3 Things That Matter Most in Parenting

3 things

I took my older daughter to St. Louis this weekend for a soccer tournament. Her team lost the game that decided who would go to the finals. After two great games, they really didn’t play well in the last game. I took home a frustrated and sore young lady.

As we were making the four-hour trip home through the rain, I had some time to reflect on what it is that we’re doing as parents. To some people, the weekend we just spent (my younger daughter and husband were in Minnesota for hockey) may seem crazy. And as I drove home, I really wondered whether it was worth it.

But as I pondered, I boiled our parenting down to three things. We want our kids to be healthy, filled with joy, and aware that character matters — to us and to God.

Being healthy and filled with joy aren’t always things that I, as a parent, can control. Our kids can get sick or injured. It’s our job as parents to make sure they receive the care they need to get healthy. We just spent four weeks rehabbing an injured foot for my older daughter. She received the OK to play this weekend about an hour before we left. There wasn’t anything I could do to make it better except take her to the physical therapist and pray.

When it comes to joy, there’s only one source for that — God. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” True joy is found in God’s presence. For our kids to know joy, we have to lead them to God. We have to teach them about the great things He has done. But the truth is that we can’t make our kids seek God. We can teach them and pray for them, but they must choose to follow God to receive His joy.

So our job becomes to make sure that God is an everyday part of our kids’ lives. We can’t just take them to church on Sunday and expect them to have a fulfilling relationship with God. We have to weave God into everyday moments in our lives. We have to pray with and for our kids, open up conversations about who God is and the amazing things He has done. We have to point out places where we see God at work. Because the ultimate goal is to lead our kids to Him so they can experience His joy.

The last item on my parenting list is something that we have a lot of control over — making our kids aware that character matters. My kids play some fairly rough sports (if you don’t think soccer is brutal, watch the pros play sometime). They often come home bruised and battered. It would be easy to leave character on the sidelines when the play gets rough. It would be easy to be upset with teammates when they lose. It would be easy to forget who they are on the field.

But character matters everywhere. It’s not something you can leave on the sidelines. Who you are on the field needs to be the same as who you are off of the field. And that’s true for every endeavor our kids undertake. The only way they can truly understand that, though, is if we’re teaching them over and over and over again that it’s important to be a picture of God everywhere they go and in everything they do. They can bring glory to God no matter what they’re doing — but only if they understand that character matters.

We can teach our kids that character matters by making it a priority in our parenting. When we see something on the field or when they’re playing with their friends that doesn’t stand up to the character test, then we need to point it out and talk about what to do differently next time. When we discipline our kids, we need to not just deal with the actions but with the character underneath. Character matters to God, and it should be the focus of our parenting.

As you have a few spare moments in your day today, consider what your parenting priorities are. Do you put an emphasis on health, joy and character?

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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.

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Don’t Wait

Don't wait

I believe in the power of words. Words can help and heal or they can hurt and harass. It’s up to us which one they do.

On Sunday, the lesson in the middle school service was about the power of words to help and encourage other people. It’s an important lesson for all of us.

Too often, we’re quick to use our words to criticize or complain instead of using them to encourage. We’re quick to judge and belittle instead of love and help.

Too often, we wait until a person is dead before we tell them what we really think. Think about it, how many times have you been to a funeral where people stand up and talk about how wonderful a person the deceased was? Do you ever wonder if they told them that to their face?

Not too long ago, I got a card from someone I’ve never met, telling me how much they enjoyed this blog. Every now and then I get an encouraging email or comment. And it keeps me going. It keeps me blogging. Because I know that what I’m doing matters.

Everyone needs that kind of encouragement. Everyone needs to know that they matter. Everyone needs to know that someone else noticed them.

God knows the power of encouragement. Remember Joshua? He had the task of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. He also had some pretty big shoes to fill. Moses wasn’t exactly your ordinary guy. So when God told Moses to teach Joshua how to lead the Israelites, He said this: “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see” (Deuteronomy 3:28).

Everyone we come into contact with needs encouragement, from our kids to our spouses to the clerk at the store who screwed up your grocery bill.

And we need to teach our kids to encourage others. We need to teach them to use their words to help others feel loved. They need to learn to use their words to build others up and not tear them down.

And we all need to learn to do it now. We need to learn to not wait to tell someone what they mean to us. If someone is making an impact in your life or your kids’ lives, tell them. Let them know they make a difference. It may just keep them doing what they’re doing a little bit longer.

It may seem awkward at first, and your kids will most likely think it’s corny to write a note to someone who is a big influence in their lives. But the truth is that God designed words to be used for His glory. He designed words to be used for encouragement. He designed words to be used to change people’s lives.

