Category Archives: Parenting

Moms Night Out

In case you’ve been wondering, I haven’t been abducted, just sick!  Our busy schedule is winding down as summer approaches, and all at once my body is exhausted.  So last night, when my kids’ MMO program offered childcare and a free ticket to the new movie Moms Night Out, I was right on time.
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I hadn’t seen a single trailer and had no idea what the movie was about, although for free childcare I would’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The movie began by introducing a clean-freak wannabe Mommy blogger barely holding it together in the crazy, messy chaos of her world.  Yikes.  If I had red hair (and a nicer house) it would’ve been like watching the story of my life.  At one point, the main character tells her husband something like, “This is the life I always wanted.  So…why do I feel so unhappy?”  So much work, so much exhaustion, so little sense of self.  That was what her life looked like.  And boy, could I relate to her.  I could relate all the way down in my bones.  And as I watched her story unfold, it struck me that all these feelings must be much more common than I realize.

Patricia Heaton (of Everybody Loves Raymond) plays the wise and like-able pastor’s wife, who gives us a glimpse of mothering a teenager.  When I realized her husband was played by Alex Kendrick (think Facing the Giants, Courageous…etc.) I’ll admit I had a moment of “eesh, I hope this isn’t cheesy.”   And you know what?  It was, at moments.  There were spells of over-acting and slapstick humor.  But there were also truly hysterical moments, that prove you don’t have to be crude to be funny.  And more importantly, there was a sense of resolution for the main character, a recognition that maybe a lot of the discouragement and discontentment in motherhood comes from expectations we heap upon ourselves.  The unrealistic standards that nobody (except you) expect of you.

Is it Oscar worthy?  Of course not.  This movie has been trashed among Hollywood critics.  But for the first time in a long time, I left a movie feeling like my heart had been a little bit refreshed.  I left a movie grateful for my messy life, and not longing for the romantic adventure of Charlize Theron’s sexy life.  I left a movie without the slightest twinge of guilt over the things I’d just seen and enjoyed.  And to me, that’s a pretty good moms night out.

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Why the Bunny Makes Me Nervous

easter-basket-ideas-1024x810There are so many things I do just because.  Because that’s the way my parents did it.  Because that’s the way everybody does it.  Because that’s just what you do.  But daily I am growing more convinced that just because living is not only foolish, but dangerous.  The Bible calls us very clearly to a single purpose–that everything we do, say, think, believe, desire, accept, reject, love, and hate must glorify God so that His name will be great in our lives and among the nations.  If that is the mission then everything we do or don’t do must be filtered through that lens.

Around this time of year, moms often ask me whether we “do” the Easter bunny.  And I offer a very vague response.  “No, I never grew up with the Easter bunny.”  I’m vague because I know the Easter bunny is not sinful, in and of himself.  I know that many parents who are passionate about Jesus and His mission, choose to surprise their children on Easter morning with a basket of gifts from the Easter bunny.  I know that to many it is a special, even magical, family tradition.  And I know that of every people group on the planet, no one heaps as much guilt upon themselves as mothers.  Our hearts are fodder for guilt.  And the last thing I ever want to do is fan the flame of false condemnation.

So hear my heart when I say, I’m not writing as Super-Mom or Super-Holier-Than-Thou-Mom.  Those things disgust me, because they’re lies.  They discredit all Christ’s work in my life.  I am writing as a sister, who is learning something that I want to share in love:  We don’t do the Easter bunny because we don’t think the Easter bunny is the most effective way to glorify God at Easter.

It’s not the bunny, so much as the gifts he brings.  A few weeks ago, we took our kids to a downtown festival.  Disaster.  Much of it was poor parenting–we didn’t set limits in advance or warn them that we weren’t going to ride, play, eat, and buy everything in sight.  Suffice to say, it was miserable.  On the way home, my husband made the remark that the festival was like Sin City for kids.  It had everything they desired.  It catered to all their cravings.  And the more they consumed, the more demanding and ungrateful they became.  In essence, we thrust them into temptation without any training to stand up under it.

