Change How You Parent: Fear or Faith?

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself wondering what in the world to do with your child? 

After all, you’ve done your best to raise them right. You prayed for them, taught them manners, and helped them memorize Bible verses. You limited their electronic time and said no when they begged to watch non-age-appropriate TV shows (darn you, Hannah Montana!).

But still, their hearts are captivated by the world… 

And nothing you do can change that.

They want to wear the same clothes their friends are wearing and listen to the same music. They want to play the same video games, watch the same You-tubers, and follow the same “influencers.” Like every adolescent since the beginning of time, they want to be liked and accepted by their peers, even if that means doing things they know are wrong.

If you’re fortunate, they at least struggle with the conflict between these desires and their values. That means deep down they at least want to do the right thing… they want to choose Jesus. But sometimes that struggle can lead to anxiety or loneliness or friend drama. 

What’s a parent to do?

It is really hard to watch our kids walking that line between right and wrong, tip-toeing as close as they can to the dark without actually falling in. Jeff and I have encountered these types of struggles on multiple occasions with our children, so I feel your pain.

Jeff is better about seeing the big picture, but if I’m honest with you, I pretty much tend to freak out. I’m afraid they are going to ruin their life. I’m afraid they are going to walk away from Jesus. I’m afraid they are going to become everything I have invested so much time and energy guarding against!

I’m just plain afraid. And I begin to parent out of fear.

PARENTING OUT OF FEAR

Sure, I call it all kinds of things: 

  • parenting with purpose
  • being intentional
  • maybe even being a little “controlling.” 

But the truth is, it’s fear

Yet, the Bible declares, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I memorized this verse a long time ago, but God whispered it to my heart a few years ago, and it completely changed the way I parent. Here’s what happened.

image from womanofgod.com

Our daughter, Abby, has always been into the latest trends. When she was two, she would go into the indoor playground at Chick-fil-a and come out a few minutes later modeling other children’s shoes. She would stop complete strangers on the street to comment on their cute outfits. (If you know me, you are asking where in the world she inherited that from… definitely not her momma!) In Kindergarten, her free-writing journal was filled with lyrics from Hannah Montana songs, which she wasn’t even allowed to watch or listen to yet!

Yes, our sweet girl’s heart was drawn by the world from a very early age. 

As she entered the middle school years, the pressure to fit in and be accepted by the “cool kids” increased. She hated being one of the few girls without a phone, and though she still obeyed me, she thought my “modesty” rules were old-fashioned and ridiculous. We clashed often during those days; Abby, with her teenage hormones raging, and me, with my authority being challenged and my fear increasing at every turn. 

My prayer journal is filled with desperate pleas for God to protect her and change her and not let her go astray. I constantly cried to Jeff about the path she was on and where it would lead. I was so afraid (and a little bit dramatic).

Now, understand, our girl was hardly a rebel! But after so many years in youth ministry, I was extra sensitive to the beginning stages of a wandering heart, and while she wasn’t even out of the living room, my mind saw her riding off into the sunset. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but it’s true. 

Do you do that, too? Imagine the worst-case scenario right out of the gate?

Anyway, one night as I was praying for Abby, crying out to Him again in all my fear, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the impression on my heart was so strong, it could only be the Holy Spirit. This is what He said:

“Yes, Abby’s heart is drawn by the world, but whose isn’t? You are focusing on the wrong thing. She has had multiple opportunities to join the cool kids, but when it came down to it, she wasn’t willing to compromise her convictions. She may stumble a little along the way, but she almost always makes the right choice! So quit focusing on what you’re afraid of and focus on ME. The whole world is already fighting against her… she needs YOU to fight for her. Are you going to keep parenting out of FEAR or are you going to start parenting out of FAITH?”

I knew immediately what I had to do. Viewing the situation from God’s perspective completely transformed my mind and changed the way I parent (or at least try to).

So when you find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to parent out of fear, let me encourage you to parent out of faith instead. 

PARENTING OUT OF FAITH

How do we do that? Here are three things that help me:

1. Change how we PRAY for them

Instead of praying out of fear, I pray in faith. I claim God’s promises for her. I remind myself of His plan for her life, of His faithfulness through the generations. I ask Him to give her courage, faith, and boldness. I pray for her to be a Light in a dark generation, that He might use her in mighty ways! I ask Him to surround her with godly adults who love Him and will help shape her into the woman He created her to be—and He has! 

