What a Difference a Year Makes

Year

At this time last year, I was feeling like a pretty horrible parent. My younger daughter was struggling with some basic character issues and my older daughter still hadn’t found her spot in middle school. It was a tough place to be.

We had two pretty unhappy children, and two bewildered and frustrated parents. My heart was heavy and burdened for both my kids. My husband and I were unsure of what path to take with each kid.

As you know, we decided the best thing for my younger daughter was a year of doing school at home. And despite her protests, we decided the best thing for my older daughter was a lot of love and to return to the middle school she attends.

We’ve spent an entire year deliberately working on character issues with both girls. We’ve spent a lot of time praying over these children and asking God for wisdom to parent them well.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw up my hands and give up. There have been weeks when progress seems so very far away. There have been days when I’ve pushed, prodded, cajoled and done everything but scream.

We’ve offered advice. We’ve offered encouragement. We’ve prayed for patience just to make it through the day.

And here we sit a year later. Both girls have made huge strides in the way they deal with certain situations. My older daughter is a little more outgoing and a little less likely to let other people bother her. She’s more confident in who she is and in who God says she is. My younger daughter is more sure of who God is and a lot more respectful of those around her. Neither girl has lost the qualities that make her unique, but both have grown and been stretched by the past year.

So, this morning, sweet friends, I want to offer encouragement to you. Know that there will be dark days of parenting. There will be days that you shed tears for your children until there are none left to shed. There will be moments when it seems the easiest choice is to throw up your hands and walk away.

But in the middle of those dark days, remember that God is there with you. He’s walking beside you holding the light. If we seek Him out and follow His plan for our kids, we can walk through those dark periods and come out on the other side with our kids in a better place.

It may not be easy. It may require sacrifice. God might ask you and your child to step out of your comfort zones.

But if we follow God, we will find that His wisdom is always good. His steps are always sure. His plan will always prevail.

God didn’t give us these kids to leave us to flounder through the tough moments. He gave us these precious souls to shepherd and love, knowing that He would be right there for the entire journey.

So, sweet mom, if your day is dark , if this parenting thing seems like more than you can manage today, know that you don’t walk alone. God walks with you, offering comfort and wisdom. Choose to follow Him  and place your kids in His care. In a year, the whole picture may look different.

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When You Miss Easter

Mercies

Easter kind of snuck up on me this year. My daughter’s birthday was on Good Friday. I’ve been battling an infection for the past two weeks, and I’ve been swamped with work. I’ve burned the candle at both ends, and Easter just appeared as an afterthought.

We didn’t dye Easter eggs. We didn’t read the resurrection story together. We didn’t even put Easter decorations out. My girls were lucky to find things in their Easter basket.

As I stood in church yesterday morning, I realized we had spent almost no time at all focused on this most important of holidays. There had been no teachable moments with my kids. There had been little reflection on the importance of the day. The day was simply here.

And I felt guilty. I felt as if this year I had failed as a follower of Christ and as parent. But as I stood there singing about Jesus’ resurrection, I remembered the words of Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” The King James Version says God’s mercies are new every morning.

You see, Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about a single day — although it is important that we celebrate that day. His resurrection is about eternity. His resurrection is about bridging the gap between us and God every day. His mercies are new every morning. They are available to us every day — not just on Easter.

So while the Easter holiday is nice, it’s not enough to simply focus on the resurrection once a year. Jesus’ resurrection is what makes His death important. He defeated death and made a way for us to draw near to God.  And that’s something to celebrate year-round, not just one day a year.

If Easter snuck up on you like it did on me, if you missed those teachable moments with your kids, if you got to Easter morning and realized you had missed a multitude of opportunities to focus on the resurrection, remember this: God’s mercies are new every morning, and the resurrection means as much today as it did yesterday.

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A Birthday Prayer for My 11-year-old

Birthday prayer14

Eleven years ago today, our world changed forever. It was just after midnight on Good Friday that our second daughter was placed in our arms. We had no idea what an adventure life with her would be.

So, today, on her 11th birthday, I wanted to share with you my prayer for her.

A Birthday Prayer for My 11-year-old

Sweet child of mine, here you stand on in the in-between, not yet a teen, yet not still a child. Middle school looms ahead of you next year. You’re getting ready to cross from the days of childhood into the days of young womanhood. As you do, these are the things I pray for you.

May you never lose your sense of adventure.

May you always remember that no matter how steep the mountain, God is always with you.

May you always know you are loved.

May you never lose the attitude that you don’t have to be like everyone else.

May you always follow the path God has laid out for you.

When things get tough, may you always seek God’s guidance and comfort.

May you always know that home is a safe place. We’ll always be here with love, hugs and advice.