The Bible warns against putting obstacles or “stumbling blocks” in the way of a brother or sister (Rom 14:13, I Cor 8:9), and this is my greatest fear when it comes to the Easter bunny.  If the gospel is the most important message I can ever convey to my children, and if their understanding of it and receptivity to it determines the satisfaction of their life and the security of their eternal home, then why would I put any obstacle in their path that may distract from the gospel?  When my girls hear the word Easter, I don’t want them to squeal in delight because their first thought is that a bunny will bring them a Barbie doll.  And I know my girls.  I know that just like their mom, their flesh is weak toward materialism.  I know that just like their mom, they constantly seek false refuges for satisfaction.  Just like their mom, they’re tempted to believe that things can fulfill them more than Jesus can fulfill them.

I know that only God saves (Jn 6:44), but I want to set my daughters up to see the gospel by creating a home where as few things as possible compete with it.  My daughters have a mother who still believes that television and the latest Pamela Schoenewaldt novel is more satisfying and restful than Christ.  They have a mother who still studies the Bible like it’s suggested summer reading.  Who still can’t even wrestle her own weak flesh out of the bed to meet with the God of the universe.  It is hard enough.  It is hard enough to grasp the magnitude and implications of the gospel.  It’s hard enough to shake the worldliness out of our vastly diluted cultural Christianity.  Why add one more opportunity for our kids to turn the focus of Easter into a focus on self?

Let me, please, pour out this confession in closing: sometimes I don’t want to write anything to you because I am so deeply and painfully aware of my own failure as a Christian.  If only you could really see me (I’m talking Nanny-cam see me), you would never feel threatened by me.  Instead, you would say, Man, God is INCREDIBLE to have not given up on her.

And that’s why I have the confidence to write to you.  Because God is incredible.  His grace is incredible!  We still do Easter egg hunts and bouncy house family fun days, and a thousand other things every day of the year that could threaten to distract from the gospel.  We are by no means that perfect family.  We are simply growing by grace, and I want to share with you the things God is teaching me so that we can think together, worship together, and rejoice in the grace of God together.

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4 Reasons Men Fail to Engage at Home

20111112_STP506In many Christian homes, the man of the house comes home from work only to plop down on the couch and turn on the TV. They are distracted at dinner. They are unmotivated in their role as a father and husband. Why don’t they seem to care?

This is a common problem, and it is not just deadbeats and sociopaths that fail to engage at home. Even sincere Christian men struggle with engaging at home consistently. I, personally, am deeply convicted about my responsibility as a husband and father, but I still have good days and bad days when it comes to being engaged at home.  This article shares 4 reasons why I have struggled to engage at home.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

1. Work goals and rewards are more tangible than family goals.
Like most men, I like solving problems, and that makes me thrive in the work world. At my job, all of my goals are well-defined and the path to success can easily be broken down into tangible steps: “Do these calculations…fill out this report…” Sure, there are surprise challenges and delays, but at least the problems and the goals are well-defined.

At home, on the other hand, I sometimes get lost in what I am trying to accomplish. What are the actual steps that lead to a stable marriage or Godly children? Oh, how I want a formula for being a good dad and husband… “play two games of hide-and-seek on Mondays, bring flowers home for my wife every Tuesday, read Scripture at dinner, and voilà… perfect family.”

But, unfortunately, there is no formula for having a loving marriage or for raising Godly children. Only God can make our family efforts succeed. But God still intends for men to make plans and to lead their families the best that they can. I think that this is why I find it much easier to stay engaged at home when my wife and I have a clear set of goals for our family.

2. Men feel entitled to “veg out” after work.
When I was single, I could work really hard for a couple of days, and then just “veg-out” for a few hours to recover. But, now as a father and husband, I don’t have that luxury. But, I still regularly have days at work where the stress and pace really take it out of me. I often want to just come home and watch TV. Being entertained is so much easier than engaging. Sometimes, I even rationalize to myself, “Why shouldn’t I take a rest? I have worked hard all day. Don’t I deserve a rest?”

In general, the answer is no. I have a responsibility before God to actively love my wife (Eph. 5:25) and to train my children (Eph. 6:4).  I only have a few hours after work each day, so if I am going to be faithful, I will need to spend most of that time engaging with the family. I don’t have the prerogative to regularly “check-out” from family time.