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear.

KELLY CALLEN HEATH

2. Change how we THINK about them

Our thoughts determine our actions. What I’ve learned in parenting, though, is how much my thoughts actually determine my children’s actions! By parenting out of fear, I may actually be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in my child. When we reflect our fears on them, they may internalize them and think that is what we expect of them. Therefore, changing the way we think can actually have a direct effect on how they act!

For me, this meant stopping myself from worrying about where Abby was headed, and instead reminding myself of what God has planned for her life. It meant focusing on the times she got it right more than on the times she didn’t, on her victories more than her failures. I continually thanked God for the times she did the hard thing, reminding myself of His strength and goodness in her life. 

And I began to speak these things out loud to her, which is the next tip.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

3. Change how we SPEAK to them

I cannot emphasize enough the difference it made when I began speaking to Abby in faith instead of out of fear! As I pointed out her courage to hold to her convictions, she began to make those decisions more confidently. I touted character traits I wasn’t yet seeing in her as though she was already displaying them, and before long, she was! 

If you want your daughter to show courage, compassion, and kindness, tell her you love those things about her, and point out ways God can use those traits in her life. If you want your son to have integrity, character, and resourcefulness, make a point of recognizing those qualities in him and mentioning them every chance you get. 

Changing how I spoke to Abby enabled God to transform how she sees herself.  She no longer sees herself through my fear, but as God sees her—as His “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for (her) to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) 

WE GET TO DECIDE…

I am pretty certain that had I continued parenting out of fear, Abby would have continued resisting me and would probably not be the awesome Jesus-girl she is today. That doesn’t mean it would have been my fault—she is still free to make her own choices—but I definitely was not helping the situation. 

And even parenting in faith doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome; there are no magic formulas for producing perfect kids! In fact, even while writing this blog post, the enemy is whispering that just because it helped one kid doesn’t mean it will help the others. 

But I no longer listen to the voice of fear…

Friend, we can parent out of fear of who our children might become, or we can change our perspective and parent in faith of who God desires them to be. 

Both will shape them…

But we get to decide which one!

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, CHECK OUT THESE OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE RELATED TOPIC OF CHANGE:

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Asking for Help: Why it’s Hard, Why We Should, and How to Do it

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Want to know my dirty little secret?

Well, actually it’s my clean little secret… 

We pay someone to clean our houseShhhh!!

I know, I know, some of you are highly disappointed—you were hoping for something a little more scandalous! But others of you definitely gasped when you read that. Some of you shook your head in disappointment, and some of you actually breathed a sigh of relief (because now you know you’re not the only one!).

It’s silly, really; but I can count on one hand the people who know we have housecleaning help (or at least I did until now, LOL). It’s just not something I tell people. 

Part of me feels embarrassed, like my “Supermom” status is at stake because I need help mopping my floors. Another part of me feels ashamed for getting assistance with something like cleaning. And part of me feels guilty—for putting our mess on someone else, for splurging on something I could do myself, and even for having enough money to pay someone when so many people are struggling.

But the truth is, I need help. I have my share of gifts; unfortunately, cleaning is not one of them. I can do it, (and with six people in our family I obviously still do!) but I don’t do it well. And I don’t like it. As hard is it was to ask for help, it has made a huge difference for our family.

When is the last time you asked someone for help? Was it hard for you? 

For me, it depends on what it is. Earlier this week, we changed plans and needed a last minute T-shirt design for a college ministry retreat. I had a choice. I could spend several hours attempting to design something that, let’s face it, would look awful no matter how much time I invested in it. Or I could text a friend and ask for help.

I am not kidding; the first draft of the design was completed within three minutes of the text. 

THREE MINUTES! 

Umm, yeah, I think that was a good decision!

Seriously, how cool is this shirt?!

But there are other times when I am not so quick to ask for help, even from my own family. There are certain things I simply feel are my duty or don’t want to bother others with. Often it’s just easier to do it myself. As a stay at home mom, I tend to view most of the household tasks as my responsibility. Asking others for help makes me feel lazy, incompetent, or like I am burdening them (which is ridiculous… but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

Still, it begs the question—why is it so hard for us to ask for help?

WHY WE’RE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

There are a few reasons most of us are afraid to ask for help. 

The first reason is PRIDE. We like to think (or pretend?) we can do it all. Our ego drives us to over-excel, presenting an image of someone who can be all things to all people.