He doesn’t want us to wait for someone’s funeral to say how important that person was to us. Make it a point to tell someone today that they make a difference. Encourage your kids to do the same.

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Grace and Love in a Lolaloopsy Cup

cookies

A friend of mine brought me a party on Thursday. She brought cookies, pink polka dot napkins, a Lolaloopsy cup with a striped straw (for the milk to go with my cookies), a princess tiara, and some Mardi Gras beads to dress me up.

She didn’t bring me a party because it was my birthday or a celebration of any kind. She brought them because I was at the end of my rope. She brought them because God knew I needed them. She brought them because she couldn’t fix the rest of my problems, but she could give me a party.

Last week was a rough week. I had an injured daughter, I hurt my fingers, I screwed up a work project, and my injured daughter got sick. To top it off, my rheumatoid arthritis decided to make its presence known in a whole new way.

I don’t write much about living with a chronic disease. There’s not much to tell. There are good days and bad days, and you simply learn to enjoy the good ones and soldier on through the bad ones. Except last week, I had reached my limit of soldiering on when the drug I take to control arthritis caused my skin to erupt in a nasty, scaly rash.

Living with a chronic illness day in, day out is tough. I was not a nice person last week. My kids asked me several times why I was so grumpy. I probably snapped at people I shouldn’t have and gave my husband less than he deserved. Luckily, my family and friends offered me grace. They even showed up with cookies.

And that’s what I want to talk about today, why I’m sharing this particular struggle when I don’t often share – grace. We could all use more of it because there are days when a friend or family member is simply not themselves. And we’re quick to judge. Instead of seeing through the mask to the hurt, we focus on how that person acted toward us. We make it about us, not them.

The truth is, though, that most of the time, it’s not about us. We can’t see behind the curtain into someone else’s life. We have no idea what’s going on behind that smiling face she shows to the world.

People look at me and see a relatively healthy person. Someone I’ve known for years told me the other day that she never knew I had arthritis. Because that’s not the face I present to the world.

The lesson, here, is not that everyone has an illness they’re dealing with, but everyone has something. Everyone hits a bump in the road sometime. And when they do, we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to look beyond the crankiness, beyond the frustration, beyond the strained smiling face to see the hurt behind them.

We need to offer grace. We need to offer kindness. We need to offer help. Because that’s what Jesus would do.

Jesus would be looking past the outward actions and standing on my doorstep with cookies and a Lolaloopsy cup for the milk. Because sometimes that’s what love and grace look like.

Who needs you to offer them grace today?

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A Farewell to Cones

Construction conesApril means rain around these parts.

And when I say rain, I mean rain.

Imagine dogs and cats and then triple…

No, wait.

Quadruple it.

We spend most of our month in soggy socks, walking on dirt-smeared floors and invariably waiting ‘til the eleventh hour to search for an umbrella. This usually leads to shrieking when the only one found falls apart because somebody landed on it one day while playing Mary Poppins. So sadly and inevitably, one kid has to walk into school with a floppy, falling-apart, poor excuse for an umbrella.

Whereupon I am simply left to scrounge for one that is not a mess until someone asks for a snack…

And I forget all about it until the next rainy morning.

We are rain pathetic, y’all.

But no matter how many umbrellas I push out of my failing mommy brain, I can’t help but remember one soggy April afternoon a few years ago.

It was dogs and cats, pull-over-til’-it-passes, horizontal downpour.

And there…in the middle of it all…was the school car loop.

God bless us, everyone.

Teachers in superfluous ponchos. Kids with turned out umbrellas. Boys smearing mud all over themselves.

It was NOT pretty.

I seriously wanted to scoop everyone up, plop them in front of a warm fire and give them copious amounts of coffee and cocoa.

Especially when I saw my Grace, standing ever so dutifully at Cone #2, looking like a forlorn, drowned rat.

BLESS HER AGAIN.

Wanting to save her ASAP, I swiftly pulled up to the appropriate cone, ready to welcome the deluge. I figured an open door would be enough to cue my sweet girl to take refuge in our crumb-covered minivan. But even after I began waving her in…

She stayed at her precious Cone #2.

So I started to yell, “Grace, in the car, now!!!! Run, baby! Run!!!!”

But she held her hand up as if to say, “Hold the phone mom, I have not been released from my cone by the proper authorities…”

Finally, a poor teacher who I can only assume was so blinded by the rain that she didn’t even know who she was talking to, gesticulates wildly and shouts, “Go, go, go…” in Grace’s general direction. Huddling over her as she climbed into the van, the sweet soul laughed, “Got a rule follower, eh?”

I giggled back in response knowing full well that my girl comes from a long genetic line of rule followin’ firstborns.