The times when I have succumbed to the temptation to veg out, are times that I have lost sight of how much I am needed at home and my responsibility before God. Also, when I find that I have nothing left to give my family at home, it usually means I am giving too much of myself at work (see next point for more on this).

3. Men make work an idol.
The line between doing my best at work and making work an idol often seems like a razor’s edge. I may start the week desiring to work hard for good reasons: to provide for my family and to glorify God with my talents. But by the end of the week, I have fallen into idolatrous motives — looking to my performance to give me significance and trusting in my own efforts to bring me happiness.

And as soon as I wrap my happiness and significance up with my work, I become a slave to success. Delays or setbacks at work continuously tempt me to work longer hours. Even when I come home, I keep drifting back into thought about how to solve those pesky problems at work, and how great my life will be when I overcome them.

The problem here is that I forget the Gospel. Christ has already accomplished the work that gives me significance. His death on the Cross has made me holy and blameless before him, a beautiful bride for Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Also, I don’t have to trust in my own efforts to provide for my family’s needs. The God who made all things knows all my needs and cares for me; He will provide. He has given me His Son — how shall He not also give me all things (Rom. 8:32). When I keep these Biblical truths in my mind, I have much more energy left to give at home.

4. Men don’t take advantage of opportunities to meditate on God’s Word.
Anytime that I struggle to stay engaged at home, I probably have not been spending enough time meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 1:1-3 promises the following to those who regularly meditate on God’s Word:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

What an exciting picture! I long to be a husband and father who bears good fruit during each new season of my family’s life, and the only way that this will happen is if I regularly renew my mind with God’s Word.
IMG_2035I’m happy to introduce another talented guest writer!  Aaron Smith is a husband, dad, engineer, and blogger.  He spends his days designing hydraulic systems, and his evenings at home with his wife Christel and their two children.  In his spare time (or in his words, the time he should be sleeping!) he blogs at Faith and Life.  Check out his blog, share it with your husband, and leave him a comment below!

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What I Want My Daughters to Know about Biblical Womanhood

I’ve meant to return to the subject of biblical womanhood for a while now. But always when I approach this tender topic, I see the faces of vulnerable women from a thousand different walks of life. And my words refuse to come together.  But suddenly today, when I sat down to write, I saw just two little women.  And when I thought about what I want to teach them about biblical womanhood, everything became a little more clear.
P1060364Dear daughters,
Being a godly woman begins with surrendering your whole heart to Jesus. This means Jesus defines who you are–not your friends, the world, or even yourself. The Bible says that those who surrender their hearts to Jesus are blessed, chosen, holy, adopted, redeemed, favored, and forgiven (Eph 1:3-11). My precious daughters, no matter how you feel, or what happens to you, that is your identity.photo-37

Surrendering your heart to Jesus also means obeying Him. Often (just like your mom) you will be tempted to be the boss of your life, following your own wisdom. But the Bible says “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor 1:25). If you build your life around Jesus, submitting to the perfect wisdom of God, He will make you the woman He wants you to be, which is the true definition of biblical womanhood.

As you grow, you will learn that the world tries to define womanhood by outward actions and appearances. Many people believe beauty is the ultimate goal of womanhood. Our culture will tempt you to believe that the prettier and sexier you are, the more valuable and loved you will be. But this is a lie! I P1060530Peter 3:3-4 says that our main focus should not be looking pretty on the outside, but rather having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious to God. Do you know what a gentle and quiet spirit is? The word “quiet” doesn’t mean you can’t be loud and bubbly (which your daddy and I find absolutely adorable.) It means your heart is as quiet and peaceful as a baby resting with its mother (Ps 131:2). You see, when you listen to Jesus’ opinion of you, you will not be anxious about fitting in or being the most beautiful. Your heart will be at peace. And that is true beauty.

Some people believe finding the right man is the ultimate goal of womanhood. But this will always lead to disappointment! If God wants you to be single, you may believe the lie that you’re less adequate than wives and moms. If He wants you to marry, you may believe the lie that a man can provide lasting fulfillment. My sweet girls, stand guard against both thoughts! God has always based biblical womanhood, first and foremost, on our relationship with Him, not men. If He does bless you with a godly husband, then respect, cherish, and honor that man, for he is a gift!  But do not look to him for your ultimate hope and security.  That is Jesus’ specialty alone.