When something needs doing, we do it ourselves. If we don’t know how to do something, we’ll figure it out. Admitting we need help feels like failure somehow. Accepting assistance from others embarrasses us. It shows weakness and vulnerability, and those are not a traits our culture values.

Another reason we’re afraid to ask for help is because we don’t want to inconvenience anyone. This is particularly true for those who enjoy helping others. 

There is something engrained in us that causes us to feel good about meeting other people’s needs, but makes us feel selfish when we are the ones who need help. We know how valuable time is, especially when we spend a lot of it helping others, and we don’t want to be the reason someone else feels stressed or overwhelmed. 

When given the choice, we choose burn-out over selfishness every time.

What About PAYING for Help?

As Christians, we have also created a false narrative around paying for help. If there is something we can do ourselves (or figure out how to do ourselves), it seems wasteful to hire someone else to assist us. Spending money on such tasks appears extravagant; some might even say sinful. (Which, again, is ridiculous, but it’s a thing!)

We feel guilty for splurging on things we can do ourselves, and maybe even embarrassed that we have enough money to do so. Shouldn’t we give that money away rather than spending it on ourselves? Are we really being good stewards of what the Lord has blessed us with? 

Maybe. Maybe not.

After all, we spend money every day on things we can do ourselves without thinking twice about it. 

Have you ever paid someone to make you a cup of coffee or cook a meal for you (Chick-fil-a, anyone)? Do you grind your own wheat, bake your own bread, and can your own vegetables, or do you simply buy them from the grocery store? Maybe you pay someone to maintain your lawn or vehicle or plumbing, to spray for insects, or do your taxes. And certainly you could cut your own hair and paint your own nails…but it probably looks better when you pay someone to do it!

We spend money on lots of things we can technically do ourselves without even blinking an eye. Yet, somehow spending money on certain things seems embarrassing or selfish to us, and its time we start asking ourselves why.

WHY WE SHOULD ASK FOR HELP (BENEFITS)

While asking for help can be difficult, there are several reasons we should do it.

1. Our Gifts Are Different

First, each of us is gifted in different ways. Our weaknesses are someone else’s strengths! God created us to work together as a body. He does not expect an eye to figure out how to be a foot or a hand to learn how to smell. Sometimes we need to ask for help to do things we can’t do well (or at all). We might even need to pay for that help, and that’s okay!

I recently asked my Facebook friends what keeps them from asking for help, and my friend Kenna’s response stood out from the rest: “I can’t think of anything. When you’ve lived alone as long as I have, you learn to lean on others.”  

Isn’t this how God intends for us to live as the body of Christ—using our gifts to bless one another, depending on one another to help when we have a need?

2.  Our Time Is Valuable

In today’s culture, time is often a more valuable currency than money. Sometimes our best investment is to ask for help so we have time to do what we’re best at, what’s most important, and what we’re called to do. I could have spent several hours creating a design for those t-shirts, but instead I spent that time organizing every single detail for the rest of the retreat. Asking my friends to aid me with their gifts allowed me to be much more productive with my time.

Similarly, I can certainly scrub my own tubs and mop my own floors! But paying someone to do it for me frees me up to be more present with my family. It enables me to spend those hours helping with schoolwork, taking my boys to play basketball, or writing a blog post. Someone else can clean my house, but I’m the only one who can be “Mom” to my kids. For me, the time with my family is worth more than the money we spend.

3. Our Pride or Fear May Be Hindering a Blessing

I was pregnant with Noah when we hired the Brazilian couple who cleans for us, which means they have been with us for over eleven years. They love talking with our children, and they pray for us as they clean. With the effects of COVID on the economy, they really need this job. But even if they didn’t, we couldn’t let them go, because we consider them part of our family! 

Just as it brings us joy to help those around us, someone may want to bless us by sharing their talents with us. Likewise, when we pay someone to assist us, we are also helping them meet their financial needs with dignity. It’s a win-win situation!

Being too proud or “selfless” to ask for help can actually be “selfish” when we view it from a different perspective. Allowing ourselves to be blessed by others and to be a blessing to them paves the way for God to do greater things than we can even imagine!

So, how do we learn to ask for help?

HOW TO ASK FOR HELP

Now that we know why it’s hard to ask for help and why we should do it anyway, let’s talk about how to do it. Here are some questions to assist you in discerning where you need help and how you can get it.