May you never outgrow your desire to pull for the underdog.

May you continue to learn to be a leader.

May you never lose the toughness that makes you stand strong under difficult circumstances.

May you always look on those around you with compassion and love.

May you learn from your defeats and cherish your victories.

May you always make loving God and loving others your to priorities.

Precious child of mine, you have grown so much in the past year. I know there are so many more adventures to come. We can’t wait to see where they take you.

 

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Easter Reminders: The Cross and the Stone

cross

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but its message resonates today. Always remember that the cross and the stone must go together because one without the other means very little.

A cross and a stone. Those are the images of Easter. One represents death. The other life. Without one, there is no need for the other.

The cross

Over the years, the cross has lost it’s gruesomeness. We’ve prettied it up. We wear the reminder around our necks, we hang it on our walls. When we look at it, we don’t see what the Jews of Jesus day saw. We don’t see a symbol of death and oppression. We see only a symbol of hope. We see a symbol of sacrifice.

Yet, for centuries, the cross was a tool of oppression. The Jewish people did not use crucifixion as a form of punishment. It was reserved for the Roman government. And you didn’t have to commit a horrific crime to find yourself hanging from one. You could steal something or speak out against the government. The cross wasn’t just a tool of execution. It was a public deterrent to dissent.

And that’s where Jesus died — on a human government’s tool to suppress revolt. He died on a hill in full view of everyone, his crime posted on a sign above His head. At any time, Jesus could have climbed off the cross. He could have taken over, sent everyone fleeing in the face of His awesome power. But He didn’t. He stayed on that cross and died, bearing the weight of the sin of the world. All so we could be free — not from an oppressive government, but from the separation from God. And in that moment, the cross became a symbol not of death and oppression, but a symbol of love.

The stone

It was big. It was heavy. It was unmoveable by one person. The stone that covered the entrance to the tomb was an obstacle to the living. Yet, even the heavy stone could not keep Jesus in the grave.

When the women arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning, that stone, that keeper of death, was rolled away. The tomb was empty. And it would stay that way. This was no mistake. No one had taken Jesus’ body. He had been dead for three days and then came back to life.

Without the stone, there is no redemptive power in the cross. Without the stone, Jesus would just be another man who claimed to be God. It is only because of the stone that the words of John 3:16 mean anything. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Only a living God can promise eternal life. Jesus’ death means nothing without His resurrection.

The cross is useless without the stone.

Create reminders

As Easter approaches, as we take our kids to Good Friday and Easter services, we need to help them understand that the importance of Easter lies not just in the cross but in the stone as well. Create a reminder of the importance that the tomb was empty.

Sometime this weekend, give your kids a cross made of twigs and a rock from the yard. Explain that they are reminders of the two events that make Easter so important. Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. It represents the fact that Jesus loves us and wants us to have a relationship with Him. Jesus rose from the grave three days later. The stone represents the amazing power of a living God. It reminds us that Jesus is who He said He is, and He holds power even over death.

The cross and the stone. Two important reminders of what Easter means to us.

 

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Your Kids Aren’t Like Anyone Else’s Kids

fish

My younger daughter brought home a ceramic fish that she made in art class the other day. For a 10-year-old’s pinch pot fish, it looked really good. She spent a few minutes telling me all about the details of her fish. One thing she said struck me. “He’s not perfect. I did that on purpose. I didn’t want him to be like everyone else’s.”

That one statement sums up the story of this child’s life. She has never wanted to be like everyone else, never wanted to follow the crowd, never felt the need to always fit in.

And that’s been hard, at times, because it means she refuses to fit into the rigid box I sometimes want to put her in. I sometimes want her to be like everyone else because it would be easier for me. If she would just act like other kids, then all those parenting books and suggestions might help.

But she doesn’t, which means that I have had to learn to parent her. Many times, we’ve had to throw out the window everything we’ve learned about parenting and start over. Sometimes, we have to make it up as we go along.

Because God didn’t design our daughter to fit into any mold but her own, and the temptation as parents is to force her to fit into one so that it’s easier for us.

The thing is, there’s no parenting book that covers every child. There’s no piece of advice that works with every kid. Good parenting starts with acknowledging that our kids are unique creations that don’t look like anyone else. God designed them that way.

Which is why, when we’re stumped on how to parent our children, we need to turn to the One who created them. We need to seek His wisdom and His truth to be effective parents. He promises to help us when we’re stumped. He promises to give us wisdom when we ask. And, truly, there’s no task in this world that needs more wisdom than parenting.

We have to stop trying to force our kids into a box they weren’t meant to fit in and instead choose to parent each child individually. Because our kids aren’t like anyone else’s, and God did that on purpose.

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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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