Finally, my dear girls, beware of defining biblical womanhood by what you do. If you fall into this trap, you will forever be comparing yourself with others—how well you cook, clean, decorate, and discipline; whether or not you stay at home; how you invest your time and P1060370talents. This can only lead to pride, shame, guilt, and judgment. Always remember, biblical womanhood is about attitudes more than actions. It is about having a soft and submissive heart toward God and His commands. Most of God’s instructions in the Bible apply to both men and women. But there are certain passages written specifically for women (Ti 2:3-5, Eph 5:22-24, Prov 31, I Pt 3:1-6). Embrace the teaching of these passages with a grateful heart! They were not written to burden you with guilt, but to teach you God’s perfect will and design for women. He alone can, and will, empower you to be the woman He wants you to be. And in becoming what He wants, you will find the greatest freedom and joy.

All my love forever,
Mom

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5 Reasons I Fear Standing Up to My Kids

670px-Deal-With-Disrespectful-Children-Step-2I prefer to choose what’s easy over what’s best.  There is a mentality in the little years that says, just get through it!  In other words, the goal is survival.  And believe me, I get it.  What’s more, on many occasions, I live by it.  It’s shortcut parenting, and it comes so naturally.  Toss the insomniac newborn in a swing for six months.  Bribe the stubborn toddler.  Negotiate with the manipulative pre-schooler.  But what I didn’t know, is adopting the shortcut mentality is like financing a mansion with no money down.  Free today, and a nightmare when the cost catches up with you.  When the insomniac baby outgrows the swing.  When the easily bribed toddler becomes the out-of-control third grader.  In contrast, the Bible’s mandate to train our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4) carries an opposite promise: even when he is old he will not depart from it (Pro 22:6).

I love myself more than I love them.  I picked up one of my kids after a Bible study one morning only to have her erupt in a fit of tears when I told her to put on her coat.  As the hallway began to fill and her teacher started singing a song about obedience (which made me want to die on the spot), I quickly muttered, “Fine!” and shoved the coat in my bag.  On the walk to the car, I told myself I was just choosing my battles.  But the truth is, I was choosing to act in my best interest instead of hers.  Of course it was in her best interest to wear the coat in the middle of January, but more importantly, it was in her best interest to learn that defiance reaps discipline, and obedience reaps blessing.  The Bible says that failing to discipline our children is like setting our hearts on putting them to death (Pro 19:18).  It is the opposite of love, in fact Proverbs refers to it as a form of hatred: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Pro 13:25).  Ouch!  How’s that for a convicting verse?  When I abdicate my authority to save face, I am loving myself more than my children.

I’m swayed by the opinions of the world.  Several months ago, an article on my blog gained widespread criticism.  It used the d-word (discipline) and it taught that children are born sinful, two things I quickly learned are not popular!  While some people shared their differing opinions respectfully, there were many who did not.  Months later, my heart still beats faster when I think about the influx of hate mail.  I was attacked on the two fronts I hold most dear–being a mother and being a Christian.  For several weeks, as I cried and processed the comments, I didn’t discipline my children at all.  I was terrified that standing up to them was somehow abusive.  In the end, it was my husband who helped root me, once more, in Scripture–an unchanging, solid ground in an ever-changing culture.

I’m earthly minded, instead of eternity minded.  In the humdrum of daily living, it’s hard to remember that there’s more at stake than soggy cereal and wasted toilet paper.  But as I read the Word, I’m constantly reminded that the call to follow Christ is not for the faint of heart!  It requires denying our flesh, loving Jesus more than anything else, suffering for Him even to the point of death, and enduring until the end.  Which means I must prepare my children to be persecuted.  I must teach them to live for a greater purpose than pleasure.  To do things even when they don’t want to do them, because they’re living for Someone whom the Bible calls us to love supremely.  The crazy thing is, all this teaching takes place in the humdrum moments.  It’s a lifestyle, which means our home is a training ground with eternal purposes, for eternal rewards.  If the goal is simply to get them in bed by 8pm, then it doesn’t really matter whether or not you stand your ground in the details.  But if the goal is teaching them to love and submit to the authority of Christ, then it does.