  • What do I spend more time on than I would like?
  • What do I avoid doing because I don’t enjoy it, it will take too much time, or I’m not sure where to start?
  • What are 3 projects that would bring me great joy and peace if they were not hanging over my head?
  • What is one area I could outsource that would be a blessing to me/my family? How might it be a blessing to others as well? (For example, it would financially help the person I’m paying; it would be a blessing to my kids because I can do fun things with them; it would decrease my husband’s stress to not have to spend his day off working on the yard; it would bless my readers because I have more time to write; etc.)
  • If I currently have more time than money, how can I use my resources creatively? Is there something I can give up in order to pay for this service? (Trade weekly Starbucks expense for a sitter; Sell something to pay someone to clean/organize; etc.)
  • Can I use my time or talent to barter for what I need help with? (Childcare for computer help? Financial advice for manual labor? Decorating tips for tutoring services?) 

Friends, what if it became normal to:

Ask for help when you need it. Pay someone so you can use your time in other ways. Use one another as resources when we need assistance. Encourage others to build their “team.” Bless others with dignity when you are able.

What would life be like then?


It would be a lot easier, I think. Less frustrating. And possibly a bit more like God intends for it to be!

Where do you need help? Who can you ask? And how can you return the favor by being a blessing to someone else? 

Because as my friends from Chaos2Calm like to say, “You can do ANYTHING, but you can’t do EVERYTHING!”

How to Love Your Middle School Boy

Photo Credit: Mandy Khoo

To my middle school boy, LOVE is…

Basketball

Nike shoes

A cool hat

Hours spent gaming

Freshly baked cookies

Fast food (and lots of it)

Sleepovers with friends

An extra hour of TV

Ice cream in the freezer

Whatever his friends own…

Today, I poured out my love for him by…

Helping him with Math

Driving him around

Spending 2 hours at the gym so he could play basketball with his friends

Making a healthy dinner

Washing his favorite sweatshirt

Laughing at his jokes

Reminding him to do his chores

Setting limits and saying no

Making him walk the dog. Twice.

Praying for him

Hugging him goodnight (as he squirmed away from me)…

We don’t always speak the same language,

my boy and I.

Sometimes he gets what he wants

and feels loved,

Sometimes he gets loved

instead of what he wants.

Often he wishes for a different mom,

One who would love him more… or less.

He’s not old enough yet to realize

that real love thinks long-term—

It chooses the eternal over the temporary

It chooses health over happiness

It chooses wisdom over being liked

It chooses God’s ways over the world’s

It chooses growth over popularity

It chooses to make the hard decisions

even when they are misunderstood…

Oh, how I love this boy! 

Maybe one day he will grasp just how much.

**********

I wrote this last week after a rough day with one of my boys. I must have whispered to myself, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed…” a million times that day! He told Jeff, “Mom and I quarreled, but then we worked it out.” (Extra points for a using a vocabulary word!!) I’m not sure that explanation fully captures the extent of our exchange or emotions, but that’s okay. It ended with teary-eyes and I love you’s, and that’s all that really matters. We came out better on the other side.

Parenting is hard, y’all.

H A R D!!!

But these battles for our children’s hearts are SO WORTH IT! Do not give up. Do not quit fighting for them. They need us to love them, even when they don’t know how to receive it. They need us to set boundaries, even when they struggle against them with every ounce of their being. They need us to fight through our hurt feelings and love them anyway. And they need us to keep pointing them to Jesus.

We will get it wrong half the time, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep loving them. That’s what we’re trying to do around here, however imperfectly; trusting the One who loves them most to fill in the gaps with His grace.

That’s all I know to do.

Finding Joy in the Simple Things

The clock approaches midnight as I wipe off the counters and look over my list one more time. The children, all four under the age of ten, have been tucked into bed for a few precious hours now, and I am trying to organize myself for the holiday rush. Between holiday decorating, class parties, cookie baking, and all the other things that come along with Christmas, my list keeps growing longer as my time grows shorter. 

I long for the simplicity I see on the front of the Hallmark Christmas cards: candles glowing through the windows of a quiet, peaceful home; warmly bundled children with red caps and mittens, holding hands and singing praises; a blanket of snow shimmering beneath the glow of the Christmas star.

Simple. Joy.

But my children are young; these days will fly by…

(Or so they tell me.)