It is that soggy moment, that little memory that has reminded me every April since to evaluate my own firstborn rule followin’ ways.

Some days, I am stuck in the rules of motherhood.

Potty-training. School choice. Food selection.

Good gravy train, being stuck here is a blessed disaster. (And I believe that we can all agree it is never wise to stand in one place when toilets and 3-year-olds are involved.) It doesn’t make any sense but somehow, because I decide on a method or a choice or a selection, come hoot and high water, I am staying put by my “cone.”

But as a result, I become imprisoned by my own choice, my own rules when God’s so clearly calling, “Sara, would you just get in the van for a moment??? I think you need a dry place to flex and bend and find some much-needed grace. Please?”

Some days, I am stuck in the rules of “godly” womanhood.

Devotions. Bible study. Domesticity.

Where I am trying to be who I imagine Proverbs 31 tells me to be. Where I come to loathe that darling, made-up woman. And where I sink into the lie of failure and inadequacy.

Over and over and over again.

But all the while, my Father is saying, “Sister, time with Me can be anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Especially in this crumby, old van. And domesticity? I am not looking for the perfect underwear fold or a gleaming toilet, girl. I just want you to be faithful.”

“Sara, do you hear me?”

And some days still, I am stuck in the rules of doctrine.

(Blech.)

This one, dear friends, has been the fight of a lifetime.

Picture me standing at my cone with 9 other brothers and sisters standing at their own and we all think we have the beeline to Jesus. We are stuck, arguing over things that are only getting us muddy and cold and wet. And NO ONE is winning.

No. One.

But God is calling to us, beckoning each into different vehicles as he pleads, “Would you please dive into the freedom that allows all my kids to take different vehicles Home? PLEASE?!?!?!”

You see, rules may not be the devil, but holding onto them too tightly can destroy us.

At a time of year where we recognize the sacrifice of a Father and the suffering of a Son, does it not also seem appropriate that we remember why it happened? Why He sacrificed? Why He suffered?

It wasn’t to impart a self-made prison. It was meant to set us free. And it was designed to make us whole.

Jesus is sufficient, friends.

Even without our man-made rules and our blasted “cones…”

He. Is. Sufficient.

Claim it. Know it. Live it.

And this April, let’s be willing to leave our cones behind…

Especially if it means we get to run to the One who is leading us Home.

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.

 

 

 

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What Our Kids Learn from Our Mistakes

mistake

I was at my moms’ group yesterday for the first time in a month. Between illness and spring break, I hadn’t made it in a while, and I was really looking forward to seeing some friends and enjoying some time to focus on God. About halfway through our meeting though, I got a message from a client that I do some editing for wanting to know where their pages were.

Alarm bells went off in my head. I had completely forgotten about those pages, which had to be finished by noon yesterday. So, for yet another week, I ended up not getting to spend much time with my moms’ group. I was frustrated, disappointed and just flat out mad at myself for screwing up. I knew I had those pages to edit, but when I slammed my fingers in the door on Monday, I completely forgot about them.

I gathered up my stuff and my daughter and let my group know where I was going. As we were walking out, my daughter wanted to know why we needed to leave earlier. I simply told her, “I screwed up something for some people I do work for, and now I have to fix it.”

It’s hard to admit when we’ve made a mistake, whether it’s work related or family related. No one likes to mess up. It’s embarrassing. It often creates problems trying to get it fixed. It’s not fun at all.

But we need to remember that our kids learn from watching us how to deal with their own mistakes. If we get angry and blame others, we teach them to get angry and blame others. If we get mad at ourselves and start talking negatively about ourselves, we teach them to get mad and talk negatively about themselves. If we admit our mistakes, ask for forgiveness and work to make things right, then we teach them to do the same.

None of us are perfect. We’re going to screw up sometimes. Sometimes we’ll be able to fix those mistakes, and sometimes we’ll just have to learn from them and move on. Whether we can fix them or not, we need to let our kids see how we deal with them. We need to let them know that most mistakes require that we ask forgiveness from the people who are affected. We need them to watch us try to make things right.

Because it’s not just about being able to admit you made a mistake. It’s about being able to admit to God when you’ve screwed up. It’s about being able to ask Him for forgiveness. If we go through our lives teaching our kids to blame others for their mistakes or to never admit they are wrong, then it’s difficult for them to learn to follow the instruction in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

You see, without confession, there can be no forgiveness. Unless we’re willing to tell God about what we’ve done wrong, He can’t forgive us. And if we are unwilling to admit that we make mistakes or if we’re busy blaming others for those mistakes, then we’re letting pride get in the way of God’s forgiveness.