I fail to recognize abdication of authority as sin against God.  When I was an education major, a Christian professor told me that our authority as a teacher comes directly from God Himself.  Therefore, exercising godly authority is not merely an issue of being effective or maintaining order, it’s an issue of obedience to God.  When I learned this, it changed the conviction with which I embraced my authority.  As a parent, it’s easy to forget that the calling to be in authority over our children is a divine calling, invented and issued by God (Eph 6:1-3, Ex 20:12, I Tim 3:4-5).  Slowly and uncomfortably, I am learning that to give it up for the sake of convenience, appearance, or my own feelings, is nothing short of sin against my Maker.
(photo credit)

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It’s Okay to Admit It’s Hard

Messy baby boy in high chair with bowl of spaghetti on head

Sometimes motherhood feels exhilarating.  And if we’re honest, sometimes it feels like being poked to death by plastic spoons.  Like fighting the battle of Thermopylae with a team of Barbie dolls.  You want to hear a true confession?  This morning when I asked my kids what they want to be when they grow up, my four-year-old blurted, “I want to be a mommy!”  and for one millisecond, all I could think was, “Why??”  

Of course it was flattering.  She wants to be me.  But the truth is, some days I don’t even want to be me!  Being me–and I’m sure being you–is hard work.  It can be thankless work, lonely and menial.  And it can be joyful work, rewarding and energizing.  But always, it is work in that it requires a reservoir of strength, persistence, and dedication–sometimes with giggles and marshmallow crafts, and sometimes with migraines and diarrhea diapers.

Perhaps the hardest work of motherhood is the work done not with our hands, but our hearts.  This work starts at conception, the moment we begin to love the life growing inside of us.  It is the work of entrusting back to God what He has entrusted to us.  The work of passionate affection and painful surrender.  Of giving a faithful God our most fragile treasure.  Of lessons slow learned, and victories hard won.  It is the work of prayer and tears, of snapshot moments sealed in our souls, and quiet hopes for the future.  One day, it will be the work of letting go.  The work of college applications and bridal gowns and empty bedrooms that once wore butterfly quilts.  And already I know that on that day, I will long to trade such work for ten thousand diarrhea diapers.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, (and) difficulty.”  Which makes me think, maybe it’s okay to admit motherhood requires gargantuan effort.  Maybe it’s okay to admit it’s painful and difficult.  Perhaps motherhood isn’t worthwhile in spite of the difficulty, but because of it.  Like a farmer who pours his blood, sweat, and tears into his land, we pour all of ourselves into our children.  And when we think there’s nothing left to give, we give a little more.  And motherhood P1060577becomes beautiful because over the years we have wrestled all the rocks and roots out of that stubborn land, and we have made it valuable.    

You know what I find amazing?  The fact that in spite of her Oscar the Grouchy mom, my four-year-old daughter already recognizes the beauty and value of motherhood.  She sees some of the work–the plowing, and planting, and sweating, and crying.  But she focuses on the fruit.  The cradling, and kissing, and singing, and smiling.  And when I look at motherhood through her eyes, I find that I’m grateful to be a mom.  And especially, to be her mom.

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Budget Cuts: How to Go from 2 Incomes to 1

cropped 34I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger!  A former missionary kid, Joy grew up in Swaziland and Fontainebleau, France.  She worked as a teacher, preschool director, and programs coordinator for an adoption agency, before becoming a stay at home mom.  Though the rewards are great, the pay sure isn’t!  After checking out Joy’s tips for budget trimming, we’d love to hear YOUR tips in the comment section below.

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Last summer, I left the job that I loved and embraced a higher calling: motherhood.  Besides gaining a beautiful baby boy, we also lost one income.  My husband and I live in an expensive city in the US so our budget took a hit.  How were we going to pay all of our bills, tithe and save?  We had to take a serious look at our budget and make some difficult adjustments.  And so, our lifestyle changed.