It is imperative that I make the most of every moment. After all, their childhood will be ruined if they don’t assemble gingerbread houses and find the elf and sing Christmas carols in their PJ’s and…

So I find myself in Mom of the Year mode, making a list of every Instagram-worthy idea I can think of, and even scheduling them on a daily calendar to make sure we don’t forget to do them. “Simplicity is for lazy moms!” I tell myself. Not me. 

I am intentional

I am purposeful

I can handle this.

And yet…

I forgot to pick up the cookie ingredients at the grocery store today. Again. The pile of Christmas books calls out to me, reminding me that we forgot to read one tonight at bedtime. Again. And I forgot to pick up gift assignments for the nursing home service project. 

Again.

The self-inflicted weight of my “perfect Christmas requirements” is so heavy, I can barely breath. I glance at my list one more time, wondering why I ever loved the Christmas season, and stumble up the stairs to bed, switching off the lights behind me.

As I drift off to sleep, the lyrics of well-loved Christmas hymns echo in my mind:

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…

Oh Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord…

I wonder briefly if I’m missing something. But before I can unpack that thought, the darkness claims me and I drift off to sleep.

*************

That was many years ago, nearly a decade, and I am grateful to say Christmas looks a little different around here now. The pressure I once felt to be the perfect mom and make every moment matter has given way to a more realistic way of living. 

If COVID has had any positive impact on our society, it has been to slow us down and remind us of what really matters. I am reminded of that famous line from our favorite green-skinned Santy-claus:

“It came without ribbons, it came without tags,

It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

“What if Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Somewhere along the way, my desire to be intentional about every moment sucked the life right out of Christmas and left my spirit starving. So, while we still incorporate many of the same traditions and experiences from those early years, the pressure to make sure every. single. thing. is accomplished no longer drives our days.

Instead, I have learned to find joy in the simple things. 2020 has reinforced that habit, and I find myself treasuring the little things even more this season.

Here are a few simple things that are breathing joy into my soul this December…

Christmas music

There is just something about Christmas music that can give even the grumpiest Grinch a happy heart! It’s amazing how music can determine our mood. When I find myself feeling the stress of the season and need something to make me smile, turning on some Christmas tunes usually does the trick. Buddy the Elf had it right when he said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Go search a Christmas playlist on Spotify and sing yourself into the Christmas spirit!

Our Nativity Set tradition

I don’t really even know how this started, but when I was growing up, my little brother used to hide baby Jesus in different places around the nativity until Christmas morning, when He would finally make His way into the manger. Somehow this tradition evolved in our own family to moving all the nativity characters around. Throughout the season, you might see Mary on one side talking to the angel, the three wise men on another shelf feeding their camels, or the shepherd off chasing a wayward sheep.  (One year, Mary went missing for several days. We eventually found her under the couch with the shepherd…) Walking by this particular nativity set always makes me pause to see what our little friends are up to, adding a bit of adventure to the ordinary. Sounds just like Jesus!

The Book of Isaiah

I started reading through the book of Isaiah in late October, simply because it’s been a few years since I’ve read it straight through, and I felt my heart drawn there. Had I been more purposeful, I might have realized it would put me reading the prophesies of the Messiah during December; instead, it was a delightful surprise! In a year like 2020, how encouraging it is to remember that nothing happens apart from the Lord’s knowledge and purposes. What seems random and unpredictable to us has its origin in the heavens and is intended to draw our hearts to our Father. His promises are certain; His timing is perfect; His mercies, though often disguised, are for our good and His glory. The One who promised is faithful! If you need something to read, check out Isaiah. There is so much to be gleaned.

Quilted Christmas stockings

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I read it somewhere, I’m sure. Each stocking is made out of that child’s baby clothes, and I have a tree skirt stitched from all four of their clothes. When I look at those patches of color, I can picture their little faces in each little outfit, each pair of pj’s, and it makes my heart so happy! Our girls are nearly grown now, and our boys won’t be far behind. These stockings capture a moment of time and enable me to enjoy it every year. 

The fragrances of Christmas 

There is nothing like the smells of Christmas! Whether it’s the aroma of baking cookies filling the kitchen, or the scent of my favorite winter candle (thanks, Pam!) when I walk in the living room, something about it just makes a house feel like a home. For all you crunchy oil-users, I love to put Siberian Fir and Cinnamon in the diffuser (On Guard with Grapefruit is another fave). What smells bring Christmas to life for you?

