rest of their day is chore-free. It's been magic. I no longer have to plead, yell and push to get chores done. All I have to do is ask the girls if they've completed everything on their list. If not, then I send them back to check the list.

Since we started the lists, the dog gets fed, instruments get practiced, reading time gets accomplished and chores get done with minimal interference from me. The list has increased our efficiency and cut down on the whining. If I have extra things I need the girls to do, then I just add them to the list.

It took me a long time to come up with the list system because that's not how I'm wired. Lists don't work for me, so I assumed they wouldn't work for my kids. I had tunnel vision where list-making was concerned.

Sometimes we get tunnel vision where our kids are concerned. We get so caught up in our own personality quirks and our own preferences that we fail to see the best way to teach and guide our kids. Just because something doesn't work for us doesn't mean it won't work for our kids.

God made each one of us different. He gave each of us different gifts. Romans 12:4 says "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." God made us different from our kids because He has different roles for each of us to play in His plan. There are days those differences make me want to beat my head against the wall. But there are other days when those differences teach me something.

I want my kids to grow up to be responsible, Christ-following adults. For that to happen, I have to remember that my kids won't always think like me. They won't always do things the way I would do them. They won't always respond to the same things that work for me. I have to find the things that work for them.

That might mean I have to change the way I'm dealing with my kids. It might mean I have to step outside my own comfort zone and try a different approach. It might mean I have to treat my kids like the individuals they are and not like miniature copies of myself.

It might even mean that I have to make a list.

When Things Don't Go As Planned

The frustration had been building all day. I have had at least one child home from school for the past week. Between snow days and a concussion, my plans for the past seven days have been blown to smithereens. Yesterday, my husband worked from home, too.

My freelance work is piling up. I have a big project that has deadlines in a couple of weeks. Between the complaints of "I'm bored" from the daughter with the concussion to the cries of "play with me" from my younger daughter to the music my husband was playing downstairs while he worked, my day to catch up was simply becoming a big ball of pent-up frustration.

So I did what every mom does on occasion. I lost it. When my husband told me he was going for a run in the snow just as I was fixing dinner, I let the frustration boil over. I upset my husband, I made my daughter feel like getting hit in the head was her fault and I generally made everyone feel as miserable as I was feeling.

Dinner was a fairly silent, miserable affair. I needed to deal with the root of my frustration -- anger over interrupted plans, worry over my daughter's injury, frustration with the neediness of everyone in my family. But first, I needed to apologize.

Did I have some legitimate complaints? Absolutely. Did I deal with them appropriately? Absolutely not.

I'm not generally a Type A personality. I don't often react poorly to plans being changed. I'm a spur-of-the-moment, go-with-the-flow kind of girl. But day after day after day of interrupted plans was just too much for me. Because I forgot one thing. Those minutes in my day don't actually belong to me. They belong to God. To avoid frustration, I have to let Him order my days because He knows the commitments I have, He knows the needs of my family, He knows my need for solitude.

That to-do list sitting on my table needs to be presented to God before I start checking things off the list. I need to let Him order my days. My plans are OK, but God's plans are great. Ephesians 5:15-17 says "Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."

I want to walk as a wise person. I want to make the most of the time I have. I want to understand what God's will is for me -- every day. My days become a ball of frustration when I try to order them without checking in with God. There are days when my kids need to be more important than work. There are days when ministering to a friend needs to be more important than the project I volunteered for. And there are days when work needs to be the priority. Figuring out when those days are isn't my job, it's God's. I just have to be available to listen to what He says and follow through.

When I give up my own plans and let God order my days, that frustrated feeling goes away. God's plan includes enough time to get everything done. I just have to follow it.

Setting Goals

We lead a busy life, probably busier than it needs to be on some nights. With two girls playing sports, all of us actively involved in our church and a couple other activities thrown in, our calendar often looks like someone threw up colored ink all over it.

Every now and then, it's important to re-evaluate everything that's on the calendar. We have to take a step back, look at our goals and decide whether the things we're putting on the calendar meet our goals as a family.