Here’s a few of the most helpful changes we’ve made to help stretch our budget along the way:

1. We decided to use cloth diapers.  We had been tossing around the idea of using cloth IMG_2762 editeddiapers for a while but when our son arrived and we realized how much we spent on diapers monthly, we decided to go for it.  And we love it!  We started when my son was 3 months old.  We use the Grovia hybrid system and we spent about $350 to purchase everything.  We have 8 shells and 24 inserts.  Our son wears cloth all day, but at night he wears Pampers Stay Dry.  Because we use cloth diapers, a box of 56 disposables lasts us about a month and a half.

Now that my son is eating solids, we use Grovia’s bioliners.  If his diaper is just wet, then I wash the bioliner with the rest of the diapers and use it again.  When the liner gets holes in it, I throw it away.  If he has a messy diaper, the cleanup is easy.  Just throw the liner with the poop away and put the cloth diaper and shell in the wet bag to wash later.  It’s less hassle and less mess.

2. I make a meal plan every week.  I shop in my pantry first to see what ingredients I have so I can plan my meals around them.  Then, I figure out what meals we are going to have that week, and I make my grocery list.  Some weeks, I only need to replenish our fresh food supply and I can keep the meals planned the previous week.

I have found that making as much as you can from scratch is the cheapest way to go.  Frozen veggies are another money saving idea.  I still buy fresh ones, but I also have a stock of frozen ones because they last longer and can make a good supplement to a meal.  I can always throw together a stir fry easily too.  Finally, don’t be afraid to make breakfast food for dinner.  Omelets, waffles, pancakes, french toast or crepes with fruit and yogurt make cheap, filling meals and often only require ingredients that you already have in your cupboards.  We usually have breakfast for dinner once a week.

3. We track our spending each week.  This way, throughout the month, we see how we are doing budget-wise and how much we have left.  There is a lot of software out there to help families track their spending.  My husband created our spreadsheet but Mint.com has come highly recommended.

Groceries are one of the major items in our budget each month, so I have a post-it note on my fridge with the dollar amount that reflects what we have budgeted.  At the beginning of each month, I get a new post-it and write the amount that I have available to spend that month on groceries.  Every time I come home from the store, I subtract the amount I spent from the amount on the post-it.  This way, I know exactly how much I have to spend for the rest of the month.  I’m very visual and it’s a good reminder for me.

4. I shop with my grocery list and my calculator.  I know, I know.  How embarrassing to walk through the grocery store and add up each and every item!  But it really helps me to see how much I am spending so that I am not surprised when I get to the cash register.  Because I know how much I can spend from the post-it on the fridge, I stay in budget and still get what’s on my list.  I may just need to choose the cheaper option instead of the name brand or the organic one for a few things.  Plus, I use the calculator on my phone so it looks a little less embarrassing (hopefully!).

This month, I am trying to cut our grocery budget in half.  I want to stay within $250 for all of our groceries.  Ambitious?  I know.  Because I am a stay at home mom, I can go to different grocery stores and shop the deals, within reason of course.  When I was working, this was not possible because of my schedule and desire to spend time with my husband after work.  We are also blessed with an Asian supermarket within walking distance.  It is the cheapest and best place for me to get fresh produce, especially since my son just started eating solids and I am making his baby food.  Last week, I bought 2 acorn squash, 3 zucchini, 5 apples, 2 lbs of clementines, 3 large sweet potatoes, 1lb of celery and 2 onions for just $18. So far this month, I have been spending $60/week on groceries and now, I am at the end of the month with $13 to spare.  My goal from now on is to spend $240-$280 a month.

These budget stretching ideas may or may not work for your family, but my family has found it extremely helpful to make a plan, track our progress, and experiment with new ideas (cloth diapers, home-made baby food, and Asian markets have been much easier to adopt than we ever expected).

And yet, my family can budget and plan as much as we want but I need to remember Who ultimately provides for us.  I need to embrace Matthew 6:33 and seek first the kingdom of God without worrying about how He will provide for us.  Growing up as a missionary kid, I saw how God provided for our family in times when we thought it impossible for Him to do so.  And now as an adult, with a husband and baby, He is still showing me how important I am to Him, and how He will provide for my every need.  It may not be my every want, although He does provide for those too, but He has always provided for my every need.