We want to teach our kids to take their mistakes to God, to let Him offer forgiveness and direction, to let Him provide comfort and love. They will have a hard time learning that if they don’t see us dealing with mistakes in the same way.

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When the Day Goes Bad

bad day

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

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

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

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

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

“But everyone needs me,” I said.

“Then you just need Me,” the voice said.

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

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

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

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

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Dealing with Mean Words

This video came across my Facebook feed yesterday:

For those of you who aren’t science fiction nerds, Wil Wheaton played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the ’90s. He gave this answer at a Comicon gathering, which is a large convention for lovers of all things SciFi.

The answer he gave to this little girl’s question about how to deal with people making fun of you is spot on. All of our kids will deal with this at some point in their lives. Someone else is going to try to make our kids feel bad about themselves. At some point, our kids will be called names or be put down by someone else. The important thing for our kids to know is exactly what Wil Wheaton said: When someone else makes fun of you, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

When someone else is picking on our kid, it’s really hard to teach compassion and love because what we want to do most is go knock some sense into the other kid. But what our kids need to know more than anything is that most of the time, people lash out at others because they feel bad about themselves. They make fun of someone else because they feel inadequate in some way. They call someone else names because there’s something going wrong in their own lives.

When another child calls our kid names or puts him down, we need to teach our kids that what others say doesn’t matter. What God says trumps what another child can say every time, and God says our kids are masterpieces. God says they are made in His image. God says they are fearfully and wonderfully made. What other people say can’t change that truth.

No matter the truth, though, words can sting. Words can wound a child’s heart. Words can often do more damage than a physical injury. That’s why it’s so important that we teach our kids from an early age that mean words thrown at them by someone else don’t have anything to do with them. We have to teach them that ugly words often come from a bruised and battered heart. We need to teach them to love that person and have compassion for them.

We should never let our kids be continually bullied, but we should teach our kids to pray for those who hurt them. We should teach our kids that no matter what anyone else says, those words can never trump the truth of God’s words. We should teach them that love and compassion win out in the end. Because that’s what God teaches us.

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Update on Sara

It’s been a busy morning around here. I didn’t get up in time to write something new. I’m trying to get my daughter in to see a doctor about her foot that doesn’t seem to want to get any better. So between making lunches, combing hair and getting everyone out the door, this post hasn’t gotten written.

Instead of sharing what’s on my heart this morning, I’m going to send you over to Sara Cormany’s blog so you can read an update on her status with her high-risk pregnancy. Everything is going well right now, but I’m warning you that her post will make you cry. I’m also asking you to cover her and that precious life inside of her with your prayers.

I know many of you have been blessed by Sara’s First Friday posts here at Everyday Truth. I’d love for the Everyday Truth family to be blessing Sara and her family with prayer and encouragement in these next few months.

Enjoy Sara’s post “In the Hallway,” and I’ll be back on Monday.

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Moms Need Friends, Too

mom friend

The girls and I went to the arboretum the other day with some friends. We spent hours there walking around. The kids explored the stream bed, watched birds and climbed rocks. My friend and I had a couple of hours to catch up with each other.

This has been a whirlwind year. Between homeschooling, working and two kids in competitive sports, there’s been very little time for anything else — including friendship. As we walked through the arboretum the other day, I realized that I miss my friends. Little snippets of phone conversation or quick texts are no replacement for long talks and shared adventures.

There was so much more of that when my girls were little. We had time for play dates and afternoons spent hanging out with friends. Now, it seems there’s little time for lazy afternoons filled with shared laughter and conversation.

I came to the realization this weekend, though, that just because our lives have changed, it doesn’t mean our friendships have to fall by the wayside. We moms need friends. We need people we can call, text or email when the world is crashing down or the kids are driving us nuts. We need those people who can make us laugh in the middle of a crisis. We need those people who can give us perspective when all we can see is what’s right in front of us.

When life gets busy and it seems like it’s all we can do to keep all the balls we’re juggling in the air, we have to be intentional about not dropping the friendship ball. We need to put dates on the calendar for moments with friends. We need to be diligent about not letting too much time get away from us between times spent together.

We need to foster friendships not just for us. We need to foster them so our kids can see what healthy friendships look like. They need to watch us navigate the waters of friendship so that they can learn how to navigate their own friendships.

God didn’t intend for us to walk this path alone. He intended for us to be surrounded with people who can encourage us and offer words of wisdom. Those people are our friends. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” God knows the value of friendship, and we need to know it, too.

If you’ve let life get so busy that your friendships have taken a back seat, make a decision to change that. Decide today to be intentional about your friendships. Set aside some time to meet with a friend. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Put a date on the calendar to have coffee with a friend. Your life will be richer for it and your kids will learn to be better friends by watching you.

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