Hot chocolate bar

This is new to us this year. Our kids are big enough now that we don’t have to monitor all their snacks (there are some advantages to being the baby of four!), so I pulled out all our hot chocolate ingredients, stuck them in containers, and put them on a tray on the kitchen counter. Suddenly everyone’s drinking hot chocolate every day, and I’m the mom that gets to say “Yes!” Super simple, but brings lots of joy!

Names of Jesus Advent cards

I am always looking for ways to keep our hearts centered on Jesus during the Christmas season. I found these cards online a year or two ago, and I love them! The set contains 24 numbered cards with names for Jesus, along with twine and mini-clothespins to hang them with. When you purchase the cards, the author emails you each day with a short devotion to go along with the name for that day. We were a few days late putting it up this year due to travelling, and before I knew it, we were ten days in without doing a single devotional. But no stress, right, because I no longer have to be the perfect mom!

Instead, I came up with a brilliant idea (if I do say so myself!)! Our boys need some money to buy Christmas presents, so I told them I would give them each a dollar per card if they look up and write out the corresponding Bible verse.  They could only use the concordance in the back of the Bible- Eli used the computer to type up his verses since he’s learning to type correctly, but not for searching Bible verses. Do you see what I did there, y’all? Hiding the Word in their hearts. That is $48 well spent, my friends!

There are other things I treasure, of course— Christmas cards from friends far and near, hand-made ornaments on the tree, handprint art from when the children were small. Maybe next year I should share one simple thing a day! (See, there I go, turning it into something purposeful… old habits die hard, friends!) But for now, I simply wanted to share these ideas as an encouragement to you. 

Take time to pause and find joy in the simple things.

Where do you find yourself this Christmas? Is it a season of busyness for you, filled with endless to-dos and must-haves? Or are you a little more settled this year, content to do less, but with more peace? Either way, my hope is that you will take a breath and allow the power of Christ to remove the pressure we so often place on ourselves. 

You don’t have to be perfect or do more. That’s the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

Friends, I’d love to hear what’s bringing you joy this season, and how you are finding peace in a slower pace. Bonus points for sharing pics!

Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.

Letting Go and Trusting God

The wind was blowing against my face as I stood there, trying not to look down. The harness was fastened securely to my body. The guide tied the rope around an enormous tree and then his 5,000 pound pickup truck, assuring me I was safe. 

The rope was not going to break. 

The tree was not going to uproot. 

Everything was ready… the rest was up to me.

“Now, all you have to do is let go and lean back,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as though he wasn’t really asking much. Didn’t he know we were standing on the edge of a cliff, several hundred feet in the air? 

The last thing I wanted to do was let go and lean back!

He must have noticed my white knuckles gripping the rope, because he went on to remind me of what would happen if I didn’t listen. 

“I know your instinct is to hold onto the rope and hug the side, but trust me, you don’t want to do that. If you lean forward, you’ll slam into the rocks and it won’t be pretty. This is what you came here for! Just trust me; count to three, let go, and lean back, parallel to the ground. I won’t let you fall. Trust me!”

Trust me.

I could feel the sweat on my forehead. I was about to either throw up or chicken out (or both), when a verse popped in my head: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

*******************

Friends, have you ever found yourself having a hard time letting go?

Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. I hold onto:

  • Friendships and relationships 
  • Momentos- objects that remind me of the past, of things I don’t want to forget 
  • Traditions- they are the heart of our celebrations!
  • Expectations- both of myself and others
  • Regrets/past mistakes- I am pretty quick to forgive others, but not so easy on myself. 

Are there things on this list that sound familiar to you? Maybe you have a hard time letting go of control or fear or anxiety. Whatever it is, we all know what it’s like to struggle to let go of something we really want to hold onto. It’s not easy, for sure.

Which brings me to this weekend.

Tomorrow morning we are going to pack up our Yukon (with half a Target store full of matching dorm decor) and make the seven-hour drive to take our oldest daughter to college. We are so excited for her and so grateful she actually has the opportunity to go, given the ongoing pandemic!

But y’all. 

She’s my baby.

She’s the one who first made me a momma, the one we prayed about for years before the test finally came back positive. She’s the one that “mothers” her siblings and runs to the store for us and raps Hamilton songs in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru with me. 

How am I supposed to let go of my baby?

How do you take your heart out of your chest and just drive away? 

(And I thought teenage break-ups were hard! Sheesh!)