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Raising Pure Kids in an Impure World

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I still remember the conversation.  We were sitting in a coffee shop, three married women with zero kids between us, talking about purity.  All of a sudden one of the women exclaimed, “Can you just imagine trying to teach your kids to be pure?  Where would you even begin?”  Three years later, another mom looked at me and said, “I had sex as a teenager.  Honestly, I don’t even think it’s possible to raise sexually pure kids.  If it is, I have no idea how to do it.”  Both of these women were right about one thing: in and of ourselves we are incapable of raising pure kids.  The Bible says God is sovereign (Ps 103:19), He has ordained all our children’s days (Ps 139:16), and they will be held accountable before Him for their own lives (2 Cor 5:10).

But does this mean we shrug and say, “Sounds like a lost cause to me!”  As Paul would say, may it never be!  We are still called to train, shepherd, and instruct our children.  Let me pause and state the obvious here: my kids are 2 and 4.  This is one article I’m not qualified to write as a parent.  So let me write it as a child.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was a teenager, wrestling with sexual purity.  By His grace, I believe my parents were the most influential tool God used in helping me stay sexually pure.  These are the five most helpful things they did:

Raise them with a gospel-centered WORLDVIEW regarding sex and marriage.  I think it’s tempting to take a spitball approach when it comes to teaching kids about purity.  We present a list of isolated truths about babies, STDs, and future spouses.  But they don’t need a handful of toppings; they need the whole pizza.  Like every other issue, they need us to put it into the context of the gospel, teaching them who they are, who God is, what Christ did on the cross, and how it impacts sex, marriage, and His glory.  All this to say…

Give them a GREATER appreciation for sex.  Say what?  Isn’t that like giving an Eskimo more snow?  The truth is none of us want our sweet children to wind up pregnant with syphilis and a broken heart.  So the temptation is to give them a lower view of sex, to emphasize its dangers and dampen the appeal.  But what we actually need to do is give them a higher view of sex.  We need to take their narrow perspective of this feel-good thing and STRETCH it to include the eternal design of a vast God.  We need them to be awed by the fact that sex is a sacred gift, invented by God, to unite two people in worship of the Creator.  When I was in high school a friend told me she thought open-marriage was no big deal.  “You’re telling me, you wouldn’t mind if your husband had sex with other people?”  I asked.  I’ll never forget her response: “For you sex is this big, special thing.  I don’t see it that way.  For me, it’s just sex.”  It was the first time I realized that Christians are more passionate about sex than non-Christians.

Help them see themselves as IMAGE-BEARERS of God.  I once counseled a teenage girl with a laundry list of heartache: cutting, bulimia, bisexuality.  You know what she sobbed the most over?  Her father.  She never believed he loved her.  As we talked the strangest memory came to mind.  I was a teenager, working on the computer with my feet on the desk.  My dad walked by and said, “Look at those cute toes!”  At the time it embarrassed me.  Oh my gosh, Dad, I’m not 3 years old.  But sitting with this girl I realized just how deeply I have always been assured of my father’s love.  There’s never been a moment when I doubted that even my toes were precious to him.  And without realizing it, I carried this confidence into my relationships with guys.  I believed I was made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and worth respecting, because my father–the first man I ever knew–treated me as such.

Assure them of your UNCONDITIONAL love and forgiveness.  Of all the times my parents talked with me about purity, the conversation that stands out the most wasn’t about staying pure, it was about failing to be pure.  My mom said, “I want you to know that if you wind up pregnant, or make every mistake there is, I will always love you and be there for you.”  Looking back, I realize she chose to motivate me the way Christ does, with a relationship, not with fear and the pressure to perform.  Which brings me to my final point.

Let them know that NOTHING is off-limits when it comes to talking with you.  Kids quickly learn to test the water before diving in.  When he was in middle school, an old friend of mine asked his dad if he’d ever had “weird” dreams…you know, like about girls?  At the time my friend was probably doing a whole lot more than just dreaming about girls, but he was lobbing a softball question at his dad.  His father frowned, barked, “No!” and that was the first and last conversation they ever had about purity.  Having a voice into the lives of our kids starts with having an ear into their world.