We're doing that this week. Monday night at dinner, everyone got a goals worksheet. (You can get a copy here or by clicking on the picture above.) They have until Thursday night at dinner to fill it out so that each person has time to pray and think about it. The worksheet asks each person to decide on their spiritual, family, academic/work, sports/fitness, and character goals. Each person has to figure out what their goals are, the steps they need to take to accomplish those goals and the things they need to reach their goals. Thursday night at dinner, we'll talk about what each person's goals are and how to meet them. We'll also evaluate the things we're doing to see if we're working toward the goals we've listed.

Setting goals is a good exercise not just for our kids but for us grown-ups, too. Sometimes our families can just cruise along on auto pilot, doing the same things we've always done just because we assume that everyone is happy doing them. The truth is that over time, our kids change, we change. If we don't take the time to re-evaluate every now and then, we miss the opportunity to change what we're doing. We may miss an important opportunity to work with our kids on a spiritual issue or a character trait. We may be forcing our kids to keep doing an activity they don't want to do and missing an opportunity to encourage to do something else they love.

Proverbs 21:5 says, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." We often end up with a poverty of time and/or money because we aren't diligent in making sure what we're doing is meeting the needs and goals of our family. We may have unrealistic goals or we may have goals that don't fit the gifts and desires of the rest of the family.

Sitting down together and setting goals as a family is a good way to make sure you're on track to meet the goals that everyone has. It helps you to distribute the limited resources of time and money that your family has in the most effective way. It gives you an opportunity to pray over those goals and make sure your family is all on the same page.


Organizing All That Paper

My children have been in school for two days and already the amount of paper coming into my home has doubled. Worksheets, school notices, lunch menus, art projects. They all land on my kitchen counter. And if I'm not careful all that paper ends up covering the kitchen counter.

I'll be honest. I'm not always the best about dealing with all the paper that comes into my house. Too often my kitchen counter looks like a war zone. My kitchen counter is the landing place for everything. I can clean it off every day, and it will still have stuff on it that doesn't belong there. And it drives my husband nuts.

I've decided that this year, I have to get a handle on all the paper that walks through the door in my children's backpacks. It's my way of fuflilling the instruction in Ephesians 5:33 to respect my husband. He hates clutter, and He especially hates it on the kitchen counter. So, this school year, I'm going to do my best to keep all that paper from living on my kitchen counter.

If you struggle with the volume of paper that comes home with your kids, join me in changing the way you deal with it.

Touch it once. Don't take things out of your kids' backpacks until you're ready to deal with them. My biggest failure is taking the papers out of their backpacks and thinking I'll get to them later. Go through your kids' papers once. Make a pile to keep and a pile to throw away.

You can't keep everything. All of your child's art projects are beautiful. Perfect spelling tests are achievements. But you can't keep them all. Cut down on the paper by getting rid of most of what comes home. Take pictures of art projects. Have a space on your refrigerator or bulletin board for papers that are well done. As soon as a new paper goes up, take an old one down. Use your recycle bin.

Have a system. Have a place for papers that need to be signed or notices that need to be kept. Get them off your counter, table or desk. We have a 3-section file holder that hangs on the wall behind our door to the garage. My kids' agendas and folders go in there. The third section is for notices and other papers that need to be dealt with. It gets the stuff off my counter but is easily accessible for me and the kids. Every morning, they grab their agendas to pack their backpacks. A bulletin board or a binder with a section for each kid work really well, too.

Don't let it sit. The easiest way to end up with paper clutter is to not deal with things as they come in the door. Avoid the temptation to toss it on the counter, table or desk and deal with it later. If you must wait to go through the papers, then have a specific spot that papers that need attention land.

Getting organized so you can deal with the avalanche of paper that your kids either create or bring home will go a long way toward keeping your table, counter or desk from looking like a war zone. Bring that paper under control. Not having to sort through a mile-high stack of paper to find the lost field trip permission slip will help make this the best school year ever.

I've decided to extend our The Best School Year Ever series by a week. I find I've got a few more topics I want to cover. Don't miss next week, when we'll talk about afternoon routines, making time for family, getting your kids to talk, making friends and how to make what you've learned work for the long haul. Plus we'll have a fabulous giveaway to finish it all off. Have a great weekend, and I'll meet you back here Monday morning.