So, I find myself returning to these verses in Proverbs. I have prayed them over her strong-willed heart since she was little, and I will probably pray them over her every day of her life. But especially now, on this new adventure, these are the verses I’m praying. 

For her, yes.

But also for me.

Because it is not my natural instinct to let her go. No, my instinct is to hold her close, to protect her, to keep all my little birds gathered together in my nest, tucked safely beneath my wing. Why should she fly away when she can stay here with us?

Oh, wait. She was born to fly, wasn’t she?

It’s the reason we’re here. It’s the reason we’ve spent the past 18 years training her, discipling her, parenting her, and guiding her. We didn’t do all that work so she could stay home and watch Youtube! 

We did it so she could shine, so she could bring light to a world so full of darkness. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.”

********************

Standing on that cliff, I knew it was time. The guide smiled at me and nodded encouragingly. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, let go of the rope and leaned back. I took one step, and then another, slowly gaining confidence that I wasn’t going to fall. Before long, I was pushing back from the mountain, leaping and laughing, embracing the freedom and living my best life on the way down. 

I trusted the guide. I believed the rope was going to hold me. 

He was right; this was what I came here for. I was made for this!

And so is she.

It’s time to trust the Guide and let go.

What is it you need to let go of? Expectations? Fear? Control?

I’m praying God will give you the strength to do it, and that you will find joy and freedom as you do.

And if you think about it, will you ask the Lord to fill my momma-heart with an extra dose of peace on Monday? And pray for Jeff… I’m not sure a daddy ever really lets go of his little girl.

Thanks, friends.

Coronavirus, Toilet Paper, and Slowing Down Time

Friends, we are living in crazy times. Schools are closing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, fear and cynicism are rampant, and people are hoarding toilet paper… I don’t think any of us ever expected this! 

I have read a lot of different perspectives and comments over the last couple weeks, and the words I’ve been noticing are frustrated, frightened, irritated, unnecessary, confused, and afraid, to name a few. 

The one thing I haven’t heard anyone say is, “I am so thankful for the coronavirus and the quarantine.  I wish time would slow down so we could really enjoy it!”

Nope, I think most people are just ready to get through this uncharted territory and get on with life… 

**************************

I don’t usually choose a “word for the year.” I’m not sure why; it just hasn’t been something I felt compelled to do. 

But this year, a word chose me. 

As I prayed over all the changes and transitions this year would hold for our family, especially with Sarah graduating and going off to college, I found myself dreading the days to come. The years we spent homeschooling have created a strong bond within our family, and the thought of this stage of life (having all my baby birds in the nest) ending just makes me sad. I get teary-eyed even thinking about her last show and last prom and graduation. I never would have dreamed it would be so hard to launch a child into adulthood! How I wished I could rewind the clock or at least just slow down time!

So I poured all these things out to the Lord, all my grief and fears and dreading. And as I sat there lamenting the change of this season, the Lord whispered a word to my heart.

Embrace.

Embrace these moments, I heard Him say. Don’t dread them. Savor them, treasure them, immerse yourself in them. For you are right, they will be gone in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss any of it because you are too wrapped up in your own pity party. Lift up your eyes, open your hands, and receive these little gifts of joy. You can’t make time slow down, but you can slow yourself down enough to embrace it.

Embrace.

That word has changed everything for me this year.

I find myself returning to it again and again. I’m not going to lie- there are still tears in this season of “lasts.” But they are joyful tears, the kind that overflow from a full heart, marking these moments as something to be treasured.

And that word- embrace– it shifts my perspective when I start holding on too tightly. It reminds me that all our days and years and moments are known and numbered by One much greater than me. It enables me to rest in His promises and seize the day, leaving the future in His hands.

***********************

This word, embrace, has been echoing in my mind these past few days as well. 

Obviously, I don’t rejoice in people getting sick or being afraid or missing work. I realize it is a hardship for many, and it has altered everyday life for all of us. People need help with childcare and groceries. Events are being cancelled, and school and worship services are being held online. These are strange days we are living in… I mean, we just delivered a package of toilet paper to some friends, for goodness’ sake! Definitely strange.

Am I really suggesting we should embrace it?

That is exactly what I am suggesting. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Give thanks in all circumstances, not for them…

Sure, our lives are being disrupted. But in the midst of this strange circumstance, what can you be thankful for? Gratitude is the key to embracing.