Final Thoughts
If I employed every one of these principles, would it guarantee that my kids are protected from the pain of impurity?  Of course not.  We’re called to faithfully shepherd our children, but the results are always in God’s hand…which is really the best part.  If God could turn the greatest persecutor of the church into the greatest missionary for the church, He can use the most sexually active teenager to one day impact the world for Christ.  And He can use an imperfect mom with a painful past to begin a legacy of godliness in her family.  We serve a God who delights in using foolish, weak, and lowly things for His great glory, so together we may boast in Christ alone (1 Cor 1:27-31).

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3 Ways to Raise a Pharisee

kid-stressIf anyone could do a fantastic job raising a Pharisee, it’s me.  I have always identified more with the elder brother than the prodigal son, a dangerous association indeed.  Recently a mom contacted me to ask for advice about helping her two-year-old daughter recognize her need for Jesus.  I was so touched by this mom’s passionate desire to point her young daughter to Christ as the only hope for righteousness.  It is the exact opposite of Pharisaism, which looks to oneself for righteousness.  The question got me thinking about the three biggest mistakes I’ve made as a parent that point my children toward works-based performance:

1. Get more excited about what they do, then who they’re becoming.
“Mommy look, I drew a stick.”  “OH MY GOODNESS, IT’S FABULOUS!!!!!”  That’s me.  A year ago a statement in C.J. Mahaney’s book Humility changed my perspective.  He wrote that he reserves his highest praise for examples of true greatness–sacrifice, humility, love, service–the things Jesus has deemed great.  I realized I do cartwheels over my kids’ artwork and say, “that’s kind” when they share their toys.  I still show delight in their artwork and dance moves and all the other skills they love to show me, but I try to reserve greater excitement for evidence of Christ at work in their lives.  Because at the end of the day it’s not about what they can do.  It’s about what Christ has done, and continues to do, for them.

2. Give them credit for acts of righteousness.
Around the time my firstborn turned two years old, I began exclaiming “Good girl!” whenever she obeyed.  Since obedience from a two-year-old can be a rare commodity, the words were like honey on my tongue: “Good girl!  You obeyed Mommy!”  One day she walked through the house declaring, “I a good girl!”  And just like that it hit me.  No.  Actually you’re not.  My little girls are many things–precious, beautiful, sensitive, smart…but they are not inherently good.  The Bible teaches that there is none righteous (Rom 3:10), that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23).  The last thing I want to do is make my daughters foolishly believe that they don’t need God, when in reality, apart from Christ, all their good works are filthy rags before God (Is 64:6).  I started saying, “Wise choice!  Jesus helped you obey Mommy!  He helped you make a wise choice!  Isn’t He great?”  Two years later, that same sweet child has caught me giving her praise multiple times and said, “Jesus helped me do it, Mommy.”  I’ve never been so blessed to be corrected.

3. Compare them to others.
As an education major in college I was taught that a “positive” method of correcting wrong behavior is to praise right behavior.  So when you notice Steven acting like a hooligan, you loudly say, “I like the way Johnny is sitting quietly.”  At best it’s manipulative, at worst it’s Pharisaism in training.  But it’s so tempting because it’s effective.  Johnny’s chest puffs up, Steven’s shoulders sag, and the hooligan is back in line.  At home it looks like this: “Look at your big brother.  Is he swinging from the chandelier?”  Before long, every time you correct the little brother, the big brother will point out his obedience for you.  “I am not interrupting.  I am sitting still.  I am listening.”  You want to raise a Pharisee?  This is one of the fastest ways.  And I confess, I’m guilty as charged.

Final Thoughts
Lest any of this discourage you, let me remind you of what I remind myself almost daily.  I am journeying by grace.  This whole parenthood thing is hard.  So often I make mistakes without even realizing I’m making them.  And even when I know what I should be doing, often I fail anyway.  I don’t know any greater hope than the Truth that Jesus is sovereign over my parenting.  If He could use twelve weak and broken disciples to build His worldwide church, He can use one weak and broken Mama to demonstrate the glory of His gospel to the children He has entrusted to her.

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

family
Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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