For me, I am grateful that, just for a little while, time is slowing down. Our hybrid school has transitioned into a more academic, private school model over the past few years, and while there are advantages to that, I have really missed our homeschooling days. Between school, church, drama, small groups, college ministry, sports, Jeff travelling, and the girls working, it is not very often that all six of us are in the same place for very long. It has become difficult for us to even eat dinner together one day a week! 

And I miss it. 

So, the thought of having all of us under the same roof for a whole week, maybe two, with no outside activities and no place we have to be is like an unexpected gift! As I watch these not-so-little-anymore people growing up before my eyes, I have longed for time to slow down… and now, just for a little while, it has. 

For just a few days, we will sit at the table and do school work together, just like we used to. We will look for opportunities to be generous to those in need and share with our neighbors. We will eat home-cooked meals and play board games and watch movies. There are books on my nightstand and cookies ready to go in the oven. And yes, like any good mom, I have several cleaning projects for us to tackle as well!

On a bigger scale, I am not really sure what the next week or two (or more) will look like, or how this epidemic will ultimately affect our country, our world, and perhaps even our family. The reality is, it is way out of our hands and far beyond our control. Dreading it or resenting it will not help anything; it will only rob us of peace. 

Instead, I choose joy. I choose gratitude. 

I choose to let time slow down, and embrace it.

(And I am happy to bring you some toilet paper if you need it. Just sayin’!)

Reflections of a College Visit

Nearly eighteen years ago, our first baby was born.

A little girl. 

 Today, we walked from building to building, up and down stairs, all around a campus that, in a few months, will be her new home.

How in the world did we get here?

I remember feeling her move around inside me, pressing her tiny feet against my ribs and bouncing my belly with her hiccups. I remember holding her in my arms for the first time- her perfect little fingers, her head full of black hair. I remember how she cried at bedtime until she was five, how she introduced her baby sister as her “best friend” to her preschool class, how she would build a fort during room-time so she would have somewhere fun to read her books.

I remember so much.

And then, somehow I blinked… and suddenly she’s going off to college.

I know she’s ready. And after today, I know this school is the right choice for her. Her face lit up like a marquis when we drove on campus. It is bursting with both opportunity and purpose, just like my girl! 

Her “circles” have been so small in life- not intentionally, that is just how it has worked out. Her school friends, church friends, and drama friends all overlap in the middle of a Venn diagram. There are benefits to this, of course; it creates a small, cozy cocoon in which a caterpillar can transform into something more.

However, she has also felt the emptiness of the blank space in her circles. While small circles can be both safe and comfortable, they can confine you as well, squeezing a little too tightly when you are trying to spread your wings. 

And our girl is ready to spread her wings!

So we spent the weekend exploring her next home. We saw where she will live, eat, study, and learn. I caught glimpses of her future as a group of smiling students hurried past us on their way to class, and in a table of friends laughing as they discussed homework and weekend plans. We started making a list of what she will need to bring for her dorm room and what clothes she will need to buy so she doesn’t freeze. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

**********

My girl is ready, there is no doubt. She is following the will of the Lord. What more can a momma ask for? 

Absolutely nothing.

Still…

I sure am going to miss her.

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

Snow Day

It doesn’t snow often in Georgia, so when it does, everything shuts down and time seems to stand still. These are just my thoughts about our snow day…

Knees curled beneath me

Warm and cozy in my chair

steaming mug beside me

I look outside.

The sky is falling,

fluttering softly in tiny flakes

gently to the ground.

Gradually, it piles up

color fading to white

Hectic lives

slowing to a stop-

Frozen in this moment.

Anxious children

peeking out windows

Finally, a knock!

Drawers fling open,

clothes fly around the room

searching, finding, layering,

bundling, zipping

bustling out the door!

Children laughing, sledding, screaming

balls of packed powder

find their mark

Bottom, middle, top are rolled

then stacked

Sticks and carrots, scarves and hats

bringing them to life.

And still, the sky drifts down

while time remains frozen.

Back inside, wet clothes dripping

piled up by the door.

Warm blankets, snuggles on the couch

mugs of hot chocolate,

the salty smell of popcorn filling the room.

Minds quieting, hearts slowing

in a contented sigh

of peace.

Out the window

the Winter Wonderland

holds its breath,

melting slowly,

quietly

not wanting to disrupt

this gift of time.

Looking around, I soak it in

the peace, the laughter

all of us together.

I freeze it in my memory

as my heart floods

with gratitude

for this frozen moment.